I’m delighted to post this week from my friend Rochelle Sadie’s blog My Dear Sister. In spite of her blog’s name, please know that this post is not only for women but for men as well, anyone who has been harmed by a spiritually abusive system and made to feel “small.”
I could feel the cold hard wood floors on my feet as I stumbled in the dark, looking for my glasses. “Okay, feed the dogs, getting my coffee…”
Lately, my favorite time of day has been before the sun comes up, early in the morning. I sit in the corner of my couch – covered with my wool blanket, eyes closed – listening for what Jesus has for me today. I may pick up a book, I may pick up my journal, I may meditate in silence, or I may read Jesus’ words.
That’s where I landed today: Mark 4:31–38.
Spiritual abuse from the past—the twisting and distorting of God’s character in order to control, manipulate, and abuse—has left me very raw. I cannot go to church regularly, and I left the Bible for a long time – I couldn’t access God because the distortions were so thick. I did not know who He was to me.
Over time, with lots of therapy, EMDR treatment, coaching, and opposite experiences in community – I know that Jesus never left. But I had to leave God and go through an “undoing” in order to find Him.
He has been waiting for me all my life, and I know He is so in love with me. However, due to this former trepidation around all things Bible, theology, and doctrine, I’ve had to re-learn how to read the Bible without the voice of my former lifestyle contorting its truths.
First, the Psalms . . .
For two straight years, I only read the book of Psalms. I’m proud to say it was the first book of the Bible that I read from the first chapter to the last – all the way through. It was the only area of the Word that was non-threatening to me. The Psalms felt kind and compassionate, and told of God’s protection for me. I needed to hear that God was my advocate, defender, meeting my needs. And the psalmists had all the EXACT same emotions as I was experiencing. I needed to see MY trauma in the scripture!
I would sometimes read the bloody, gory stories of sexual abuse and neglect by men in scripture, and oddly, I could see myself in these stories. The anger, the injustice and the pain of it all – it made me feel that other people had felt this before me. I was not alone. And God thought it important enough to write it down. AKA: My story is important!
Then the women . . .
I also clung to the fact that Lord’s first disciple was a woman. Mary Magdalene – she was possessed by demons, possibly had been sexually abused and molested, and some say she worked in the “red light” district (for lack of a better term). This is the person that Jesus CHOSE to heal, to spread the gospel, and to have by His side in His entourage. I am not here to debate about whether those statements are true about Mary; the point is, I saw that women mattered to God.
And now Jesus
As I venture out into the New Testament, I gingerly read with one frame of mind now: I am SEARCHING for how Jesus behaved.
How did He respond to people? How did He advocate for people? Whom did He spend His time with? What did He do when He was angry? What was His heart toward women and children? What did He say to His Father? How was He reminded of His identity and purpose? What mannerisms, phrases, and interactions show me that the sick and hurting were important to him? How did He treat his friends? How did He empathize? These are questions I want to ponder over and over again, in order to be transformed by knowing His heart – and as a result, hearing the Heart of God the Father.
Something I noticed in Mark today was Jesus telling a story about how the Kingdom of God is run – I imagine him trying to describe its culture and value system. He explains the Kingdom’s principles through the comparison of plants in a garden. See here:
“It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.
Now, I am not a gardener of mustard plants, so I had to do a little research: apparently these mustard plants grow full size to be 30 feet high! However, what caught my attention is the emphasis put on the small.
The small become great
He used something so tiny like a mustard seed (only 1 to 2 millimeters in size) to demonstrate that in Jesus’ world, the world of His Father – it is the small which grow up to be greatest in the garden. They thrive while being the tallest, and begin to produce BECAUSE they are thriving.
The Message describes it this way:
“How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.”
Again, small and productive!
“Small” is me
I thought about the word small. I have felt “small” for so many years. Patriarchy (a value system that is the opposite of God’s Kingdom) trains women to lessen their identity, their spiritual giftings, talents, their wisdom and strength. My voice was made to be small in the church, in my family of origin, and in my marriage. I was trained to be seen and not heard, to be the perfect Pastor’s daughter – above reproach in all areas of life. My dad frequently told me, “Your only job around this house is to be sweet and nice and to answer me with respect.”
But surely I was made for more than just “sweetness.” My dad didn’t hear my voice. I was also not heard in my marriage – belittled into the small silence, my voice ripped from my gut when I was chronically lied to and emotionally, verbally, and spiritually abused. I was left feeling small, unheard and unknown.
The “great” Kingdom
When a tiny seed is planted in the garden, only the planter knows it is there deep within the cold Earth. Yet, as the planter provides it ample sun, light, and nutrients, something begins to happen to this seed in the bosom of the earth. It sits and struggles with no voice – not knowing that soon it will tower over every other plant. It will be so hearty that this little seed will help others in its ecosystem, birds will nest, insects will forage, and rabbits and mice will find shelter.
“Jesus,” I whispered – “oh my word.”
I am this seed, and You are the planter.
I was the small, sequestered without a voice, abandoned and alone in the dark of the dirt. Yet, something was happening over time, Someone was watering me, Someone was watching me, feeding me, clothing me, and I didn’t even know.
He saw me. He saw me with my face in the dirt being buried alive by insults, treachery, injury, and shame. He saw every tear shed in His Kingdom, and He stayed protecting me, while in that dirt.
God, the Master Gardener, always left another planter behind to tend to my growth – all along the way. Some were women and some were friends, but each was there, advocating for my safety in the background while the carnage took place in the foreground.
Slowly, these helpers’ voices became louder than the devastation, and I began reaching my roots down into the ground, coming to understand it was Him – it was His love.
As He brought more light into my life, I exposed my dark and secrets – shoots began to burst out of the ground, extending towards the heaven, as I was hungry for more.
I was the small, and now my voice is made great. I reach higher and higher above the garden – stretching my branches in height – as He causes me to grow, tenderly meeting each need. I am growing in the most ideal environment.
Reaching toward Jesus – higher and higher.
He took the small and voiceless – and made her great. She stands firm in her roots – while extending herself to others who need shelter, food, and light.
Jesus has a habit of using the small like that. It is the value system of Heaven to uplift the oppressed, and to be near to those who feel small and crushed.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” ~Psalm 34
“That they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” ~Acts 17
Proverbs 18:6 states, “A person’s gift opens doors for him and brings him before the great.” I believe that if I look around – the great are actually the small nearest to me. Those who have had their voice silenced and forgotten. Those who are frail from abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
The GIFT of my GROWTH has brought me before some of the GREATEST. Starting with YOU, dear sister. You are the great.
The orphans I bring into my home – are the GREAT.
When we see ourselves through the eyes of the Kingdom and HIS value system – we will see that we are not so small after all.
You are not alone.
This post was originally posted here.
Go here to download your free Guide, How to Enjoy the Bible Again (when you’re ready) After Spiritual Abuse (without feeling guilty or getting triggered out of your mind). You’ll receive access to both print and audio versions of the Guide (audio read by me). I’m praying it will be helpful.
Such a beautiful post! Reading the Bible can be so triggering for me because of the version of Christianity I grew up in, but after reading this I want to pick up the Bible and try again.
Unlike Rochelle, I did not grow up in the Church. In fact, my home of origin was pretty toxic… I had no voice and had to accept mistreatment. I began my faith in Jesus at 17 through the ministry of Young Life. Young Life really “gets Him right,” I believe… I fell in love with the Jesus that Rochelle is now discovering:) I discovered that God loved me… so much so that He’d rather die than live without me! For the first time, I had value and worth.
That was a long time ago, and, sadly, over the years I have been exposed to “Christian” messages like these:
“God doesn’t want you to love yourself.” (But finding out how much God loved me, allowed me to love myself.. for the first time in my life!)
“God doesn’t want you to be happy.” (But meeting Jesus was my source of happiness, happiness like I had never known before.)
So, like Rochelle, I have had to untangle mis-truths I’ve learned in the Church, of all places…. I have had to struggle to hang onto the pure and simple truths I learned as a teenager… “Jesus loves me, this I know.:” Jane
I’m thankful you were able to find those truths, Jane. And by the way, here is the book Jane wrote about her experiences: https://www.amazon.com/My-Path-Doormat-Dignity-Personal/dp/1644580063
I love your self-prescribed Psalms reading therapy! I would love to come to those heart felt revelations that you are walking in now. I’m so glad you shared because it gives me hope. I’m going to try it myself. Thank you!
This was a beautifully written – a compelling, hard and validating – piece to read. What I see in all of it, as I have seen in my own life, is that it is the legalists who twist the life-affirming, sustaining grace and love of our gracious Lord and King into a burden of shame that He never intended. He longs to gather us into His arms and love and lead us into His light and life.
A mustard seed… Such a incredible analogy. A seed generously tended to and nurtured by the amazing God who created us and longs to see us in full bloom. He wants us to both rest in His love and trust Him to lead us home.
And He will.
Thank you for sharing. This one is definitely a keeper.
Yes, so very true. He loves His people and wants to see us flourish.
So beautiful! A gift to someone like me. I have been hurting from exposing abuse in my life. Many have betrayed me and many have left but you are right that God brings those who will help every step of the way. We are never alone!
Thanks for this. Psalms is a very familiar – and safe – book for me, as well. I have experienced that one does not have to be involved in a ‘patriarchy’ in order to feel small. There are plenty of contexts that can leave one feel belittled, de-valued, unseen, insignificant and deeply hurt. Not only by men.. women know how to mistreat women, too.
Oh. By the way. I was pondering the other day the wonderful testimony I had heard, of a woman coming from Hindu background.
She overcame hopelessness and inferiority when she was reading the Bible and saw how God loved her.
I have see so many similar testimonies from people coming from different religions and finding out about the love of God, and being set free from anxiety, fear, and inferiority.
Meanhile.. so many ‘birth Christians’ are still struggling.
Why is it that so many of us from Christian background have been struggling, while someone from other religion can receive the Word as encouragement?
So many of us were subjected to legalism and the type of teaching which instead of hope, instilled us with a deep sense of worthlessness… and sadly, other Christians have not always been helpful, either.