You're the author of the story- even when others try to be
emotional healing perspective Mar 28, 2017
2016 was a difficult year for us. It's one of those years you don't want to repeat. Ever.
After moving through it- and after experiencing several people toss out "life rafts" to us along the way (not even knowing they were doing it- just blessing us by being them, and gifting us in many ways with their presence at just the right moment)- I decided it was time to go after the deeper issues... and to get some healing from the things that had happened.
I'll give you more details in a future post. I'm not hiding them- that's just not the point of this post, alright?
I studied several topics related to emotional and spiritual healing over the past few months- and I studied in a different way than I had with most of my studying before. You see, as odd as it sounds, reading and writing can be somewhat of a "getaway" for me.
- I can read a book and actually "check out" of reality
- I can write and do the same thing.
I know. Sounds odd. I get it. You'd think that mental work would be taxing... that it wuld be a drain. I've found that my brain has greater stamina than my emotions, however...
It's almost like when I do either (reading or writing) I can choose to step into the world of whatever I'm reading or writing about. Over the past few months it finally dawned on me that this is exactly what I had done before over the past few years- and why, in the middle of stress and chaos, I could actually choose to work. And, I can do it well (i.e., some of the best material we have used at the men's Advance events was created during some of the most chaotic seasons of my life).
This season was different, though. Rather than studying and wrestling with information, I was actually digesting and wrestling with personal truths that I was hoping would bring about lasting transformation. This created a different journey than I've taken with other concepts in the past.
- Information touches the head; transformation messes with your heart
- You can remain emotionally neutral when you're studying information in the world of your mind (even if you are passionate about communicating it in a specific way); the heart is never emotionally neutral
- You can study information for a few minutes or few hours and then walk away; the heart, though, stays with you...
You've got to deal with the deeper issues
At some point in my journey- a journey I'm still in, by the way- something clicked. There's a two-fold reality happening.
First, there are deep issues of the soul that I must deal with. A few weeks ago, while studying stress and trauma, I thought, "I'm going to list all of the things that have created high-level stress for me in the past few years."
I began listing them...
The list grew from the 2 or 3 I readily remembered to 5...
Then the list grew to 6...
And on to 8...
Then beyond 15...
Over 15 specific instances that could have pushed anyone over the edge. Yet, there I was- here I am- still standing.
The problem is, well, even though none of those issues left scars on the outside of the body, they all left internal marks. Wounds. Hurts. Things that must still heal.
If I broke my leg, I rush to the hospital and take care of it. It's an obvious wound.
If emotional wounds actually left a mark outside of me- on my body, such that they were visible- I'd probably go to the doctor for that, too. The problem is that these wounds are under the surface AND they are real. Because their hidden, there's most often no urgency to deal with them. Yet, they can inflict the same damage a broken leg can- and even more.
Imagine me walking down the street with you and I'm limping around with dangling appendages, scars on my facee, and marks where I've been phsyically stabbed in the back. That's the emotional reality we're dealing with. I've experienced it; you've probably experienced it, too.
(And, let's be honest, we've probabhly both dealt some of those emotional blows to others, right?)
So, yes, we've got to do the tough work of the soul. We've got to deal with the unseen scars, the hidden wounds. If you don't do the tough work of the soul, you'll continue interpreting the future in light of the past- in light of the things you've done wrong and the things done wrong to you.
This means that I'll continue walking in hurt AND I'll continue hurting others rather than being an oasis of radical grace. So, the healing must happen.
You get the write the story- sort of
Second, I'm realizing that I'm the author of what happens from here. Sort of. Now, I know the Bible verses- the ones about Jesus being the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). I get it. That means He has completed everything required for our salvation.
I'm talking not about receiving His salvation, but about walking the experience of it every day. I can choose how I write the story. Or, rather, I can choose how I interpret the events of the story. And, I can choose how file them for future use, so that I don't live out of the hurts of the past...
Yes, sometimes we're given a script we don't want to play. We found ourselves in a scene where we adamantly don't want to be. We can still emerge stronger, though.
I'll give you an example...
Once, I sat in endured a meeting which I was called into. I was invited under the guise of working through some relational tension in a work environment where I served as a contract worker at a religious organization for a season. Counsel received in prayer before working with this team told me that I would be opposed- but that I should still make recommendations as the Lord gave them. A counselor with whom I regularly meet- having no prior knowledge of the work environment- cautioned me the dynamic there was toxic.
I heeded the wisdom of both sources but thought, "God is bigger than this... As we move forward, He'll set things right."
After all, the people where I was contracted to serve for that season are incredible people. All of them. Even the ones I'm about to characterize in somewhat of a negative light. They're good people; they just did an ungood thing.
This organization (a church) lives the two-fold reality of this every single week:
- There's an excitement, an energy, and an expectancy of great things to come
- There's also a lot of hurt they are carrying (hidden wounds, invisible scars)
And, they filter a lot through both of those realities. Passion sets the environment to some degree. And, on another level, past wounds and hurts are setting the environment. Their collective soul, to use the metaphor in the video above, is a thermometer- reading past trauma and continuing to broadcast it around them. They need to move to being a thermostat, changing the atmosphere around them.
Long story short...
I spent about 120 days giving them the proverbial 110%- going above what I was asked to do in every area. I even prepared seven separate sermons I was scheduled to preach, but only taught 2 of them (last minute changes, chaotic organizational scheduling, lack of honor for people's time + work throughout the organization, etc. left five great talks sitting on the shelf for a future day!). I even picked up projects that were not part of my contract in order to move the organization forward.
Then, abruptly, without warning, I was fired. No write ups. No sit down meetings before hand about unresolved issues. About 25% of the way through a second contract, I was terminated. By a group. Over the telephone.
Oddly enough, when they told me the reason for the termination, it wasn't actually something I had done. And, they were clear that they didn't want to discuss anything. The decision had been made.
I actually asked them, "It sounds like your decision has been made. Are we dicsussed what happened, and you're looking for clarification from me, or you're calling to inform me of what you've decided?"
I was told it was the latter. Then, over the phone, an elder berated me gain for the thing I'd done- even though I hadn't done it.
"You're conniving and manipulative," he told me. "And the worst part is that you don't even see that it was manipulative."
Another told me what I had done was poised from a spirit of control...
So, a few weeks later I met with the leader of the church to discuss the issue (though he was the reason I joined forces with the organization, he wasn't at the meeting when I was terminated, again, over the phone), he said the reason he was given for the termination was for that same thing... the thing I didn't do.
(OK, here's what they alleged. They said I recorded a meeting I had with one of the elders- that I covertly made an audio recording. That never happened. I actually "recorded" the meeting in written form while in the meeting and then made a voice recording of myself outlinging my thoughts about the meeting after the meeting. For clarity, after this accusation I actually sent them a copy of my recording- one I made while sitting in my vehicle alone, for my own purposes of keeping track of everything. I'm not sure they all ever got it, as the one who was allegeldy recorded still refers to being recorded without knowing it...
The way it was handled clearly made me wonder, "Hmm... what's that guy hiding? What have I bumped against in my meetings with him as I've sought to uncover structural issues and organizational things and accountability issues that he's pushing me away from...?)
As I met with the pastor face-to-face he transparently discussed the issues that drew me to his heart in the first place...
- An organization marked by "hope deferred," wanting to do great things and feeling destined for them... but it never quite working out
- Lots of people leaving, throwing rocks at a glass house on the way out the door as they did
- Internal dynamics that could be healthier
- The tension of passion and expectancy while still working through a grid of past wounds...
He requested I meet with the elder team who fired me. I agreed to do so. His inference was something like, "Let's figure out the relational dynamics, regardless of where it goes..."
That sounded great. It was a starting point for sure. It was the right place to begin...
I was sure that we might make some headway. After all, after being fired I waited a few days and then clarified some things to that leadership team in writing. I sent them the recording in question. I met with the lead pastor. Even if they didn't think we had the grounds for a great working relationship, I was sure we could understand each other and at least move forward in a healthy way....
At that meeting with the elders- the one in which I expected we would resolve the relational issues that led to the termination and the alleged recording- the meeting leader began with something like, "We understand we owe you some money... it's important to you to get paid, and it's important to us... but we want to talk about the relationships first. Those are more important. And then let's see about getting you paid..."
I thought, Great. We're going to move forward with healing on this. Even though we won't be working together, the relational issue will be solved.
Turns out, I thought wrong. The bottom dropped out in the third or fourth sentence...
For 45 minutes I listened to each of them tell me several of the things that were wrong with me. They said:
- I'm controlling and manipulative (Note the difference: not, "You did something controlling and manipulative" but "You are controlling and manipulative." It's a powerful difference in addressing an action or addressing a person's identity by using shame as a weapon.).
- I actually have a controlling and manipulative spirit (read: demonic activity over me).
- I usurped their authority- over and over again (I'm still trying replaying my actions trying to determine when + where + how).
- I demonstrated I woudn't work with anyone except the Senior Pastor (even though I only spoke to him three times since the beginning of the year, including the post-termination meeting set up by his own secretary with the blessing of the elder who accused me of circumventing the group to get to him. I was actually chastised by the group for having that meeting but not agreeing to meet with them first. Oh, yeah, remember this all happened after I was fired. You shouldn't be able to be reprimanded if you're not an employee, should you?)
- I dishonored one of the elders by inviting the pastor's secretary to a meeting to make sure everyone got accurate information about a project I was working on, since I was leaving the country for over a week. (So much for accountability.)
- I should have sought their assistance for various projects throughout my tenure there even though, ironically, they were the ones in authority who could have sought me.
I quietly listened and made notes until that point. I was open to hearing anything the Lord wanted to show me.
After 45 minutes, I was asked to respond.
"This is the first I'm hearing this, so I need to process it," I said...
I got 2 more sentences out and was interrupted with a raised voice from one of the leaders. I was told it was manipulative- lying, even- to meet with the Senior Pastor after they terminated me but not taking a meeting with them (even though one of them had actually told me it was fine to do the meeting with the lead pastor- and why wouldn't it be?! And what meeting did I owe them after being accused of something I didn't do? Was I to line up again so they could see my in the face when they kicked me? Was the phone call not enough?).
"I was headed out of town, just as he was..." I said. "I had time for one meeting. And, I didn't feel safe speaking to you."
"Then why didn't you be honest and say that!" the elder exclaimed.
I didn't know how to tell him that people who don't feel safe speaking to you don't feel safe enough to say that they don't feel safe. His tone in that meeting demonstrated exactly why I didn't want to meet with them sooner...
It wasn't safe. It wasn't healthy.
One leader cried actual tears- even though much of his miscommunication had created this situation. I believe he was sincere in his emotional response; I also believe he didn't see how his well-intended maneuvering had created much of this tension.
Another leader smirked and told me that it sounded like I was just making excuses. (He's the one that seemed to be hiding something.) Then, he verbally pushed me to tell him if I would change things if I had it to do all over again.
"But would you change things if you could do it all over again?" he asked.
The only thing I could think I would change is that I wouldn't be honest. I would be honest about holes I saw in the system, about team members that were throwing each other under the bridge, about people who were hiding things, about leaders fudging numbers on their classes...
Every time I tried to process through everything with him verbally, within 2 or 3 sentences he would ask again, "What are you learning from this? What would you change? Would you change things if you could go back a few months...?"
I wanted to tell them, Yes, I would never have trusted any of you... Your spiritually abusive. You've obviously had lots of meetings outside of this meeting and fired each other up to believing the worst instead of simply inviting me into a conversation and HOPING for the best but being willing to shepherd the worst if that's what's needed. That's what I would change.
That's what I was feeling in the moment, though I know it might not be the heart of the Father. So, I told him, "I'm not sure... I really need to pray about it and get the Father's heart on it. I need to see how to understand this, how to file this... what He wants to show me..."
Another one in the group told me he/she was a prophet sent to give me a message- something about a more excellent way of doing things. He/she told me, too, that they didn't want to work with me after hearing something I had done at the church that I didn't actually do AND had been confirmed that I didn't do (the aforementioned recording). And, he/she spun a few things I had said in other environments...
The way they continued interpeting past conversations after being reminded of them several times revealed they, too, were leading out of past hurts. Wounds. Broken places.
You know the mantra: hurt people hurt people.
One of them chimed back in that I had a controlling spirit... that was the fourth or fifth time I heard it in the meeting.
Another seemed to infer that we could do demonic deliverance right then and there...
It was obvious the meeting was over.
How do you file this?
So how do you file all of that? Well, you want to don't experience it from the past wounds and scars....
Nor do you let something like this become the thermostat for the next season of life. That outlandish meeting simply gets to be the thermometer, telling me the temperature in that room for that hour only.
My soul is the thermostat- it sets the temperature.
Who God says I am sets the temperature, the norm... and, even though the atmostphere may momentarily shift in my life- just like it does in your house- His voice calls it back to the resting place of His rhythm.
Thank God that a day later I read clearly in His Word, after seeking a written word from Him: "I did not send these prophets..."
I still remember telling Him, "I've got to hear your voice on this" and then opening the Bible to that obscure verse in the Book of Jeremiah.
It was surreal. I'd never heard one of the leaders call themselves a prophet until that day. Yet in that meeting, he/she did. It was a deliberate word choice meant to endorse the authority of what was being said.
And, ironically, it did. It showed me where the words originated- not in a spirit of love, but of control.
The next morning, the Lord was gracious to show me, "Yes, I allowed them to use that word... and I'm showing you My Word for the truth on this... They don't label you... They don't define you..."
And, no. After all of that, they still didn't pay me that day. Though that was how the conversation began... and though they said they would when setting up the meeting (even though I complied with their request for some additional information regarding work that had been completed specifically for them)... it didn't happen.
It was a classic case of non-intended spiritual abuse. In fact, they insisted they sought this conversation with me because they love me. But love doesn't raise voices, shame, label, or smirk...
Love (still) never fails.
What do you do with that?
In the end, I chose this reality: spiritual leaders who seek to control you reveal more about themselves than they do about you.
- Are these great people? Yes!
- Are they called by God? Of course!
- Are their amazing things they will do in His Kingdom? I believe so... I believe they will need to get some relationally core matters repaired so that they don't leave a wake of more hurt people behind them, but I believe they will...
Those factors don't negate that what they did was spiritual abuse. Nor does the spiritual abuse negate those factors. These are still incredible people.
Here's what I'm learning...
Your soul + spirit are meant to be the thermostat that sets the mood, that creates the environment wherever you go. I know, easier said than done, for sure. Courage is only tested when you don't want to do something, when you're afraid of it, right?
Often, we scan the world around us, then let it set our mood and tone. But, you have the power to change things. You have the power to change what comes "on" you... and, you even have the power to choose how you see others when there's a perceived wrong.