Archive for the ‘Leaving a cult’ Category

A number of you have left comments on posts or e-mailed me asking for some pointers or steps on how to pick up the pieces and start over after IHOP. This is a huge topic but an important one so I will do my best to respond to it through illustrations and insights from things I have learned in my own journey.

I know there are others of you that read my blog who have come out of IHOP so please feel free to post your experiences in the comments as well. I certainly don’t claim to have the corner on this and everyone’s journey will be a little different. Each of you have your own story to tell and you will have your own nuggets of wisdom gained along the way.

I will relate things mostly to coming out of IHOP but if your experiences were with another organization these same ideas still apply. These concepts relate to coming out of any form of deception, spiritual abuse, cults, etc.

Please don’t read this as a “how-to” list that you simply check off. I’m not writing this as a 12-step program or self-help therapy. Rather than a spiritual to-do list I encourage you to view these points as overarching themes and priorities to keep in mind. The actual process might look a little different for different people but here are the things I believe to be the most important in coming out of spiritual deception and getting grounded in what is true.

1. Numero uno…and most importantly, remember that He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it. Thank your heavenly Father for opening your eyes and trust Him to lead and orchestrate every step in bringing you out of the deceptions, involvements, etc that you have walked in. Life is messy sometimes and solutions don’t come packaged in pretty boxes with bows on top. Since we peer dimly through the filter of our human experience and emotion we don’t fully see any situation perfectly so we must trust the One who is the Author and Finisher of our faith. Set HIS Word above the word of any man…no matter how eloquent it sounds or what venue, pulpit or position it is heralded from.

2. Do not condemn, berate or beat yourself up for not seeing it sooner. Condemnation is not part of the road toward freedom. It’s a trap door that drops you into a free-fall of judgment and self-analysis. Trust that the timing of G-d is right and He is perfect, true and just in all that He allows. He chose to open your eyes to the deception/error on His own timetable. Take your hand off the rewind button and don’t play back old experiences through the lens of “if I had only known this then, I would have done this…or I would not have done that…” You can’t judge yesterday’s actions in light of today’s wisdom. You didn’t know then what you know now so you couldn’t act out of what you did not yet know. What you know now however can equip you to make different choices going forward. So when the accuser comes knocking, remind yourself that you can’t change a month ago or 2 years ago but now you do know and you can choose to walk a different road…a road toward what is true because “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free”. (John 8:32)

3) Pursue truth at all costs. When something doesn’t line up with the Word of G-d check it, test it, study, ask G-d for greater discernment and trust that discernment when you hear it. Don’t rationalize or excuse away what you hear. Trust that the Spirit of G-d is more than able to lead and speak to you. If you are His sheep, trust that you can know what is His voice. Still test however what you hear/discern/think He is saying but don’t discount it before you do. Don’t swallow any word, teaching, doctrine, scriptural interpretation, etc. you hear just because it sounds good. If a teaching/doctrine, etc. requires taking scripture out of context to understand it or apply its interpretation, run don’t walk the other way.

4) Give yourself time. You probably didn’t buy into IHOP’s doctrines overnight and it might take a little time to detox and sort through what is true and what is not and get your head clear but study what is true and the counterfeits become much more recognizable.

5) Don’t just get in the Word…let the Word get into you. Don’t study for studying’s sake. Absorb like a sponge the truth of scripture and let it permeate who you are. It will be the shield around your heart to protect you from the fiery arrows of deception, doubt, condemnation, unbelief, etc that are sure to fly your way. As you study, ask the Father to illuminate truth so that it comes alive to you and then the things which masquerade as truth can be more clearly recognizable. Read and study scripture in context. Studying in context means seeking to understand the audience, time it was written, who is writing, what was happening in the time and culture in which it was written and how should it be understood in light of the surrounding verses. A silly example of taking a verse out of context would be that if someone read the story of Adam & Eve in the garden of Eden and twisted its meaning and application they could say that G-d forbids eating fruit and we should eat only vegetables and meat. Context matters!

6) Don’t run away from research. Sometimes the thought of digging into something and researching it out conjures thoughts of college term papers and thesis writing. Panic attacks set in and the sound of laptops closing can be heard everywhere. Denial is not bliss but knowledge is power and if you are seeing red flags don’t ignore them. I’m not saying lock yourself away in a room for 6 months and go on a fact finding mission. I’m saying that part of seeking truth is investigating the roots of the tree from whose fruit you have been eating. If you’re wondering whether an organization you’re apart of is exhibiting cult-like behaviors and effects then perhaps research cult tactics and teachings and the side effects experienced by those who come out of them. Be willing to look at the dust that keeps getting swept under the rug. The value in researching is 2-fold: 1) you will often find evidence that backs up what you discerned. You then have that aha moment where you think “wow, I didn’t miss it.” 2) when you come across others who are waking up to deception and they are seeking answers to their questions about such-and-such you will have more than theories or hearsay to go off of…you’ll have some research: facts, dates and actual events, direct quotes and statistics, etc. in your back pocket. It’s not enough to convince someone with mere opinion.

7) Connect with other like-hearted believers who share your love for truth and are on that same journey. Being in fellowship with others who have discernment, who live lives that bear fruit and who speak the truth in love is really important. We were built for relationship and community. Seek healthy, authentic, truth-based, scripturally grounded relationships and communities to connect with. Another key to staying out of deception is being in fellowship with others who can see things that we can’t and who will lovingly illustrate truth by their words and actions.

May the Spirit of G-d continue to lead you into all truth.

Abundant blessings,
–Ariel

There are some very informational links and resources out there that very accurately address the issue of control (particularly mind control) and how it works (whether it be in a relationship, a workplace, a church or other organization). In this post, I am going to feature a couple of article links that address topics which I find very prevalent in the body of believers today.

One of my blog readers sent me a great link this week which I’m going to pass along to all of you. This article addresses some very common trends seen within cults and “churches” that operate like cults. It highlights topics such as:

The “Super Apostles” and church government
Abusive authority by leaders
The often mis-quoted mantra of “Don’t Touch the L-rd’s Anointed”
“Umbrellas of Divine Protection”
“Thus Saying the L-rd” words, warnings and instructions
Exclusivity
Favoritism
…and much more

I think this article (link above) is very to the point and doesn’t tangent off and hits the heart of some big issues so I will just let you read it in its entirety and omit my commentary on this one. Prayerfully consider the info in the article and let the Spirit (Ruach) of G-d show you any areas where you may be witnessing or experiencing these abuses of power in your own life. As with all sources I refer to or link to, I do not necessarily uphold or endorse that site or organization in its entirety but do want to call to your attention a particular aspect or article of interest. Don’t throw your discernment out the window. Always read everything prayerfully and line it up with the plum-line of scripture.

I also came across an article that contains some helpful information on How Cults Work which helps to distinguish the different types of cults which still clearly fall within that label because of their abusive and heretical practices. It’s an informative read…especially for those who are new to the understanding of exactly how a cult is defined and what the characteristics are to watch for and be aware of.

The below comment was posted on my most recent blog and I thought it to be quite insightful so I’m starting a new blog post with it.

Comment:

“And the one who leaves the cult may experience negative consequences of the stress related to leaving…. marriage and family problems, or even sickness. The cult leaders then use this as ‘proof’ the one who left is out of the will of God or is suffering because he/she ‘touched God’s anointed’”

My response:

You bring out a very important and insightful point. Cult leaders have to find a way to explain away the effects of their abuse which requires making the victim always the one at fault. One I remember hearing a lot at IHOP was that this whole “bridal intimacy/wooing” message about how “feeling lovesick” was G-d’s way of wooing you closer to him…that He used this feeling to ignite/illicit hunger in His people. So when you felt the emotional “withdrawal” of coming down from the hypnotic high of being in the prayer room, that was decoded as “lovesickness” which was supposed to signal you to spend more time in the prayer room. It was supposed to be a trigger that initiated a certain responsive behavior on our part (as interns) and make us feel depressed, discouraged and disillusioned whenever we spent time away from IHOP.

It’s a form of internal programming (aka mind control) to keep people “connected” and to create feelings of guilt and withdrawal upon leaving. I will never forget the intense emotional reaction after I left IHOP and moved home. I have never felt anything before or since to which I can compare it. I felt like my emotions had been hi-jacked. It was like an internal magnetic pull that tugged at me. The best way I can describe it is to compare it to the way alcoholics and drug addicts describe coming down from a high. It’s an intense detox where you feel sensory overload and need another fix. That’s what it was like when I left. By the grace of G-d I was able to go against what I had been programmed to believe was “lovesickness” and I fought hard to not get pulled back into what I had just left. Within a matter of days or a couple of weeks, that immediate withdrawal broke and I started to feel like the cloud over my head was clearing. The dull heaviness lifted and slowly, things felt clear. Confusion was replaced with clarity and over time, the more I began to see, remember, process through what I had come out of, and the more free and light my heart became.

I added some new links to the “Research, Links & Sources” page. One of which was regarding mind control. IHOP most definitely uses mind control and they are very skilled at it. No one is dumb enough to stand up and say “Okay, we’re going to mess with your head now and manipulate you into following what we say by reprogramming the way you view G-d, the way you read scripture and the way you think about life.” It requires a slow buy-in from those who will believe their propaganda and those who embrace the idea that IHOP holds the golden ticket to “closeness with G-d”. Our L-rd and Messiah Yeshua (Jesus as the Greeks called Him) stated very clearly that He was the way to the Father. So anyone else who claims to be “the doorway” through which you come to the Father is leading you away from truth. Any “ministry” that adds additional hoops for you to jump through to achieve “enlightenment”, closeness to G-d, salvation, favor, blessing, etc. apart from trust in G-d and following the teachings He clearly lays out in His Word is serving up some major deception–think of it like spiritual poison with a spoonful of sugar on top.

Salvation is based upon trust. The word that was translated into English as faith actually means trust in the original language of the Hebrew scriptures. It is a trust that is tested by actions (James 2). That trusting brings about fruit in the life of the one whose trust is in the Son of G-d—the One who gave his life as the last atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity. So someone please tell me how that simple message of trusting in G-d has been polluted and perverted into “calling down signs and wonders to make people feel good, having “drunk Holy Ghost parties”, turning worship services into rock concerts, fasting until you have a full-blown eating disorder and multi-million dollar organizations that “market” their dogmas through conferences and internships via the belief that attending will give you a ‘supernatural experience’ and thus make you ‘closer to G-d’?” Excuse me? Closeness to the L-rd is not based on emotionalism–but in studying His word and allowing it to transform us from the inside out. The best times I have in fellowship with Him are in my living room or sitting around a dinner table in community and fellowship with like-hearted believers.

Brothers and sisters in the L-rd, let us not stray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Him. The rest of this “higher spirituality” which deviates into mysticism, new age and other occult/pagan practices is nothing more than a re-packaging of the same deceptions that existed thousands of years ago which the believers then were warned by Yeshua, Peter, Paul, James and others not to participate in. Satan’s message doesn’t change…just the packaging through which He promotes it. It would be like taking Bounce fabric softener and pouring it into a Downy bottle and selling it as Downy. The analogy isn’t about laundry product brands–it’s to illustrate the fact that taking a substance (or doctrine, teaching, belief or idea) and re-packaging it with a different name or label in order to present it as something else is what deception is all about.

A love for truth and a foundation set on the teachings of the Word is the only anchor we can securely hold to if we want to be free from the deceptive trappings, doctrines and webs of control that bring about spiritual abuse.

In Hosea 4:6 G-d says “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.”

G-d does not desire His children to be ignorant and blindly following the winds of heretical doctrines. He created one law–one truth–for G-d is ONE and following the laws and teachings of any other besides Him is idolatry. Period.

2 Thessalonians 2:9 and 10 speaks of what will happen when the Anti-Messiah is fully unleashed in the earth. It says that through wicked ways people will be deceived because they would not receive the love of the truth which could have saved them.

We must TEST, TEST, TEST what we hear and see. We cannot afford to be blind, careless and naive. If we do not love the truth of G-d’s precepts and follow the standards and guidelines for living life that He sets up in His Word, we will live lives of lawlessness and complacency–creating “our own” doctrines and thus living under the ruler-ship of the world system and doing its bidding.

Just because someone teaches something that sounds “spiritual” and uses the name of G-d does NOT mean it is truth or that it is of the L-rd. In His word, the Father teaches us exactly what we should believe and what we should follow. Deviations from that or additions to that are schemes of the evil one.

This is why the L-rd said that the path that leads to life is a narrow one. To choose life so that we might live (Deut 30:19) is to choose the narrow path that requires G-d to be the guide. The wide road is easy to navigate and leaning on one’s own understanding or the secular worldview are a few of many ways that will get you there. To navigate a narrow road requires trust in the One who is leading.

May the Father guide you with His eye, cover you with His love and lead you into the truth which brings about freedom!

by: Patrick Ryan, Editor of AFF News

Excerpt taken from this online article titled “Post-Cult Problems: An Exit Counselor’s Perspective”

Some of the recovery issues that keep recurring in my work with ex-cult members are:

1. Sense of purposelessness, of being disconnected. They left a group that had a powerful purpose and intense drive; they miss the peak experiences produced from the intensity and the group dynamics.

2. Depression.

3. Grieving for other group members, for a sense of loss in their life.

4. Guilt. Former members will feel guilt for having gotten involved in the first place, for the people they recruited into the group, and for the things they did while in the group.

5. Anger. This will be felt toward the group and/or the leaders. At times this anger is misdirected toward themselves.

6. Alienation. They will feel alienation from the group, often from old friends (that is, those who were friends prior to their cult involvement), and sometimes from family.

7. Isolation. To ex-cult members, no one “out there” seems to understand what they’re going through, especially their families.

8. Distrust. This extends to group situations, and often to organized religion (if they were in a religious cult) or organizations in general (depending on the type of cult they were in). There is also a general distrust of their own ability to discern when or if they are being manipulated again. This dissipates after they learn more about mind control and begin to listen to their own inner voice again.

9. Fear of going crazy. This is especially common after “floating” experiences (see point 18 below for explanation of floating).

10. Fear that what the cult said would happen to them if they left actually might happen.

11. Tendency to think in terms of black and white, as conditioned by the cult. They need to practice looking for the gray areas.

12. Spiritualizing everything. This residual sometimes lasts for quite a while. Former members need to be encouraged to look for logical reasons why things happen and to deal with reality, to let go of their magical thinking.

13. Inability to make decisions. This characteristic reflects the dependency that was fostered by the cult.

14. Low self-esteem. This generally comes from those experiences common to most cults, where time and again members are told that they are worthless.

15. Embarrassment. This is an expression of the inability to talk about their experience, to explain how or why they got involved or what they had done during that time. It is often manifested by an intense feeling of being ill-at-ease in both social and work situations. Also, often there is a feeling of being out of synch with everyone else, of going through culture shock, from having lived in a closed environment and having been deprived of participating in everyday culture.

16. Employment and/or career problems. Former members face the dilemma of what to put on a resume to cover the blank years of cult membership.

17. Dissociation. This also has been fostered by the cult. Either active or passive, it is a period of not being in touch with reality or those around them, an inability to communicate.

18. Floating. These are flashbacks into the cult mind-set. It can also take on the effect of an intense emotional reaction that is inappropriate to the particular stimuli.

19. Nightmares. Some people also experience hallucinations or hearing voices. A small percentage of former members need hospitalization due to this type of residual.

20. Family issues.

21. Dependency issues.

22. Sexuality issues.

23. Spiritual (or philosophical) issues. Former members often face difficult questions: Where can I go to have my spiritual (or belief) needs met? What do I believe in now? What is there to believe in, trust in?

24. Inability to concentrate, short-term memory loss.

25. Re-emergence of pre-cult emotional or psychological issues

26. Impatience with the recovery process.

—end of excerpt–

On a personal note, I can relate to experiencing some of these things after leaving IHOP and have heard many stories of others who have had involvement at IHOP and left (or were made to leave) who experienced much of this list as well.  Those who have left IHOP fit right into the same recovery process of those who leave cults.

There were many, many experiences that made me do a double take and say “what?” while I was at IHOP but that internal questioning was quickly explained away or rebuked by internship leaders. Once I began to deviate from IHOP’s teachings and study scripture on my own for answers to the internal conflicts I wrestled with, I began questioning the pseudo reality I had been conditioned to embrace. Suddenly I saw the isolated red flag incidences as a seamless pattern of error and the veil of deception fell. I stopped rationalizing and justifying. Enough was enough and I was done and wanted out.

There are much more personal experiences than I can put into one single blog post, but here are a few I still recall pretty strongly.

1. Mandatory fasts which made me very physically ill. They would never admit to having “mandatory” fasts but when you don’t have any food available, close down the kitchen, give your cook the day off and don’t allow interns to hold jobs (so that they have money to go buy food if they aren’t participating in the fast) then that is called mandatory.

2. Being practically held hostage in the prayer room and told that it was required that I be there and I was not allowed to leave even though I did not feel well and wanted to go back to my apartment. I was told I needed to stay in the prayer room to be part of the “corporate anointing” and that I shouldn’t leave. It was one of my “required” prayer room sets as an intern so I spent the remainder of that 2-hour set in one of the side prayer rooms in the back sobbing on the floor because I wanted to leave so badly and our internship leaders were standing by the door. You might ask “why didn’t you just force your way out and leave anyway?” When you are part of cult where free, independent thinking is not condoned when you don’t comply with what is expected of you, very often guilt, manipulation and penalties are instated for those who resist. Interns who didn’t follow “the rules” of the internship were penalized through loss of privileges (such as loss of your day off, having to do extra work/manual labor, etc.)

3. The grip of control and micro-management increasing: greater demands and restrictions on interns (such as increased pressure to fast more to attain a higher pinnacle of spirituality) being told where we had to sit when in the prayer room, taught a model for how to pray, how to dance, sing, etc. Any form of worship outside of this model was not considered to be acceptable. It had to fit IHOP’s style and method to be admissible.

4. Mandatory journaling assignments which we had to do weekly and then we had to turn in our journals to be read by internship leaders

5. Seeing how controlled the prayer room was. Rather than having freedom to express my heart to the Lord, I was put in a box and told how I had to do everything IHOP’s way. I had reading and writing assignments whenever I was in the prayer room.

6. There was no alone time ever to really think, reason, test, question or process anything. We were run ragged from sun up to late into the night which always left me exhausted, depleted and burnt out.

7. Once when I got sick, my mother came to pick me up and internship leaders resisted letting me leave with her (even though she lived in town). My internship ‘com leader’ (short for community leader) objected and still impressed upon me the importance of going to the prayer room even though I was too sick to get off the couch. My mother said “she is my daughter and I’m taking her home and taking care of her. Period.”

8. The more leadership responsibility I was given as an intern, the more I got peeks into the “inside”. I saw the outer fringes of the internal operations of how IHOP functioned. I was on an IHOP dance team and sang as a chorus leader on a few worship teams. To dance, I had to follow a specific model that IHOP required. To sing, I had to attend the briefing/de-briefing meetings before and after each worship set where I saw first-hand how carefully controlled that the seemingly “spontaneous” aspects of worship were carefully calculated and often planned ahead of time.

9. Another intern got deathly ill and it wasn’t until she ended up being hospitalized that internship leaders took seriously the fact she was sick. They accused her of faking an illness to get out of attending IHOP classes and time in the prayer room. This was told to me directly by that intern.

10. If I wanted to go anywhere off IHOP property (even to go see my family who lived in town) I had to notify internship leaders of my whereabouts at all times. I had no autonomy or freedom as an individual. Some leaders who were 19 (but were former interns which gave them elite status) were telling me where to be, what to do and when I was expected to be home. I had to answer to them for everything. I was in my early 20’s and had lived on my own before so the feeling of suffocation and having no personal rights to space, privacy, independent thought, etc. was overwhelming.

There is much more but I think that’s a sufficient start to at least give you an idea of some of what was happening when I was at IHOP. It wasn’t until after I left that I began to see far more than I had been able to see when I was still involved. The casual observer on the periphery won’t necessarily see the reality of all that is happening there because they are seeing the veil that IHOP has built to carefully cloak the truth of a lot of what really happens.

After I left, I realized how worn out and exhausted I was in every way imaginable. I spent days and weeks sleeping and physically healing from the trauma of the experiences I had just come out of and to let my body heal from the fasting and sleep deprivation. It took a long time for me to really start healing emotionally and spiritually and to begin putting pieces together. Recovering from mental and spiritual abuse like that is a hard road and a difficult place to come out from. I did months of research after I left IHOP and the immediate dust had settled. I wanted to see the roots of the giant beanstalk that had sprouted up and choked the life out of everything in me. I started going back as far into the history of IHOP as I could. As interns we were required to listen to 18 hours of audio CDs recapping all of the history of IHOP and the “prophesies” that led to it’s starting. I started researching on the internet about the names of the so called prophets of this movement and what they had come out of. That led me to picking apart a very carefully woven web of key players that all were connected to this massive organization.

I shared with one parent who e-mailed me about her own child at IHOP the importance of praying that the L-rd will open their eyes not only to see, but to recognize and identify the red flags of IHOP. The thing is, they are probably already seeing them, but rationalizing and excusing them away as isolated events rather than viewing them as a destructive pattern. I pray that the Father will show those there who are truly seeking him the pattern of red flags…making them so obvious they can no longer ignore them.

My hope is that the young people there who are much like I was will begin to question what they see and compare it with what the scripture actually says…not how Mike Bickle twists and teaches it…and that they have the courage to identify it and reject it. Those who oppose IHOP and speak out typically experience some kind of consequences or backlash. People are a commodity there. They are traded. When wounded ones leave, IHOP leadership doesn’t sweat over it…new and unsuspecting people who are ignorant of their dangerous devices but are hungry for emotionally-driven experiences and spiritual highs will come back in the same door the others left. It’s a revolving door of deception.

The deceptions of IHOP are treacherous and very real. Did G-d use that place in my life and work together for my good the devastation I experienced? Absolutely. But that is a testimony to the goodness of our G-d…not a stamp of approval on a place. Remember he spoke through a donkey and a burning bush. That doesn’t mean we should glorify donkeys and start worshiping bushes.

I’ve been asked many times how my eyes were opened to see what was happening at IHOP and how I got out, etc. I’ve thought about that many times and the simplest answer I can give is that I knew who my source was. G-d was my source of instruction, teaching, counsel, truth, etc. It was His voice I was seeking to hear and His approval I desired. IHOP wasn’t my source. So when the things I heard from the L-rd through prayer and studying His word were in conflict with the things I was being taught in IHOP it made the decision to leave an easier one. It was traumatic and painful and I’m not going to minimize that. But it was the price of protecting truth and I knew that staying would have compromised what I knew was right and since my desire is to delight the heart of my Father, once He removed the scales, I was out.

My desire is to see people set free to live lives of healing and wholeness…walking in genuine love and pursuing truth. My prayer is that the things you read on this blog inspire you to that end.

Grace and peace to you.

From my experiences as a former IHOP intern & staff member and from other involvements with cult-like religious groups and churches, etc. one thing that I find to be a consistent thread is the message of never being or doing enough. There is a spiritual pinnacle you are always trying to reach, a spiritual high you are always trying to attain, a sense of closeness to God that you are always running after but it seems to elude you. You run on a constant emotional and spiritual treadmill but you never reach the destination.

A cult always wants MORE. It requires more of your time and resources to accomplish its goals and visions. You become the fuel that they use to run the machine. It’s your energy that they extract to feed their agenda. A cult makes constant demands…some are spoken directly and some are implied indirectly by using guilt and manipulation to influence you to give more and do more…and make you think it was YOUR idea–not theirs.

A cult will never say “Thank you, you’ve done enough. You can stop giving to us financially, we have all that we need. You are enough exactly as we are and we accept you without requiring you to redefine who you are to fit with us.”

In a cult, there is never enough of your:

effort
dedication
sacrifice
money
desire/passion
self discipline
performance
focus
giving (of yourself and resources)
fasting
hours of prayer
meetings
time
energy
your talents and gifts

No boundaries are respected.
Personal free will and opinion is denied.
Questioning, independent thinking and logical reasoning are forbidden.

If you are content in who you are, they lose control. A cult cannot operate when its members are free thinking people with a free will to choose and make their own decisions. Co-dependency is required for control to continue.

But here is where the truth shatters the glass of deception and control:

You don’t have to do more to be loved more and you don’t have to be more to be accepted more.

While we were yet sinners, the Father sent our Messiah who gave His life as a ransom for us. Before we were anything by the world’s evaluation, we had purpose and value in the heart of the Father.

The goal of every believer and follower of God should be to live our lives from a place of complete shalom. Shalom in Hebrew doesn’t just mean peace. Hebrew words can often carry multiple meanings depending on the context in which they are used. Shalom can also be translated as tranquility, safety, well being, welfare, health, contentment, success, comfort, wholeness and integrity. It is a common Jewish greeting.

So when I speak of living life from a place of shalom rather than striving after something that a cult, church or religious group tells you that you have to work harder to achieve or attain, I’m talking about a life that is lived from a place of rest and wholeness. A place of having enough and being enough.

That doesn’t mean we won’t have trials or go through difficult times. It is about coming to a place of where our hearts are at rest and we experience total contentment in our heavenly Father. It requires ceasing from striving. It’s about having hearts and minds grounded in the truth that He loves us and delights in us….simply because we are His. We have inherent value because we were instilled with value when we were created. From the womb, we were given purpose and our purpose will never be realized and fulfilled in a cult or group that defines us and tells us who we are.

I invite you to leave the land of “never enough”
to let your heart cease from striving
and rest in the fact that you are loved
right this moment…at this very place and time in your life
even as you grow, mature and develop into the fullness of what God has created you for.
He has begun a good work in you
and since He is the author and finisher
of our trust, He will carry through to completion what he starts.

Grace and shalom to you!

–A

Some recent healing in my own life lately over some issues from my childhood has caused me to look at this whole subject of dealing with pain and overcoming its grip on my soul. For the purpose of this blog I have talked mostly about the pains of going through spiritual abuse suffered from cults, abusive & controlling church leadership and dangerous religious groups. However, in this particular post I will share these realizations in light of how to repair and mend from the after-affect of pain from more personal, day to day events. Although the concepts still apply to dealing with all forms of pain and are certainly applicable to dealing with spiritual pain upon coming out of those places. Pain is pain and can be dealt with the same regardless of the type of pain or what caused it.

Most believers have at some time or another heard the truth that Jesus died to carry our sin and pain. He bore our sicknesses (of both body and heart) and disease (emotional and physical). He died to purchase healing and wholeness for our entire being…and for the whole of humanity–past, present and future. This is 100% true, yet I’ve heard those who have said “Well, if He died to carry my hurts why am I still feeling them? Why do I still experience abuse? Why am I carrying around pain I have carried since childhood?” This is where the rubber meets the road. For many that healing is embraced mentally but never fully applied. The pain doesn’t get released and therefore the solution isn’t activated.

Jesus’s death was the down payment on freedom. He did 100% of His part. Why do we not fully walk in freedom? Because we have to release the pain to Him and give it to Him from our heart (not our head) or we continue to walk in the bondage of it. He doesn’t violate human will. Yes, He died for sin, pain, abuse, etc but He won’t come storming into your soul and take it all from you. He simply waits on us to offer the pain to Him so that the freedom can come full circle and He can have all that He died to pay for.

Perhaps you’ve been in a situation where you suffered spiritual abuse, rejection, abandonment of a parent or spouse, emotional or psychological abuse or a variety of pain in other forms. How do you repair after the trauma? Let’s talk about that.

The first step is FEELING it. Pain is scary. It hurts (obviously). No one likes hurt or wants to feel it so we bury it, stuff it, hide from it, medicate it, escape from it, get busier, project it onto others, anything BUT feel it. Why is allowing ourselves to feel it important? Because we know in our minds that we feel pain and that we hurt. But we don’t hold the pain in our minds. We carry it in our souls, our hearts, whatever term you prefer to use there. We can’t release pain mentally and expect to stay free. That’s like a 6-year old stuffing all of the toys and dirty laundry under the bed and calling the room clean. It’s not dealing with the actual root of where the pain resides.

“Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Scripture doesn’t say “blessed are they that stuff” or “blessed are they that run, hide and avoid.” Mourning requires feeling the pain.

For many of us who have suffered some form of abuse as children, we were not given permission to own or feel emotions growing up. It’s a radical paradigm shift when you start giving yourself the right to feel things as an adult. It feels new, uncomfortable and even scary to start acknowledging how something makes you feel–to put words to pain. There is an ownership and responsibility once you can identify it and feel it. Many have been told that if you “don’t confess it you won’t give power to it and it will just go away over time.” This is one of the greatest deceptions I’ve ever heard about how to deal with pain. It does the opposite of bringing freedom. It locks the heart into deeper bondage. Here’s why:

1) You’ve probably heard the very over-spiritualized (and false) “If you confess it out loud, you’re agreeing with the enemy and making it come true.” This is the same school of thought that says “If you say you’re sick, you’re making yourself sick. You should say ‘I’m on my way to feeling healed’ or ‘God is good and I feel great'”. Ladies and gentlemen, this is nothing more than old fashioned denial. Denying pain or abuse or sickness doesn’t make it go away. It prolongs the healing process because we aren’t allowed the freedom to feel and get beneath the cause or root of that pain. Why do you think Jesus said “If you confess your sin, God is faithful and just to forgive you of your sin and cleanse you from ALL unrighteousness?” Because the Father designed us in such a way that confession from the heart releases something. Acknowledging sin brings freedom. Identifying pain and abuse or sickness is step 1 to being free from it. If you never admit that your kitchen is dirty you’ll never take the next step to clean it. You’ll keep using dishes and pile them into the sink and say “No, the kitchen isn’t dirty. It’s fine.” Now this sounds absurd in the natural and we all clean our kitchens when they need it. We will acknowledge needs in the physical world but deny them on a spiritual level. Denial is the gatekeeper of abuse. If you deny something, you hold it outside of reality and don’t ever have to deal with it. The sad thing is that this never makes it go away. It stuffs it and delays the healing process.

2) When pain or hurt that is hidden is brought to the light and felt, confessed and released, it loses its power. It loses its sting. As long as it remains inside it is a deadly poison that eats away at the soul over time and causes very real damage. It’s like having a wrecking ball swinging around inside of us. When we give ourselves the permission to FEEL the hurt and the pain we’ve stuffed, we open the door to the internal prison where we have stored it and only then can we begin to find true and lasting freedom.

Maybe you’re thinking “Okay, I’ve felt pain before and acknowledged it but it didn’t go away.” Not knowing your particular situation or how you define “feeling your pain” I can only speak from my own experience. So let me explain how I define “feeling the pain.”

When something occurs (an argument with your boss at work, a fight with your spouse, a hurtful phone call from a parent you don’t have a good relationship with, a hurtful word said by one of your children) whatever the incident, it causes pain and while that event is certainly painful in and of itself, it’s actually triggering the pain from a root that goes back further than that moment. For example, if a boss snaps at your at your job and says “your performance is pathetic and your work ethic is worthless. I knew we shouldn’t have hired you in the first place but people higher up than me made that call. You’d better get these numbers up and get your act together or you’re out.” This response is of course a very harsh, hurtful and abusive way to speak to another person. More than likely however, the hurt of this event will be compounded. It will often un-cover the hurt of perhaps another time, much longer ago when Dad or Mom or someone else in an authority position in your life said something that made you feel the same way. At that time you were probably a child with fragile self-esteem and with a deep desire to trust that those who had an authority in your life would only say something to you if it was true. So you internalized those feelings of hurt, rejection, unworthiness, and not measuring up. So now this experience at work has emotionally connected you to another memory far more hurtful.

If you blow up at your boss or go run at the gym after work to deal with the hurt and anger, you might think you have felt the pain and dealt with this event. You might then go into work the next day ready to start fresh on improving your performance and working harder to prove that you can be a team player and an employee worth keeping around. What has happened instead is that the pain of this event which triggered the same pain of a different event as a child are now linked to each other and creating a more compounded pain which was stuffed into the same drawer and not dealt with.

When I talk about feeling the pain I am referring to letting yourself feel it at its root. That’s where the pain started, but in the present is where the healing starts. When you allow yourself to feel the pain, you’ll start to honestly look at where that pain came from and be able to trace it back to when you felt that way at other times. For example, in the case of this hypothetical work situation I created for the purpose of this illustration (we’ll call him Jim). Let’s say Jim got home from work and felt awful. Instead of turning on a football game or yelling at his wife for something petty or telling his kids to stop talking so loud because he’d already had a long and stressful day, let’s freeze frame that moment. Let’s say Jim goes somewhere to be alone and instead of escaping from the pain, he lets himself really acknowledge it and feel it. He remembers in that moment that his Dad used to talk to him the same way. His performance was never good enough. He tried so hard to “do better” to win Dad’s approval but it was never enough and now he and Dad didn’t have a relationship anymore because Jim’s way of dealing with the pain he couldn’t allow himself to feel, was just to eliminate the one who caused it in the first place. Each situation is different and I’m not going to say whether that was right or wrong in this case. Everyone is different and there are certainly times when abuse is present that distance from the abuser is extremely healthy and right in trying to find our own healing. However, it doesn’t in and of itself HEAL our pain. It just stops future pain from occurring from the same source that caused it the first time.

In continuing with our story, let’s say Jim remembers being 7 years old and having a particularly hurtful memory where Dad yelled horrible, degrading things at him that made him feel worthless. He recalls the first time he felt this pain and realizes that his boss’s yelling only triggered and un-earthed a deeper hurt that had never been given to the L-rd. Now here is the moment when most people bail. They find the place that hurts but are afraid of their own hurt. It feels so big (because it felt so big to them as that child that first felt it). That little boy or girl had no ability to deal with the pain. They were being attacked by the person that G-d put into their lives to protect them. At this moment of identifying that place of pain, holding there is crucial. Staying in that moment and feeling the pain surface instead of stuffing it, ignoring it or running from it is vitally important to being freed from it. Denial is not a back door into freedom. It delays the healing process.

So let’s say Jim decides not to avoid and deny the pain he is experiencing. He doesn’t fight back the tears or push back the memories and call them childish. If He stays in that pain and feels the fullness of it, he’s unlocking the prison and cutting the power of the pain. Then as the pain is being felt, it must be released to Jesus. He died to the purchase the pain and He is the only one who can carry it for us, so we must give it back to Him. He is the rightful owner because His death purchased our freedom from our pain. Now we can bring it full circle and freedom can happen as we allow Him to take our pain as soon as the Spirit of G-d shows us that it’s there. In feeling it, we tell Jesus out loud that it hurts, that we don’t want to keep carrying it so we are offering it back to Him. We ask Him to take all of it out and heal us of past memories that caused the pain. Whatever you have to say in that moment to release it to Him and tell Him how it feels is important–it disarms the strength of that pain. If perhaps you recognize that there were some false things you believed about yourself or about G-d when that event occurred, give that to the Father as well and ask Him to bring truth to your heart over that issue, situation, etc. Ask Him to replace the lies with the truth of who He says you are. Let yourself feel that pain and then give it to the Father. It’s okay to cry. Whether you are a male or female, G-d made tears as a way to express and release how we feel so give yourself permission to shed some tears. Feel it, even though it hurts. It will start to taper off and hurt less as you pray it to Adonai and release it through tears, words, or whatever that needs to be for your own heart.

Then ask God to fill you up with His abundant love and with His peace. If you wait there a minute, you will notice a peace and maybe feel a warmth settle upon your heart…or you might not feel anything. The feeling isn’t what tells you that He is healing you. Our Savior and Deliverer is the one who conducts the healing process inside. It’s not something we do in our minds or try to force with emotions. We allow Him to be the healer and just let Him do the navigating. All we do is show up, feel the pain, acknowledge it and give it to Him.

I cannot even begin to articulate accurately and strongly enough with words how much walking through this process has brought tremendous healing in my own life. Yes, I do believe in blowing the whistle on abuse in spiritual places and “ministries”. However, people can run around all day saying “this place is wrong. that place is wrong.” And while there may be truth in that, acknowledging the places as being bad, wrong, in error, teaching erroneous things, etc. doesn’t HEAL the abuse or pain that was caused. It’s the other missing piece.

I hope to continue walking with you on the journey toward pursuing truth but my desire is that we all get free along the way. If healing from past congregations doesn’t happen we will eventually walk back into a situation just like it or worse because we didn’t heal. It’s the same with abusive relationships, if we don’t heal from the abuse and recognize what drove us to it then we will eventually go back to another abuser. The same wounds get dragged into the next situation or place. We then add that new damage to the old and become the walking wounded. G-d desires us to be healed and whole, free and vibrantly alive in Him so that we can fulfill all that He called us to do in our time on this earth. Do you want to finish the race dragging a broken body and wounded heart over the finish line or do you want to run triumphantly over it jumping with joy over the victory of winning the race? Something to think about there…

Let’s finish the race together pursuing the wholeness, freedom and healing that are ours through the redemption that comes from our L-rd and Messiah!

Blessings!