When I was living in the thick of emotional and spiritual abuse that came from several different directions, including my own thoughts, there was nothing I wanted more than to be rescued.
To be rescued.
I believed God would be my Rescuer. I immersed myself in His Word and particularly in the Psalms where He promised to be my Strong Tower to Whom I could run and find safety.
It was a beautiful, poetic thought. And I took it seriously. But God’s “rescue” did not include plucking me up and out of my circumstances. I really believed one day He would, but He never did. Not in that way.
Christians have told me that when they finally realized God wasn’t going to rescue them (i.e. get them out of their circumstances), they walked away from God. He wasn’t doing what they believed He was supposed to do. In their way of thinking, God is supposed to make everything sunshine and daisies when we ask Him to. So when it rains day after day after day, He’s not doing His job. Therefore, He doesn’t exist or is irrelevant.
I wrestled with this, too. I truly did. I have a lot of understanding for this way of thinking and compassion for those who have landed on letting go of God. But I eventually came to a different conclusion that resonates with me. Before I tell you about my own experience with this, I want to talk about what it means to be rescued in the first place. Because we may not all have the same ideas about what rescue looks like and how it shows up in our lives.
What does it mean to be rescued from emotional or spiritual abuse?
First let’s talk about what being rescued does NOT mean.
- It doesn’t mean waiting for something miraculous to happen out of the blue. Can things happen out of the blue? Yes, but most women who wait will find themselves waiting until they die. Just be aware of that if you decide to go that route.
- It doesn’t mean relying on someone else’s knowledge and wisdom. Are other people smart? They can be. But just because they know stuff doesn’t mean they have the wisdom or understanding to advise you on YOUR life. Learn from books, other people, counselors, or whomever, but don’t give up your own responsibility to make decisions for your own life based on all the things you know about it. They aren’t living your life. You are.
- It doesn’t mean believing or trusting people just because they are in a position of leadership or have an authority role. For crying out loud, there are a lot of folks who are leaders and also dysfunctional liars. They rape women and children in the name of God. Others do less obvious crap, but they are more subtly controlling and abusive. Trust people, including leaders or teachers or counselors, who have EARNED your trust. Don’t just trust them because they preach a good sermon. My youth pastor growing up preached great sermons while molesting girls in our youth group on the side.
- It doesn’t mean giving up and doing nothing. Sometime doing nothing is all you CAN do, but when the time comes to do something, you must do it. If you plant a garden in a dark basement, it cannot grow, no matter how hard you wish for it to grow or how fervently you believe it can grow. It will grow only when you dig it up and replant it in the sun where it can get the food and drink it needs to survive. You must do the work. The Holy Spirit of the Living God lives within us for a reason. Let’s go!
- It doesn’t mean accepting status quo. How many years do survivors endure under the advise of religious people to maintain the status quo of their relationship? It’s tragic. To accept status quo is to say “no” to personal growth and transformation. We do not grow by acquiescing to the advice of others for our lives to keep doing the same things over and over again – things that have never worked and only make things worse. Nobody else cares as much about your life as you need to. Nobody. So they aren’t going to pull out all the plugs to help you fly free. The butterfly emerging from the chrysalis needs to do that work on her own. Without it, she will die. With it, she will fly. God made her that way.
- It doesn’t mean believing you have no power and need someone with power to sweep you up and out of your pit. Our culture strives to strip power from people and give it to others. But every human being has their own power and autonomy to use for good or evil. So do you. Remember Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz? She wanted to go back to Kansas, but she didn’t realized that the power to do so was on her feet the whole time. She looked for power everywhere else but within herself.
Nobody could rescue Dorothy. She had to rescue herself. And so do you.
Here’s what getting rescued means:
- It means planning for and making MICRO-decisions that will eventually set you up to get out of your abusive relationship. Sometimes we think getting out is just one big huge leap into the unknown. And it can be for some people. But most of the time, women will take a few years of getting their mind and heart and body in the ideal place for getting out. It isn’t the huge decisions that will decide the course of their future life. It is all the daily micro-decisions that will do it.
- It means learning new things you’ve never learned before because you’ve opened up your mind and heart to them. It means seeking answers specifically for yourself and your situation rather than applying generalized blanket solutions to your life. The people around you will want you to do the “normal” thing. The thing they are all doing or believing. Why? Because that make THEM comfortable. But this isn’t the life God chooses for His followers. He calls them into a life of walking in wisdom by His Holy Spirit. Sometimes that means bucking the religious system, much like Jesus did. (Watch The Chosen series – it beautifully illustrates this tension between organized religion and Jesus Christ. Or read the gospel of John.) Read books outside of your denomination. How can you know what you believe if you’ve never studied anything other than what a few people in your childhood taught you? There is a wealth of wisdom and knowledge and understanding to be had for the taking to those who are curious, non-judgemental seekers of truth. Don’t be afraid. Jesus has you.
- It means putting your hope and trust in God alone and the wisdom He has given to you rather than in human beings.
- It means fighting. And most of the fighting will take place in the space between your own two ears. This is the work we do in Flying Free and Flying Higher.
- It means believing that you can change the status quo. It’s not easy, and there will be ridicule and kick-back, but you can do it.
- It means advocating for yourself. Standing in the reality of your own experience and understanding when others try to tell you that you’re crazy. It means loving the person God created and loves. That’s you.
- It means learning how to control you and your thoughts rather than trying to control other people or your environment.
Here’s what I learned through my own experience: God Will Rescue You by Using a Special Person in Your Life—YOU.
After a three-year separation—one year in-house and two years of physical separation, I realized God wasn’t going to miraculously get me out. He wasn’t going to use my church to get me out.
He wanted to use ME to get me out. And when this first dawned on me, I was like, “NOOOOOOOO!” And the cry reverberated throughout the universe. I promise. I literally had a “shaking-my-fist-at-God” moment right there.
“No way. There is no way on God’s green earth I will be the one to get me out. That’s TOTALLY not fair. I have fought and clawed and scratched to keep this marriage and family together for years and years, and it’s not fair that I have to now be the very one who initiates the worst thing a Christian can do! Divorce! Not fair! Not fair! NOT FAIR!”
I cried and whined and freaked.
And then I went to a hotel one weekend and read through two decades of journals. I stopped feeling bad for my abusive husband who was hopelessly stuck in his pathology, and I started feeling bad for a girl named Natalie. Who ever tried to help her? Who ever listened to her? Who ever stuck up for her? Who ever gave a damn about that young woman who was trying so hard to do all the things? (I share more of my story in this podcast HERE.)
I got down on my knees at the end of that weekend and said, “Okay God. I’ve got her. I will take up this assignment from You, and I will take care of Your daughter, Natalie. I’ve got her back.”
And I filed for divorce two weeks later. I’ve never looked back. I’ve never regretted my decision to take care of Natalie. She is precious, and she is messy, and she is beloved by her Creator. And she is MY RESPONSIBILITY. Not anyone else’s.
So I rescued myself. But I did it because. Well, because GOD. I realized that THIS is (and always has been) how He rescues anyone. Through the hands and feet of His servants. His children. Those who place themselves in His Hands and follow the lead of Jesus Christ in setting captives free. It’s not a loud revolution. It’s a quiet light that spreads in the nooks and crannies of this world’s pain.
But before He can set anyone else free through us, He wants us to set ourselves free. And He promises to be right beside us loving us and cheering us on. He is not a Genie in a Bottle. He is our Living God, and His power is inside of us to live like Jesus lived – a radical life of love and freedom from religion. Remember Dorothy’s red slippers?
So I didn’t walk away from God. Well, I take that back. I did walk away from the abuser god so many Christians worship and emulate. But I didn’t walk away from Jesus. Without His power and encouragement and love, I would never have gotten out and healed. But I had to also do my part. I had to let go of fear and shame and free-fall into Him. And He caught me.
He will catch you too.
P.S. I would love to teach you everything I’ve learned that not only got me out but set my feet on a spacious place of life-giving hope and peace. I take women by the hand and provide support and teaching and coaching in the private Flying Free Sisterhood community! It’s opening up again soon, and I’d be thrilled if you joined me on the inside there! Learn more (and get on the waiting list) HERE.
“I have found a lot of material that teaches about the abuse dynamic or about narcissism but little that teaches what to do next or how to cope. I have the type of personality that once I am aware of something I fix it. I face my fears head on and jump in but I need to know where to jump. This is what Natalie Hoffman and the Flying Free community have provided for me.” Member of Flying Free