church, ministry

Recovering from Spiritual Abuse: “I’m Listening”

Last week, while “Speaking Out About Spiritual Abuse,” I suggested that not listening lies at the root of spiritual abuse.

So, fittingly, I think listening lies at the root of spiritual abuse recovery. 

It starts with telling one person — a counselor, minister, mentor, or trusted friend. Eventually, some people benefit from wider audiences, perhaps sharing their stories in creative ways. So, the 2 recovery tools I’m going to take a look at in this blog post and in my next post are counsel and creative expression.

COUNSEL: “I’m Listening”

Michael Nichols’ The Lost Art of Listening says that effective, restorative listening boils down to taking the speaker seriously, not interrupting, and not judging.

Sometimes religious people are the worst at taking people seriously, not interrupting, and not judging. Unfortunately, religious people might not take people seriously if the speaker is a woman or if they’re young (to which I would say Galatians 3:28 and 1 Timothy 4:12 and plenty-more-where-that-came-from). They might interrupt because, well, they’re human and we all interrupt too much…but also if they think the story they’re hearing is getting uncomfortable and they’d rather dish out a nice scoop of Bible verses with a prayer on top. And, they might judge if the speaker is describing anything remotely sinful (a post for another time).

Other times (thanks be to God) religious people are the best at taking people seriously, not interrupting, and not judging.

And finding at least one person like that was the most helpful step in my spiritual abuse recovery.

One day during college, I noticed a news article about my former church and it brought back a tangled mess of thoughts. When I met with my campus minister that week, I both did and did not want to mention the tangled mess. I didn’t think he would take it seriously; it had happened years ago, after all, and I seemed to be getting along fine. But, gratefully, the campus minister did take me seriously, didn’t interrupt, and didn’t judge. It was a breath of fresh air.

The tangled mess became a story, with a plot arc and an audience. 

May we have the courage to share our stories and the compassion to say to others’ stories, in the name of God: “I’m listening.”

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