No one likes a grudge holder. The old phrase, “Forgive and forget” has been used to insinuate we haven’t forgiven if we haven’t forgotten, but that’s not always true.
While forgetting seems like a beautiful concept in theory, it can only happen healthfully when an abuser acknowledges what they have done. Consider some situations where forgetting might cause more harm.
If you are robbed by the babysitter, will you hire her again?
If your teenager steals from your accounts, will you give him your password again?
If your neighbor drinks and drives, are you willing to lend him your car?
If someone abuses a child, would you leave her alone with him?
Any judicious person would say no to the above situations. You can still love these people and hold no ill will against them, but it would be foolish to ignore what they have done and act as if these events had never happened.
Most people would never expect us to ride with an alcoholic that has just wrecked their car. Yet they don’t mind putting us in emotional harm’s way by telling us to forgive and forget someone who has abused us. That’s because they confuse the meaning of forgiveness with reconciliation, but they are not the same thing.
Forgive: to give up resentment or grant relief from payment
Forgiveness takes one, while reconciliation takes two.
Forgiveness is a decision to stop punishing another person.
Forgiveness lets go of any need for retribution.
Forgiveness is lack of animosity toward the other person.
Reconciliation: Restore friendly relations between or cause to coexist in harmony
Reconciliation goes beyond forgiveness.
Reconciliation requires listening to the pain we have caused.
Reconciliation requires expressing sorrow for the wrongs we’ve done.
Reconciliation requires unconditional love and acceptance from both parties.
Reconciliation requires walking side by side with someone who has hurt us.
Reconciliation can happen only when both parties are wholehearted toward the other.
When people ask us to forget the past without acknowledging what they have done, it deprives both parties of an honest relationship. Jesus showed us by His example how to live in authentic community with each other. When Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed, He acknowledged what Peter and Judas were about to do and He didn’t pretend their actions were okay.
The same Jesus who said to turn the cheek also taught personal responsibility by giving us the parable of the talents. God’s principle of other-centered love calls for us to do what is best for all people. Sometimes this means we should take one for God and the team, while other times turning the other cheek might only further the lies and damage to both abuser and victim.
Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction? -Amos 3:3
We can still forgive, even when we can’t forget. We can stop resenting. We can stop wanting revenge. We can stop dwelling on what others have done to us, but we should always remember so we don’t repeat the same patterns both as an abuser and as a victim. Remembering is how victims turn into victors.
While we are forgiving, we might also need to forgive ourselves. We forgive ourselves for burning our hand on the stove, but we’ll also avoid touching a hot stove in the future because we remember. God gave us a brain. We can honor Him by using it to both remember and forgive.
The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget. -Thomas S. Szasz
Forgiveness is often a controversial subject among survivors, and while I don’t think anyone
can tell another when to forgive, forgiveness is not always what we’ve thought it was. Here is a guest blog by my dear friend Amelia Ponder who is both a survivor and atherapist.
A quote from Google:
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
The topic of forgiveness could take many moons to cover. Most of us have heard the way the body benefits from forgiveness. How dangerous cortisol is. Though there is much to explore on these points, I will be taking another direction.
When I think about forgiveness, I think of why we are afraid to forgive. This might seem like a rabbit trail, but what I’m about to say relates. In my work with clients, often I will get a question about whether trauma treatment warps memory or not. I am an EMDR therapist, and the client asking me this question is trying to understand what will happen to their thinking by receiving the treatment. What I’m being asked is ‘will this process change the way I feel about what happened to me?’ This question is not saying ‘I hope I don’t feel better when the treatment is all over’ It is really asking ‘Will I agree with the perpetrator and all the others who minimized what happened?’ ‘Will I become nonchalant about things so horrible that now I can hardly put words to? I don’t want to be OK with the molestation, with the beatings, with lies. I don’t want to agree with all those who would not take seriously what happened.’
This desire to honor what has happened is related to the struggle with forgiveness, and is misunderstood by those who either distance themselves from hurting others as a way of distancing from their own pain, or by those have not been harmed (since there are very few of these types, I’m guessing it’s usually the first.)
Comments will be made –
you love to live in the past
just a wallowing in your pain, aren’t you
get over it
And so we work hard to get over it.
Many of us who have been hurt have not realized it, but we have agreed with the one who harmed us by working hard to “get over it”. We also agreed by taking on the blame ourselves. If I had just acted differently, if I had said something, if I had been more quiet, I should have known he was in a bad mood. I should have left the house. When I do not squarely place the blame on the abuser, I am living dishonestly.
A person who is living dishonestly about what has happened becomes what we call symptomatic. When I lie to myself, my body decides it has to turn up the dial – trying to get my attention that I’m off track, kind of like the way I feel when I start to veer over the line on the freeway – my anxiety my go up, my depression may increase, my sleep becomes troubled, I overeat, I drink, I use drugs, I become angry, I become resentful and hurt – and still, with all these symptoms, don’t allow myself to identify clearly what has happened. It’s at this point that someone sees my misery and suggests that I forgive my abuser.
Some would say its never wrong to forgive, it seems to me, however that forgiveness can be premature. In other words, for me to say I forgive you, I need to first tell myself the truth about what you did to me. My body is trying to remind me of the harm by the triggers, the anger I feel, by the anxiety, by the sleepless nights, my body tells the truth, however, I haven’t told myself the truth. Encouraging a jump to forgiveness is often used to avoid the messy steps of dealing with what has happened. The power of forgiveness is knowing the full ugliness of what actually happened, and from that place forgiveness is strong. I become strong when I forgive the fullness of what you have done.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. Forgiving is admitting that
a wrong has been done. To forgive you is for me to admit
that what you did was not ok.
Like so many things in life, the idea of forgiveness has been misused as a way of diminishing harm done. A quick, get over it, forgive kind of gesture we give to each other. When really, forgiveness honors the harm done by its very nature.
An important reminder. Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness does not mean I will ever see you again. Reconciliation is possible after forgiveness, however, it takes both parties to reconcile. We won’t go into reconciliation here today, however, just remember forgiveness is not necessarily contacting the person who harmed you. In many cases, it is not recommended that you contact that person. Forgiveness is a choice you make in your own spirit about the harm done.
A few additional details about forgiveness:
When I forgive, I remind myself I also need to be forgiven (I admit to myself that I have caused harm to others at times, even if I hadn’t meant to.)
When I forgive, I am sending the message to myself that I don’t have to be perfect. I give myself permission to make mistakes. Because I forgive, I can be forgiven.
When I forgive I don’t need another person to apologize and ask for forgiveness. I forgive even when the one who has done the harm won’t admit guilt.
When I forgive, I am not forgetting, I am not condoning and I am not excusing offenses.
When I forgive, I’m able to live in the present. That provides me a chance to grow. When I don’t forgive, I’m stuck. Holding onto pain, resentment, anger, hurt does not harm the offender. It harms me.
When I forgive, it’s not a gift to another, it’s a gift to myself.
When I forgive, I am allowing myself the opportunity for future healthy relationships. It’s easy to see why I don’t want to forgive a monster, however, when I don’t make a habit of forgiveness, all my relationships suffer, even the ones I care about the most.
When I forgive, I don’t have to feel like forgiving. I simply have to choose to forgive. I might still have rage, loathing, even hate, and can choose to forgive. Each time the feelings present themselves I can choose to forgive again. That’s about the time joy peeks itself around the corner of my life.
When I don’t forgive, I have a narrow view of life. When I forgive, my view becomes broader. Both for others and myself.
In conclusion, the very thing that prevents us from forgiveness, the attempt at honoring the truth of our experience, is the thing that will dishonor ourselves the most. Because not forgiving causes me to re-experience the harm again and again. I shouldn’t have had to experience the harm once, let alone over and over. Rather than forgiveness causing me to dishonor the harm that has been done, forgiveness gives be a wide and high view, allowing me to honor more deeply the meaning of what has happened, and allows me to have a better understanding of the perpetrator and myself.
-Amelia Ponder is wife, mother, grandmother, singer, quilter, and reader who, when she is not busy with her family, works as a marriage and family therapist. You can follow her blog at AmeliaPonder.com
They were walking away. Done. The church as they knew it had let them down and now after the events of the weekend, they were through.
It was hard to accept, and at first, it had been difficult to imagine, but now that Jesus was dead, they had no choice but to walk away.
With heavy hearts, they trudged on, questioning their memories, checking facts with each other.
“Remember? It was only a week ago today that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey. People were waving palm branches…”
“How could I forget? And yet, I was puzzled by Jesus weeping over the city. Was he trying to warn us?”
“Maybe, I thought with all my being that he was the Messiah. I wish I’d paid more attention to his words. Perhaps there were other clues.”
“Clues to what? That he was an imposter? Well, whatever he was, he’s gone now.”
“I had hoped until the very last minute. When the people called for Jesus to save himself, I thought for sure he would, but not even the priests could get him to perform a miracle.”
“And yet he fed thousands and raised the dead, but I’m not sure I trust those priests anymore. It’s not like they treated Jesus with any respect.”
“Yeah, Caiaphas didn’t give him a fair chance—he washed his hands of Jesus like he was something dirty. Even if Jesus wasn’t the one, our religious leaders were unfair. I don’t think I can go back to Jerusalem for Passover next year.”
“I can’t either. If the church can’t stand with someone as loving as Jesus, what kind of church is it? No, I won’t be coming back either.”
“My faith was so strong while I listened to Jesus teaching, I felt alive more than I ever have, but now that he’s gone, I feel numb. After watching the reaction of the people and how they murdered Jesus, it makes my stomach turn.”
“Me too, I’m in a crisis. I feel like I am losing my faith.”
They barely noticed the stranger coming up behind them until he spoke. He too had been in Jerusalem, but his perspective was different. He still believed.
They walked on. Even as the sky grew darker, they walked with the stranger through the shadows—that darkest night of their souls. They mourned the loss of everything they’d once believed. It was painful. They vented. They were sad one minute, angry the next. How could the most beautiful experience of their lives turn into something so bitter?
As they discussed their disillusionment, the stranger passed no judgment but continued beside them through what appeared to be the deconstruction of their spiritual beliefs. He listened, then gently pointed them to the scriptures. Yes, Jesus fit the criteria and it was true the crowd had gotten out of control. Yes, the religious leaders had misused their authority.
This stranger, though not always in agreement with them, seemed to understand the religious leaders were hypocrites. He agreed what happened to Jesus was wrong, and yet he continued to believe. They marveled at his faith and wondered how—after all that happened, he could still insist Jesus was the Messiah.
His empathetic ear, his knowledge of scripture and his optimism ignited their hearts. The conversation was so mesmerizing; they hardly noticed when they came up to their door. The stranger turned to go on his way, but they asked him to stay for supper so they could continue their conversation.
He agreed to stay for a little while. As he raised his hands to bless the food, their eyes and hearts were suddenly opened. Jesus had been walking with them all along—even as they were walking away from their faith, deconstructing their beliefs, mourning the lies they’d believed, questioning the facts they’d once imagined to be true. Jesus had never left them.
Just as the scriptures revealed it was necessary for Jesus to die, their former beliefs and expectations had to die as well. Jesus was not the Messiah they’d been looking for—he was better, a different kind of Messiah. The things they’d missed in his teachings now became clear.
He was there one minute, and then he was gone, but they knew they’d never be the same. This encounter had restored their faith, but their faith was no longer in the religious system, it was grounded in Jesus.
They had no hunger for natural food—this spiritual feast would sustain them. Running as fast as they could, they hurried back over the mountain, dodging the rocks in their path to share their revelations with the friends they’d so mournfully left behind just hours before. The things they’d experienced had been real—this deconstruction of their faith was necessary for them to embrace the good news Jesus offered. Full of joy and excitement, they pounded on the door and windows for someone to let them in.
“We have seen Jesus! He’s alive! He’s not the Messiah we thought he was, but he’s so much more!”
Were your plans and dreams ever destroyed by a single event? I wonder how it felt to the friends of Jesus the day after he died. It sounds weird to say, “Jesus is dead.” But for one day that was reality.
Friday was a dark day and the world’s profound grief must’ve been palpable, but at least people had hope when they woke up on Friday before everything went down. I can imagine somewhat how it was a dark Friday, but I wonder what it was like to wake up the next morning. There is something about the dawn that always inspired hope, but was this true on that darkest of Sabbaths? How does the earth respond to the death of her Creator? Did the birds sing? Did the flowers open? Was the sun shining? Did children—especially those who loved Jesus, wake up and play as usual?
Did grownups get ready for the synagogue, or did everything seem off? Were people so depressed they stayed home from church? Did some priest or elder, maybe Nicodemus, start searching his scroll trying to understand what was going on? Was there a sunrise that Sabbath morning while the body of Jesus lay inside the tomb?
And where were the followers of Jesus the Way? They were scattered, hiding away, hoping no one would assassinate them too. Peter had even gone so far as to swear and act like a badass hoping no one would remember he’d been with Jesus. James and John, who had been fighting to be in the cabinet of the man they believed would be king hid too. It wasn’t just Judas, friend after friend had betrayed Jesus and most of them had disappeared. Even the women who hadn’t betrayed Jesus wept, overcome with grief and depression.
There was a stillness—a threat of death, that hung over the devastated earth that evening and in the dark morning that followed. Perhaps nature was subdued in honor of her Creator. Maybe the birds were silent, and the sun refused to shine that morning, obscured by the clouds of fear and uncertainty. Perhaps the silence was deafening, and all anyone could hear was the words of Jesus in response to their betrayal—“Father forgive them.”
If I had betrayed Jesus, I wonder where I would be that next morning. Would I find comfort in his words—oh wait, I have betrayed him. Haven’t you? Do you wonder what he thinks about you today? Your secrets. Your selfishness? The lies you’ve told? Do you dread looking into the eyes of the Friend you’ve betrayed?
Here is where we enter the Jesus story. We too, wake up to remember what happened yesterday or last year. We, like Peter, swear loudly to make sure no one thinks we are too religious, we hide in our safe circles, because to march and stand with the oppressed feels too dangerous. These days many fear being shot. Some of us have lost our families. Others wonder what they will do if they lose their jobs.
We look at the world and wonder where the justice is? Why does the future seem obscured by wars and rumors of wars? Why are people in the same family pitted against each other? Why do the scapegoats stand outside the church walls, while Pharisees carry on with life as usual? Where is Jesus? Is he still alive? Or have we buried him? Locked him so deep in the tomb of our beliefs that no one else can find him?
In many ways, we are waking up again to a dark Sabbath. Pharisees chase “heretics” from their churches. Tyrants and religious leaders continue to plot their revenge. Nations oppress people. Hearts are longing for peace; some are shaking in fear. We hear rumors of war, the earth shakes and kingdoms quake. Xenophobia is rampant. Millions suffer from hunger and pain with no place to lay their heads. Every one of us has betrayed Jesus.
The Earth groans: things are not as they once were and will never be the same. And yet, the planets stay on course, the sun still comes up, scorching some, hiding from others. In the chaos of our collective betrayal, when the darkness from the tomb of our own making threatens our vision, and there seems to be no hope for humanity, we sit in the ominous silence and crave the immortal words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they don’t realize what they are doing.”
“It’s all very delicate, your fragile house of lies, it could collapse at any moment.” -Sarah, The Path
The Path is a TV show on Hulu about a cult which has some strong comparisons to Christianity. The followers of “The Path” believe they are choosing a higher existence and each person is ascending a ladder where they will eventually build the ultimate garden and live happily ever after.
Some might laugh at this TV cult, but right within the organizations of evangelical Christian churches, we see the ladder isn’t fiction, but a very real structure. A structure where the higher one climbs, the greater the corruption. Layer upon layer, rung upon rung, whenever people lift themselves above others we can be sure to find abuse.
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. -John Dalberg-Acton
It seems the higher one ascends on any social ladder, the more they compromise the principles of love and freedom. The followers of The Path also define people by what they believe. If you don’t profess the right stuff, you can’t move up the ladder. If you fail to pass a test, you are shunned. If you have a crisis of faith then you’re out. It’s that simple. You don’t get a choice. They give you a page to sign and call you “a denier” then force you to leave. If you don’t sign it, they’ll use all manner of blackmail to get you to leave.
I hate to say it, but this TV cult reminds me of a Christian denomination where the leaders want to shut out everyone who believes in the ordination of woman pastors, the incorporation of the LGBTQ community and question if this is a young earth or an old earth. While there might be many different levels of acceptance of these ideas, the crime of the church, like that of the leaders in The Path, is forcing people against their wills. The leaders of The Path want a signature to prove someone is a denier, while conference leaders want a disclaimer to force people to say they believe in certain things or they will fire or excommunicate them. This has happened many times before much like characters in a John Grisham novel.
Can anyone really force another to believe anything? Many Christians who scapegoat those who disagree with them, assume these people won’t make it to heaven so they feel justified in shutting them out, but could they be shutting Jesus out too? Many church elders instead of caring about the people they were meant to serve, wear their titles as emblems of prestige, but are they forgetting that Jesus lives among “the least of these?” Why do pastors focus on doctrines, while failing to teach the very principles Jesus taught in his words, “Love each other as you love yourselves?”
Much like the system in this TV cult, most Christian denominations are built on hierarchy. They form religious corporations where they play number games to see how many converts they can collect and how much money they can make, while the powers that be sit behind heavy doors in marbled halls and cover for evil men masquerading as pastors who molest children or have affairs. It also works as a screen for pastors who make racist remarks in private and shun LGBTQ, because such love makes them uncomfortable. Some even go so far as to label women pastors who hear God’s calling as “evil.” So often those who tote the cross, use it to abuse others, forgetting those who follow Christ are not to use the cross as a weapon, but to give up their own greed and selfishness.
Of course, there is always a mockingbird who will say, “Don’t look to people, look to Jesus.” I wholeheartedly agree, but this phrase has become an enabler’s cliché. These words have been spoken by people scrambling up the ladder, pushing others aside to silence the voices they don’t want to hear all in an attempt to scale their ascent. They care little for those they leave at the bottom. Their games of control treat others less than themselves. They pray tiresome prayers in public places thanking God they are not sinners like these women and gays who want to serve Jesus. They mock those who think differently because they are the elite—the only ones called—or so they think, but they have lost their grounding as they ascended the ladder one compromise at a time. Such men have made a mockery of the name Christian. They’ve put the evil in Evangelical.
There’s enough corruption among those who wear the name Christian that many people today are relinquishing the title—not to reject Jesus himself, but to reject the system. Many are deconstructing their faith—only to pick it up again—not as Christian warriors fighting with physical weapons, but as spiritual followers of The Way.
The Way sounds similar to The Path–except it’s going in the opposite direction. Followers of The Path enforce their cult-like control, while followers of The Way relinquish control. Those who desire the Way, seek the ancient and more dangerous paths. The Path calls for pride to make things happen, while followers of The Way take joy in humility. The followers of The Way are unlike those false leaders of The Path, they do not climb the ladder, but descend like their master to meet people wherever they are on their level. In short, following the path leads to humans trying to become god, while the Way is a person in the name of Jesus Christ.
“You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going,
so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”
Jesus is the Way and he calls us his friends. Friends don’t push each other off the ladder or see who can play king of the hill to exclude others. Those who truly embrace and follow the Way—would rather die than harm another person. The Way offers us unconditional love no matter our orientation or status in this world. Those who worship The Way, no longer care about ascending the ladder. They know the only way out of this world is to go down like Jesus.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!
We might call it Good Friday, but it was the Blackest of Fridays—a time when all hope seemed lost. For the followers of the Way, it could easily be called Awakening Friday–the day they discovered the ladder of hierarchy leads nowhere and there is only one Way. The cross reveals the difference between those who climb the ladder and the Way—Jesus, as the Way, modeled love instead of hierarchy by submitting and opening wide his arms to bring ALL into his embrace.
If I am lifted up, I will draw ALL to me. -Jesus
ALL. There are many false paths and ladders in this world, but the Way is always inclusive. Human systems, paths, and ladders are broken, but the Way offers hope and resurrection to ALL. We can choose today who we will follow—”the path” or the Way.
Jim believes God ordained him
as the male leader to control his family.
He’s married to a woman who had children before they were together and it’s been a struggle for him to allow them to be themselves. He feels it’s his religious duty to police them. His efforts include locking the kitchen after bedtime in case the teenagers want a snack and putting a block on the computer, so they don’t break the Sabbath.
One time I visited his house when his younger children had been put to bed without any supper because they wouldn’t say the Lord’s Prayer before the meal. His wife disagreed and was upset that her children were in bed crying from hunger, but she felt powerless to say anything because she believed her husband was the God-ordained head of the family and she must obey him.
I can think of no worse marriage than to be married to a narcissist who believes God wants him to control the entire family, but that’s what happens when a narcissist feels ordained by God to practice male headship.
The belief that a man is superior to a woman can be the first step to justify narcissistic behavior. If God made Adam more important than Eve and he is the celebrated leader, while she is expected to be his foot woman and water carrier, she is robbed of her God-given individuality and freedom.
When our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters are considered both different and inferior in the eyes of the God we worship, this belief tends to permeate society, and everyone suffers.” ― Jimmy Carter, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power
So let’s look through the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and see how they might fit with the mindset of male headship. A person who manifests a pattern of five of these characteristics in their life is likely to be diagnosed with NPD.
Has a Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance
The male headship belief that man is superior or has privileges over women justifies and empowers the narcissistic mind. A religion that insists on male headship attributes the inequality to God. Jimmy Carter and the Elders (Elders of many nations) have declared that most of the abuse toward women in the world is related to patriarchy.
Preoccupied with Fantasies of Unlimited Success, Power, Brilliance, Beauty, or Ideal Love
Since male headship teaches that men are somehow superior to women, a woman’s dreams are not as important as the man’s. If a man has a bent toward any of the narcissistic dreams on this list, he might imagine God will help him to realize these plans.
Narcissistic abuse does not take away from the fact that God can lead people, but the rationalization of the narcissistic mind tends to overlook how their goals might affect the lives of others. God doesn’t lead us into selfish behavior. Narcissistic male headship allows a husband to sacrifice his family’s best interests to meet his own needs.
Believes that He is “Special” and Unique
I once knew someone who kept thinking he was getting visions and dreams from God that his wife and children would die if they didn’t follow his religious advice. Male headship narcissists often feel called by God to straighten out their grown children’s lives because they believe they are the only one who can interpret the Bible correctly.
Requires Excessive Admiration
Male headship entails the entire family worship the father and tiptoe around his temper or bad habits without addressing them because the man must be the revered head of the home.
Has a Very Strong Sense of Entitlement
What is more entitling than being in control of the whole family with everyone jumping at your bidding? Because proponents of male headship proclaim it’s God’s command, the narcissistic mind feeds further into this fantasy. Women and children are hidden and abused while the father lives like a king.
Is Exploitative of Others
Headship permits men to use their wife or children in whatever way they want. They might use their children for labor or take their children’s money because the father owns everything and everyone in his family. The husband is the head, so he manages all things. He has no one to answer to but God, and if he’s not listening to God, there is no end to the harm he can do.
According to the authors of the Empathy Trap Book, a lack of empathy is spurred on by apathetic bystanders. In a male headship family, the need to comply with the powers that be discourages family members from speaking up. If the man abuses members of the family, no one will say a word because he is closer to God and he knows what is best. While narcissistic abuse might not be true for all men who believe and practice male headship, if the husband is high on the narcissistic scale, his lack of empathy can quickly escalate into domestic violence. A man who lacks empathy controls his family and has no accountability to anyone, but himself is a dangerous person.
Is Often Envious of Others
Envy might or might not be true of a man practicing male headship, but it could still be another source of anger and violence which is only exacerbated by the practice of male headship.
Regularly Shows Arrogant, Haughty Behaviors or Attitude
In male headship, pride is often confused as honor. The narcissistic head of the family feels threatened by an insubordinate wife or a child who disagrees with him. When a man believes he is the priest of the family, he has the potential to inflict punishment and spiritual abuse on those who don’t comply with him. He might see them as rebellious and disrespectful if they choose to worship or pray differently than he taught them and he will ultimately punish or shun them.
Male headship and narcissism are a dangerous mix. The combination can harm innocent people physically, emotionally and spiritually. Narcissistic headship steals the freedom of the wife and children to realize their potential. They might struggle with who God designed them to be versus what “the head” wants them to be. Abusive male headship builds a barrier between children and God because they imagine God is just like their father.
Not all narcissists believe in male headship, and not all proponents of male headship are narcissists, but wherever the two shall meet there is a danger because male headship is truly a narcissist’s dream come true.
Yesterday, I listened to a survivor tell her story.
She was molested in her childhood.
Her pain was palpable.
I wanted to beat up the man who originally abused her
and all the well-meaning Christians
who further abused her by invalidating her story. Then I read a blog by a Christian woman
who added her own hashtag to the #metoo campaign.
And I felt even sicker than before.
She said she too, had been abused many years ago and now she felt it was victorious to add a new hashtag because she can say Jesus has changed everything. She thought Christians should be moving on to this new hashtag. Now I don’t know this woman and I really want to think her intentions were good, but sadly, her additional hashtag contributes to everything that is wrong with Religious Narcia—making it about looking like good Christians while the wounded are still suffering.
Many Christians try to spiritualize away the shame and pain of abuse by slapping a WWJD band-aid on the gaping wounds of victims. I’m convinced Jesus wouldn’t do that. Why? Because of Mary Magdalene. Jesus forgave her over and over and he didn’t call her out on her mistakes because he knew she needed to heal from them. And while many consider her a sinner, many also believe she was a victim as well. And in the end, does it really matter? Are we not all damaged in some way and therefore acting out at some point in our lives? Mary M. could be our own sister or best friend, perhaps she could eventually say she had her healing, but Jesus never shamed her for her pain. Jesus never “shoulds” on us. He allows us to wake up and heal at our own pace.
When Christians spiritualize emotional wounds, they are in essence sending a message many survivors have heard too many times before—that their story is too messy and must be cleaned up and hidden. They have already been told to–
“Get over it.”
“Oh now, we don’t want to hear that!”
“Were you asking for it?”
“Can’t you find a way to calm yourself down?”
“Stop living in the past.”
Adding extra expectations to the #metoo campaign shows a lack of empathy and understanding for survivors who might have been suffering in silence for years. When someone carries such a burden for so long, their healing can’t be rushed. It will take lots of time and acknowledgment before most survivors can say they are healed and I am nearly certain there will be some survivors who will never be able to say they are healed until they’re safe in the arms of Jesus forever.
It’s great to say “let’s heal” from the viewpoint of a survivor who has found their peace, but let’s not act like those who aren’t over it are failing to bring their burdens to Jesus. Maybe they’ve been talking to Jesus for decades, but they still need humans ears and hearts to help them heal from the unconscionable acts that have damaged their souls. I am willing to bet there are many survivors who are not sure they can trust Jesus because of what was done in the name of God.
What about the girl whose pastor father molested her night after night, swearing her into silence under the threat he would kill her dog if she told anyone. What about the teen who told her father the youth leader molested her and, he said, “That’s happened to lots of women, just be strong and get over it.” Or what about the old man who grabbed and forced a precious and innocent child to lay down in the gravel where no one else could see her, yet when she told her mom, her mother said, “Ohhh, that never happened.”
What about the eating disorders and depression and shame carried in secret for so long because these survivors were never allowed to speak of the crimes done to them out loud? What can a survivor do when members of her own family and church leaders refuse to believe her?
Where can a woman go when she knows what she felt, knows what she saw and can’t stand the smell of spearmint because it was the flavor of gum her abuser gave her as a payment, yet no one wants her to tell her story because it makes them feel uncomfortable? How many girls have been told to give it to Jesus—only to hide under the covers and wish they were dead?
And where can a woman go when she wonders why God didn’t stop her abuser and questions if maybe her sister was right when she said, “If something did happen, then you must’ve been asking for it because it never happened to me?” Where was God when the pastor brushed her off as crazy or the teacher made her stay in longer because she stayed too long in the bathroom trying to wash the stains off her dress and tears from her eyes?
So many hurting women who finally found the courage up to say #metoo don’t need some well-meaning Christian to come along and say, “Now it’s time for you to claim healing in Jesus.” Many of them will say “Where the f– was Jesus?”
On whose bleeping schedule does such healing need to take place? It might be great for those who know they’ve healed to say it, but for many millions of survivors, the #metoo stage has only just begun. We are going to be hearing about this for some time and no one can rush the healing of another. If the church wants to help these women, it will need to listen to the #metoo crowd. This will absolutely require empathy. And these listening and empathy skills might need to be applied and held in place for quite a while much like an ice pack on a burn or a bandage stopping the flow of blood to a gaping wound.
No paramedic tells the victim of a crushed pelvis to get up and walk. From the time the injury is realized and discovered until the moment of healing, there is a journey of recovery. Bones must be healed, muscles strengthened and many steps taken before the survivor of an accident can say “I’m healed.” If it takes so much to finally achieve physical healing, why do so many Christians ignore the need for emotional healing? What if we spiritualized our physical needs for healing the way we often do the needs for emotional healing? We would witness all kinds of bandaged people falling down and hurting themselves every day.
So if you’re a Christian who’s tired of the #metoo stories, maybe take some time out to think about those who have been holding their painful, suffocating secrets. Give them time to find their voices, use their voices and then take some time to shut up and listen to their stories. If she could hold herself together hiding the agony of her untold story for years, surely we can listen for an hour or two without an agenda. Surely we can let her weep and cuss and question where in the hell was God? Surely we don’t want to be just another abuser pushing her pain aside. Surely we want to be the hands and feet of Jesus and allow her healing to begin with us. Surely we want to be safe people who allow hurting people to mourn without acting like Job’s asshat friends.
Religious Narcia rears its ugly sweater at Christmas
because nothing excites a narcissist more than telling strangers how to live their lives.
It’s the time of year when religious abuse runs on a high. There are all brands of crazy that go on when the days are darker and people are desperate to make it to the end of the year with some sort of satisfaction. Since there will be people knocking on doors this week to warn their neighbors of impending doom for celebrating a pagan holiday, I think it’s a good time to say something. Most of those who present arguments against celebrating Christmas are narcissistic because nice people don’t tell others what to celebrate or who to worship.
For so much of my childhood, I was warned about Christmas–the materialism, the paganism, and the spiritualism. What? Spiritualism? Yeah, the pagan concepts can also be Wiccan and thus the spiritualism connection. I knew a man who went to our church when I was a kid who talked to grownups for hours about the evils of Christmas. It seems there was nothing worse to do in December than to bring a tree into the house and put some lights on it because you’d be inviting the devil in. According to him, it would be bad to have an evergreen for a houseplant.
Other people say Jesus’s birth isn’t important because only his death really matters. This logic is puzzling because Jesus would never have died if he hadn’t been born. Everything thing we value has to start somewhere. Most of us who celebrate Christmas, give little thought to where our traditions come from with the exception of the conspiracy theorists. As a matter of fact, if we say we love Jesus, don’t we want to embrace as much of his story as we can?
Other people say it’s okay to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but just not in December because he was born in the spring. They believe celebrating Christ’s birth near the winter solstice, might mislead the pagans into thinking we are friendly with them. It’s obvious the self-righteous among us are scared spit-less of bumping into a pagan or actually anyone who doesn’t go to their church and follow the exact same traditions they do.
The sad thing about those who tell us to celebrate his birth at any other time of the year is that you never hear of them talking about Jesus’s birth period. They can’t celebrate in the spring when they say he was actually born because that’s too close their resurrection services where they like to point out that Easter is banned as pagan, but the resurrection is still biblical.
Among those who celebrate Christmas in December, are Christians who think a tree is okay because Martin Luther brought a tree into the house and put candles on it in the sixteenth century. Since the father of the reformation celebrated Christmas with a lit tree, then surely it sets a precedent for Protestants everywhere, right?
People who worry about Christmas traditions seem to see the stocking half empty–no room for a tree because it’s pagan, no room for presents because that’s materialism, no room for the baby Jesus story because it’s too pretty and isn’t as meaty as his bloody death.
On the other hand, what if we saw this Christmas stocking half full? What if celebrating Christmas could be a bridge between Christians and Pagans? What if we realized those who first brought the first fir bough inside and baked something sweet at the darkest time of the year, were simply celebrating the sun and its future return to spring with all the warmth and food that we need to survive on this planet? If we were not to push but be ourselves, maybe the pagans could see that we who believe in the Son are celebrating his first advent with gratitude and acknowledging that all we have comes from the Creator of the Earth, who gives us what we need season after season in this often dark world.
The solstice was created by the Creator too. The real difference I see between the two celebrations is pagans are celebrating nature while believers are celebrating the Creator of nature. Do we have to remain hostile to those who see differently than us? If we can allow some small people to believe in Santa Claus, why can’t we allow them to not believe as they grow older? It’s not like people have a choice, either we believe in something, or we don’t. It puzzles many of our earth-loving friends that those who claim to worship the Creator of the Earth, do so little to take care of the Earth.
What if we who celebrate the maker of the earth gathered together with those who celebrate the earth and just extended an evergreen branch to say all are welcome here because we all need warmth and light and in the darkest of times? Can we just offer friendship and hospitality? What then? Would we not be honoring the maker of the Earth? Would we not be celebrating the love we were told by Jesus to give to all people? Does it matter who brought the evergreen inside as long as we all find a common ground around it and share the love we were created to give each other?
One of the least narcissistic things we can do during the holidays is to respect the celebrations and beliefs of all people and not try to whip others into our own image. Whether we’re going to celebrate Christmas or not, those who embrace Christ could act a little more like Jesus. Perhaps the Spirit of Jesus could just as well be the Spirit of Christmas–if we are open to the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus. I think our pagan friends would be relieved if, in the Spirit of Christmas, we set aside our superiority and acknowledged this world is dark and cold and we all need light and each other.
Maybe the evergreen could be a symbol of unity between beliefs because its fragrance reminds us of the beauty of the earth and for the believers among us, it could be a reminder that our lives, lived out in love, are a pleasing aroma to our Creator. May we all wake up and follow the Light.
So whether you celebrate the earth, or celebrate the Creator of the earth, I wish you happy holidays!
During my growing up years, my parents never allowed me to listen to “worldly” music. When I caught strains of songs like, “Happy Xmas, the War is Over” and “Imagine,” at the mall or in the grocery store, I was mesmerized by Lennon’s genius words and music about people and love. To this people loving girl, it sounded a lot like heaven.
Music has such a profound effect on our lives. Most parents in my youth tried to stop their kids from listening to music because of hate–hate toward feminists, hate toward Catholics, hate toward gays, hate toward atheists and humanists and basically anyone who didn’t fit their worldviews.
I’ve learned a song doesn’t have to be labeled “Christian” to have a spiritual meaning. Christian is just a word, but it is the Spirit inside of us who determines what we see and how we interpret the words, tunes, and rhythm.
I’ve decided to deconstruct the lyrics of Imagine. It wasn’t until one of my favorite groups Pentatonix recorded it that I took the time to really listen to the words and what they mean. As someone who was raised to think of this as a bad humanistic song, I was surprised to discover it’s all about how we choose to interpret the meaning of the lyrics.
I’ll break it down for you because in this age of hate, lies, and abuse put out by religious people who claim to be going to heaven, perhaps it’s a good idea to reframe and make these lyrics our own.
“Imagine there’s no heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people living for today”
This is the mouthful of music that has incited a thousand self-righteous Christians and yet when we consider all the damage religion has done in this world, these lyrics are profound because they challenge the mindset of people who are so confident in going to heaven, that they don’t mind destroying the earth–cause well God’s going to make it new anyway. But can such an attitude honor God? It’s still his handwork people are destroying. In the name of heaven should we decimate the earth and everyone in it? It reminds me of the saying, “So heavenly minded, but of no earthly good.” A pretty sad state of affairs.
I don’t believe the Bible teaches an ever burning in hell, so this part of the lyrics just reminds me that the early Christians didn’t believe in hell either. They didn’t scare people into the kingdom like we often witness people doing today. They loved people to God (more on this on another verse).
“Imagine all the people living for today.”
Jesus Himself tells us to live for today. He says don’t worry about tomorrow.
“Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too Imagine all the people living life in peace”
Since 911, we have seen the rise of nationalism in the US. People worship the flag and the ten commandments–sometimes more than the hand who wrote the law on stone and sets us free. Maybe they’ve forgotten that if Jesus lifted an earthly flag it would probably be a white flag, because He said his kingdom was not on this earth or his disciples would fight for him. Jesus didn’t send drone or bombs to get revenge, he eventually allowed his enemies to beat him and kill him. I’m not saying we should all bow over and let the terrorists win, I’m just saying we have better ways to deal with evil than to retaliate and kill more innocent people.
If we could realize this fantasy of no countries, it could end dualistic and the “us vs. them” tribalism that comes with it. This would end all wars and there would be nothing to kill or die for. In a sense, this verse is quite ironic after what is written in the first because it would actually create a heaven on earth.
“And no religion too.”
For many super protective Christian parents, these words are the blasphemy at the heart of the song, but that’s only because they choose to see it that way. Religion has launched thousands of bombs and killed millions throughout history. Religion, void of God’s Spirit is lethal. So if humanists ask me to throw out what some call religion, it won’t affect or change my personal relationship with Jesus.
“Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man Imagine all the people sharing all the world”
This is the heart of the gospel. We don’t need to use the misused term religion to see this is what Jesus taught. This is how the early church lived. They gave up their possessions to spread the Good News. In such a heaven-like world there would be no greed or hunger. This is the true brotherhood of man Jesus dreamed for all of us when He said, “Love your enemies. They will know you are my friends if you love each other.”
“You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope some day you’ll join us And the world will be as one”
When we listen to the stories and teachings of Jesus, we realize Jesus was the original dreamer and John Lennon’s humanistic lyrics simply echo a heart cry for the true kingdom of God. Imagine there’s no haters. What a wonderful world to live in. No more narcissism or selfishness–only acceptance and love.
I believe Jesus prayed a prayer for all of us–regardless of human labels because it was Jesus who created humanity. Jesus was the ultimate humanitarian and he prayed to the Father that we would all be one–just as he and the Father are one.
You might say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one–and what those Christians who shun this song as mere humanism have missed, is that Jesus dreamed this first.
Isn’t The Shack just a made up story? Yes. Is it even based on biblical facts? Yes, in some ways, but I like to think of it as an allegory. Pilgrim’s Progress wasn’t a true story either.
But wait, God is a man and not a woman, right? Well, who of us has seen God? These are some of the questions people have about the movie, The Shack based on Wm. Paul Young’s book by the same name. This book and movie have taken a lot of heat, but most of the critics haven’t bothered to read or watch it. If you are one of the skeptics, allow me to share five reasons why you might want to watch The Shack.
1. If You Have Ever Suffered a Huge Loss and Wondered Why
The Shack tries to answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Many of us in hard times after a death of a loved one or some other terrible event have asked, “Where is God if he is sovereign?” This movie attempts to answer this question through telling a story about one man broken by a terrible childhood and then a loss in his adult life.
2. If You have Father Issues and Feel You Can’t Trust the Father
Early in The Shack we see Mac’s father beating him with a belt. If you grew up with a narcissistic parent who beat you, put you down or abused you in any way, you might find it very hard to trust God. This is because God’s original plan was for parents to act in the role of God to their children. When we were small and unable to provide for ourselves, we relied on our parents for everything. When they were abusive, it gave us the idea God might be abusive too. Part of the reason for this is that little kids can’t see the abuse. They won’t assume their parent is abusive, they just think they are bad. As children, we absorbed our parents’ sins and now as adults, we still feel unworthy. In the Shack, Papa goes out of the way to make sure Mac knows he is worthy of God’s friendship and love. That word friendship came up several times between Mac and Jesus. It reminded me of one of the least repeated verses in the Bible where Jesus says:
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15
One of the problems we ACoNs have with our parents is they often won’t release us to be their friends, because they want us to be their servants and slaves for life. Of course it is a form of love to serve our parents–but not when we are adults who are forced to submit to a narcissist abuser.
The Shack reminds us that God is not at all like a narcissistic parent, he is always concerned about what is best for us. In the words of Papa, God says, “I am especially fond of you!” And what is so amazing is that he is especially fond of every person in the world, but it doesn’t take away from the wonder and love he has for each of us as individuals. God is a good parent who loves every one of his children equally, but differently.
3. If You Have Been Afraid of God’s Wrath
In The Shack, Mac asks Papa what about God’s wrath. And Papa says, “What? What are you talking about?” Mac thinks God is vindictive and revengeful toward sinners and Papa reassures him this is not true at all.
If you have not discovered the fact that God’s wrath in Romans 1 is really about God letting people go to their choices and not about revenge, then study up on it. There will be fundamentalists who disagree, but a thorough study of the subject might back up Young’s ideas in The Shack.
This film gives a great example of letting go through the art of storytelling. While it has theological tones, the story itself is well written, well directed and well-acted. People without a religious bone in their body could still enjoy The Shack—because it is a well-told story and the heart of this movie is not about religion, but a relationship.
4. If You Struggle With Judging or Forgiving Others
It also shows how we can let go and still honor our losses.This movie is not just about losing someone dear, it also carries the message to stop judging others and forgive them–despite the horrible things they have done.
Every abuser was formed most likely by the abuse of their parents going all the way back to Adam and Eve. While judging and forgiving seem to be at odds with each other, the way we can deal with both healthfully is to let go.
In the situation of narcissistic parents, we are healthier for letting go. The burdens we carry don’t have to hinder us and tie us down, God can turn our pain into wisdom as we grow stronger until we learn to fly. In this story, like in many of our lives, there were characters who needed to be forgiven and there were nightmares that came from the darkness that could only be put to rest by looking to Jesus as our brother and friend.
I was particularly touched by one scene with Mac and his father. Once we see our parents’ wounds we can forgive easier and we can realize they didn’t mean to harm us, they were broken by the fall too. How many children’s hearts would be turned back to their fathers if parents only they owned what they had done and asked for forgiveness? Of course, we realize most narcissistic parents will never do this, but we can forgive them even when they don’t say sorry. We are the ones who will heal when we do this.
5. If You Have Trouble Trusting God in Any Way
About ten years ago, I went to a seminar where the speaker asked if Jesus was behind one door and the Father the other, which door we would choose to go through. My answer was the Jesus door because I thought Jesus was the good guy who had saved me from the Father. That night I learned some things starting with the fact that Jesus said he and the Father are one. God’s wrath is letting us go to our own choices. There is no revenge in the Spirit of God. That whatever Jesus would say and do for me is the same as what the Father would say and do for me. I was first in shock, then in awe of God.
The next morning I got up at dawn and looked at this amazing and gorgeous sunrise full of pink and gold. As I stared up at it, I felt the Spirit speaking to my heart that this display was for me. That Abba, Papa, Father–whatever we call God was shining his love on me and I began to weep. I asked him, “Father, can you really be this good?” I will never forget that morning—it was the day that changed everything in my life. I have never had a worry about the future or my salvation since. My feelings were similar while I watched The Shack. I was profoundly touched by God’s love.
The Shack gives us a little God’s eye view of humanity where we can see how God loves every person. One of my friends who went to see it with me said, “I wish I could go and stay at the shack for a long time.” Why? Because to dwell in that shack is to be nurtured and loved unconditionally by God. To get answers from God. I believe The Shack is a little taste of heaven and it will change your heart, but you’ll have to see it for yourself.