A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Trained Circus Freaks: Re-visiting My Over-Conscientiousness

Katy and I had a recent discussion on Facebook with a few other people. We stood up for a truth — the truth that we don’t need “grace” for our divorce (echoing Jeff S’s post here). We were mild; we were kind. We were barely even standing up for ourselves. We even made it fun and funny. Then, total silence from the person to whom we were trying to disclose our new-found freedom of “not-needing-grace-but-needing-love”. Katy and I panicked. I wrote her, she wrote me . . . we thought about taking the comments down . . . apologizing? Did I lose a friend? Were we too honest? In the end, all was perfectly fine. My friend was loving, understanding and open. Katy and I, on the other hand, were like trained circus freaks (her words). We assumed we had come on too strong. We assumed that we have a problem. We assumed that we are the problem.

Victims of abuse are over-conscientious for a reason. We took to heart what abusers said about us. We believed all the lies . . . “You are too this or too that . . .  You are not enough in this area or that area . . . . If only you could be thus and such . . . .” Maybe you feel like you are too bright, or too thin, or too talented, or too attractive. Perhaps you “tone it down” or pretend you have a problem when you do not because that person in your life resents you for not having the same struggles? It is easier than facing the emotional or verbal or physical assault .  . . . though exhausting.

What in the world are we doing?

It isn’t your problem. It is his. It is hers. It is theirs. Shine.

Last week, in dropping off our youngest in Kindergarten, I remarked to David that our daughter’s teacher is very good and very firm. And that I actually felt a little bit like a Kindergartner, as well, when she was instructing me on how their classroom works, what is expected, etc. In fact, I was a little scared of this petite, young, sweet-yet-high-strung woman. I was angry with myself for being a bit late because she had to comment on it and then dismiss it with her hand. She had the upper hand already. What was my problem? After telling David this, he said these words: “You cannot take on other people’s problems. It’s her problem, Megan. Not yours.”

Whoa. Crazy thing is, he has said this before but it never clicked until Wednesday.

This was big for me. When other people seem impatient, short, ill-tempered, jealous, ugly . . . I assume it is me. I failed to win them over. I must have said something wrong. Maybe I was too transparent (unacceptable).  You know what? They probably just do not want me in the room. Walking into the room often got me into trouble in the past. Being honest definitely does. Maybe I am shining too brightly? I need to shut down . . .

This week, I looked up this well-known passage and it blessed me:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

And then this:

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. John 3:20 ESV

Those in the Church are a bright light, people. Because Christ is . . . and He lives in us. He shines brightly in our hearts and we cannot help but shine. My children sing, “Hide it under a bushel . . . NO! I’m gonna’ let it shine!” And, others might not like that. And that is their problem.

I am so weary of dulling myself down and hiding out of fear of backlash. And the fear of backlash is really rooted in a deep nest of lies that loves to rear its ugly thorns and thistles to my heart: They do not like you because there is something wrong with you. That is it — right out there. Because there has to be something wrong with someone who is divorced . . . who was abused . . . whose family turned against her. Right? Totally wrong. Affliction is to be expected as a Believer. It is the way it was and is and will be until the End. Period. Why would I take that personally?

As I said, something clicked earlier this week. I am tired of taking on everyone else’s problems. I will allow the fruits of the Spirit to shine in my life. I will just be. I do not even really have to work at it because I love Jesus and I love others and that sort of takes care of everything else. Join with me in this . . . let us all stop being trained circus freaks (ha!). Let us just be Light and let God take care of the rest. Let us be able to just shake our heads and think to ourselves, “Oh man . . . they are struggling,” and then just whisper a little prayer. We have enough to worry about, don’t we?

It isn’t your problem. Shine.

30 Comments

  1. xoxo Love you Meg!

    • MeganC

      Love you, too, Katy. 🙂

  2. BeginHealing

    Yup, well trained circus freak right here!!! Thanks for this post. I love it.

    I have been trained since childhood that other peoples emotions are my responsibility to fix regardless of how they are treating me. More often than not the people treating me the worst got the most care and attention from me because I was afraid of what would happen if I stopped. I can remember thinking a few times that something was “not right” with the people that were being kind to me for what seemed like no reason. They seemed like the freaks because certainly I am not meant to be treated that way. Yup, I have some work to do. 🙂 Thankful that I have a loving Savior to see me through it.

    • MeganC

      Yes!! Exactly, Begin. And all the times I heard, “You make me so (fill in negative emotion here)” or “She just makes me so angry (mad, crazy, etc.)”.

  3. I can relate. Due to my abuse as a child, I am constantly worried about getting in trouble, doing something wrong or I misinterpret body language, tone of voice and think it is directed at me. I’m 57 years old and still struggle with it, though it usually isn’t as bad as it was when I was a young adult.

    When you are told time and time again that you are worthless, can’t do anything right, and that your opinions are always wrong, it takes a heavy toll. I have a loving wife who builds me up and listens to my fears. She brings a perspective that often times I need to hear, even if I don’t want to at the time.

    There is a contemporary Christian song on the radio recently that I really relate to. It basically starts out by saying, “Hello my name is Regret” , and then explains how the voice inside makes you look back at everything you have done with remorse, as if nothing good can come out of you. The second verse starts out with “Hello, my name is Defeat” and it talks about how, every time you begin to pick yourself up and do well, the voice inside you drags you down, keeping you from ever succeeding. It is a kind of self fulfilling prophecy.

    Yep, I know how that goes. I’ve lived with it to varying degrees most of my life. What we (I) need to do is to reject those voices and start living as free beings, freed by the love of Christ. My past does not define my future. I am not my past. Somehow, I need to live the fact that I am in Christ as a new creation and that everything else that has passed has actually passed away.

    For too many of us, I think that this has been theoretical. It is words on paper. It is in our heads, but has not always filtered down to our hearts. That 18 inches or so makes all the difference!

    Thanks Meg for bringing this out!

    • MeganC

      Yes, Wendell. You fleshed it out so well . . . I hate that you deal with this, too. But, I feel a bit less lonely in it. Thank you for sharing this. It truly touched my heart. Your post reminded me of a verse I read yesterday. And I love the way it is put in The Message:

      “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him.” 1 John 3:18-21

      I love that God is greater than our worried hearts . . . I continue to practice love and, by doing so, I try to rest in that freedom . . . I just love that, no matter how self-criticizing I might be from time to time . . . God is greater than that.

    • Amy

      Here are some more of the words of that song, which say pretty much what the consensus is here:
      I am no longer defined
      By all the wreckage behind
      The one who makes all things new
      Has proven it’s true
      Just take a look at my life

      Hello, my name is child of the one true King
      I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, I have been set free

  4. IamMyBeloved's

    I think I actually wrote this and transferred it to your brain somehow, Meg. This has been my life story and still is. If someone is unhappy, it is my fault and I am responsible to fix it. The “accuser” is more than willing to allow me to live this way and it even keeps him happy to continually bring those people to my side, who will accommodate him in his efforts to keep me on the down side and under the shoes of evil, that he is so content to wear.

    Thanks for this message and the verses that have helped you. I am working on this area, but so, so far from having peace and rest in just being who Jesus created me to be.

  5. Lisa

    Thank you for sharing… Your posts put the real issues out in the open. I live in a large community of patriarchal homeschoolers. We were them… Until my EX of 25 yrs. and 8 kids decided one day that he “was done with all that God stuff”, he left. The entire community, made up of 4 main churches, homeschoolers, and friends of 18 years… All of my children’s friends… Turned on us. We were shunned from one church then another from the pulpit, by name, on Sunday during the service all because I wouldn’t do whatever I had to to get him back… (Which I did..begging, pleading, and promising to be more of “nothing” than I was before…dead).. However, Most of the time none of us could even find him and when we did he was cruel and resisting. Now I see he is a sociopath.

    Today, my oldest daughter is still wrapped up in all the lies. She runs from us in the stores and in town when we see her. The others avoid us all together. I know exactly what they are thinking because I was a Pharisee too. We are all better off for sure, but for 25 years that was my reality and it was all the kids ever knew. We are still trying to redefine normal, get our bearings and find out who we are. Almost all of us want to move out of this place, but are bound by a house we can’t sell. I still homeschool the younger ones and have finally got up the nerve to go to college, so I can support my family (ex doesn’t pay anything).

    Thank you for your transparency.
    Lisa

    I am still messed up for days after an encounter from them.

    • MeganC

      Lisa — I am so broken-hearted over hearing what you have been through . . . and, at the same time, so thankful that you are no longer a part of that group. I understand so much of what you are saying. I only dipped my toe in the home school/Vision Forum movement (about 3 years or so of being exposed/infatuated) and I felt the full force of my own Pharisaical-ism when I was finally free of it. And it sounds like your daughter just does not know how to handle things . . . it truly WAS her entire world, wasn’t it? And, wow. Huge kudos to you for going back to school. I can tell you are incredibly brave.

      I am so glad that you are no longer “dead” on the inside . . . I rejoice with you in that. Big hugs, courageous friend.

    • Brenda R

      I am so glad you got out. Ex will have a reckoning with the Lord for his deeds and lack of them as well.

    • Katy

      Until my EX of 25 yrs. and 8 kids decided one day that he “was done with all that God stuff”, he left

      the mind boggles. BOGGLES
      I mean,how can all these bystanders possibly think that it’s all up to you to keep your husband in the kingdom of God?
      Oh right. Patriarchal homeschoolers. sigh

    • joepote01

      “I know exactly what they are thinking because I was a Pharisee too.”

      That makes it both harder and easier, doesn’t it? If frequently find myself in this situation. On the one hand, I’m glad I have that background, as it makes it easier for me to have grace for their ignorance. On the other hand, it also hurts all the more, knowing how deeply the wrong attitudes run…how much they are an integral part of the wrong-thinking that ignores God’s heart of Redemption for His children who are hurting and/or trapped in a covenant of abusive bondage.

      Praying for you, this morning, Lisa, that God will continue to guide and protect, as He continues to deliver you, and your children, from the lies and wrong attitudes by which you are surrounded.

  6. I will allow the fruits of the Spirit to shine in my life. I will just be. I do not even really have to work at it because I love Jesus and I love others and that sort of takes care of everything else.

    You know those verses about His yolk being easy and His burden light, and His commands are not burdensome? I think this is it right here.

    • MeganC

      Thank you, BIT. So beautiful.

    • Katy

      I love you too, BIT 🙂

  7. Still Scared( but getting angry)

    I realized yesterday that I was feeling like a failure and that is was my fault that the transmission on my car is going. That somehow I could have magically used wings instead of my car to do my job of visiting patients in their homes. Twisted thinking!!

  8. Brenda R

    Well said Megan.

  9. His beloved

    Simply could not agree more- exactly what the Lord has been showing me as well. Beautiful post! I dream of day when He shines through all of us and none us us wear bushels on our heads any longer!

  10. Anonymous

    Thank you for this encouragement, Megan. I know it in my head, but have a hard time believing it in my heart. I have been hiding my light, out of fear, to some degree a good part of my life.

    The funny thing is, I have been a mostly compliant person most of my life & yet I feel I have to be really careful always about what I say or do. The pressure sometimes makes me want to avoid people. I seem to encounter in the church either people who are really kind, pious, mild mannered and doctrinally correct, but don’t talk about such things as abuse, or can’t even conceive of it, or others who Love God and are less pious, bold, and outspoken, about their opinions and thoughts and trials. But when I am bold and outspoken about me or my thoughts and opinions, it’s as if I didnt’ speak. Either awkward silence, or vague comments about respect, or some other admonition, or just continuing to talk about themselves. Among my friends that know about my experience with abuse, no one EVER ask me how I’m doing. I confided in my pastor, & he seemed to care somewhat but he never asks. I have one friend that seems to sincerely care & ask, but we are separated by distance and don’t talk often.

    I keep feeling, what is wrong with me that I’m not allowed to speak? That I am not heard? That I have no advocate? No one who loves me and has my back?

    I clearly remember one time ages ago, speaking with a group of friends, and everyone was actually listening to me with interest. It was such an unusual experience for me, I felt caught off guard for a second, but decided to enjoy it. It is such a distant memory, having friends that kind and supportive. Way before my marriage.

    I am so tired of hiding, of being silent, of being “careful” with what I say while those around me are not, that I just want to scream!!! I am still afraid, but I am also really angry.

    I even heard one friend say, can you believe it, talking about children, that certain kids are bullied, because they are just asking for it, kind of, by being weak or geeky. This is a Christian friend who is very sweet, you would never expect her to say that. There is a common contempt in our culture, even in our churches, for the weak, or different or victims. It’s like you are held in contempt because you must be weak if you are a victim, you must have asked for it or failed to do something that caused the bully to bully you or the abuser to abuse you. (Maybe you weren’t supportive enough. That of course gives a husband the right to be abusive.) This view seems surprisingly widespread. Simillar comments come our of people I would never have expected. (Much like the contempt people have for the chronically poor: you must be a slacker if you are poor because this is America and everyone in the U.S. has limitless opportunities, right?) . I really don’t feel safe anywhere – out of the church or in it. Despite being a long time strong Christian, I don’t know where I fit in the church. With one 2 exceptions, and of course, everyone on this website, the most compassionate helpful people have been from outside the church.

    And even among some writers who seem supportive of women in abusive marriages, there still seems the expectation that we always “respond in a godly manner”. Really? My husband disparages me in every verbal way possible, keeps me from my family, financially abuses me, when I am working and when I am not, disparages me to others, maligns me for years to my son, physically intimidates me, makes us victims of his paranoia, creates a home of chaos and conflict and tension, but their main concern is that I respond in a godly manner? Where were “they” when all this is happening and where will “they” be if I decide that leaving is the best solution?

    It’s not that I think its okay to fight evil for evil, but, what if someone was raped repeatedly for years and they just confided in me, would you I say, “The important thing is that you forgive your rapist?” It defies compassion!

    So, even though I wish I had the courage to live the truth of your post, though I long to shine for Jesus and for others, for now, this circus freak will continue to hide my light.

    • MeganC

      Oh, dear Anon . . . My heart ached when I read your post. I know what it is to ask myself these questions: “I keep feeling, what is wrong with me that I’m not allowed to speak? That I am not heard? That I have no advocate? No one who loves me and has my back?” And I know that other (strong) believers have asked themselves these things before. I think of David, in the cave, hiding . . . . or Elijah by himself in the wilderness . . . so many men and women of God who felt alone and abandoned and NO ONE WAS LISTENING. I do believe that God understands this loneliness. If that weren’t so, He would not spend so much time telling us that we have an Advocate in Him. But, sometimes, we need to *feel* like someone is just . . . on our side.

      I know that we, at ACFJ, are on your side. I know that you are not alone. But, sometimes, you need to feel that — see that.

      Practically speaking, I wonder if you are in the right place? In the right church? It sounds like people are a little out of touch?

      As for those who speak of “responding in a godly manner”, I believe that that is sometimes possible. Four out of five times, I did not respond to the crazy I was dealt. That fifth time, I would be at my wit’s end. I would *feel* crazy. I could not contain myself. When you are put under continual pressure in your own home, over and over and over again . . . goodness. I have nothing but mercy for a woman who snaps after continual abuse of ANY kind. I think that is why Leslie Vernick speaks in her book of a woman being free to go “for the sake of her sanity”. Only God and you know what it was like to live with an abuser. I have not “snapped” since I left over two years ago. It is amazing . . . the peace that comes with leaving the crazy.

      Take your time. There is healing to be done. I still struggle to “shine”. All of this takes time, time and more time. Big hugs, my friend. I wish I could make it better for you.

      • His beloved

        Megan, It seems that every time you write you are telling my story. But that is the beauty of this blog- we are not alone!!!
        I only “snapped” when being abused, or when my friends allied with my abuser, or when they accused me of being too angry and not Godly when I tried to protect myself and get them to see that they were abusing me by allying with him. In the end I had to walk away.
        WHAT A CRAZY LIFE THAT WAS!!! Having to defend myself for protecting myself. It’s NUTS!! And why did I feel nuts? Because no one was listening!
        It’s all the same story, different details. And all the same author- the enemy working though people- same song, different verse.
        I am so glad to be free, to be getting clearer every day and to have my voice now.

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      The “respond in a godly manner” got me. God responded sometimes with anger, a whip in the temple, a flood, fire from heaven burned the outskirts of the camp, etc. So anger, holding firm boundaries, calling sin, “sin”; are all godly!

      • Brenda R

        So true! Why can’t I ever think of this stuff when I need it. This is going on my list of great quotes.

    • I really don’t feel safe anywhere – out of the church or in it. Despite being a long time strong Christian, I don’t know where I fit in the church. With one 2 exceptions, and of course, everyone on this website, the most compassionate helpful people have been from outside the church.

      I hear you completely, Anon.

  11. Velvet Voice

    I think this is good advice for anyone. I have been told all of my life that I was not feminine enought, not caring enough, not quiet enough. I was to blame for everyone’s problems. Good thing I never believed the message.

  12. joepote01

    Excellent post, Megan, and so very true! We do, indeed, tend to assume that relational conflicts are our fault…and that it is up to us to solve them…

    Thanks for sharing!

  13. sharpsheep

    Anonymous, apparently your friends have a sugar and spice idea about what constitutes godliness! This is what I think in response to that. When Elijah rebuked Ahab for his wickedness, was the prophet being ungodly? Hardly. Was Jesus always mild and speaking with a benign, pleasant tone and smile? Was He sinful and failing to always give a godly response when He overturned the tables of those who were corrupting the temple, made a whip and cracked them on the fanny as they ran for cover? These were making the temple safe for thieves and robbers but awful for those seeking God. How about when he called the leaders of the day whitewashed tombs? Was David failing to give a godly response to Saul when he fled his presence and did not obey Saul’s command to appear before the king? Don’t think so. These were situations where being godly did not mean denying the reality of the situation or what was in the heart of the persons being dealt with.

    God is a God of both justice and mercy and the two aren’t mutually exclusive either. It is both justice and mercy when someone is confronted for their sin and served up consequences if they continue in it. It affords them an opportunity to repent and escape the insanity of their sin. If our brother insists on continuing his mad way along the path to destruction then we can involve both the church and the governing authorities as required by the situation. I realize that finding a good church that actually is walking in reality and following scriptural directions for dealing with serious unrepentant sin, can be downright hard. There are many “Christian country clubs” out there for nice people, where anything difficult, ugly or shameful cannot be dealt with except in the sense of getting rid of the hot potato as fast as possible. These leaders heal the wounds of God’s people lightly and say peace, peace when there is no peace.

    Sometimes the reason someone is having a hard time responding in a godly manner is because lazy, disobedient church leaders are not doing their jobs and obeying scripture, but allowing a wrong situation to go on for years when it should be dealt with within months. When the dictates of God’s word are followed properly by leaders with knowledge and discernment, it supports and protects godliness. Why else did Paul instruct a willfully sinning person to be excommunicated? So that purity and righteousness could be supported and maintained, rather than compromised. Putting you in a position where you are supposed to be like the energizer bunny and keep going and going and going without addressing him and his sin amounts to loading an impossible burden onto someone’s back and not lifting a finger to help, I think.

    • thepersistentwidow

      Sharpsheep, I agree totally. You have summed up the problem commonly found in the church exactly right. Sounds like you must have lived through it to have such wisdom. Thanks for sharing this.

    • joepote01

      Very well stated, SharpSheep! Thank you!

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