The Courage to Change: The Serenity Prayer and Religious Domestic Abuse

Standard

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer . found in his diary in 1932, became  a mainstay of  distressed people. It’s threefold formula brought peace for many:

          God, grant me the serenity

          To accept the things I cannot change

          Change the things I can,

          And wisdom to know the difference.

Advocate for those sexually abused by clergy, Dee Ann Miller, believes the wisdom should come first. Whatever the order, the interplay of the three factors have sorted out many a dilemma for those feeling hopeless and powerless.

I did not know the Serenity Prayer while struggling with the religious domestic abuse in  my marriage to a Baptist minister. But I knew many prayers that I cried day and night to God seeking to understand and end the torment of the relationship.

Nothing in my long years of Christian practice prepared me to deal with the manipulation of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. None of the rules seemed to apply but I steadfastly continued to try to operate with what I had been taught was true.

What the Serenity Prayer helps a  distressed person see is that we have it reversed. We are trying to change the things we can’t and accept the things we shouldn’t and could change.

We cry out to God to do what we could and try to do what only God can.

Here is where we need wisdom.

What are some examples from my own and others’ experience?

Trying to Change the Things I Can’t

The abuser is doing exactly as s/he pleases. S/he just doesn’t want to be  held responsible for it. S/he would rather make the partner responsible. A Bible verse identifies who accuses us night and day before God. 

It is not someone we are supposed to be married to.  Undergoing mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical torment from our partner is not included in our vows.

“In sickness and in health” assumes these are conditions that come upon us unbidden from the outside, not deliberately created by our spouse.

Only the person and the Holy Spirit can effect meaningful and lasting change.

It is a toxic form of pride for someone to encourage a misused spouse to think s/he can be responsible for “saving” someone. In the Christian faith, believers are asked to present the possibility of salvation to others and then rely on God to do the work.

 It is never up to another person. The faith presents Christ as the savior. And no where is a spouse asked to suffer abuse as an evangelistic practice.

Believers may pray for others but do not have to live with them. I had to face another spiritual danger:  I could not live without resentment while being under constant attack.

Some in the church may take the side of the abuser and put the burden of forgiveness on the one abused. Quoting verses like “forgiving 70 x7” only serve to further the demoralization of the mistreated.

Forgiveness is part of the healing work done much later after the abused  is no longer being victimized. It cannot occur while in the situation.

Those who lay this additional burden on the abused are primarily interested either in upholding the abuser’s power or avoiding taking responsibility for being loving as Jesus demonstrated.

There is no Biblical instruction to live with an abuser as a part of spiritual development.

I finally concluded that part of trying to accept what I should not was maintaining a loving heart while being continually degraded. The spiritual horror of this reality is that the victim in made to feel guilty for being victimized.

Trying to Accept The Things I Don’t Have To

My part of the dilemma in religious domestic abuse was a lack of courage to be honest about my thoughts and feelings.

The abuser gradually whittles away any self-esteem the victim may have had, gradually condemning the qualities s/he used to praise. When a partner expresses disagreement and contrary wishes, the abuser gradually escalates the cost.

At first it may be withdrawal of affection, then screaming, then slamming doors or leaving. The intimidation tactics are well-known and all have the same goal: remove any resistance to being controlled.

I hated conflict.  But wanting to be a peacemaker is not the same as accepting unacceptable behavior. I didn’t know about boundaries in relationship.

My early religious training presented an ideal of absolute service. My needs were not important. This is a flawed approach to relationships and one reason abusers look for victims in churches.

Women especially are taught that total selflessness is the ideal. Exploited obedience is a child’s game.

The teaching that demands obedience from one adult to another, which is the man-made doctrine of submission, relegates the women or man to a child status in the relationship. Interestingly enough, husbands are rarely given this same advice. Rather, when they fault their wives for problems in the marriage, they often find a sympathetic ear.

There is no other description of this unequal and disrespectful pattern except bondage. And it is not God’s will.

When I changed my prayer from one of pleading for rescue to asking God for help and guidance to get out, my prayers began to be answered. No, it wasn’t easy.

 But support began to show up and by moving forward in faith in God’s love and supply, I and my children were able to refuse the idolatrous lie that we should serve an abuser. I asked for the courage, the wisdom and the acceptance and it came.

Lighting the Mother Shadow

Standard

For some women Mother’s Day is not an easy day. Daughters of mothers who could not nurture them experience emotional fallout that casts a shadow over this day and indeed their lives.2015-03-06-16-13-26

Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes about the Stone Child, stories and myths of the unmothered child. As women, we experience “collapsing” and a wild hunger that leads us to doubt ourselves, have difficulty seeing ourselves accurately, engage in risky or impulsive behaviors, and an inability to maintain healthy boundaries. We miss training in honoring our intuition, consciousness and common sense. To recover, women must grow their own internal mother to warm their hearts through meditation, connecting with nature, bodywork, and support from other women. We must come to terms with our mother shadow, for she never leaves us. We cannot escape the effects and should not. Our mother effect is the source of our creative energy. Our emotions are our guide to our next level for spiritual development.

Recently a group of women in my workshop Continue reading

Eat or Spend? The High Cost of Insecurity

Standard

Almost anyone who struggles with an eating disorder or really any addiction is familiar with how we can switch obsessions. If we are not drinking, we are eating. If we are not eating, we are smoking. If we are not working, we are drinking. On and on.money-fly

Spending is one of the favorite “go to” switches for those with eating disorders. In fact, some studies show that many seeking recovery from eating disorders have either alcoholism or sexual abuse in their childhood experiences. Because of this, poverty can be a stressor from growing up in an alcoholic family or, on the flip side, a family member may use gifts to secure illicit favors from their child victim. Compulsive spenders report feeling in power, getting a “high” as a stress relief, or needing to “escape” – all of which can be effects from feeling powerless as children. One woman said that, unlike gambling, at least she knew what she had spent the money on and had something to show for it.

Even when these are not factors, in our consumer based materialistic culture, money is probably one of the most misunderstood and emotionally charged experiences Continue reading

The “W” in Worry

Standard

There is a well- known Serenity Prayer by Friedrich Nietzsche and used in 12 step recovery programs that seeks to relieve us of our mental turmoil:

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

What is not quoted as often as some of the rest of the prayer:

“Accepting as God did this sinful world just as it is….”

Here is what we worry about. We are worried that the things we can’t change will be too detrimental, damaging or disastrous. We may trust in God but we are not sure we are rowing to shore fast enough to escape the storm. Usually the categories of what we worry about areworryW   what        W   when       where

We may worry about what is going to happen, when something is going to happen, or where it might happen.

But the two big Ws we usually worry about are Who and Why.

We worry about the Who  … Continue reading

A Short Guide to Developing Denials and Affirmations

Link

Using the power of your words to create your experiences can be very satisfying and stress relieving.  More than just positive thinking, denials and affirmations are a dynamic duo in managing our perceptions and feelings toward achieving satisfaction in relationships, work and other areas. They are based on the truth that the universe is supporting us and that love prevails in assuring us our good because this is the Divine Will for our lives. They create what Jesus called “the Kingdom of God within you”. If we think about what would the evidence be that Good prevailed, that is what Jesus meant. Harmonious relationships, happiness, fulfillment, peace, love, wisdom, kindness. We can create these through the power of our heart-mind-words.

Peru Amphitheater Ankh

Basically as I have practiced this technique, Continue reading

The Sources of Resentments

Link

 

“Why did she do that to me? I’ve never done anything to her!”

“No one crosses me and doesn’t pay for it.”pout

 

 

 

 

 

 

“He may think he can do that to me, but just let him try it again.”

Resentments are often called frozen rage or “drinking poison and hoping the other person will die”. Continue reading

Did My Agent Call?

Link

Jan 2016 Import 018

You have to understand I consider myself the Forest Gumpess of my Midwestern city. I say this because of the critical intersections of my life with the leaders of the city that, even though they are unknown to the vast majority, were still part of major movements at the time. I worked with a Congress on Racial Equality leader, an early civil rights attorney, a police community relations trailblazer acknowledged by the White House, conferenced with two mayors and the director of municipal corrections. Helped another social services leader get her community projects off the ground before she was nominated to the President’s Council on Volunteers. After the riots, organized mediation between the business owners and the residents, helped parents lobby for changes at the largest high school, organized fundamental changes in the way the school board was elected, and garnered community members for boards of Model Cities, urban renewal, and other governmental programs. I worked on the model for Habitat for Humanity before it was Habitat and helped another trailblazer push fair housing before it was the law. I worked with the human relations commissions of both cities and helped integrate a neighborhood. I kept a lookout over the property where a prominent leader built his cultural center while I worked at City Hall so I could notify him of any Planning and Zoning potential threats to the property. Continue reading

No Other Way

Standard

This is one of the most comforting poems I know and I wanted to share it with you today!

NO OTHER WAY by Martha Smock

storm-warning-1345666

Could we but see the pattern of our days,

We should discern how devious were the ways

By which we came to this, the present time,

This place in life; and we should see the climb

Our soul has made up through the years.

We should forget the hurts, the wanderings, the fears,

The wastelands of our life, and know

That we could come no other way or grow

Into our good without these steps our feet

Found hard to take, our faith found hard to meet.

The road of life winds on, and we like travelers go

From turn to turn until we come to know

The truth that life is endless and that we

Forever are inhabitants of all eternity.