When The Bottom Falls Out

I recently interacted with a few people who went through a phase of their recovery that was a lot like what happened to me, and I can’t help but think there are more out there that might find it encouraging to know they are not alone. So here is my version of what it was like when the bottom fell out.

For me, it didn’t happen over night. I wasn’t even paying attention to see it, but it certainly happened: the bottom of my faith fell out. Slowly I sank deeper and deeper, away from God and away from my identity as a Christian. Outwardly, my behavior wasn’t any more sinful that it had been before. I was really good at doing the Christian life- but inside I was just about dead. My perspective of Jesus as central to my life was almost non-existent.

I remember going to a marriage conference just a week before the events started that would put a final nail on the coffin of my marriage. At this conference they went over all the typical stuff: how to communicate better, how to give of yourself and sacrifice in order to have peace, how to make your marriage a picture of the Gospel. I imagine those topics might be triggering for many survivors, but I stand behind each of them for a healthy and growing marriage. They were good topics and well presented. But my reaction was despair.

Because the thing is, I was good at all those skills. I spent years putting into practice every single thing they talked about. I probably could have given the course — but even having done all of that, my marriage was a failure and I was empty and in emotional pain. I talked to my pastor during a break at the conference and told him “I have done all of these things- so why is my marriage so painful?” And this question really reveals the thinking that had been growing in me for a long time.

I was losing faith in God. I was learning over and over again that doing things “his way” (as I understood it) yielded no fruit. That amazing marriage which the sermons and conferences promised (though I’m sure they’d swear they didn’t) was nowhere to be found. And while others might tell me I just didn’t do a good enough job, in my heart I knew. I’d given it my all, and in response I got nothing.

Yes, I realize “I give x and then I get y” is not good theology. That’s not my point. My point is that the God I was presented with was not trustworthy. I was having trouble believing him. I was having trouble trusting him. And I didn’t even know it.

And what seeped in was a desire to do it the world’s way. When “God’s way” (as I understood it) wasn’t working, I succumbed to the allure of the world. The commercials selling happiness through things pulled at my heartstrings. Finding my value in the love of another person seemed very appealing. And yes, I pursued these things, especially when the divorce was finalized and I was “free”.

Through God’s grace, he kept me from doing some REALLY stupid things. I had just the right people in my life that prevented me going off the deep end and permanently messing up my life. But man, on the inside I was a mess. I entertained thoughts I never thought possible, and I persued happiness in ways that were foreign to anything I’ve ever considered before. It was all very godless, and for a while it seemed like I didn’t even care. I just wanted to feel something. I was thrashing about looking for anything that might light a spark in my life again.

I know I’m not the only one who has even been there, below the lowest point I ever thought possible, persuing the world and not God. And if you ask me how I got out, I really don’t know. I think in some ways God let me see the emptiness of it all, showed me my naked self, and then reminded me that he was not the one who made all of those broken promises. And he revealed himself to me again and I saw him FOR REAL. That is what gave me life.

And now that I’m on the other side, there are a few things I want to tell anyone who is still going through this:

  • You did not do this to yourself. I’m not saying that you are not responsible for sin in your life, but I’m saying you did not create this thought pattern that struggles to see God. People who misrepresented God to you did that, and unlearning what they taught is hard work. God will overcome it, but it won’t happen overnight. Now is the time to listen and be patient with yourself.
  • The answer is not about stopping, but starting. If you are empty and looking for meaning when it’s hard to trust God, stopping the sinful behavior in your life isn’t going to fix anything. You’ll still be empty and searching. The key is to try to find God’s grace somewhere in your life and plug in the best you can. If the true God, not the misrepresented one, is in your life, he will take over all the garbage.
  • Sin in your life does not justify abuse. It might be easy to look at your own sin and feel that it disqualifies you from fighting against those who have abused you. This is not the case — not all sin is the same, and sin that comes from a distorted view of God is far different than sin that comes from a heart of entitlement and selfishness. The former is a struggle against this broken world and the sinful flesh; the latter is the sign of an unregenerate heart who is hostile to God. If you are in Christ, there is NO CONDEMNATION, so do not buy the lie that you ought to be permanently condemned for your mistakes.

This is such a horrible place to be — but it’s a part of the process for many (at least, I’ve talked to many who have gone through this place). It hurts, but God will bring you through it. Many may judge you, but in the end, the only judge that matters is Jesus, and he is also your defense attorney. The bottom may have fallen out, but you will not free-fall forever. You are not alone and there are strong arms that will catch you.

34 thoughts on “When The Bottom Falls Out”

  1. This is why formulaic christianity doesn’t work. If you do a and b…c will happen. Sadly what they forget about is that God DOES NOT override a person’s free will. I have personally had this issue in my own life. We can do all the right things but it doesn’t mean the right thing will always happen.

  2. Jeff! thank you! 🙂 I went through EXACTLY the same process!
    It took over my thinking completely for about a year after the divorce. I was behaving in ways that were so destructive and so NOT ME, and it was all driven by the belief that God’s way was hopeless so the only thing to do was try it the “World’s way” 😦
    Thank God I am in a better place now. It does take time! And I really had to shed my belief that if I do everything “right” then God will make everything better. That was a really deeply held core belief of mine.

  3. Thanks for this post Jeff S. I think one of the most damaging things that happened to me, was when they leveled the sin and said, “all sin is sin” type of thing. I guess that just left me hopeless, to think that a meal late to the table was “sinful negligence” and his berating and abuse evened it all out. It is just very bad doctrine and understanding of sin, but the ones who suffer for it are the oppressed. I personally think that people who level sin this way, just do not know God themselves. Perhaps they have educated themselves in the Word, and doctrines and theology, but they do not know the heart of God or Who He really is and what He is really like. I tell myself, that Paul and many others had to stand alone on what they knew and believed about God, and sometimes we have to do the same.

    1. I’ve read your post more than once Iam. How is having a meal late to the table “sinful negligence”? Was this the other’s view? Maybe it’s just way past my bedtime and I’m braindead, but I see no relationship to having food late and being abused.

      1. I can’t speak for Iam but my ex-idiot would berate me for being late with a meal, being early, when he wanted to take a nap or making the wrong thing. It was “sin” to him that I could not read his mind and even though I had four kids with crazy schedules that after being able to read his mind I could not always produce the right meal at exactly the right time. When you write it out what he was expecting..it is not possible but he was sure I was being defiant and not submissive nor showing real love because I could not do this every day.

      2. The counselors would say things like that. My duty was to be diligent to have the meals ready when he wanted them ready and his abusive behavior because of being late was apparently justified and equaled out the “sins”. This is just one of many, many examples of excuses made for his abuse. Rarely was a meal ever late. It was just their way of leveling his abuse with little things I did, to make me believe that my “sin” was equal with his. This is why I am so cautious about naming something sin, that is not sin. You are right, it is not sin to have a meal late to the table, unless you believe that something that is displeasing to your husband is a sin, because he is the Christ representative in the home and you are to live to please him as that representative.

  4. The Starting not stopping part hit home for me! I was told over and over I needed to stop sinning, stop acting the way I was. “Just Stop It” they would say, but they never had a replacement for the emptiness to I would just fill up with the world again. It wasn’t until a pastor looked me in the eyes after hearing my story and said “I love you Bethany, and God loves you too. You are worth more then these men, alcohol, and drugs. You are a daughter of the King and He wants you to know when He looks at you He sees a spotless bride.” It wasn’t an immediate turn around that day, but it was the turning point. A year later I am still working out the details of what it means to know God and untangling the lies that I was taught, but I am better then I was before. I am no longer free falling, Jesus caught me in His strong arms. The other day I was talking to a friend about this and I said that I think the reason God lets us drop so far and become people we thought we weren’t capable of becoming is because He wants us to see that He isn’t the God we thought He was and that when we are in are deepest, darkest, hell He is right there with us.

  5. Thanks, Jeff, for giving voice to what I experienced, as well. I remember the exact day when I first verbalized it to a friend. Walking down the road, cell phone to my ear, I confessed, “I think I’m losing my faith!” That was during a recovery time, following sociopathic abuse, and it seemed I was a magnet for every abusive person in town, including employers.

    It’s like walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death – the worst of times. Your last few lines speak volumes: “Many may judge you, but in the end, the only judge that matters is Jesus, and he is also your defense attorney. The bottom may have fallen out, but you will not free-fall forever. You are not alone and there are strong arms that will catch you.” AMEN!!! Thank you for your voice ringing out through this website, crying out for justice! 🙂

  6. Jeff: I also can relate to this. I have been there, also. “I was losing faith in God. I was learning over and over again that doing things “his way” (as I understood it) yielded no fruit. That amazing marriage which the sermons and conferences promised (though I’m sure they’d swear they didn’t) was nowhere to be found. And while others might tell me I just didn’t do a good enough job, in my heart I knew. I’d given it my all, and in response I got nothing.” – My experience exactly. AS I UNDERSTOOD IT! The problem was that the EXPECTATIONS I was taught about how God operates and what He expects were wrong, and I judged God’s response (or lack of) and nature by that. And so much on the agonizingly sweet Ephesians marriages, that don’t happen for those married to abusers – with NO teaching on how to cope with those. And sin, sin, sin. Gotta rid myself of that sin, so God will answer my prayers, fix my marriage, enable me to bear it. I have a different view now, and after years can reach my heart out toward a different idea of God. My expectations are changed – and have little to do with how He intervenes in my crises now (or doesn’t). Such a view would have been so helpful in navigating the abuse and divorce with a backbone and faith intact instead of false guilt and a sense of utter helplessness. I am very grateful that you and Barbara are addressing so well the twisted theology and the reality of abuse, and influencing churches to respond differently. Blessings to you! Diane

    1. I think one of the most difficult things was just expecting that the teachers I trusted would have an answer for this stuff. When I found out they had nothing, then I felt very much adrift not knowing where to turn.

      As an aside, there are two Jeff’s who post on this blog: Jeff Crippen, the pastor who started this blog and wrote the book “A Cry For Justice”, and myself (Jeff S), a humble survivor who approves comments and writes posts about my own experiences every once in a while (it’s been quite a while since I’ve written a post, though- I’m hoping to do more soon).

      1. Thank you, Jeff S for the clarification. I believe I had read that before but I seem to have various cognitive leaks. I apologize, and sincerely reaffirm my appreciation for your work in this issue as well. This was a very helpful and affirming post!! Diane

      2. LOL! We could subtitle this blog “a place of safety and support for people with various cognitive leaks”
        Hey, but that’s also a pretty good description of the true church! 🙂

      3. I think one of the most difficult things was just expecting that the teachers I trusted would have an answer for this stuff.

        I had a somewhat similar experience. I expected that older women in the church, especially the older married women who are supposed (according to Titus 2) to be able to teach and disciple the younger women, I expected they would show me compassion and validation and solidly support me. Was I ever disappointed! It hurt like crazy as the truth slowly sunk in that these older women were not only not going to help me, they were judging and disdaining me. They were treating me like a little project on which they could polish up their brass buttons of dutiful godly womanhood (“Oh how good I’m being, showing concern for this single mother in the church!”). Or they would offer to pray for my little group of domestic abuse survivors who met each week at my house for Bible study. But they never wanted to really get their hands dirty with the nitty gritty of our struggles and our ongoing pain as we thrashed through all our court battles, visitation nightmares, and the post separation abuse from our exes.

        Where were the older women who were supposed to love on me and help me through it? They just weren’t there. And in fact, some of these older women had sons who were separated or divorced, and who they believed had been abused by their daughters-in-law. So I was scum of the earth in their sight because I was probably like those women who had done the dirty on their sons. They were too polite to express this to my face, of course, but I picked it up from other folk in the church relaying it to me, and I sure picked up the bristling vibes from these women!

        Hmmm. Sad.

  7. Thank you, Jeff, for an excellent article.

    When we are told by the “establishment” that if we are a better spouse then we can trust God to deliver that better marriage (even if that means our husband/wife changing), and we try that and it doesn’t work out, then one of two things will happen. We will either stop trusting God or we will blame ourselves. Sometimes we will do both. The problem is that we have bought into a lie. God doesn’t force change so if we are in any way unequally yoked, then we will not get the results we are hoping for. It needs both to be working towards the same end.

    Thank you again, Jeff.

  8. Oh my goodness! I can so relate to this post! Thank you for writing it, Jeff! I did the same thing . . . for a good year, I lived in massive confusion. I had succumbed to the idea that if I were more of a quiet spirit . . . more humble . . . more gentle . . . gave even more of myself up . . . served more . . . poured out myself more, etc., than our marriage would be OK. And everything I gave was exploited further. And it was never, ever enough. I felt like God had lied to me but He hadn’t! It was other people misrepresenting Him. But, I too, took a year where I was not myself . . . I was being a good mother and was trying to take the right steps. But, I wasn’t “right” on the inside. I am so grateful that God did not allow me or you or any of our other ACFJ family free fall forever. It stops at one point. And, it seems like at that one point, we are ready to finally know God — for real.

  9. I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, Jeff. Although I never ever blamed God I did blame myself. I believed the lie that if God and I partnered and I did my part, then the marriage would be saved. Two decades later the bottom began to drop as I faced some truths about the lies I had been taught as well my part in creating a fantasy. It wasn’t pretty and I made some terrible choices in the process. Those choices have caused me such grief and despair. I am only now coming to terms with them. I have had to confess much about my self-condemnation and am really trying to believe in my heart that God knows all about it and loves me with His unfailing love.

    Thank you for telling me that it will all be alright. I am choosing to identify with the redeemed child that I am, not the woman of flesh who will continue to sin.
    I understand what Paul experienced in his personal battle between the flesh and the spirit. I understand the grief and guilt that Peter felt when he denied his Lord three times. I am reminded that I am in good company. It gives me no joy in knowing how far we call fall. But when I look up and see my Lord’s tender face, I am reminded that I am His child and that He loves me.

    The bottom falling out is horrible. But nothing lasts forever in this world for those of us who believe. Oh how grateful I am for His mercy and love!
    He will make all things new and wipe away every tear one day!

    1. I’m glad to encourage you. And I think you are right to identify with the redeemed child you are- the words of Paul in Romans 7:19-20 (ESV) make this seem like the right perspective:

      “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

      I think it’s important that the “I” here is not the flesh — Paul finds his identity in the part of him that desires to do good, not the part that does wrong.

  10. Jeff, you said, “For me, it didn’t happen over night. I wasn’t even paying attention to see it, but it certainly happened: the bottom of my faith fell out. Slowly I sank deeper and deeper, away from God and away from my identity as a Christian. Outwardly, my behavior wasn’t any more sinful that it had been before. I was really good at doing the Christian life- but inside I was just about dead. My perspective of Jesus as central to my life was almost non-existent.”

    I am reading a book right now and plan to do a post on it, but in the meantime, this question arises in the face of our relationships with God and how they play a part in our victimization and behavior. The book is about traumatic bonding and what we do to cope and survive in those bonds. One point is this:

    When trauma is overwhelming or sustained, the body’s ability to stay in a state of alarm is enhanced. We then develop patterns or things we do in order to cope and survive and maintain sanity in that state.

    So here is the million dollar question: Is this when our relationships with God become based on mere coping and comfort and safety and survival, instead of being about loving and serving Him and enjoying our relationship with Him?

    I don’t believe God is angry with us for this (if that is the case) nor do I think He demands we serve Him a way other than we are able to at the time in our lives. Paul himself speaks of a time when he was so overwhelmed beyond his strength, that he despaired of life. But I do believe, that once we are out of the trauma, we have to deal with the “things” we have learned to do in order to cope, and this may be what we are feeling as a let down in our relationship with Christ. For once, it is really about Him and us, with no abuser in between, and some of the fear may have lifted that caused us to have this fight or flight response to Him. (But the damage remains from the abuse and the traumatic bonding.) We are no longer just needing Him as a protector and comfort and refuge of safety from the abuser. We now are free to have this “normal” loving relationship, and don’t know exactly how to make the changes.

    We also come to the place where we question how we could have been faithful in what we thought was our obedience to Him, by staying in the abuse so long, and He didn’t make it work. This is where I just had to come to terms with the fact that God said, “NO” about healing the marriage, and I needed to accept His answer. My life here and for eternity, is not about my marriage, it is about my relationship with God and Christ, and living in abuse alters that, no matter what anyone says. There may be people who have lived in abuse and either a) never dealt with their abuse and the effects of it upon their life; or b) were not truly abused but claim to be or c) were abused, but did not form traumatic bonds from it, but most of us do not fall into those categories. Most of us here, from what I can tell, have suffered significant abuse that has left long-term damaging affects in our lives. Hence, we need to re-program and for us as Christians, I would think the first place that would start, is in our relationship with Christ.

    Any thoughts on this?

    1. IAMB – absolutely. My relationship with God was all about survival, coping, please let me get through this day, please help me withstand this, etc etc. This business about “enjoying a relationship” was so foreign I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. You might as well have told me to “enjoy riding that unicorn”. oh. okay.
      But then these years as a single mom haven’t tremendously changed that mindset. It has gotten better, sure, but there is still day to day pressing issues that cloud my “hey let’s kick back and just fellowship woo hoo” abilities.

    2. My guess is that this all probably is a little different for everyone. I don’t think God is angry over our limitations or the coping mechanisms. I look back and I certainly see things I could have done better. I’m sure we all do.

      I think we all learn and use coping mechanisms. They aren’t unhealthy or sinful in and of themselves- we need these things.

      But there are different coping mechanisms. The “Wall”, where we start setting boundaries and protecting ourselves from being over-exposed- that’s a good one. I think God puts that there to protect us, and then helps in the process of tearing it down.

      But there are unhealthy ones too, like what I talked about in the original post where I was looking away from God for a sense of purpose. Yes, this came from a false view of God, but the question I have to ask is why did I swallow the lie? I swallowed it because I was attracted to it- I was attracted to the idea that I could save my marriage by manning up and being a savior. And when I couldn’t be that strong, well then I started to look elsewhere, still believing the lie.

      So when I look at the coping mechanisms, they are a mixed bag resulting from all kinds of things. My imperfections and the flesh, lies presented by my ex and my church, and God-given protections and grace in my life.

      But wherever these coping mechanisms come from, I think we do have to do the work to de-program them, even the good, God-given ones. Because they are right for a certain time when you are in crisis mode, but they are not right for forever. I think we should be careful not to tear them down too fast, but we don’t want to live with them forever either.

      But above all, to keep in mind that God is merciful and just, that we are his children who call him “Abba”, and that he understands and has compassion over all of it.

      1. Exactly, Jeff S. We needed these skills for the time being, but for me, the problem becomes recognizing that they are there, where they came from, which ones I still need and which ones are good, not good, what to keep and what to throw. If I can gain the understanding as to how it came to be and why I do what I do, then it will be easier (and safer) to know which ones to discard and work through and change. Throwing involves great work, because as you say, it is a tearing down and rebuilding and that does not happen easily, nor do I think God intends it to. In order for me to learn not to continue building abusive relationships with people, I have to learn why and how I have done that in the past, and then break it down and rebuild it God’s way. That is God’s plan. It isn’t that He cannot just swipe the slate and heal all of us instantly – He can! But, would we learn not to do it again? Would we learn why we did it in the first place? Those are all necessary steps to building the relationship with Christ we want and need and He intends for us to have. I also may not get this right, the first time around. It is called sanctification and if we are Christ’s, we all go through it. I think sometimes I am so weary and so wounded that I just want the instantaneous healing to be done for me, but then He leads me and heals Me the long way around, and I just know so much more, and have so much more understanding of His love and concern for me, than I did before – as well as deepens my love for Him, that it is worth it. Love it when the light bulb gets screwed in by the King!

  11. “It might be easy to look at your own sin and feel that it disqualifies you from fighting against those who have abused you. This is not the case — not all sin is the same, and sin that comes from a distorted view of God is far different than sin that comes from a heart of entitlement and selfishness.”

    Such an important point! Great article, Jeff!

  12. Yep. Been there, thinking God did not keep His promises. Accusing Him. Ready to slit my wrists even. But then God . . . . Now I am learning to re-set my coping default settings. I can even (sometimes) get to a place of laughing over them. May God bless each of you with that kind of release and laughter.

  13. Thank you. You put words to what I couldn’t figure out how to express.

    The difference is that I shut everything down when it gets bad and go into android mode until something happens to break and I can’t hold it together anymore. But the way you described relating to God is how it is with me.
    I do want to want to know God, but to me I feel safer if He doesn’t notice me. It’s all mixed up, and messed up.

    1. SJR, I think I relate. For many years, mostly before my marriage, my default coping method when under extreme stress was to wish/imagine that I was invisible to everyone, including God. I used to actively fantasize about being invisible and that brought relief from some of the mental torment. I think it helped me deal with the enormous sense of guilt I had — some of it false guilt, I know now; some of it real guilt due to my bulimia.

      Hey, ‘go into android mode’ — what’s that mean? Are android phones renowned for going dead?

      1. I’m going to guess she means “Android” in the original sense of the word- a robot. Mechanical and lifeless.

      2. Yeah but androids can fool people into thinking they are real whereas robots are more mechanical and obviously not human, in the science fiction world anyway. 😉
        So being in android mode is pretending to feel and think like everyone else, but in reality you analyze what the correct response is and remind yourself to smile and laugh and make appropriate conversation. All the while knowing you aren’t really human the way everyone else is.

      3. Wow, that definition of “android mode” made a lot of sense to me. I’m not a sci-fi person either but I can see my ex very clearly in your explanation. He would watch and wait until it was safe to have an opinion, but only if he could ride someone else’s coat tails. And here was I…. Never failing to have an opinion!!!!

        One of my daughters really got into the whole robot and zombie thing when she was leaving high for junior college. Now I understand. And, scratching my head, I see that I lived with space aliens and mechanical monsters instead of humans. To think I went to such guilt over leaving my adulterous, passive, covert, abusive husband of three decades who was emotionally unavailable and didn’t think he needed to change. I deserved a few good kicks in the pants to shake me out of my guilt-laden stupor! Actually, I did have one friend who did that and she is still a good friend. The rest

        But I thank my Father for his mercy in the way the revelations came to me over the past several years. I thought it would kill me, but it didn’t. The bottom fell out but He provided a safety
        net each time. And I find myself crawling my way out of the pit to wholeness. I doubted it could ever happen but it is. I have to thank many if you for your honest sharing. Sometimes it has been heart wrenching. I hurt for each of you. And I love you.

        Thanks for this, my friends. 🙂

  14. Jeff- thank you so much for this! I have had to deal with a lot of condemnation-but not from God. Regardless of the questionable choices I may have made since my separation and before- I have never felt any condemnation from God-only love. I have questioned and condemned myself-ironically, more when I was still in the marriage than when I got out. I really needed this encouragement that the Lord knows where I am and why and He will carry me through.

  15. Jeff S wrote:

    ….so do not buy the lie that you ought to be permanently condemned for your mistakes.

    The “permanent condemnation” comes from the “not me” voices in my head – the legalistic voices of all my abusers, both personal and professional.

    The “bottom falls out” when I am betrayed, blamed for something that is not mine.

    When I am betrayed, I cry – the only time tears flow from my eyes.

    If I hurt for other reasons, there is no outlet, no release / easing of pain.

    So instead, my physical body hurts.

    I need to learn how to cry.

    1. Learning to cry has been an ongoing process, more convoluted than I ever could imagine.

      I am like Saul / Paul on the road, being reminded of things I have done in ignorance.

      I am like Peter, though my denial was not from denying Christ, but from denying something I couldn’t reconcile.

      I am like Thomas, doubting, needing to physically touch Christ.

      I am like a computer, needing a new operating system, a new series of applications.

      The Holy Spirit continues to lead me, step by step, day by day….sometimes even minute by minute.

      Total obedience to Him.

      That’s all I can do, that’s all I know.

      My life is in His hands.

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