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The Weight of the Years

I hope that as you read this post today, you will hear my heart behind the words I write. As your sister and sojourner through the valley of heartache and pain, I know intimately the depth of grief and torment that has throbbed within your spirit for ages. Secret aching--hidden away, ignored, minimized, and cursed--yet always there; an undercurrent of sorrow, wending its way through the years.

I offer you the inquiry of Jesus.

Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” John 5

What a question from the mouth of the Son of God!

The One who knows the deepest recess of the soul looked into the pain of this man and instantly addressed the very heart of his need and desire.

Do you want to be made well?


What would you say, if He stood before you at this moment and asked the question which carried the weight of the years?

The Desire of God

It is my passionate belief that He wants you to be made well . . . moreover, that is why He has come:

To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
Isaiah 61

He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.
Psalm 147:3


The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed
Luke 18

He sees you.

He knows every moment, every glimmer of pain and aching within your heart.
He has heard every hurtful word that was spoken to you.
He knows your every devastating thought; He knows the helplessness and the hopelessness that you have endured. He knows the bitter torment and the weary efforts to keep trying. He knows your exhaustion and your tears.

He knows.
He knows.
He knows.

And He weeps.

There is an old song by Jars of Clay that spoke to me greatly when I was young and trying desperately to make it from one day to the next:

Don't try to reach me, 'cause I'm already dead
The pain when it grips me, for things that I've done
Well I try to make you proud, but for crying out loud
Just give me a chance to hide away
the Exhaustion takes over, will this someday be over?
Chorus:
Fearful tears are running down
The pain you've laid don't speak a sound
Don't take my heart away from me
And they think I fell down, again

Daddy, don't you love me?
Then why do you hit me?
Momma don't you love me
Then why do you hurt me?
Well I try to make you proud, but for crying out loud
Just give me a chance to hide away
the Exhaustion takes over, will this someday be over?
[Chorus]
A teardrop falls from up in the heavens
Drowning the sorrow of angels on high
For the least of the helpless, the hopeless, the loveless
Your Jesus, His children, He holds in His eyes

He loves you
He sees you
He knows you
protects you
He needs you
He holds you
He--Jars of Clay

Whether the bruises lie upon your skin or your soul, they are just as real. Just as debilitating.

What have you done with them?

Jesus does not want for you to carry these burdens any longer. He wants you to give them to Him; He longs for you to walk in freedom. He yearns for you to taste the sweetness of the life He offers . . . life rich in grace and joy! Laboring under the weight of pain keeps us from looking up--at Him, into His eyes, into His heart. He desires to transform your agony into a sweet sacrifice of beauty. Will you allow Him to gently enter in? For our Lord is exquisitely tender. He loves you, with a deep, fervent, abiding love.

Before we proceed, I would like to humbly venture into a very sensitive subject that will, I believe, determine whether lasting healing will come.

It is the issue of forgiveness.

Dear one, this is hard for me to write because I do not wish to add to your pain. Please know that I do not insinuate that you have not forgiven those who have inflicted injury to you; nor am I minimizing the grief and terrible wrong. I have learned that until forgiveness has been granted, there will be a stumbling block to the healing of the soul. Take comfort that you are not alone; the Son of God will give you strength for the journey.

Before Him, I humbly ask that you examine your heart for any root of bitterness or unforgiveness that may have taken hold. Ask our Heavenly Father to shed His light upon you and to reveal if there is anything that keeps you from pressing on. Follow His timing and His leading; He knows your struggle.

In the words of Corrie ten Boom, "Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you." Although on most occasions this will not bring instantaneous healing, I believe that this is the first step towards wholeness. Forgiveness releases us; when we forgive we can also rest in the knowledge that we are walking according to God's will, and in obedience. It is here, too, that He is glorified.

What forgiveness is not

I would like to make it very clear that forgiving someone does not mean that what they did doesn't matter. It doesn't mean that you will not have to walk through the valley of the shadow as you follow the leading of our Shepherd. It does not mean that you agree with what others did or said.

It does not make everything okay.

Forgiveness does not erase the truth.

However, it frees you to face the truth.

I wrote elsewhere, and will repeat:

I believe that a grave disservice is done to the spirit of a woman when she is given subtle messages that the truth of her own pain is not as important as the reputation of the ones who inflicted it.

What is the truth of the situation?

Forgiveness and truth

Psalm 56:8 You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?
9 When I cry out to You,
Then my enemies will turn back;
This I know, because God is for me.

In my own experience, I found that once I could truly say that I had forgiven, a whole new world unfolded before me. It became okay to launch myself into the pain, secure in the arms of God. It became appropriate to acknowledge the grim reality of the wounds I had borne. To face the secrets and the shadows.

The journey is intensely personal, and yet as you feel your way along the paths, many things become clear:
  • God is there, within the darkness, and He has not abandoned you to bear your pain alone.
  • Although tested, your faith is greatly rewarded.
  • Through suffering, He has granted to you a catalyst for expressing His ministry to the hurting souls of others.
  • In ways that others cannot, you are able to know Him through the fellowship of His sufferings.
This is just the beginning of the richness of His grace. For those who have been tempered by affliction, weathered by distress, and tested by fires of the lacerations of life, He offers the sweetest gifts that while not erasing the scars, sanctify them and join you ever closer to Him.

None of this makes it okay.

But please, my sisters, hear me . . .

Our Redeemer makes everything beautiful in its own time. If you embark upon the odyssey of grief, He will sustain and comfort you; He will set your feet upon the path of life and fill you with joy in His presence! He will restore the years, He will bring healing and victory. I implore you to lay your broken body and your broken heart and your broken mind and your broken soul before His feet. Offer it as a sweet sacrifice, for The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Revelation 21 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me,“Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts."

The Hidden Part

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Psalm 51:6

Throughout my personal journey, this Scripture has been a lifeline. In the midst of the darkness, it has acted as a beacon of sorts, to bring me to pause and become re-oriented. What is the truth of the situation? I would ask myself, when faced with a brutal fact or ugly realization. Because the truth is, I was hurt as a little girl. Spiritually and emotionally wounded as a young woman. Emotional scars, while often invisible, bear some of the deepest shadows and most agonizing pain that is ever known on this earth. Spiritually injuring a budding soul reaps scathing words from Jesus: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! Matthew 18

'Offense' also means 'abuse.'

I know that for some women, God has instituted miraculous healings that cleanse from the depths every ache within the soul. What a beautiful treasure! Those who have been so liberated can attest to His wondrous, miraculous ways.

For others, our journeys lie along lurid, precipitous paths. I believe that God is no less involved. I cannot suggest why some seem to have a more difficult time; a further distance to wander . . . yet let me whisper: as one who has stumbled along a prolonged, excruciating, black-as-midnight path, that the sweet intimacy which God has fostered through the pain is of such exquisite beauty that parts of me would do it all over again if it would bring me nearer to Him.

What is the truth of your situation?

I do not believe that glossing over ugly words, dismissing actions or attitudes that were hurtful towards you, or applying a bandage to the gashes on your heart, are effective measures to healing inner inflictions. Making something look more palatable has become a coping mechanism for some, but it is of little help for true, lasting healing. Convincing yourself that it didn't happen, or that at least it wasn't as bad as you feel, merely prohibits recovery.

May I humbly add that this is denial?

And deceptive?

I do not say this to shame the aching dear souls who long for God’s touch. He knows when the time is right to venture forth into the darkness. I beg you: do not rush against His leading. Yet when He urges you forward, know beyond the shadow of a doubt that He is with you every step, every moment. If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. Psalm 139:8

It is natural to feel as though you are betraying the ones who injured you. Acknowledging truth is a separate matter from forgiveness. In moments of confusion ask, what is the truth of the situation? Is it true that you were hurt? Do not succumb to the temptation to shrug it away as though it didn’t matter. The truth is that it does matter. It does hurt. Please do not think to yourself, Well, I was just too sensitive. They were just kidding around. Those thoughts will prolong the regeneration of your spirit. You as a person, as a woman, matter to Jesus! He yearns to fill the broken, empty places with His love and light and life.

Over the next few days I will be talking about forgiveness, respect, and honor as it relates to truth.

Returning

A brief note to say that I have just returned from out of town and have a few new posts in the works . . .hopefully I will get them online in a couple of days. :-) Thanks to all of you who have checked in while I have been away!

Sparrows, Falling

I have been reading Isaiah 53.
The beautiful imagery painted within this passage nourishes the deepest parts of my soul; can we not all relate to this message? Let these words settle around you like a comforting, healing embrace and know--not only are you never alone, you are never alone within the shadows and the suffering.

Isaiah 53

1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Oh, dear friends . . .can we not identify with every word?

Despised. Rejected. Of sorrows. Familiar with suffering. Like one from whom others hide their faces!

What a paradox; often we are taught that victorious Christian living is marked by peace and happiness. How often do we condemn ourselves for feeling incredible sorrow, depression, and sadness; thinking--if only I were stronger, or a better Christian; then the rejections and hurtful words wouldn't matter. The world has a popular saying. . . Fake it til you make it. While deceptive, how many believers subconsciously promote a form of this? If I read the Bible more, or prayed more, or smiled more, everything would become better, and joy will follow! How often do we apologize for our hormones--it's just PMS . . .these feelings don't matter--forgetting that God created us with wisdom, and that we are not a mistake? I don't say these things to lay burdens upon you, but to illustrate how subtle are the messages of shame which lurk among every facet of our being!

Regardless of the source of your sufferings, dear one, do not discount the things you endure. The God who knows when a sparrow falls also knows the private agonies that tear at your heart. The victorious Son of God, who was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, despised, and rejected, is the same Jesus who said: “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." Luke 12, Matthew 10

4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.

In an admittedly controversial book, written by pastor and psychologist David Seamands entitled "Healing for Damaged Emotions", his chapter The Wounded Healer illuminates this verse in a way that has helped me tremendously throughout my own personal journey. He writes:

[Hebrews 4:14-16 KJV 14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.]

If we were to rephrase Hebrews 4:15 to a positive statement, it would read: "For we have a High Priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities." In the Old Testament, the infirmity is connected with the sacrifices offered by the priests. An infirmity was primarily a physical spot, a blemish. It was a defect or a deformity either in a man or in an animal. If a man had an infirmity, even though he was a member of the priestly family of Aaron, he could not function as a priest. His infirmity disqualified him from entering the holiness of God (Lev. 21:16-24). In the same way, offerings and sacrifices had to be "without spot or blemish." Scores of references in the Book of Leviticus make plain that no infirm animal could be offered to God. Both the offering and offerer had to be free from infirmities.

In the New Testament we begin to see a figurative use of the word infirmity. It is a metaphor, a figure of speech. The common New Testament word for infirmity is sthenos which means "strength." Now when you put the letter a in front of something, that negates it. A theist is one who believes in God; you put an a in front of the word and it becomes athiest, one who does not believe in God. If you put an a in front of sthenos, which means strength, you get the root word for infirmity, asthenia, "a want of strength, a weakness, an infirmity, a crippling."

The word is hardly ever used in a purely physical sense in the New Testament. Rather, it refers to mental, moral, and emotional weaknesses, to lack of strength. Infirmities in themselves are not sins, but they do undermine our resistance to temptation. In the New Testament, infirmities are qualities in human nature which may predispose or incline us to sin, sometimes without any conscious choice on our part.

. . .Because He never sinned, because He never yielded to the temptation . . .He never had to make a sacrifice on His own behalf. But since He was tempted, since He was tested at every point as we are, we have a great High Priest who understands the feeling of our infirmities. If He merely understood the fact of our infirmities, that would be good enough. But I've got better news for you. He even understands the feeling of our infirmities--not just the cripplings, not just the weaknesses, not just the emotional hangups and inner conflicts, but the pain that comes from them. He understands the frustration, the anxiety, the depression,the loneliness and isolation and rejection. He who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities experiences the whole ghastly gamut of emotions which goes along with our weaknesses and our cripplings. [Heb. 5:7,8 NKJV]

. . . Discover what it cost our Savior to be Emmanuel, God with us. Listen to His prayers. Can you hear them, as if for the very first time? He "began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" Matt. 26:37, 38 KJV

. . . If you have battled terrible loneliness, or pathological emptiness, if you have experienced the blackest bouts of depression, if you know that when you are in the pits, the hardest thing to do is pray, because you do not feel God's presence. I want to assure you He knows, He understands, He feels your infirmity. He shares all your feelings because He has been through them.

Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

I would like to pause briefly and mention a thought upon the lines: "And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living." I am not a Hebrew scholar by any means but I believe that part of the depth of this verse demonstrates another element of sacrifice . . the man Christ Jesus would not know the blessing of marriage and family. His purpose was sacrifice and salvation, but as fully human, it is likely that He could have contemplated the beautiful nature of fatherhood while receiving the little children who yearned to be near Him. I do not mean this concept for anything other than mere conjecture; however it is one more piece of evidence of His obedience.

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

1 Peter 3 and 4 reveals a beautiful mystery:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God . . . Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.

. . .Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. . . .Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.

Oh my friend, consider the implications of this! We have studied the sufferings of our beloved Christ; although not many of us will experience the torture of the crucifixion, as hurting women we have struggled and suffered through sorrows and rejection and grief. It is my humble belief that to these things Peter admonishes: do not be ashamed! Glorify God, commit your soul to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator! For God's ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Trust Him with your soul . . .the soul that grieves and aches with agony that often has no words.

I know that it can be difficult when well-meaning Christians tell you what you should and should not feel, what you should and should not do; these reproachings sadly do very little to edify and exhort. Often, they further heap shame and condemnation upon the heart of a woman who already feels inadequate as a daughter of God, much less as a human being. Scripture admonishes us to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep . . .it does not counsel the weeping to dry their tears.

However, let me testify that the gift His joy and grace is exquisite beyond words!

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

The man of sorrows, whose soul was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death, has trusted in His Father. Because of His obedience, therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. Heb. 7

What a beautiful fulfillment of the dreams of God! Moreover, He has perfected us:

. . .there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies:

“ You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him:
“ The LORD has sworn and will not relent,
‘ You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’”),
by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.
Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him,
since He always lives to make intercession for them.

For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.

Healing for the broken-hearted

I would like to conclude with the calling of Jesus. I know that my words cannot pretend to assuage the depth of aching and sorrow that you have borne throughout your life, but I pray that you will truly find comforting healing through the nearness of God, through the obedience of the rejected one familiar with suffering.

Isaiah 61

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
3 To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”

"Come to Me," says the Man of Sorrows, "all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

Why I Write . . .

As a woman with a very interesting, atypical past, I am often asked, "why are you so different?" This question comes from those within “the world”, and from those who follow a more conservative path.
 

I grew up keenly aware of this "being different", cursing myself, my desires, my flesh, my deepest being. I implored God to change me, and daily begged Him for forgiveness of my badness and sin.

My ministry is to women abused within fundamentalist Christianity. My primary focus is adult daughters, but wives and mothers are not exempt from the emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, manipulation through fear, shame, mind control, and other serious elements, rampant within aberrant religious culture.

Many resources exist extolling the virtues of Biblical Patriarchy, the Quiverfull movement, homeschooling, isolationism, and agrarian living. Many others address the issue of prodigal sons or daughters, caution against “culture”, and illustrate what it means to be a true, godly woman.

Undoubtedly, some of these materials are valuable.

Yet very few address the negative ramifications of these lifestyles or the effect they have on women. For there is a dark side within extreme conservatism. It is compounded by secrecy, oppression, fear, and silence, while the "least of these" within fundamentalist Christianity quietly succumb to heartache, pain, and sorrow.

And that is why I write.

I pray that my words will help bring relief, hope, and encouragement to women lost and hurting within a religious subculture. I pray that they will see the true way, and the heart of Jesus. I hope that those who feel betrayed in the name of God and the Bible will come to understand truth.

To be clear, I am not “against” homeschooling or other conservative values. I do not take the position that they naturally produce fearful, depressed daughters. I do not believe it is wrong to have many children, nor to live a "counter-cultural" lifestyle.

However, I do protest when families become imbalanced, when daughters feel as though they do not matter, that their thoughts and feelings do not matter, when subtle messages bring condemnation, when things are proclaimed to be “God’s way” or the “Biblical way” when Scripture makes no such claim. I protest when the doctrines of men are used to hurt the children of God. I am against performance-based relationships, and placing anything other than Jesus at the center of a heart or family.

No family is perfect. However, the purpose of this book is not to ream others for their imperfections, but to acknowledge, validate, and launch a journey to healing from the very real wounds caused by them. I encourage all to seek the Heavenly Father and live obediently to the convictions placed on their hearts by the Holy Spirit. Weigh what I write according to Scripture, and lay these words before God.

I do not know the outcome of this project; I do not know if this work will become a completed book, or what God has in store. He has said to write, and write I do. Tomorrow is in His hands.

The Mystery of Grace

My last article reviewed some of the features of shame, and drew comparisons between shame and guilt. To review, guilt--or godly conviction--is the feeling that follows sinfulness. For hearts submitted to Christ, it is a precious vessel by which we become aware that we have committed wrong, presenting the choice to seek forgiveness and restoration. On the other hand, shame is the internalized sense that I am wrong, worthless, evil, and have nothing of value to offer God or anyone else.

I have proposed that it can be helpful, when determining the source of your feelings, to ask: does this make me want to run to God or away from God? If the source of your emotion causes you to bury your head in darkness, I humbly beseech you to venture unto His feet and ask Him to reveal the deep inner secrets that oppress your soul.

. . .the Dayspring from on high has visited us;To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1

Psalm 51:6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

The Voice of Shame

Do any of these ideas sound familiar?

  • I can't do anything right; I am a failure.
  • I am worthless. There is nothing good about me.
  • If people only knew the real me, they wouldn't even want to be around me.
  • God must think I am horrible.
  • I always say the wrong thing.
  • I can't voice any of my needs or desires. . .most of them are ungodly, anyway.
  • I don't deserve anything nice.
  • No matter what I do, I am still selfish and bad inside.

Most of these negative beliefs emerge from a deep sense of imperfection. The drive for perfection I believe comes, in part, by a good desire to live righteously and to. . .be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matt. 5 Some of us are inclined to have a pleasing nature, which can slip into idolatry as we seek the approval of others over God.

When I struggled with depression, the overwhelming sense in my mind was "It's not that I make mistakes; its that I am a mistake!" I firmly believed the world would have been a better place and that my family would have been happier, if I had never been born. More than anyone I could see my own shortcomings. My "failures" loomed like towering, smothering giants, bellowing smoke and fire. They weighed upon me like a death sentence.

The Voice of Truth

For those who have been raised in shame-based families, a crucial element to healing is learning to replace these lies with truth from God's word. What does He have to say?

One of the most precise passages addressing this is found in Romans 8. . .There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Meditate upon this verse, for truly Christ has come to set us free from the bondage of sin and death. What is more deathly than shame? It undermines everything within our hearts and renders us less effective for the kingdom.

Marilyn J. Sorensen, Ph.D., author of "Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem", writes:

"Early in life, individuals develop an internalized view of themselves as adequate or inadequate within the world," she said. "Children who are continually criticized, severely punished, neglected, abandoned, or in other ways abused or mistreated get the message that they do not 'fit' in the world -- that they are inadequate, inferior or unworthy."

These feelings of inferiority are the genesis of low self-esteem, Sorenson says.

"Individuals with low self-esteem become overly sensitive and fearful in many situations," she said. "They are afraid they won't know the rules or that they've blundered, misspoken or acted in ways others might consider inappropriate. Or they might perceive that others reject or are critical of them."

Once low self-esteem is formed, the person becomes hypersensitive -- they experience "self-esteem attacks" that take the form of embarrassment or shame, Sorenson adds.

"Unlike guilt -- which is the feeling of doing something wrong," she said, "shame is the feeling of being something wrong. When a person experiences shame, they feel 'there is something basically wrong with me.'"

Consider the implications of this.

For a woman to spend her life feeling rejected, inferior, unworthy, inadequate, and a blight on the face of the earth. . .how indescribably sad! Unfortunately, it is all too common. In my humble opinion, if the enemy can keep a woman shamed--he has done his work. A condemned woman, tortured by her own thoughts and memories and messages she received throughout her life has no will to live. It can be a challenge merely to rise in the morning, much less smile and be a shining light within the darkness.

It is not that she will not try. Oh, she will. . .fatigued, plagued with self-doubt, and summoning every ounce of motivation, she will burst forth and try to prove invaluable to those around her so she can find a sense of satisfaction and purpose in life. Sheer desperation, hunger for acceptance and approval, and a frenzied effort of doing will keep her spinning in a vicious cycle. . .further compounding shame as mistakes glare her in the face when she fails.

To this woman Jesus extends a restraining hand. Come to Me, He pleads. I will give you rest.

No condemnation.

There lies before us a choice. Do we want to listen to the old messages of condemnation, or to the gentle voice of the Son of God? Healing lies within His blood-stained hands.

1 Cor. 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. . .

I believe that each time a shaming lie pops into our mind, it is essential to choose then and there what we will believe. It is re-training, in a sense; replacing grave errors with truth. Because of Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame. . .we can approach the throne of grace with boldness for the help we need to overcome this battle.

Grace

My exhortation to you is to be gentle to yourself. Do not grow impatient as you learn to walk a new way. Take every moment by moment, and pray without ceasing. Oh, dear one. . .I pray that you will know the cleansing, healing mercy and grace that the Father offers! To partake of His grace is the most precious gift; for it bypasses your doing, and warmly embraces your being! This exquisite gift brings joy and life and freedom from the subtle roots of shame that oppress! This is His answer for a weary, burdened soul seeking relief.


. . .the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit,as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth. . .For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. Col. 1

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I strongly recommend "Released from Shame: Moving Beyond the Pain of the Past" by Sandra D. Wilson.

Sanctuary

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10

Life. A simple word that pulses with complexity. While you contemplate, what comes to mind? A hundred women will give a hundred different answers; all borne from the book of days they have lived--fun, stressful, challenging, hard, i-wish-i-were-dead, boring, exciting, an adventure, depressing--yet I wonder: how many of us can truly say, abundant?

I believe that an abundant life is full. . . when every sense is alive with wonder, expectancy, and thankfulness for God's grace and mercy. We awake with purpose and live our day along an undercurrent of joy, even when tears are shed from frustration or sadness; when we fume over traffic or agonize over an aching child. For when we are full, we are free to feel. When we are full, knowing that we will not be rejected but are welcome just as we are, with no effort of our own...only then can we blossom.

With no effort of our own
. . .

Women acquainted with spiritual abuse kno
w
intimately the depth and burden of always trying. Of always doing . . . perhaps hoping one day to suddenly measure up, and find approval somewhere within the lined faces of austerity that haunt us. There is always darkness there, for we are taught that it is the will of God to heed the voice that grieves us. Our best is never good enough, and yet we know that to give up is to die.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11

These words of Jesus illustrate His heart for those burdened and exhausted from the law. Quite a contrast to the realities of our everyday agony; stumbling along beneath the weight of the shoulds and the oughts that we bear. These onus ones shrill with loud voices, rendering us shamed and guilty; as though pointing fingers and declaring: aha! See, you are worthless! You are stupid! You can't do anything right!

Oh, dear friend! How my heart breaks for the weary; for I know the torment of these obscenities! Let us look at some of the things that torture us so. . .

  • I should read the Bible more
  • I should have dinner ready by now
  • I should exercise today
  • I should pray harder
  • I should wear dresses
  • I ought to speak more kindly
  • I ought to turn the other cheek
  • I ought to be happy

We could, each of us, list dozens of items that remind us where we lack. If we were truly good women, wouldn't these be easy? Please understand that I am not saying these things in and of themselves are wrong to do; many of them are quite Biblical, in fact. However, many women who have been raised in an authoritarian environment consistently feel unacceptable and bear the shame of disapproval. We are subtly taught that we must perform or properly behave in order to receive love, affection, or attention; but even after our hardest efforts, we are left dry. It becomes confusing; while these seem like the daily disciplines of a godly woman, why are we left so empty and drained? Why do we not feel rested at the feet of Christ? We sink deeper into shame, feeling that this proves how weak, ungodly, and worthless we are.

Shame vs. guilt

It is very important to understand the difference between guilt and shame. Healthy guilt produces repentance, restoration, and growth. Unfortunately, many woman writhe under feelings of shame; which can drive them further from God and the healing rest He offers. These things become enmeshed within our core, until our very identities scream negative lies that become the foundation of all that we believe about ourselves. To identify the roots of your feelings, it may help to ask:

Does this make me want to run to God? Forgive me father, for I have sinned.
-OR-
Does this make me want to run away from God? I am so wicked, and God cannot look upon sin. I just need to go and die.

Guilt is the feeling of regret over a committed wrong; externalized and within proper context. I did a bad thing and I regret what I did. Shame is an emotion of perceived wrong; but it is internalized: I am bad. I always do bad things so that means I am worthless, no good, and should have never been born.

Do you see the difference?

I realize that it can be extremely difficult to overcome a lifetime of shoulds and oughts. By ourselves, it is impossible. May I whisper something to you? Jesus wants you to become free. You don't need one more doing to receive His freedom; you don't need another formula. In essence, He says, Come. Drop everything you are doing, and rest. Let me give you what you need. Let Me be your source.

What would your life be like, if you simply stopped?

It is both exhilarating, dangerous, and daring!

Consider His words an invitation to sanctuary. Let Him allure your tired and weary heart. . . for you will find rest for your souls.

A whole new life awaits.
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Going forward we will talk quite a bit about the insidious nature of shame and its crippling effects on women. A very helpful book is entitled Shame off You, by Alan D. Wright.

THANK YOU!!!!!

I am so honored, humbled, and thankful for all who have stopped by this blog, who have linked to me, and sent notes and letters my way! This project is very dear to me and I am in awe of all that God has brought forth!

I plan to write another post soon but at the moment I am so moved by His grace that I offer my humble gratitude to you, my readers; and to the One who heals the broken.

Thank you.

Spiritual Abuse

**This post was formerly titled "Spiritual Abuse in the Family." I have updated and reposted it here. **

Many resources exist for those who have experienced horrendous spiritual abuse within churches or other religious organizations. I am so grateful for those who have followed their calling to minister to the brokenhearted within Christendom--the ones who have sustained injury within the very sanctuary that was intended to be a place of nourishment, rest, and growth in Christ.

What happens this occurs within our homes? Is it still legitimately called Spiritual Abuse, or should it be named something else for accuracy? What can you do when you are biologically bound to those in leadership; and if there is no evidence of mistreatment to the physical body, mistreatment of the soul and spirit become mere conjecture? How do you answer when you are still a youth, and are told that you are too young to discern what is true; that you need to trust your elders? How do you respond when you are a woman?

We will study these things with more depth in the future, but let us establish a working knowledge of spiritual abuse in the family.

I believe that these issues are both more common and serious than we know. Again, from Jeff VanVonderen:
Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.

This isn't limited to churches.

Father, Father!
In many authoritarian and patriocentric families, it is common to see isolationist mentalities that drive them even further from the world. The notion to "be separate" and "be unworldly" calls many parents to essentially 'hole-up' and become a completely solitary unit, disconnected and independent from the system and society. In many cases, this includes church. To fulfill the need for Biblical study and knowledge, the head of the family becomes the spiritual leader as well. Unchecked and unaccountable, this is where much of the issue becomes apparent. Rachel Ramer has written an amazing article entitled "Christian Families on the Edge" which expounds upon this concept with alarming accuracy.

According to David Henke who founded the Watchman Fellowship, spiritual abuse has five distinct characteristics: authoritarianism, image consciousness, suppression of criticism, perfectionistic standards, and imbalance in belief or practice. I would like to examine these features in relation to the family, and with particular affinity to women.

Authoritarianism

Authoritarians exercise complete or almost complete control over the will of others, as well as favor complete obedience or subjection to authority as opposed to individual freedom.

When present within the family structure, this gives the parent--in patriarchal ideology, it is always the father--absolute control over his offspring. What they think, what they do, where they go, what they wear, and so forth, constantly lie under his supervision and are governed by his will and what he believes is right. Practically speaking, this may not always get carried out consistently, especially in large families; however this is the intention, the goal, and the epitome of successful authoritarian structure. While the degree of authoritarianism is determined by such facets as personality, relationship with God and others, and personal dogma, typically authoritarian parents:
  • react rather than respond
  • are excessively demanding
  • require instant obedience and conformity, often without explanation or with a "Because I am the dad!"
  • are intimidating and become angry, animated, or forceful
  • often communicate unreasonable expectations
  • though unspoken, the message often becomes: you are loved or accepted by me, only when you perfom the way I command
  • disparage and discourage the emotional needs of their children
  • are restrictive and intrusive
  • do not respect boundaries

What happens when such authoritarians exact these standards upon their family when it comes to religious or spiritual matters? Furthermore, what what happens when they are wrong?

Contrast this with authoritative parenting, where the authority of a parent is inherently established by being who they are, rather than through austere insistence. It is believed that authoritative parents are a healthy balance between authoritarian and permissive styles.

Authoritative parents:
  • respond rather than react
  • high, although reasonable expectations
  • assertive
  • have a healthy balance between discipline and nurturing the emotional and self-esteem side of their children
  • sensitive to the needs of their child, including the emotions
  • respectful of boundaries, even in their children
  • encourage responsible decision-making while still under protection of the home


Image Consciousness

In families where spiritual abuse is likely present, there will be undue emphasis placed upon how things look. Often this is taken by proof texting a popular KJV verse:

1 Thessalonians 5:22

Abstain from all appearance of evil.
With an effort to manifest both righteousness and holiness, as a light and a witness, and for their own aggrandizement, these families emphasize appearance over heart. Any action is weighed according to how it may seem to someone else, whether that person claims to be a believer or not, and whether the situation itself is true or not. It is my belief that this is counter to God's desire for His people, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus Himself appeared with prostitutes, gluttons, drunkards, and other sinners. He was concerned with heart and truth, not appearance.
Thus does this feature of spiritual abuse counter the gospel.

Suppression of Criticism

Authoritarian parents greatly discourage any questioning of the system. Children, even adult children, are viewed as a threat if they raise issues, inquiries, skepticism, debate, or general challenges regarding beliefs and parenting styles, for this is perceived as a challenge to authority. This may be apparent in unspoken rules, for many austere debators may welcome questions with words, but the hidden message becomes, you are no longer welcome as you are, loved as you are.

It is my belief that the reason for such a view is that due to the degree of influence upon other members of the family --i.e., younger brothers and sisters--it becomes detrimental for the sake of the established structure to challenge, and therefore plant seeds into the minds of others. If everyone was to question, for example, the understood and accepted level of power would henceforth be undermined and weakened. Therefore, the one who questions is often made to be the one with a problem, and perhaps become heralded as the black sheep or prodigal child, held up as the example of the wayward one, and possibly even considered unsaved.

If the one who questions happens to be a daughter, woe is she. We will discuss this in the near future.

Perfectionistic standards

In order to "prove" their way is correct, it becomes absolutely vital for parents to have perfectly-adherent children. Again unspoken, the understood message is that failure and mistakes are anathema. There is no grace within this structure, and therefore no example of truth or true godliness. In addition, a lack of compassion drives offspring...inparticular, women...towards depression and other serious maladies of the soul. Parents who demand perfect following to their established dogma attempt to re-create God in their image, and thus lay the foundation for grave theological and relational error in the heart of their children.

Imbalance

Spiritually abusive families create a severe lack of balance within both structure and creed. In addition to subtle condemnation for questioning, challenging, and other understood 'mis-behavior', there exists the silent recognition that the spiritual head alone hears from God and interprets truth. Those within his care are not equipped to aedequately spiritually discern any matter which may contradict the accepted, established belief. Those who do are labeled rebellious, and humiliated.

This counters the gospel, again. 1 Timothy 2 reminds us, "...God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus..."

There are many objections and controversies among religious and conservative groups regarding when does a child become an adult (here is one opinion; scroll down to the end); can 'children' hear God and disern truth, and what happens when what an individual discerns something contrary to what has been established within the family?

These things and more, with relativity to women, will be addressed in the future. For now, let me impart that if you have been brought up within a home exhibiting these characteristics, or varying degrees of them, it is virtually undeniable that you have wounds within your heart that need immediate attendance. It can be overwhelming to face all of the hurts and the darkness of the past, but for your soul to be made well it is necessary to seek the strength of the Lord to walk through the Valley of the Shadow. Do not fear, for He will receive you and lead you to the way everlasting.

Author note: Please note that I do not claim that every family is like this; however it is very sad and true that these things are more frequent than we realize. Because these families are extremely private, it is difficult to provide actual statistics regarding the percentages of those who believe and live this way. I rely on what I know, have seen and heard, as well as the limited numbers that are available, which I will provide as I can. Please do not discount the severity of this problem based on the lack of factual statistical evidence.
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For further research on parenting styles:
http://www.brainy-child.com/article/parenting-styles.shtml
http://www.athealth.com/Practitioner/ceduc/parentingstyles.html
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3614/is_200110/ai_n8958286
http://parenting.families.com/blog/authoritative-parenting-an-overview
http://childparenting.about.com/od/parentingeducation/a/authoritative.htm