When I got this submission I couldn't imagine the hurt and confusion for everyone involved and remembered that when it comes to spiritual abuse, sometimes those who hurt us most have no idea what's happening and are victims of abuse themselves.
I'm looking for a mentor.
My phone vibrated and I looked down to read this message from a younger friend involved in a local ministry I helped lead. I hesitated briefly, and then replied.
I'll do it.
She was thrilled. Told me she'd been praying about this for awhile and that she needed a sounding board.
I trust you. She said.
We got together the following week and everything seemed to be going well. I felt re-charged, as if I tapped into something I didn't even realize was missing.
A few weeks into the mentorship, other friends started asking me questions about conversations with her. "Did you know..." seemed like the standard starter for most of my interactions around that time and it almost always pointed back to her. It made me uneasy and confused.
Some of it was in confidence. Knowing I needed to walk a fine line between her conversations with others and what she would tell me, I would approach the topics as best as I knew how, trying to figure out what was going on with certain situations. Every time, she'd look me right in the eye and show an earnestness that bordered on truth-telling. It would only leave me feeling more confused.
There was inconsistency with her stories. Most of the time, it was just a matter of clarification, but sometimes her stories left me concerned.
I seriously worried about her safety and well-being.
A friend and I pulled her aside one evening to dissect some of these stories a little more and share with her our concern. She turned defensive, and I could see our relationship suffering for it. She left our house hurt and the only thought that kept rolling through my mind was I can't do this. I can't offer her the help she needs.
We scheduled a meeting with some leaders in the church. Because the ministry involved teenagers, the youth leader showed. Someone from counseling showed as well.
We each shared our story. Apparently there'd been some lack of communication regarding her and ministry within the church, and when she came to join the one we were part of we didn't know the stories coming with her. We placed her in leadership and gave her students to mentor, never knowing how unstable she was during those months.
All of the nudgings and feelings I'd experienced since starting to meet with her came rushing back. I knew this girl needed help - needed some type of community to rally around her and love her. We started talking about this - how she needed to be in community, but not leadership - not until she was able to work through some of these issues. And then, the ball dropped -
"You need to cut off all communication."
My eyes widened.
"....like....all communication? I was supposed to meet her this Thursday...."
The leader interrupted. "I'll do it."
I stumbled through my words and nodded as I was told to contact everyone else and let them know that communication was supposed to cease.
"This is a matter of church discipline and comes from the leadership" was my standard refrain.
There were questions - some of my friends even protested. This isn't what the church should be doing! they would say and I would shrug.
"It's what they've asked. And as a matter of church discipline, we need to follow."
I was a robot.
Years later, I know how abusive this situation was and I fight from beating myself up about how the girl was treated. I wasn't privy to the effects of spiritual abuse back then and had no stories to go on about the patterns set in place in controlling others. I didn't know much of the background of my own life and where I stand in situations of manipulation.
But I know now.
It was reading other stories that I realized how abusive this situation was for us who were asked to not communicate with the girl I mentored. If I were her, I would have yelled through some type of megaphone about the injustice but she took it all with grace, never publicly shaming anyone despite the shame heaped on her by those who should have brought her in even closer.
I've sent her emails letting her know how horrible I feel and how I understand now the hurt she experienced. And I can pray for healing - for all of us involved - and I can speak out and point others to the Truth that when someone is hurting the last thing we need to do is ostracize them. She trusted me. I betrayed that trust because of those in authority over me shaking their heads and whispering tsk tsk over her behavior - which was really more confusing and inconsistent then flat out rebellious.
And it makes me wonder.
In speaking out, how many times is my name uttered in other conversations? Who has been asked to not speak to me anymore? How many moments have others sucked in their breath and wondered about the danger of my words?
And how in the world are any of those questions pointing back to the hope and love and peace that Christ gives?