I met Leanne Weber years ago through Pastoring Partners Network. She now serves as one of our amazing PPN writers. Back when I first met her she was pastoring and in the midst of an abusive church situation. I as well as several of our other leaders at PPN walked through that painful journey with her and observed her as she went from hurting to whole. She's got an amazing story to share and the following is just part of it. Just a reminder that all of our guest bloggers this week are available to chat with you in the comment section here on the blog or on my facebook page where the blog is also published.
I am a certifiable mess right now. I cannot get any work done, because I don't even want to be here. I am just...tired. I am tired of dealing with church people. If I was truly called, then I'd be able to handle this.
I am sick of the only thing keeping me here being the fact that we have bills to pay, and we are finally in a place where we are financially capable of paying them. I am terrified to quit, but I do not want to stay, either. So I sit here, frozen, trying to find a fake smile somewhere deep inside me to plaster on my face and pretend that everything is okay.
I am tired. Does no one else see how tired I am? How sick I am? Am I that good at faking it? At least I'm using my theatre degree for something...
On November 18, 2009, I locked myself in my office, turned on some music, and wrote these words. My hands shaking violently, my heart feeling as it had felt so many times before, like someone had reached inside my chest and squeezed it with all the strength they had. Sobs came and tears fell involuntarily. I kept trying to make them stop, trying to control these overwhelming but familiar emotions that had somehow found me and attached themselves to me. I tried everything – playing soothing praise and worship music, reminding myself over and over again that this was not the same. I was in a good place now; I could relax.
Just because one person had yelled at me – just one person in a church of 400 – was no reason for me to be sitting in my office shaking, crying, flipping out.
One thing was clear: I needed help.
I am a “twice over” survivor of a very subtle yet powerful form of mistreatment, coined by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen in their book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. The irony of this is that my husband and I had briefly attended David Johnson’s church in Minneapolis before moving on to our first abusive environment! If we had just stayed there, I would not be sitting here writing this.
The first type of spiritual abuse that we experienced was abuse of a congregation member by church leadership. The second time, the tables were turned and we were part of a church leadership team that was being spiritually abused by the board and congregation members.
The panic attack described above took place in a safe, non-abusive church that we worked in. A minor incident with a church member is what triggered this response. I am still not sure why my emotions flared up the way they did at that time. I truly think that this was a form of post traumatic stress disorder, where you never know when and where the triggers are going to come.
The good news is that this incident and the panic attack that ensued were what finally motivated me to get some counseling and work through my history of spiritual abuse, evaluate my relationship with God, and figure out why I, a strong, intelligent individual, was so susceptible to it in the first place.
As I began to share my story on my blog, I received messages from people all over the country, thanking me for being honest enough to share – some of them shared their own stories of spiritual abuse. I realized as I have so many times before that one of the biggest lies we believe is that we are alone – that we are the only one going through this.
After a year and a half of therapy, I am beginning to reclaim who I was created to be. My husband and I joke that God has hit the “rewind” button on our lives and given us a do-over. But truly, it’s not about going back in time to find myself, but rather, about going forward and becoming an even better me through Christ. It’s not always easy; therapy is not a magical cure, but I now have tools in place to deal with my “PTSD moments.”
If you are reading this and experiencing any type of spiritual abuse, I end with these statements:
1. I always wished that someone outside my situation would tell me to get out of the situation. So I am telling you: GET OUT! It is not God’s will for His children to be abused in His name. Ever. Trust that He has the situation under control, and it is not your job to fix it!
2. You are not alone. Don’t believe the lie that you are. And don’t be afraid to talk about it – one of the enemy’s most powerful weapons is silence. I encourage you to disarm him by opening up and talking to someone that you trust.
3. Please do not use my story or anyone else’s story of spiritual abuse as an excuse to give up on Jesus. What you have gone through has nothing to do with Him.
4. Remember that there is life and sanity on the other side of it. I am living proof!
Leanne Weber studied English and Writing at Bethel University. Until recently she served as a Assemblies of God children's pastor before she and her husband Patrick. moved to Duluth, Minnesota to found the Northern Expressions Arts Collective where she now serves as Executive Director. Through this non-profit organization, the communities of northeastern Minnesota are strengthened. She also serves on the Pastoring Partners Network writers staff.