Advent and Christmas have slipped past. The liturgical calendar is now in the season of Epiphany — the bright time of God with us, heralded as king by the magi. My slow internal panic, brought on by shortening days, is dissipating as days begin to grow a little longer, and as I see more sunrises and sunsets now than I did in the last two months combined.

Light is healing. Few things (even down to sleep and food) make more of a difference in my emotional and spiritual state than having enough light around me in my day.

I’ve been writing a lot. But just for me, mostly. I journal on the metro, I jot things down in email drafts to myself at work, I write, write, write. Taking seriously Anne Lamott’s threats about God giving her ideas instead of me because she has a pen to write them down has been both wholesome and fun. Kicking writer’s block and writing daily, uncensored, for myself, is cleansing. It also makes writing for a specific purpose easier and strengthens my ability to use the right words well.

It’s been a really difficult couple of months. Recovery from spiritual abuse is slow and the old adage “hurt people hurt people” is so true. Grace may be real, but pain is more shrill and quick. Grace is slow and whole and works with the passage of time. Relationships and trust require this same slowness. Wholeness in relationships takes time and love and work.

A week or so ago I was agonizing over the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, one that required me to stand by everything I’ve tried and found to be true in my years of leaving a cultish church and breaking the mental shackles of Christian patriarchy chained to my identity, worth, and life purpose.

When you’ve left spiritual abuse and are fighting off a mindset where your personal worth is defined almost solely by your investment in family and the appearance of having it all together, making a solid, reasonable decision on your own is grueling, anxiety-ridden, and altogether impossible to do with a clear head.

But what if they were right about God’s will for me as woman?

What if eternity is on the line because of this?

What will they say? Do I care? Should I care?

Is it okay for me to make this decision quickly, on my own? I haven’t prayed enough or fasted and I can’t talk to my pastor about it!

Am I just imagining things? Are my reasons any good?

I think I need to go with my gut instincts on this. But what if my gut instincts really are corrupt and deceiving and evil flesh?

I ended up on the phone with a friend inherited from long ago, a wise and articulate woman who has been as an adopted aunt to me in various seasons. I talked for a long, long time, telling her stories. And then I asked her what she thought. She said things that were true [which I needed to remember, because it’s easy to lose your bearings], and spoke over me a lot of permissions that I had long wanted to give myself, but was too afraid to accept as true.

But here’s the thing she said which stuck out the most to me, and has the most power for someone like me who has gone through an internal gutting and restoration process after spiritual abuse:

[and I paraphrase.]

“Those gut instincts you have? They’re not some element of the evil, sinful flesh trying to trip you up and separate you from the Father. You don’t need to fight them or suppress them. You don’t need to be afraid to follow them.

I like to observe, as an INFJ, that when we talk about how Jesus makes us a new creation, it’s not just our mind that’s redeemed or renewed. It’s everything. Your instincts, too. The Holy Spirit dwells in you. He can speak through them and we can follow those.”

And it was like the door opened and I saw hope slipping in like a sunbeam. My instincts were so strongly telling me to do this one thing, and I had been wrestling with them, against them, because of these old fears and lies from before. Those lies don’t bind me anymore.

I don’t have to live in fear. I can listen to my own sense of right and wrong.

Renewed.

Redeemed.

Made whole.