Galatians 6:2 ESV Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
This article was written by a young lady who has suffered the pain of being rejected by friends and by her church. What was her crime? She and her family escaped an abuser father/husband. For that, they were shunned – marked as “unclean.” Their burden was not borne by the people around them who claimed to be fine Christians, and for that they will one day have to give account. Instead of putting the wicked man out in obedience to Christ (see 1 Cor 5), they put the victims out.
Many thanks to Tiffany for sharing her story with us. Here she is:
So, you have left church. These people who used to be so close now act like you are a stranger or look away awkwardly if you chance to meet in public. These are people who have probably hurt and abandoned you, people you are probably better off not being close to anyways right? They betrayed you, they caused you so much pain, so why does it hurt so much when you would even welcome them back into your life?
I had a friend from my previous church who I would talk and pray with most weeks. At first, I felt incredibly honored that this girl would ask me to spend time with her, to pray with her, to be her friend. I was so excited, and it absolutely meant the world to me, being 14ish. She was one of the ‘big girls’ that I and the girls from my Sunday School class looked up to. As I got older and I realized my dad did not love me I opened up to her one day. I did not tell her he was abusive; I hardly knew what that word meant, but I told her there were problems, he was not the charming man and wonderful father he appeared to be. She was surprised, shocked. She was very sympathetic and asked if I was maybe reading into things too much. I assured her I was not and she seemed to accept that.
From then on, I slowly opened up more and more as I learned more things about abuse and how he treated me, though I was always careful since I felt that telling her these kinds of things would be frowned upon. But I shared with her because that is what friends do, that is what makes a friendship, being there to listen, help, encourage.
Time moved forward, as it does, and I was older, the age gap did not seem like much of a gap, especially as most of my friends were older than me, so I felt like we were equals, like we should be sharing equally. She almost never shared her life, her troubles, or even joys with me and felt that keenly when I realized it. I thought maybe I was not being a good friend and I should try harder, ask more questions about her life and how she was, however, when I did, I always felt like I was invading her privacy and her answers never felt genuine. I realized she was not my friend. She was an acquaintance, I felt like I was her charity case.
I saw what she was like with her real friends and she treated them completely differently from how she treated me. But I decided I wanted to be a true friend, and maybe someday she would see that, and let us truly be friends. I was faithful to our meetings, I shared very personal things with her, I tried to arrange times outside of our prayer time to hang out, though it never worked for her. I did my best to be what I believe a true friend should be.
My dad had been gone for some time, the divorce was in the works and he had a fiancée. He had stopped attending church over a year previously, and by now people knew he was gone, though we had been forcibly forbidden to talk about anything regarding him. He showed up on the first of the two Sundays the classes presented what they had learned throughout the year and he was welcomed with open arms. The pastor could not get back there fast enough after the morning Sunday School to give him a hug and say how missed he was.
I left the sanctuary shortly after he came in and stood outside waiting for it to finish and for my family to come. We left. I had many problems with that church, and had for a long time, but I told myself I had reasons to stay. However, I knew that moment when he was not only allowed through the door but exuberantly welcomed I would never set foot in that church again. I also knew we would be shunned.
So that night I emailed my friend I told her I would not be attending church anymore. She knew my story, she knew what horrible, horrible things he had done to me and the hell he was currently putting us through with visitation. I did not expect to hear back from her. But I did. We got together and talked for over 3 hours about why I had to leave and she claimed she wanted to remain friends, though she told me that it may be a good idea for me to move and that church came before me. I was just shocked she wanted to keep in touch at all. I few weeks later I emailed asking if she wanted to go out for lunch. I got a curt reply stating this was not a good time for us be friends. I was not surprised. I kind of expected to get a reply like that, though maybe a little more thoughtful. I was at the library and had to leave and walk around the block, sobbing for the better part of my walk.
I get various responses when I see people from our old church out in public, from the rare smile and ‘hello’ to a glare, to awkwardly avoiding my eyes. The point of all this being we are now shunned. It is ‘wrong’ to be friends with us. Knowing all the problems that I had with that church, having been hurt and treated wrongly so many times, by so many of those people, while we still attended, why did it hurt so much. I wanted to get out, to leave. I believe it is because despite everything I had some form of connection/relationship with each person from there. And I believe it is unnatural to behave towards another person like that. It can cause so much mental anguish.
When so many people turn on you like that, people you knew for years, people you were close with, people you smiled at every Sunday, when all those people turn on you it can make you question if there really is something wrong with you. When you just disappear without a word and not a single person calls, texts, emails. You are bound to wonder if anyone ever liked you at all. If they are glad you are gone. And if your church family can so happily let you go, does everyone feel like that, do people at work hate you, do relatives wish you would just disappear too?
In situations like this it is not uncommon for the church to be all you have, an abusive husband often isolates his wife, and in consequence of that his children as well. When the church shuns you there is often nowhere else to turn, and those few people you may have you may now question and wonder if they will be the next person/people to abandon you. Shunning is often deliberately used to dishonor a person. It has been compared to having a ‘social death penalty’ and has been used as a powerful and very harmful psychological tool for those in power, be it the leader of a country, an employer, a pastor or a spouse/father. Being shunned has led to PTSD, depression, self-harming, and even suicide. It can take years of therapy to heal.
No wonder it hurts. You were a part of a community, you probably spent many hours helping, possibly with planning events, cleaning, teaching, even simply preparing meals for a potluck, and you probably spent days and months of your time there, sitting in the pew and hanging around after services. That was time and effort you put into being a part of that church community, or ‘family’ as they like to put it and how it should be but rarely is. It can feel like years of your life wasted, and unappreciated. Years you spent with people who should have been like family, but were, in reality, not even a good friend. It is OK to feel hurt, even devastated. That is natural. And now, hopefully, you have time to heal.
The first step to healing is learning why you feel how you do and knowing that it is OK. Even though I knew that girl was not my friend, I expected her to dump me even after our long talk after leaving. It still hurt so, so, much. It took a long time to heal and I still don’t know if I truly have healed. I almost never think about her now, but when I do, I still wonder how a person can treat someone like that. I know I am not the first person to be shunned by that church or by her. How they can be so blind to the pain they are causing? I could write more about that, but that is not what this is about right now.
True Friendship is not about being there when it’s convenient, it is about being there any time you are needed, even if it is a bad time, even if you have painful things going on, even if you are busy. A true friend will always be there to lift you up and encourage you, to be happy with you or to be sad with you. And to be a true friend you need to be prepared to do the same for them.
This post hits home. When we finally left my Abuser, he contacted friends and family and told lie after lie. When one lie didn’t evoke a strong enough response, he made his lies worse. “She is crazy because of hormones”…”She is crazy because of menopause herbs and drugs”…”She is bipolar”…then finally, “She is the Abuser”. All lies. These people knew me as kind and gentle.
None of these people ever came to me to see if I needed help, to see the truth for themselves, or rebuke him for suing me.
Instead, no less than seven people are witnesses against me in his court case! These people called themselves friends! The one of them I confided in turned on me and has called me unstable and has said worse, mimicking my husband’s declarations. I know all the books call them flying monkeys. I know they can’t really be behaving as Christians, and I know they never were true friends, but the hurt is still so deep and cruel.
Lindsey0619 – I am so sorry that you are going through this. It has happened to me numbers of times over the years. You said “none of these people ever came to me.” Yep. That is how it goes down. Most “christians” aren’t. And therefore they are drawn to what they themselves are.
I’m so sorry! My ex did the same thing to me too. My kids even believed a lot of his lies. He was the pastor so that was a nightmare for me there too. It’s hard but God reins.
I have to believe God will make it right at some point. Prayers.
I am convinced there are far more evil men (and some women) standing in pulpits than most professing Christians even want to admit.
So true! My BFF is going through the same thing right now with her father. He is a pastor and the whole church backs him up. Took her brothers out of the house when her brother called her terrified as their dad was doing sexual things in front of him. The “pastor” blames her for creating all the drama and tells everyone she is bipolar.
The numbers of these kind standing in pulpits is far greater than most realize.
This was exactly my children’s and my story.
We lost our church “family” and our entire homeschool group all at once. People we had known for nearly 20 years would not speak to us.
Then followed the ex’s extended family, then my mother and sisters.
I had “shamed” us all with a divorce. A woman with so many children had no right to divorce.
Suddenly, we were almost totally alone in the world.
We all grieved and hurt terribly.
Now, nearly 5 years have passed, but the scars are there. We are all afraid to go to church. My kids who were teens at the time are adults now and swear they will never be part of that kind of “family” again.
We join homeschool groups, but stay on the edges, just in case, never getting close enough to get hurt that way again.
Shunning makes it difficult for the victims to incorporate into a new society because of the fear of going through it again.
But our little family is closer and stronger in our bonds than ever. We have formed a tight knit family circle to come home to at the end of a long work day – A place for healing and honest communication about any topic. We discuss God and scripture and debate our thoughts with respect.
What the enemy meant for evil, God has used to bring us into real, honest faith away from the glitter of church religion.
It is so amazing to be able to help other people who have had similar experiences. The way going through these trials has helped me grow closer to God makes it easier to look back and relive some of that pain, and knowing it is helping other people is such a blessing and encouragement!
We have never actually been in contact as this was passed on through a friend, but I just wanted to thank you pastor Crippen for all the work you put into this blog and everything you do to help people who have been abused. Your posts and sermons have helped me so much!
This is so so true! I can relate to how something like this can cause mental anguish. I think for me personally I experienced more mental anguish and anxiety and depression from “friends” not giving me the support I needed than from the abuses I experienced. (No wonder God was angry with Job’s friends.)
And this is why real friendships and good support can be so effective. There’s a reason the Bible has a lot of “one another’s” for the church. A good friendship support system especially within a healthy church can be so healing and can even potentially help prevent PTSD or going through therapy for someone in an abusive situation. But what usually happens is the complete opposite. I can’t speak for every situation but I would not be shocked if many people end up in therapy because their friends suck, the church isn’t being the church, christians are not really christians and those abused have to endure more trauma on top of trauma.
This is why I think excommunication administered wrongly can be so damaging.
On the flip side, this is why excommunication when done rightly can be so effective.
It’s not the innocent person, but the actually guilty person who needs to wonder what’s wrong with him. (And once again I’m amazed at how accurately the perfect Word of God speaks to these things! When God gave us His Word He knew what He was talking about!)
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Tiffany! It was a blessing and encouragement to me!
Tiffany, I am so sorry to hear of your experience. That should never have happened to you. That girl will be accountable to God for the way she treated you. I prayed for you and your family.
An abuser’s defenders will often use the excuses of “loyalty” or “compassion” as the reason they won’t stop enabling him. Sometimes, it feels that they expect you to admire them for furthering the problem! Those same enablers, however, are often quick to shun or shame the victim of the abuser, especially if she’s not as powerful as the abuser. Where’s their loyalty and compassion for her?
I eventually learned that it’s best to steer clear of the enablers, and not only because they may try to pull you back into the abuser’s clutches. They are often evil in their own additional ways that aren’t directly related to the abuser. It appears this may be the case with some of Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged enablers.
In a few abuse situations I’ve witnessed, it eventually emerged that the enablers had unethical, selfish motives for sticking by the abuser. They may be engaged in the same behaviors, or they receive some other benefit from him. Sometimes, illegal drugs and money are involved, or the abuser holds a secret about an enabler.
Birds of a feather