I live in the south where sometimes people break into random conversations with strangers.
(We do that here. It’s called “being polite”. For introverts, it’s called “being assaulted”.)
It can happen anywhere, any time, and recently it happened to me.
A stranger asked me what I do, and I said, I write books for teenagers. How ironic, she said, because she teaches school to teenagers.
There was that awkward silence that happens when you’ve been assaulted, and so I blurted, “What do you want to pass on to your students most?”
And she said, “Respect. There’s so little of it these days.”
Then she got on her phone and cussed out her husband for being late to pick her up.
That wasn’t the only assault that happened that day. A few minutes later I stared at a TV screen and heard another stranger say, “Do you see those two lines right there? YOU’RE HAVING ANOTHER GIRL!”
And my husband’s eyes got big and my three-year-old shouted “NO!” and I thought Heavens To Leah, what are we going to do?
Don’t get me wrong, I am crazy about girls. I am one. I wrote a book for some. Because hey, I navigated some strange teenage years while trying to figure out the most important thing, which was, ironically, what that school teacher said I needed most—respect.
Let me tell ya, sometimes when you have two X chromosomes, you’re going to get the wrong message. You have to coach yourself that you can do anything a man can do. That you are gifted and talented and intelligent. That beauty is overrated.
And so as I stared at that giant television screen with no penis staring back at me I thought, how in the world am I going to teach TWO innocent little girls what I struggled for so many years to figure out? I mean, I could hand them this newspaper column, but somehow that lacked the motherly touch.
And then, out of the panicked silence, my inner voice reminded me… you have to learn to respect yourself. Again.
So here I am, and this is my declaration: I refuse to yell at myself inwardly for not being “man enough”. I refuse to tip-toe toward my dreams while thinking I can’t accomplish what’s in my heart. I refuse to sit by while others do what I have always wanted to do.
And I refuse to forget that part of what I’ve always wanted to do is love two little girls—little girls who are relying heavily on me to show them what respect really is.
We’ve had our own brand of crazy over here at the Martin house (more on that soon), but I wanted to make sure you know about this–
I feel super blessed to have shared my thoughts in the study notes for this Bible! Have you picked up your copy? Not for my sake, but because Zondervan has just done an awesome job compiling so many useful tools in this version.
“I get to decide where I’m safe.
No amount of guilt or shame will ever change that.”
I sat in the church classroom, completely paralyzed. For ten years I’d loved these kids and others like them, watching each heart and each trial and each suicidal tendency… only to see these fragile stems become torn and beaten down by spiritual pressure.
The leaders, the ones I’d grown to love… didn’t see their admonishments as verbal abuse. They saw it as verbal encouragement to do the right thing.
Looking back, I realize that the “encouragement” of those days was a result of fear.
Fear that these kids would fail.
Fear of the tough questions.
Fear that they would make the same mistakes we did.
Fear that they would get hurt.
Fear that they would leave the church.
My youth leader friends had good hearts. They may have been in the right place, but the pressure they placed week after week on the kids to perform — to ignore the tough questions — to serve wholeheartedly when they were hurting — all of this pressure left everyone disappointed because it didn’t work.
At some point we have to stop caring more about results than people.
There were attempted suicides. Broken relationships. Agnosticism. Anger. And on that day, in that classroom where I could no longer bear to see so much heartbreak, I walked away from what I saw.
Because on that day, I began to realize that I could make a bigger difference in these kids’ lives if they did not associate me with this church and the “God” who had no grace or room for brokenness.
(My relationships with the group deepened immensely when I walked away. They gathered in my house (with leaders’ permission), shared in my life, walked and talked and cared deep. We cried together. We laughed together. I moved on to serve in another church simultaneously.)
I left on good terms. I sat down with leadership, and we talked.
But it felt like I was speaking a foreign language… like when I used the words “spiritual abuse”, I was a hypochondriac diagnosing all of us with an imaginary disease.
Looking back, I wish I would have thought through it more. Explained my heart, explained the damage I saw, explained what I wanted to see happen for these kids.
Because here’s what I find again and again now that I’m older: people who are being spiritually abusive, or spiritually abused, don’t often recognize it until it’s too late.
And it will be too late. Because spiritual pressure–a focus on what Christianity looks like, rather than caring like Christ no matter the results–doesn’t work. It might yield the desired results for a time, but eventually people who buck up and conform without grace fail. I see it here and I see it here again.
Pressure doesn’t work. Loving people does. We were never designed to be the Holy Spirit in anyone else’s life.
This is the beginning of a series on Spiritual abuse and the damage it can create.
Your thoughts? Please share in the comments.