control

Trusting God Again

This is the sixth of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

As I began meeting with my counsellor, it seemed the painful layers of what happened were being peeled back. More and more came to the surface that I didn’t know was there.  It was as if I was at the checkout in a store, about to pay for my item. Just before the payment was finalized, the price was increased. Over and over again. I didn’t think I had anything left to forgive, but suddenly I was angry. There was no clear-cut process to follow with a start and an end. It all felt so unfair. Dealing with everything was taking so much energy, and John was probably living his life as if nothing ever happened.

November 2016

I really struggled through counselling, and even kickboxing couldn’t get me out of my funk. I was crying out to God on the drive home – actual tears, swearing, etc. Why do I have to suffer because of someone else’s actions? It’s not fair! He’s fine and I’m still suffering. If it was my own bad choice I wouldn’t complain…Then I sensed God speak to me clearly that he understood, because that’s what the cross is all about. Jesus punished for sins he didn’t commit (ours). I was personally experiencing something of the cross. Somehow that calmed me down and gave me peace.

My counsellor’s specialty was biblical counselling, so she often connected what we talked about to Bible verses, and encouraged me in ways I could pray about the situation. I remember one meeting in particular where she told me I should pray boldly for justice. I didn’t want to because I didn’t believe there was any hope for it, and I thought if I focused too much on that, I would get angry again. I knew eventually he would experience the consequences of his actions, even if not in this life.

God doesn’t usually speak to me in dreams, but shortly afterward I dreamed as I hadn’t before. I was in my apartment and John was there too. Initially I was afraid, but he began to apologize. For the first time, he acknowledged what happened and was truly sorry for it. I began to weep uncontrollably. It felt like a massive release in my heart of all that had happened. When I woke up, I felt like I had been given a gift from God. Although none of the events in my dream have happened, I experienced some healing in a way that is hard to put into words.

In another meeting, my counsellor asked me if I had problems trusting God. Initially, I thought my trust problems were more with other people, but I realized I struggled to trust God, too. I didn’t blame God for what happened, but I still didn’t understand why it happened. I had gone into self-protection mode. Subconsciously I thought that if God wouldn’t or couldn’t protect me, I would do it myself. By putting up walls, avoiding vulnerability, and appropriating a high level of skepticism in my interactions, I was removing any possibility of being hurt again, as much as was in my power. In short, I was a control freak.

I was angry when my counsellor suggested my reactions were sinful and I needed to repent. I preferred to see them as opportunities for growth, because that didn’t engender feelings of contempt and dread, but rather opportunity and possibility. However, as I worked through the chapter on repentance in the Wounded Heart book, I realized she was right. I had confused repentance and penance. “Contempt (self- or other-centered) is the energy behind penance. It produces a sense of being downtrodden and worthless and leads eventually to rage and murderous hatred. The result is an unredemptive sorrow that is full of self-pity and despair” (p.206). But “genuine conviction of sin, on the other hand, leads to a softening of the heart that dispels other-centered contempt in the wake of the recognition that we are no better, at core, than those who have abused us. Self-contempt is Satan’s counterfeit for true conviction. Contempt attacks the perceived source of the problem to gain control and then attempts to regain relationship with others and God through penitent deeds. Conviction humbly recognizes the need for grace and embraces a sorrow that leads to life and sacrificial love” (p.206).

I knew I needed to call sin, sin, and not try to make it nicer. My attempt to control, to be in control, was trying to protect myself, rather than trusting God. It was an avoidance of vulnerability, which decreases my own life, and my ability to love God and others the way I was intended to. It was seeking comfort apart from God. It was sin. Sure, it came mostly out of being sinned against, but my reaction to that was still sin. I asked God for forgiveness again.

I wondered for some time what it meant to trust God if there was no guarantee I wouldn’t be hurt again. I realized that trusting God didn’t mean nothing bad would ever happen to me again. It meant that God was still good and still enough even if it did.

Dr. Dan B. Allender. 1990. The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Illusions and Poverty: The Best of a Life in Control

I have a confession. I am a control freak. I used to describe it as being well prepared and thorough, but let’s call it what it is. Having back-up plans for your back-up plan’s back-up plan is paranoia.

You could say it’s a lifelong illness. I remember hoarding coordinating work on group projects as a kid so everything could be done to my standards. Clearly, the other children were there to bring me down. I’d like to say I’ve been transformed, but I’ve only changed projects about polar bears to projects about policies and statistics. I’m the same, but I’ve found more politically correct ways to describe my obsessions.

I hate being out of control. It feels messy. Like I’m going to be swallowed up in the swirling vortex of chaos. Or like I’m treading water in a vast ocean with no sight of land, and if I don’t get sand under my feet soon, I’ll drown. If you know that feeling, you also know that you’ll do pretty much anything to get rid of it. You make back-up plans for your back-up plan. You stop or limit delegating. You manage deadlines. You organize until everything is in a neat little compartment. You influence others to your way of thinking. If all this fails or is impossible, and you cannot manipulate your external environment, you turn inward. For me, I convince myself I don’t care as much as I do, and that I’m not affected by another person’s actions. I withdraw and numb. I become overly serious and stoic. Empathy and care are replaced with curt replies, still civil enough to defend if needed.

Though these strategies still my immediate fear of chaos, I’ve been realizing that the apparent short-term gain is not worth the long-term loss. What seems like self-protection actually acts to impoverish. I cut myself off from the resources all around me. My numbing spreads to encompass all beauty, joy and possibility. It steals life, and the ability to love. Moreover, by trying to be in control, I live an illusion. The reality is everything is out of control. No one knows the future, and nothing we can do will ever change that. So, what’s the alternative?

In the midst of striving, I sense God asking, “do you trust me?” It’s a simple question, but my answer is fraught with complexities. To paraphrase a man who asked Jesus for healing – I trust; help my distrust (Mk. 9:24)! I’m thankful for Anne Lamott’s reminder that “the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.” I don’t need to achieve a perfect state of trust (or control) before approaching Jesus. I need to come as I am, with all my fears, doubts, and chaos. I feel so unworthy, but I think that’s grace, right?

I’ve heard it said that you need to learn to live out of control, but I think that’s only half of the truth. You also need to learn to live knowing that God is in control. I’m still learning what that looks like, but here’s my thoughts so far. It’s delegating and accepting another right way to do things, even if it’s not your way. It’s pressing in and engaging vulnerably, even if there are no guarantees. It’s being honest with yourself and others about how much you do care, even if you’re not sure they care the same way. It’s acknowledging and experiencing pain, refusing to put up another wall. It’s praying, not my will, but yours be done (Lk. 22:42).

When I think about it, I know it’s going to cost me something. I also know it’s not going to cost near as much as attempting to maintain the illusion of control. I suppose it’s a choice. I know what I’m choosing. What about you?