Not to mention that I want my next Untwisting Scriptures book to be (tentatively) subtitled Shut Your Mouth and Stuff Your Emotions.
Yesterday, a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I sat outside with my Bible and pondered “perfect love casts out fear” in 1 John (which I plan to blog about eventually). As I did, I thought about the typical ways believers are told to “cast out fear” and get on the right track with their “perfect love.”
All too often church leaders and other church people tell us that it’s by “choosing to do right,” our actions, our behavior, our internal decisions. Gritting our teeth and forcing ourselves. Will power. There may be some mention of the Holy Spirit, but it is often passing and incidental.
A friend’s question for me
So then I remembered that twelve years ago a friend I was mentoring, “Melissa,” presented me with a related question. First she quoted a song from the old musical “The King and I.”
Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune So no one will suspect
While shivering in my shoes, I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune, And no one ever knows
The result of this deception Is very strange to tell:
For when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well!
I whistle a happy tune, And every single time
The happiness in the tune Convinces me that I’m
Make believe you’re brave And the trick will take you far.
You may be as brave As you make believe you are.
It has quite a catchy tune, so if you know it and it gets stuck in your head, I’m sorry.
And then Melissa said that song seems like what Christians teach. “Your heart will follow your actions, so get your actions in line and expect your heart to follow.”
Can you see it? I can see it.
I’m copying my reply here, as is. In those days, 2009, I was in my pre-understanding (or extremely early understanding) about abuses in “Christian” families, churches, and other institutions. So I’ll comment on that afterwards.
There is a kind of mental gymnastics that actually can help a person have a smoother, and in a way, happier life. If that weren’t true, there wouldn’t be the glut of self-help books lining the shelves.
A person can talk himself into being “brave” in one sense. When you come into a room crowded with strangers standing around talking, you can give yourself a pep talk about making believe you’re brave, walk into the room looking and acting confident, speak in a confident way even when you don’t feel it, and people will begin to respond well. The more they respond well, the more truly confident you’ll begin to feel.
Yes, you say, this trick has taken me far. I fooled the people I feared, and I fooled myself as well.
Do you see how it works?
But maybe it’s not quite so evident that there is an underlying essential element here. The only way this scenario will work is if you’re dealing with civilized people.
What if you’re in an army under a cowardly king, and a huge, dastardly giant, completely UNcivilized, marches out every day daring anyone to come fight him, boasting about how he’s going to feed your bones to the birds? You stand quaking in your boots listening to him day after day.
You can start giving yourself pep talks about holding your head erect so he won’t suspect you’re afraid, but that’s not going to change the fact that moments after you step out you’ll be buzzard meat. So no little mental trick—no amount of whistling a happy tune—is going to prepare you for facing that Goliath.
What will prepare you?
Well, I think it would start with getting to really know the great God of the universe, in quiet times when no battle is going on. Like say, when you’re gazing out over a peaceful landscape, with maybe sheep in the distance. Thinking about who He really is, poring over His holy Word, and learning to love Him.
And possibly, with this great God’s help, fighting some smaller battles, the lion-and-bear-type battles, which will show you that He is fully capable.
And knowing who He is, and not being afraid to say it, to the other people who are shivering in their shoes or to the king who’s trying to strike a careless pose.
And not even being afraid to speak bold words about your great God to the giant who will not be the least bit impressed by make believe, but who can be “impressed” by a small stone that hits its mark.
We’re not talking about being able to get along with unfamiliar people. We’re talking about facing off with forces of spiritual darkness.
But it’s all in the power of God, and more specifically for you, in the power of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And then, like a certain young man with breathtaking boldness, you can assert that you most certainly are NOT afraid. Because there IS a God in Israel!
What I understood
In these days, 2009, I understood spiritual warfare to some extent, partly because I had experienced intense, demonic spiritual warfare in my own life as I had battled my own sin. That’s the perspective from which I spoke.
What I didn’t understand
Abuse and trauma
But I still didn’t grasp abuse in the home or the church. I didn’t have any of the vocabulary of trauma.
And this is a little puzzling to me, because right at that time, I was in the middle of going through three years of church counseling with another friend, “Deborah,” regarding her abusive husband. (We knew it was horrible, but we didn’t have the label “abuse” in our working vocabulary.)
Just the year before, I had read Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. I had read it twice, underlining, highlighting, writing questions in the margins, and taking my questions back to Deborah. I understood that Bancroft’s descriptions applied to her . . . and to the people in his book.
But I had not yet truly internalized and extrapolated this very new understanding. (VERY NEW.)
I didn’t know in mentoring Melissa, anything about holding open the possibility that she had been affected by trauma. I didn’t even understand trauma. I didn’t even have the word trauma, though I was walking with a traumatized friend and her traumatized children.
The extent of the problem
“The only way this scenario will work is if you’re dealing with civilized people.”
I knew that Deborah’s wicked husband was an elder in his church (one of their churches, that is—mostly they “home churched” because no churches were pure enough for him).
But there was nothing—nothing—that had prepared me for the revelation that was yet to come that this kind of abuse—and worse—was rampant in churches across our nation and others.
When I wrote that letter to Melissa above, I hadn’t even started my blog yet or gotten on Facebook. Social media—which has made a world of difference by allowing little people to share their stories with the world—was fairly new, and very new to me. When I did finally get involved, social media provided a huge part of my education in this new work the Lord had called me to.
The depths of wickedness of some “civilized” people
“The only way this scenario will work is if you’re dealing with civilized people.”
Even though I knew this one story of a man who presented as completely civilized in his white-collar world but as a concentration-camp slave driver at home, I was still such a child in my understanding.
(That is okay, because wickedness of such enormity generally takes time to process and wrap one’s head around.)
When I joined Facebook a couple of months after I wrote this email to Melissa, I wrote in my description of myself, “There are giants in the land. But we are well able to overcome them.”
I have marveled before and marvel still that I wrote those words.
The reason I wrote them is that I knew there was spiritual battle going on. I had experienced it. Ten years later, with far more understanding, I wrote about that spiritual battle in the life of every believer, in the book Prayer Armor for Defense Against the Enemy’s Flaming Darts.
But what I didn’t understand back then was how fully and completely some of those who call themselves Christians—some who claim the name of Jesus Christ!—had given themselves over to the devil.
For some time I had been troubled that many, many churches were teaching a “works” mentality when it came to living the Christian life: that is living by works instead of faith. This was the reason I started my blog a couple of months later—to help Christians understand the beauty and joy of living in the faith that Jesus Christ has already accomplished for us all that needs to be done in order to bring us the smile of the Father.
But at that time I didn’t know, didn’t understand, that this works mentality was being used on purpose to keep obedient cult members under the thumb of abusive and wicked religious leaders. Which is quite a different kettle of fish.
My ongoing journey
My “Beliefs Behind the Blog” page wasn’t written until 2018, nine years later. By then an understanding of all these things had been more fully incorporated into my mind and heart.
I continued to learn, and still continue to learn in the alternative school God has chosen for me. (I never wanted to be one of those people who started coasting through life when they got old, so I guess I got my wish.)
If I were responding to Melissa now, I would mention at least some of these things.
But you know what? I would still come back to the spiritual warfare.
The ultimate reality
Education is vital: in ways evil is used against the innocent, in how the brain/mind/body is affected by trauma, and in various helpful tools for healing. I have greatly valued the (alternative) education I’ve received.
Speaking out against the abusers themselves can be very important: to let the traumatized know that we see and we care, and in hopes that some of the abusers and enablers may repent.
But friends, there is a bottom line.
When the giant Goliath stands before the people of God (whether he takes the form of cruel and violent husband or god-like cult leader or evangelist-sex-trafficker), we can be aware that behind him stands a huge and dark and very evil spirit. And I mean this quite literally.
There are people who do the evil and enable the evil, without a doubt. But ultimately our battle is not against them.
This is a battle against the forces of darkness.
This is a battle against the spiritual Goliaths over the land.
This essential part of our work cannot be accomplished through education or through speaking. It must be accomplished by the power of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So as we fight, in prayer and in faith, the truths that I wrote to my friend Melissa still hold. Though they may have been incomplete, they were true.
When we speak, when we act, we recognize that this is the primary battle we fight. It is primarily against the satanic forces of evil, just as the New Testament tells us.
Winning the battle
Behind the giant stands a huge and dark and very evil spirit.
But behind that evil spirit stands our Lord Jesus Christ, far, far greater, with His arms outstretched, with His pierced hands ready to receive and love and cleanse each one who will come to Him—from their sin, from any demonic influence, and from the shame of whatever has been perpetrated on them.
Those of us who continue to look to Him for deliverance from evil and the conquering of the enemy? We’re a small army together. A growing army of Holy Spirit warriors.
Don’t give up, friends. We stand in His strength, and in His love.
We’re not just whistling in the dark.
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.