Wounded Hearts and Mangled Souls – an Excerpt

Overheard:

“We have to be careful slinging that word ‘abuse’ around too freely, you know. That can become abusive itself. Abuse is a lot rarer than some people make it out to be.”

The following is excerpted from a book I am writing about my experience as a Biblical counselor who seems to have specialized in abuse. I say, “seems to have specialized,” because it wasn’t a primary area for counseling focus I planned, it has just ended up that way. Let me know what you think, hm?

For over twenty-five years, I have sat week in and week out with troubled and hurting people who seek God’s answers to their struggles. I serve the Body of Christ in a number of roles, one of which is as a Biblical counselor.

Before coming to me, most of the people I meet with have gone to pastors and therapists and psychologists and prayer groups and all manner of folk in an effort to find resolution to two recurring battles in their lives: the pain of the evil they have suffered and the shame of the sins they have committed—often as a result of the evil they have suffered.

When people ask me what it is I do and I mention Biblical counseling, they get an odd look on their face and many ask, “What’s that?” The simplest answer I have come up with is this: Biblical counseling is targeted discipleship aimed at guiding people into the robust relationship with Jesus Christ that their current struggles are preventing. Not a textbook definition, but we find it to be an excellent working definition.

There is one area of counseling expertise that God has developed me in over the past twenty-six years and that is in the area of abuse and its cognates. Abuse in its various and tawdry forms is rampant in society and increasingly so. Sad to say, it is at least as widespread within the church in America as it is without, and (in some cases) is even more prevalent.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this is that almost every single one of the almost twenty-six hundred counselees I have worked with has been involved in a local church where they could not get help, where they experienced the abuse in the first place, or where they experienced additional wounding when they did seek help.

Am I bringing an indictment against the church in America? Indeed I am. I have been banging on the doors and walls and windows of the church for over a quarter century, trying to get the church to understand and address these matters well. The most common response?

“We have to be careful slinging that word ‘abuse’ around too freely, you know. That can become abusive itself. Abuse is a lot rarer than some people make it out to be.”

Really!?

This not only breaks my heart, but angers me just about as much.

Can I tell you how intentionally ignorant and arrogantly obtuse that is?

Statistically, when a pastor stands behind his pulpit on a Saturday evening or Sunday morning, for every hundred people sitting in front of him, only twelve to fourteen of those hundred people have not –and I say again, have not –either personally experienced abuse/neglect or been a first-hand witness to abuse or domestic violence/oppression in their own home.

Let me make that point as clear as I can. Out of a hundred people sitting down to listen to a Christian sermon on any given weekend, eighty-six to eighty-eight of those people have (statistically) either experienced or witnessed abuse or domestic brutality and/or oppression in their home. I am not talking about the occasional sinful treatment sinners perpetrate on one another. I am speaking about an atmosphere and a pattern of attitudes and behaviors that have had a defining effect on those involved.

These folks have been misused and abused beyond the normal wear-and-tear we experience as fallen human beings bound in relationship with other fallen human beings. These folks have become objectified, considered as “things” to be used for someone else’s own sensual pleasures or as punching bags on which to vent their rage. They have been minimized and cast aside as inconvenient or, even worse, as a nuisance and a bother.

They have been little children cowering under covers and in closets as one adult has verbally reviled and physically terrorized the other adult in their home.

They have been children and adolescents silently begging God, “PLEASE don’t let him come in my room tonight!!”

Most of these abusive self-proclaimed stalwarts of our communities and churches have made their victims believe they were deserving of this mistreatment or that they (the victims) had caused it, setting them up for more abuse now and later. Or they have cast these used-up “less-than’s” aside as one would an empty candy wrapper or a melon rind and moved on to the next person who has become targeted as their prey.

Over and over again, I hear the same heart-cries about the church and its leadership: “Where were they?” “Why didn’t they stop it?” “Why didn’t they help?” “Why don’t they talk about it?”

And, even more often, these wounded hearts and mangled souls seem sadly resigned to a recurring sense of, “They just don’t understand and don’t know how to help.”

My goal is to do three things:

First, to clearly articulate what constitutes abuse by God’s definition and by the fruit borne out in people’s lives;

Second, to call Christ’s church to action as the agent of God’s grace and truth in the lives of the offended and the offenders;

Third, to provide resources and references to equip the church to answer the call and be the safest place for wounded hearts and mangled souls to find rest, hope, and healing.

My goal is not to offend, but I will. My goal is not to blame, but I will. My goal is not to shame, but I hope I do some of that in a God-focused way that leads to repentance and fruit in keeping with repentance.

My main goal is to equip and to motivate God’s people to rise to the call to be instrument’s in the hands of the Redeemer as He satisfies the cry of the psalmist: “Lord, you have heard the request of the oppressed; You make them feel secure because You listen to their prayer.You defend the fatherless and oppressed, so that mere mortals may no longer terrorize them.”(Psalm 10:17-18 NET).

Perhaps you are one of the many survivors of abuse, neglect, domestic violence/oppression, or sexual assault who has been looking to the church, hoping she would be a bastion of hope and help in your time of trouble.

My challenge to you is to become the very answer to prayer that you have sought. Become someone whom God has healed of the brokenness and sinfulness that has plagued your life and become His agent of grace and healing in the lives of others who are like you.

I say this because that is why I do what I do and why I am writing this book. You see, I, too, am a survivor. And I have learned that God always intends for the evil we have suffered to be turned into good.

That is not just the trite mouthing of some Bible verse too often tossed around Christian circles like a well-worn beanbag toy. While we often lob Romans 8:28 into a conversation as if it was the silver bullet that will kill off every tortured memory or gasping-for-breath anxiety attack, its misuse does not invalidate the truth of the verse.

Bad hermeneutics notwithstanding, God does sovereignly take every good and every ill in the life of those who are His and works it to their good—eventually.

The verses that have become my “anchor verses” are 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.

“Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

When I look back at the abuse I suffered and the abusiveness that became part of my way of dealing with the pain of what I had endured, and when I see how God has chosen to use me to bring help and comfort to so many over the years since the day I became a follower of Christ, it is these verses that have been the greatest help to me in making sense of it all.

What I have learned and have found strength in is the understanding that God entrusted those experiences to me as a stewardship; something to be managed and invested and returned to Him with a profit. Had I not gone through what I have and had I not experienced the healing that He has brought into my life, I would not be equipped to sit with person after person and guide them through that same process of healing and, in turn, them becoming a helper to Him in bringing that same comfort and healing to others.

Don’t take this to mean that I can now look back on the beatings and the screaming and the molesting and all of the other sordid things that were done to me and say, “Yippee! I am so glad s/he did that to me!” Not in the least.

But, what I can honestly do is look at each of the memories as they come to mind and see the benefit that God has been able to bring into the life of someone else as a result of how He has walked with me through it all.

The point is this: abuse is to be expected but not accepted. The misuse or abuse of one person by another is never okay with God. Yet, knowing it will come, He has determined to put these evils to work and to turn them from evil into good.

And, lest we forget, God brought redemption into this world and into our lives through abuse! Jesus of Nazareth suffered the most inhumane and torturous treatment any human being has ever experienced, and it is because of that abuse that salvation can be ours. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 NASB)

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9 thoughts on “Wounded Hearts and Mangled Souls – an Excerpt

  1. Alyce-Kay says:

    This is excellent. Sadly, the Church often not only ignores, but enables abusers and propagates abuse. I don’t even know how many pastors/church leaders told me to submit more to my abusive husband. Or that it takes two to tango. Or that I’m not perfect either. (I need to be perfect to be treated with dignity and like a human being?) Or that he needs Jesus, too (true, but does allowing him to continue in abuse help bring him Jesus?). When, after 20 years, I finally left my husband who was abusive in nearly every sense of the word, my then pastor (who KNEW what was happening) told me I couldn’t take communion until I reconciled with my husband. I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to accept God’s love — hard to do when my vision of God has been with His back to me. Even though I now understand that the Church is a very inadequate representative of Him, 20 years’ representation has been scarred into my spirit. I’ve found it infinitely harder to forgive my pastors than my ex-husband. I have forgiven … but I have to keep going back and forgiving again. Little by little, through patient healing and repeatedly forgiving me as I learn to forgive, God is allowing me to help others who are in the situation I was in. I so appreciate your speaking out about this and standing firmly as you do.

    • Pastor Lamb says:

      My heart is sad over the loss you’ve suffered, especially at the hands of those God entrusted to care for you and your family. There is NO justification for the spiritual abuse that was heaped on the domestic abuse you suffered. Not all pastors and church leaders are that ignorant, but too many are. I am convinced that your story is another that needs to be told. And your healing journey is part of the healing God desires to employ to help bring comfort and healing to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

      Thank you for your encouraging words as well. If you have not had time to read “Mending the Soul”, let me encourage you to do so. It is the #1 resource we use to help bring understanding to those who have survived abuse, including spiritual abuse (which may well be more heinous than any other).

      We will keep you on our prayers, too. We pray for the survivors every day, knowing that their lives have been permanently mangled until the day of Christ’s return.

      Blessings to you, Alyce-Kay!

  2. Alyce-Kay says:

    Thank you, Pastor. I, like you, have seen God use what I’ve been through to help others, and though I would never in a million years want to go through it again or wish that on anyone, I also see how God turns all things for good. I’m working on a novel now, which I hope will help pastors see what happens in an abusive marriage and how important their response is.

  3. stephbradburn says:

    Thank you for being THIS voice! I came to faith as a deeply wounded woman in an abusive marriage and the counsel I received was that God wants me to suffer so that I can know Him better. That God would use it all as a testimony. They also told me that my abuse was happening because I did not know how to properly submit. That I needed to pray more. That my children were better off in an intact family even though their father would tear their mother to shreds with his words….in front of them….sometimes on a daily basis. That this is God’s will for my life and that this marriage was how I was to live out my relationship to God.
    After a few church splits….I walked away from the church and began my dissent into a deep, dark despair. My marriage was unravelling as I stood up for myself. I lost much of my “Community”. People who I thought were true friends were only “doing their job” and when I left I was no longer “their job”.
    I got into counselling with a PTSD specialist and him along with group therapy and an online community who were calling out the church….saved my life.
    Anyway….sorry for the life story, but I am thankful that I am not alone and not crazy.

    Peace to you,
    Stephanie

    • Warren Lamb says:

      Hi, Stephanie –
      Thank you for your s=comments and for sharing a little of your story. I hear stories like it every day in the counseling I do. I want to apologize for God’s people getting so wrong and making things so much worse for you and your children. That you escaped and are doing important healing work now is wonderful news. Share your story with others, even when they don’t want to listen. Someone will hear what you share and will need the hope your story holds. And remember: it is with the comfort we have received from God that He uses to bring comfort to those who have been afflicted and abused as we have. Blessings to you and your children. Thank you, again, for sharing!
      Warren

      • stephbradburn says:

        Thanks for the reply Warren. Your words mean a lot to me ❤ I live in Vancouver BC so got excited when I saw "Vancouver Bible" on your title….now I see it is Vancouver, WA 🙂

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