"Community" is almost the be-all, end-all for some Christian leaders today, with a heavy emphasis upon surrendering or submitting your self for the sake of community. Some see "community" as important for cross-gender friendship--keeping the cfg healthy--as if the community defines what is good for cross-gender friendship in the kingdom. Yes, in some cases, community is good for cross-gender friendships. But communities hung up with an emphasis upon submission can also be unhealthy enmeshment for their own evangelical values and identity and miss the kingdom in their midst. "Hope" continues with part five today. This part of her story is a powerful reminder about the great importance of one's voice, one's unique identity and freedom to honor God as an individual.
Part 5. Rick – pulled down into the darkness
At first the house church leadership (a couple called C & A, plus Rick and his wife as the 2-i-cs) were very helpful to me. When the last (and worst) incident of physical violence happened in my marriage, they stood by me, convinced Leo that what he had done was wrong and illegal and found an 18 week course for batterers which I insisted he attend as a condition of staying married. All well and good. Then they turned on me, insisting that what I had done to “provoke” him (not jumping up and doing what he asked because I was in the middle of doing something else) was equally sinful, because it should be my delight to obey my husband (!!). I wasn’t accepting that. I maintained that abuse was a far more serious matter than the behaviour that provoked it, and that when abuse and control come into the picture, a marriage is no longer a level playing field. From thast time on, whatever was happening between me and Leo, they started to treat me as the problem half of the relationship, because I was the one who was “unrepentant”. Hurting your wife is obviously not as serious as a woman being something less than totally submissive.
Then there was the ‘Tina’ episode. (Sorry to keep dropping in new names, but I’m trying to give the gist of a very complicated story.) Tina was another young woman in the house church, a new Christian and the flatmate of ‘Jane”, Rick’s very close friend. At first she seemed to seek my friendship, and, as an older woman, I tried to be supportive (she was only about 5 years older than my older child). I also suggested she set some boundaries with her very dysfunctional and inappropriate mother (who had suggested, for example, that they go out to the pub and pick up guys together – with the express purpose of taking them home to bed!). Then, suddenly, after 18 months or so, I was informed that she didn’t want to be my friend any more, and I was uninvited to her 21st (I hadn’t realised adults behaved like that). Her complaints about me? I had said bad things about her mother, I used long words when I prayed, which made her feel inferior, I put too much expression in my voice when I read from the Bible, and more things of that ilk which I can’t even remember. I was shocked, sure, but not overly distressed, I knew this was all about her issues and I hadn’t done anything terrible. What did upset me, though, was when other members of the church, led by Rick, all took her side. Apparently I had done something very bad, and deserved to be shunned, excluded etc, especially because I had done it to a new Christian (who by that time had been a Christian for nearly 3 years). When I tried to find out what I was really guilty of, I just got told “you know”. Well, actually, I didn’t – nothing that made sense to me, anyway. It was Crazyville, and it triggered all my buried abandonment issues. I did a lot of crying around that time, while the kids were at school and Leo was at work.
This was the way I wrote about it all later (with just the names changed):
things went badly wrong. Rick was cross with me about Tina (I still to this day don’t understand why -- that hurts hugely) and cross with me for his own sake as well. I don’t want to rake over all of that yet again, I just want to talk about where it left me. There were things I said back then which Rick took to be manipulative demands* -- they were never meant that way, they were statements of what I feared would happen if he withdrew from me, as it was, all my worst fears came true and are still there. I went down into the very darkness I had desperately begged him not to let me fall into, and have been there ever since. True I learnt that I can live with the pain of all that and survive, but in this much pain, who wants to survive?
* basically I just told him how much he was hurting me .. I never told him what he ought to do about it since forced love was never my desire. A year or so after that he told me that he was glad I was so strong – he had been a bit scared that treating me that way might have driven me to suicide or insanity, but felt it was what he needed to do anyway. I was speechless then and still am now!
This had implications for other things as well. As an outreach ministry we ran a Saturday kids’ club for disadvantaged kids known to Social Services. It was decided that I was not a fit person to relate directly to the older girls, in case I did to them what I did to Tina, so (weirdly, I thought) I was put in charge of the younger ones (7-9 year olds). Much later, when the church ran an Alpha course, I was an unfit person to relate to non-Christians, so, to support it, I did all the cooking instead.
Yes, I know now that I should have got out much sooner, But I still thought things could be worked out with Rick, that it was just a misunderstanding. I wanted some sort of closure, some sort of resolution. I had also, over years of marital abuse, and then the tearing apart I was getting in this place, lost whatever little social confidence I had ever had. The thought of going somewhere else and making new friends seemed like an impossibility.
And yes, I did become a bit suicidal. The irony was that I was so tired of being called manipulative if I mentioned my needs (and I was also told, by Rick, that I was manipulative if I didn’t tell how I was feeling, because then he couldn’t guess my motives – talk about a lose-lose situation!), that when I actually reached rock bottom I told no one, not even my therapist. I knew that it would be said that I was only saying it to get attention, and it seemed to me that the best way I could prove otherwise was by saying nothing. It came to a head one night when I was raw and hurting, I came to church, was virtually ignored all evening, and when it was time for prayer requests I simply asked for God’s comfort and strength. No one prayed for me. I left that evening fighting for self-control, and on the drive home I desperately asked God to give me one good reason why I shouldn’t just drive my car into a brick wall since everybody else would be better off without me. God’s response was immediate – the image of my daughter, then about 12, with the words, almost audible, “She still really needs a mother.” My tears then were tears of thanksgiving – I had a reason to stay alive! Although it took me a while to realise, a corner had been turned.
I will finish this section with one more classic Rick-ism : “I love you, but I don’t like you. God loves you, but He doesn’t like you either, How can He with all the dreadful things you do?” (though he couldn’t tell me what they were!)
And one more, when just a few months before I left the church, I admitted that I had been suicidal back then: “How selfish! You don’t come to church to get your needs met – you come to give to others!” Rii-iight .. so who are the others if we’re all doing that?