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Overcoming Relational Aggression
I just had you over to my house to talk and you pulled my movie collection off the shelf and shivered. I ask you what you are thinking; I would hate to miss any hidden message from God. You feel like my choices aren’t godly. Oh no. I guess I hadn’t thought about it much. I just enjoy getting away. Next you tell me “getting away” time should only be reserved for God and his Word.
That makes me nervous, since I skipped my daily time in the Word today to make cookies for your visit. I probably shouldn’t tell you that. I drop my eyes from yours and feel uncomfortable.
You tell me that you love me, that you are a sister in Christ, that you have my back. Your arm goes around my shoulder and you pull me into a hug. Next you say it hurts you to share such things with me, but it is for my own good because I still have to mature a lot. I am uncertain about how I feel now, as if you stabbed me in the back, but didn’t realize it. You tell me that you are sacrificing your feelings to set me right on things that I am ignorant about.
I am a little worried. Does my ignorance hurt others? Does it hurt you? I didn’t ask you to “sacrifice” your time and feelings for me. Now I feel guilty. The next feeling I have is an obligation to pay you back for your effort today. What else do you see that I could change?
A sweet smile crosses your face and you announce that you will be God’s mini missionary to me. But…a missionary, that’s for the world, right? Since when did we need to become missionaries unto each other? I don’t understand.
I have a job outside of my home and you are telling me that is the man’s world and the woman’s world is in the home. You just told me that we are missionaries, so how can I do that if I turn my back on the world? You tell me that it is the joyous gospel of grace for a woman to be at home while her husband serves in the workforce since that is his God-given role. I am stumbling over the half-truths coming out of your mouth. I thought the gospel was about Jesus; when did it become about me staying at home? You say we should look different from the world and this is how we do that.
Men are strong, they have what it takes to be in the world you tell me. You explain that women are “naive and weak” and you say it like a curse. I feel shamed. I could see how I am not as smart in some ways as my husband, but you don’t let me continue my train of thought as you launch into the area of godly dressing.
All men are lustful creatures and the jeans I am wearing would cause any number of godly men to stumble. I feel suffocated. You just told me that men are the stronger creatures, so why am I being punished because they can’t control themselves?
This is what we do, you tell me, we sacrifice for other people. You smile again. Your life is hard, but you have found faith, contentment, and peace in submitting to and trusting your husband, both physically and sexually.
That’s nice… but I didn’t want to know that last part; it’s not anyone’s business. Oh but it is, you correct me yet again, you seem to think it’s okay to hold everyone accountable for everything they do and think. Nothing is sacred to you. I am thinking I want to punch you now. But I quickly replace that thought with something else—who knows if God lets you read thoughts.
I thank you for coming over and you grab my hand and start praying. You pray that I will see the right path to follow. I feel your grip tighten. That I would honor my husband, that I would learn how to be a good wife and mother and that I would grow in the light of God’s Word.
Guilt washes over me again; I purpose to go have my quiet time as soon as you leave and then my mind runs, as if in an alternate reality, unstopped. If I don’t have my quiet time with God, how could I expect Him to teach me what He wanted me to learn today? How can I be a good wife and mother if I am missing out on His word? Oh my gosh, you must be right. You must see everything. I am a horrible mother, wife and person. How gracious you are to still love me despite all of… me.
The panic is rising in my heart as you say goodbye, something inside of me does not want you to go. What if the way I wash the dishes brings disgrace to the gospel? What if my husband says something and I react wrongly, forever blemishing my testimony? It is like a terrifying merry-go-round of thoughts, constantly rising and falling; the guilt, shame, works, and anger at the helplessness that it will never end.
Actually, it can end. At any point in this circle of abuse, you have the ability to stand up for yourself and say no. You can mentally or physically walk away, and retrain your thought pattern.
Spiritual abuse and thought manipulation are real. Peer pressure doesn’t end in high school. Spiritual manipulation and relational aggression can be as toxic to your mental and spiritual life as substance abuse is to your body.
The truth is that God is not a bully; He does not shame us or force us into obedience. He does not stab us in the back while telling us that He loves us. He does not come into our homes to condemn us because of the music we listen to, the movies we watch, the clothes we wear or where we work. He does not want us to obsess about how we look to other Christians or what they might think of us.
He does not want us to play God in other people’s lives either. The Holy Spirit never goes on vacation, so people—no matter who they are—don’t have the right to make you feel bad about who you are in Christ. Salvation in Christ is freedom from guilt. It is grace, not shame. It is acceptance of who you are, not hatred of what you have not yet become. It is peace, not anger at never being able to be “good enough.”
If you aren’t experiencing peace in your spiritual life, may I encourage you to look at the people you are allowing to speak into your life? Are they positive or negative? Do they shame and manipulate you, or do they encourage you to obey what God is showing you? Be selective with the voices you allow to speak into your life, and draw boundaries if needed. It’s never too late to walk away from abuse.
Rebekah spent ten years of her life involved with ATI. After leaving the church steeped in ATI, she began to reevaluate everything that church stood for. She followed her dreams and became a published author of a short children’s novel. She is married to a wonderful man who has greatly helped her in her journey out of legalism. She resides in Kansas and has desires to minister to those who have been affected and hurt by ATI.
All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.