Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Abusive Ex

I used to be in an abusive relationship.

My abusive ex was God.

Yes, there were other people involved in the manipulation, bullying, over-protection, brainwashing, deceit, neglect, ignorance, isolation, control, and cruelty. But none of it could have had the effect that it did if it weren't for my "personal relationship" with the God I encountered in my Bible.

I thought I loved him and that he loved me.

I believed he was older and wiser and would take care of me. I gave him my heart, and my will. I didn't make a decision without consulting him.

I thought he hung the stars and made the sun come up every morning. His smile was my sunshine. He warned me about his violent temper: like earthquakes, tornadoes, and wildfire. But he assured me that his anger took a long time to heat up. As others had observed, "clouds and thick darkness surround him", but I got used to that.

I was a loyal lover. When other people criticized my God's social skills, I defended his innate goodness, his super IQ,  and even his, um, existence? I didn't doubt he was listening, even when he was quiet. I would wake up early to spend time with him. I wrote him poems, hung his promises up on my wall, spent years learning about his preferences and adjusting my tastes to his pleasure.

I depended on him completely and trusted him implicitly, even when it hurt like hell. When I felt ready to burst inside, I'd cry and sing this Twila Paris song:

"Sometimes my little heart can't understand
What's in Your will, what's in Your plan.
So many times I'm tempted to ask You why,
But I can never forget it for long.
Lord, what You do could not be wrong.
So I believe You, even when I must cry.
Do I trust You, Lord?
Does the river flow?
Do I trust You, Lord?
Does the north wind blow?
You can see my heart,
You can read my mind,
And You got to know
That I would rather die
Than to lose my faith
In the One I love.
Do I trust You, Lord?
I will trust You, Lord, when I don't know why.
I will trust You, Lord, till the day I die.
I will trust You, Lord, when I'm blind with pain!
You were God before, and You'll never change.
I will trust You, Lord."

Yes. That's the song.


As I learned more about the characteristics of healthy relationships, I came to realize how unhealthy my relationship with God really was.

I saw victims of spiritual abuse whose behavior resembled the symptoms exhibited by Stockholm syndrome victims: "who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness". Come to think of it, that description almost sounds like the paraphrase of a worship song, or a sermon by John Piper, or Jonathan Edwards. What kind of being would be pleased with such fawning submission? Surely not a good god?

I started taking more initiative, making more choices on my own and then running them by God for his "approval".

As I grew emotionally stronger and gained confidence, I was able to see that he had flaws, too. I didn't really need a flawed god. Turns out I'm not really into the strong, silent type, especially if they remain strong and silent when their friends are in trouble. And I have no respect for guys (or gods) who lose their temper and scare little kids.

It took a long time to admit it, but it slowly dawned on me that I would not want to spend a lifetime--much less an eternity--with the God of the Bible, even if I could still believe that my world depended on him.

* * * * * * * *

As Julia Sweeney has described in her monologue Letting Go of God, there is a downside to losing the relationship. When I'm scared or hurt, there's no all-powerful being I can beg to make things better. I don't have a king's ear. I'm not really a princess. Without an imaginary friend, I have to make real friends, or feel very alone.

The universe may not be "on my side", but it does support me in countless ways. While allowing me the freedom to make choices based on my own preferences and what I believe will make me happy, and making no demands in return. I no longer feel obligated to defend my god's behavior, or worry about his temper. I don't spend time coaxing him to intervene on my behalf, assuring him that I know he had a good reason for ignoring my requests, or waiting for him to drop nice things in my lap. There is no more temptation to ingratiate myself. When life is going smoothly, I don't wait for "the other shoe to drop".

Turns out other people didn't like my god much, either. I thought they did when we hung out together, but when I mention him now, they tell me they realized he really was terrible. They're sorry for my experience, they say; I must not have really had a god, or maybe I had the wrong God. They want me to try theirs now. If I just want a good god badly enough, they say, the right one will find me.

I was always told I had an inner void only a god could fill. But since I said goodbye to God, I haven't yet experienced such a void.

I am content without a god.

Life is better without my abusive ex.


  1. I could hug you so tight. XO I have experienced so many of those same thoughts and feelings, and am so very, very grateful to no longer be in an abusive relationship. XO

  2. oh my gosh, this post. He was a temperamental, mysterious god. Sometimes he hid his face when I wanted reassurance the most. He expected me to be ok with this. Long absences with no exact return date. He showed me he loved me by sending me trials, to sharpen my character. He punished me by sending me a flat tire or broken windshield if I knowingly or unknowingly 'broke' one of his rules. He expected me to worship him, and be afraid of him. He was a stern, cruel, very "loving" god. I'm so glad we're not together anymore.

  3. This new attitude that you display in your essay is –to a certain extent- part of what is known as “righteousness”, as well as –to a certain extent- the attitude you had in your past.

    Both attitudes are part of God’s virtue.

    You have not become His enemy by not desiring to live under a cloud of fear, for instead desiring to think for yourself and not force yourself to “believe” things of which you have not been convinced.

    There is a scripture, “You will seek Me and you will find Me when you seek Me with all of your heart.” Far from being a slogan for Valentine’s Day, “heart” in the original language means the core of your being. Note therefore that this verse does not say “slap on a bunch of statements that out of fear you have never thought through.”

    Similarly, the Word says that we are to love God “with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind.” If those three things are not exercised to the point to where they are satisfied, how can we say –or even know- that we are loving God?

    I met God as a child, purposely turned away from Him, and re-encountered Him ten years later. I knew that He created everything and that He loved me, but not much else. Hah –I also knew He wanted me to stop using drugs but I wasn’t ready to do that yet! But I loved Him, and told just about everyone I knew about Him, and quit drugs, and was thinking about starting a band to sing songs about Him, when I fell into a cult that told me I was “soulish” and “doing my own thing in Jesus’ Name” and that what God really wanted was proper behaviour -or else.

    It was a long, sometimes torturous road I had to travel to get out of that place and learn to think for myself, and I have a lot that I have learned that I’d like to share with you, but only if you wish.

    I don't have a URL, so to publish this I had to use "anonymous", but my name is Breck.

  4. I recently left my Christian church, and the cult that was forming in it. I told everyone who hounded me I needed a break. The truth is after 30 years of service to Jesus I realized I was serving an abuser. I allowed myself to strip away the jargon, and look at the Bible for what it really was. A book of stories inspired by men, and subjected to multiple translations, edits, and imbellishments. To continue and base my entire life on it was lunacy.
    It was an earth shattering night when I listened to Julia Sweeny's story. All the thoughts I had tried hard to push aside, and not listen to. It's like she read my mind. I wasn't the only one who thought, this can't be right.
    I feel like I am in recovery now. Trying to make sense of the years lost, and rewriting a better future for myself.

    1. Recovery takes time! I'm so glad you are writing your own better story now.

  5. I am so sorry to hear your story and can relate so deeply in so many ways. I also dumped the god you described but for me found the God of the Bible to be full of love and redemption but had to unlearn everything I was taught about the Bible first and start all over again. I only say this to say that we were all so damaged by our histories and we will all take different roads in the end but hopefully each road is one that leads to healing, as it seems yours has. Blessings to you.

  6. OK, I've posted a few comments on other of your stories, here's what's eating me up inside:
    1. WHY is it that god allows good people to rot in their despair while greedy people become wealthy in his name?
    2. WHY does god allow his children suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental disorders that make their individual lives a living and present hell?
    3. WHY do some of us feel like a punchline to one of god's bad jokes?

    For many, many years I've been afraid to make my own decisions, ones that make me happy for the fear that my god would beat me like a red-headed step-child. I remember back in Bible College during a chapel service our dean of men told us that if we didn't do what god had "called" us to do, he would kill kidding. I really didn't like life and I still struggle with these things at times.