How Spiritual Abuse Has Affected Me

spiritual abuse awareness

That’s what I’m supposed to write about for Day 2 of Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week. What spiritual abuse has done to me emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, etc.


I’m not going to lie, it has been rough and I’m still recovering. Theological Spiritual Abuse is a mind game. Having a hyper-Calvinism worldview forced into my paradigm was brutal.


I lost my ability to pray. I would lay in bed at night, emotionally crippled, frozen – wondering where all those pleas had gone the previous couple of years for my atheist friend. I was completely unable to interceded on her behalf anymore.


What was the point of any of this Jesus living crap if nothing we do matters? If everything has been decided? If God is just another word for Destiny and I get no say, does that mean that God is the author of my sin? Why pray? Why evangelize? Why train up our children in the way they should go if God might veto all the hard work we put into them in the end?


The pastor(s) said we should be obedient out of gratefulness, out of appreciation of being chosen. The pastors wife said that we pray even though everything’s already been decided because Jesus said to pray. We go because he said go.


Every teaching felt like walking through a minefield of contradiction.


Pretty quickly this little crisis of faith dominoed into full blown depression with seasons of agnosticism or even atheism.



Finally separating from the town and denomination that inflicted these spiritual blows helped a lot.  But the damage had been done. I’ve healed a lot in the past year or more but I still suffer from an extremely hardened exterior. I still reflexively cringe away from authority and theological conversations like a beaten dog.


I still can’t pray. Intercessory prayer is something that I’ve lost altogether. But in it’s place I’ve developed a deep and innate sense of trust. God takes care of me, and I don’t have to bend myself over backwards begging. God has patiently and continuously proven to know what I need before I ask. And to give graciously and plentifully. The Birds Of The Air phenomenon of the past year is proof of that.



One of the hardest parts of working through spiritual abuse is playing  the “is it me or is it them” game. When you run into leadership problems in 3 churches in three years, you do your fair share of reflecting. I’ve spent plenty of time analyzing my actions and owning my part of the blame. But in the end I don’t think the foundation of the problem started with us. The church culture and theological elitism in that town tainted every conversation, every ministry.


I can’t get a good ministry reference from a single pastor in that little town that caused me so much spiritual heartache. But I can quickly and easily find pastoral references in California, Maryland, and probably Canada, even within the same denomination. This more than anything helps to reassure me that the problems we ran into really are locational to the deep south.


After 2 years of questioning everything, this past year I’ve been resting in questioning little to nothing. I’ve rested in just breathing. In just living. No legalism, no expectations – just trust.


My understanding of God has been razed to the ground and is slowly being built back up on the foundation of Jesus, one brick of love and grace at a time.


I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if I’ll ever find peace with some of my questions. Sometimes I feel like I’m on dry ground, occasionally I’m certain I’m drowning. But so far there’s always been a life preserver when I eventually find the end of my rope.


I’m still here. I’m still in the faith, though sometimes I cling to the edge. I still want to bury myself in living this mission on a mountain in south Asia somewhere.


So I’m going to keep resting, trusting, treading water. Hoping for the best – even when I can’t pray for it.




Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week





  1. <> I’m so sorry you had to go through all that.

  2. I haven’t experienced spiritual abuse – but I have been witness to church in-fighting and “good Christians gone bad” as well as ministry dry spells. I have felt a lot of the things you are feeling. And I’m slowly letting go of some of the questions that a younger and much more black & white me thought were important.

    • I guess that brings up the question of “what IS abuse?” What make a behavior deserve the label of “abusive”. What I’ve come to in the last year is that – abuse is abuse. There are different forms, different levels of severity, but abuse is abuse. And it’s taken me quite awhile to finally apply that definition to our experiences.

      • That was my very question, reading this. A lot of my experiences in college shook my faith because I felt the life being squeezed out of me. As if the definition of faith were so narrow, so perilously thin that if I stepped to the left or right I might fall off. And I still wonder: is that something I did to myself? Or was there a kind of abuse in the (southern, conservative) mindset that marginalized questions and was all hopped up on authority and being ‘Biblical’? I hesitate to call it abuse, because I know how much of the evangelical church looks just like that.

  3. Thank you for sharing. I know you said you had a hard time with this and I thank you for taking the time to share. I understand the same thing, even being Baptist in the North. I’m glad you found a place of rest.

  4. what blows my mind as i read through the contributions to this series is how stinkin’ common all this is. this is not what defines your writing, Jessica, but it is part of you. no, you don’t dwell on it a lot, but to know it is under the radar, still having its effect . . . wow. just makes me stand back amazed at the frequency of such experiences.
    so many of us walking around wounded.
    oh, and this: “I still reflexively cringe away from authority and theological conversations like a beaten dog.” yeah. i get that.
    thanks for your words, friend.

    • It definitely has influences my writing in some ways. It’s taken time for me to feel brave enough to actually write about it though. I had to wait to put some miles and months between me and the situation.

  5. So good. Thanks. Truly.

  6. Ramie Gilson says:

    Sometimes God takes us through seasons where He carries us. He lets us see that it’s not us doing this thing. In Him we live and move and have our being. He never lets go. He lets us feel His gentle, ever present watching and caring over our hearts. He invites us to come away with HIm and experience the reality of being still and knowing He is God. Sometimes He has to bring us to a place of brokenness and distrust in literally everything BUT HIM. But I don’t think He’s angered by our anger/frustrations/confusion in the midst. He can and has identified with every weakness of the flesh and spiritual battle/temptation that we go through. Often the most ground breaking prayers come from that frank, open, exposed, wounded, and INTIMATE place with Him. Think of your relationship with your husband. I don’t know how long you’ve been married, but I’m sure just from the nature of marriage, that you two have had your ups and downs. For me, in the early years we fought like cat’s and dogs. Our resolve was tested. We learned to trust over the years that we wouldn’t run away when things got ugly. Trials deepen intimacy. Even misunderstandings and conflict can take us there eventually. Like chiselling away at an ice sculpture. God is not those pastors who hurt you, for they are mere men, succeptible to error, probably decieved and blinded in many ways in their own hearts. Error (in spirit, not just doctrine) comes out in lots of twisted pain. And somehow His church “eklesia”, by His grace, His power, His word, will endure and come out as gold as He refines us and works out the kinks…(AS HE WORKS THEM OUT ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE AND NOT MANS). He has promised his church will stand. God will use everything you have gone through for His glory, and the edification of those around you, increasing your wisdom, taking you from glory to glory. He has gifted you to write, in such a generation and time as this, when the gospel can go forth in ways we’ve never before seen. Your life is your testimony~ your whole life. Jesus has been inviting you to know him more intimately by knowing him in his sufferings through all of this. God bless you. He is using you, refining you, and shaping you even now……and He will heal the things that are broken. For He’s the hero of the story. The master healer and deliverer. He wins. He’s a mighty warrior who proves himself strong, so all the saints cry out and fall at his feet in awe. I love your stuff. Your fantastic. “A True Beaut.” Sorry if i typed this in a i’m doing it one handed wilst nursing a baby. ;P

  7. I am always wondering if it will get any better. If I will ever feel comfortable in church or with Christians. I have a hardness I didn’t have before and I don’t know how to make it go away. I do know that your posts are helping me. Thank you for sharing your experiences and heart with us.

    • I don’t know how to make the hardness go away, either.

      • Ahhh, sweet young ladies, HE does it, because we? We just can not.
        Ezekiel 36:26
        Amplified Bible (AMP)
        26 A new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

  8. I skimmed your article and the comments because I couldn’t really read it. Couldn’t pay that much attention to it, reading each word is too much. I stop in writing my comment to rub my hands together and take a deep breath. The place I grew up was wrong. Something spiritually wrong with those people. Too much illness of spirit in the same small place. I felt safe at church though, made some of my boldest statements there. I clearly remember asking the Sunday school teacher to save some easy questions for me because we didn’t read the bible. And I wonder again how that can be? How can my childhood have been so confusing and what am I supposed to do with it now?

  9. Michael Hale says:

    I remember when I had just entered the military. It was hard to “pray out loud”. That was Basic Training, and I knew my faith was struggling. Then I went to my MOS (military skill school) and I began to write my prayers. And I know that He heard me. Over 15 years later, and my world-box has grown a little. I realize that He’s more anxious to talk *and listen* to us than we are to Him.

    So… maybe, this is just one facet of your prayer (air) life…

    Thank you for choosing to sigh out loud. It is having an impact.


  10. I feel like I could have written this. Thank you for writing this.

  11. Bless you for sharing. I do think that much of the systemic spiritual abuse in the mainstream church occurs in the South. I have never lived there and I have been shocked at the stories and perception of the church I get from people in the South online. There is plenty of spiritual abuse in the North. My parents grew upon an exclusive abusive cult. But I think it is more hidden or on the edges. And most I know would question if they are truly Christians. Please know there are places where the church meets that are safe, well as safe as a place where human beings gather can be. Prayers for your continued healing.

  12. Thank you for sharing this! I really needed to hear that right at this very moment!

  13. I do wonder if what you write about here is truly abuse? (Not to say you have not experienced real abuse.)

    Is believing something that is completely wrong and teching it abuse? I don’t believe it is.

    I was involved in a full blown christian cult where they believed a lot of stuff that was wrong, but what made it abusive (and also qualified it as a cult, in my opinion) was not their being wrong, but the efforts they made to control people that were part of the church (think telling people when and whom they could pusue romantic relationships, how much and where you could work, totally squashing open discussion, ect.).

    I am not a Calvanist at all, but I know many who are who are a far cry from abused…and hyper-Calvinism is simply the beliefs of people that are more Calvinist than the ones calling them such.

    • In my opinion, it was an abuse of authority. Our career was halted because it was their way or the highway.

      • I read your other blog post and it does seem like much of your complaints rise from their unwillingness to endorse you guys. Did you really want the ‘blessing’ of people who did not approve of your theology?

        Maybe they were blind to your value, but it seems rather silly to have expected it. I attend an Anglican church in the UAE right now (I am not an Anglican mysef) and while I am relatively free to serve in many ways within the church here, I know that I cannot expect to hold the beliefs that I do, which are contrary to much of what the Anglican church believes, and expect to build some sort of career ministry without defering to the church’s opinions on those things.

        • It’s a case of hindering the gospel over pettiness. We would have been overseas serving in a missionary capacity long ago if this had played out differently. It’s also a bit of a stain on our reputation having to explain it with each new church and agency. We know the truth. But if just taken at a glance it could give people reason to pause.

  14. Have you ever read The Screwtape Letters? Honestly, I believe this business of spiritual abuse is common to man, not to a certain geographical locations. While I agree that there are sects of religion that play themselves out differently from region to region, what has struck me as I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis the last few months (my husband is leading a Bible study on the character and nature of God based on The Screwtape Letters and it is rocking my world) is that the problems we are facing today are not really that unique. Lewis published that book in 1942 (’41?) in England and he could very well be dissecting 2013 America. It’s astounding, really. His chapter on the the fallacies of the church gave me chills, it was so pertinent to today.

    I struggle with the mentality of the church now that I’m in the South, but I’m becoming more and more aware that this is so much more the problem of mankind as a whole. Take heart, friend! We are all fighting against our flesh in different ways and it will manifest itself in different ways.

    • The Screwtape Letters was a huge healing point for me. Painting a different idea of how the enemy works to discourage faith. It put to rest the nightly “spiritual battles” and sleep came easier.

  15. trust4himonly- Faith says:

    Jessica, I would highly recommend you peruse Julie Annes Blog. She went through being sued by her former pastor for defamation which was not true at all – She won.
    It is called Spiritual Sounding Board- she is an advocate for those who are being harassed and disparaged in the church today. I would encourage anyone here if they are going through church discipline or abuse of any kind to check out these blogs; they are an invaluable resource for healing and place to get help.

  16. It is so nice to hear I am not the only one having problems with prayer. I was raised in the “Name it/Claim it” theology. TBN, Jimmy Swaggart, Kenneth Coplain, Jim Bakker and others nurtured my Parents to raise us with “spiritual warfare” Putting on the armor of God daily. AND the over arching belief that If my faith was good enough and I prayed about it with enough people then God would answer it with YES.

    But he didn’t. He didn’t stop my parent’s abuse, physically or mentally. He didn’t heal my Mom of her mental illness. He didn’t protect me when I cried out. My uncle and other teen boys took advantage of me sexually-all because, somehow my prayer wasn’t righteous enough. Somehow I was in sin. I had blocked God because of some curse I put on myself.

    Adulthood landed me within the margins of Calvinism. Prayer doesn’t change God’s mind. He causes everything to happen. In some ways Oswald Chambers was good in helping me find a balance-Prayer aligns us with Father’s will so what we pray will naturally agree with him. But in the end, our prayers don’t change God’s mind about anything.

    I feel stymied. I do not ask for prayer at church or in Bible Studies, because it seems a sanctified pool of gossip. When people tell me their prayers were answered I want to laugh, because it seems answered the way they wanted it. God says No sometimes.

    ANYWAY- sorry for bleeding in your comment section. It is a huge struggle for me and I am searching for a method Holy Spirit can use to restore the practice that I loved as child.

    • Rebecca,
      I just read your post and my heart grieves for you! I too encountered a radical “it must be your faith that’s the problem”, when any illness or pain was present in anyone’s life- it was a four-square pentecostal church in a rural midwest town. So from one hurting, confused sister to another, I want you to know I will be praying for you. Not the type of prayer that equals gossip or a hard wired agenda or a sense of hopelessness at God already having made up His mind. No- none of those ways. But I will pray for you based on the trust we have in Jesus, the stumbling block of man-made doctrine that sets us free! Praise be to God that you’re still seeking His heart and His Spirit, I’ll be asking God to continue helping you heal. At the end of the day- He is love, and that is where our hearts find rest.

  17. Recently left an abusive church after 27 years.

    It started so well! It took years for it to develop into the abusive system it has now become. And it took years before we saw it happen. Only really noticed when we were on the receiving end.

    Glad to be out now, despite losing our friends.