I’m terrible about reading my Bible regularly. Reading the ESV or NASB still gives me flashbacks to sermons from my spiritually abusive church, or to high-stress mornings with my family during our years at that church.

But my relationship to Jesus hasn’t been stunted. It’s grown stronger, and I’ve stopped being afraid like I used to be.

Talking with a friend today, I realized that one thing that helped me to see God as a caring Father and allowed me to respond to Jesus without fear was when I chose deliberately to change the words I used in my thought and discussions of God and religion.

In Sovereign Grace Ministries, it’s common to say “God,” “Christ,” “the Father,” and in other circles I interacted with, people used “the LORD” (in writing) or “the Lord” (spoken), and even that phrase so often repeated like a verbal tic in oral prayer: “Father God.”

When I left SGM and spiritually abusive environments behind, I had to find a way to stand the idea of God, to reassure myself that I hadn’t believed falsely, and that God was kind, intimately caring, patient, loving, forgiving.

I left fighting panic every time I opened my Bible.  I found myself unsure if I could ever pray sincerely again.

And then I started reading the Gospel of John in The Message, and I realized: God is a useful word, but it’s an abstraction. Abstractions are hard to connect with if you’ve been hurt.  So I did an experiment. I would use the name Jesus instead of all those other names. If I could bring myself to pray, I would pray to Jesus. If I talked about my faith or lack thereof, I would use his name. If I was journaling, I would write about Jesus, not God, not the Father. Jesus.

As I did that and as I kept reading in John, my anxiety eased up, just a little. Seeing Jesus as the man who loved women, loved the broken and hurting, who understood and was patient with those without strong faith–this is the same God I intellectually knew I worshiped. But just seeing him as Jesus, instead of Christ or God, helped me feel just a little bit safer, a little closer to healing.

If you’re hurting, if your Bible is terrifying, if prayer is deafeningly silent: take a step back and reintroduce yourself to Jesus.


9 Comments

  1. kirkion
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    After all, we serve the one who is both God and man. Our loyalty and love, and relationship to the man, Jesus the Nazarene is what meets us where we are.

    Without that, without that sympathetic high priest, seeing God’s holiness is… mind-breakingly terrible.

  2. Posted November 2, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Loved this….

  3. Jamie Duguid
    Posted November 3, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this post! As someone who feels called to the ministry, I think it is helpful for me to understand this dynamic in the lives of those who have suffered spiritual abuse.

    I was also wondering if you have any associations with “Yahweh?” It struck me as the OT equivalent to “Jesus,” since it is God’s personal name which he gives to his people as a binding pledge of his commitment to respond to them with compassion and faithfulness rather than wrath. Of course, most bible translations render this as “the LORD,” a tradition that stems from the tendency to emphasize the holiness of the name to the point where people were afraid to pronounce it for fear of taking it in vain, a tragic development considering that that is pretty much the opposite of the point of God giving us his personal name.

    • Posted November 3, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      My associations with that name are mostly the fundamentalist Christians who decide (out of the blue, often) to become “Messianic Jews” (but have no heritage there) and start attempting to practice Judiasm and only use the name “Yahweh.” These sorts of people are often very judgmental and controlling and it just makes me want to steer clear.

      But that’s just me–maybe it’s all right for other people.

      Kevin reminds me that “the Savior” was another abused phrase in SGM.

      • Posted November 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        From what I understand of the name Yahweh, I associate it with a God who intimately cares. I like it — but then I’m not quite aware of how others use/abuse it. I like the name Jesus. This is one reason why I love Christmas; I dearly love that God was/is literally With Us.

        My current pastor — the one I grew up around — picks John 1:18 as the reason why he talks a lot about Jesus. By looking at Jesus, we see what God is like, clothed in flesh, living among us, serving, directing us to the Truth. Starting with Jesus, I think, is the way the triune God gave us to getting back to a right understanding of who he is. And smart thinking, because there’s such a comfort in that.

  4. Posted November 3, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Love this….well said!

  5. John
    Posted November 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    “Father God” used as a verbal tic during prayer. HUGE PET PEEVE. whyyyyyy people, why?? There is seriously no point in doing that. 🙂
    Although, as I think about it, I think that belongs in the larger category of the SGM propensity, especially in prayer, to say large numbers of words and repeat themselves and say the same thing over and over to add emphasis and drive their point home further, in order to be more eloquent and give more weight to their prayers. That seriously bugs me to no end.
    “…fools multiply words.” (Ecc.) “Who is this who multiplies words without knowledge?” (Job) “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matt.) “Where words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Prov.) I’m pretty sure there’s more, but I can’t remember at the moment. Guh.
    Sorry for the rant. I’m done now. 🙂

  6. Don Baker
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you about the need to see God through the lens of Jesus. It’s so comforting to know that God identifies with us so much that entered material life – he’s not a Gnostic who hates the material and loves only the spiritual. God now has, and will forever have, a physical body as well as a spiritual “body.”

    Jesus has also told us through the Spirit-led apostles that he is living his life through us, and we are living our lives through him. And he’s shared everything he has with us, if we will only believe and take it from him.

    When God met me in great power for the second time, he first revealed the depth of his love as Father. He also gave me a Job/Isaiah experience of being “laid open” before him, which was terrifying but then comforting – he didn’t kill me, but loved me! Then he introduced me afresh to Holy Spirit, who taught me how to hear and sense his presence in ways I’d never known before. He also took me through the Bible as though it was the first time.

    Finally, over a period of months he reintroduced me to Jesus. Wow. That sealed the deal. He became my Friend for the first time. Not just my Lord or Savior. My Friend who helped me through each day, understood my every need and desire, and was the one behind bringing the experiences of the Father’s love and the Spirit’s presence! He did all that for me! And he continued/continues to forgive my sin, without additional suffering on his part or being upset about it. One day in prayer, I was shown a cup, filled with Jesus’ blood – the blood was ALIVE. And the blood was filled with love and hope for my growth and healing.

    So, the revelation of Jesus – which still continues, as it should for us all – was the best of all. As you know, he wraps up everything about God into one package that we can understand better than anything else about God. And he’s the door and the gate to everything else about God, and his arms are open and the door is open.

    May he continue to flood you with his love, compassion and power.