When the Church Lets You Down

“Are you withholding sex from your marriage?  A man needs to have sex every 72 hours, and if you are not available that could be one of the reasons why your marriage is having such problems.”

I sat in the chair with my mouth dropped open to this pastor’s counseling words, and left the office more dismayed than when I entered it. I could not believe his preposterous statement. We had been attending the small church for over a year and it had taken me some time to get comfortable enough to go to the pastor for help. The pastor agreed to “counsel us” but after I left his office, I felt very little hope.

I had unwittingly signed up for an abusive marriage; the problems began almost immediately after the wedding. Though there was never any physical abuse, the verbal and emotional blows to me as a person were equally devastating, except unlike physical abuse; the wounding left deep scarring that seldom healed.

My expressions of feelings of despair and heartache were ignored and easily dismissed with.

“Hey, I’m perfectly happy. You’re the one with the problem.”  Another time he said.  “I don’t know what your problem is, I don’t beat you.”  He did emotionally!

Of course he was happy.  He was the one doing the lying, cheating, drinking, gambling, manipulating, controlling, criticizing, partying, ignoring, avoiding, abusing and oppressing.

What kept me in such a destructive marriage?  The three children I adored and the lack of family support.  I had a baby and two other kids, all barely under five at that time.

And because I was raised in a home lacking any sort of love, but full of verbal, emotional and physical abuse; it took me a while to realize just how destructive my marriage was.  I can’t think of a time in over fifteen years that I felt loved in that marriage.

At first, I lived in denial, thinking all I had to do was to try harder, then later I kept the peace by sacrificing my needs and stuffing the pain.  For the sakes of my kids and my own sanity, I placated and submitted myself to that kind of life.  After a while, resentment, indifference and bitterness arose.

I was in the ideal environment to be victimized. I had no supportive family whatsoever.  The misery of my marriage kept me in a state of deep depression, along with the busy life of being the real sole caretaker for my three small children; I was alienated from possible friends and support.

My terribly lonely life consisted of, from morning to night: cooking, cleaning, feeding the baby, diapering, laundry, child care, and washing dishes since we had no dishwasher. The kids were always clean, well dressed and well cared for.  The house was descent. Dinner was always on time, yet when my former husband came home all he noticed was the basket of laundry dumped on the unfolded laundry on the bed, or the few toys on the living room floor.

That’s when I finally went to the pastor of the church for help.

After a couple of “counseling” sessions, even my husband was taken aback by the pastor’s odd attitude.

“I don’t get it,” he said, “I admitted several times that you have been a great wife and that I have been the problem in this marriage, and that everything you have been saying is true yet he still keeps asking you what you are doing to be the Proverbs 31 Woman.  He hardly seems to hear what I say.”

At first, I thought it really was just me, but after that comment from the man doing the abusing, I cancelled any further sessions.

The man who was supposed to be my advocate was just another accuser I did not need in my life.

It seems that today there are many people who have a problem recognizing emotional and verbal abuse as domestic violence, but it is a domestic violence just the same.  This especially happens in churches when women are told to submit, to love anyway, to die to one’s self, to turn the other cheek; while the abusers, the husbands, gets away scot free. Though I have seen it the other way where the woman abuses the husband, for this article I concentrated on the husband being the abuser since that is what I experienced in my marriage.

In the Old Testament times, women were often treated as if they were just barely above animals and still are in some countries.  However, God is very clear as to how a husband is to treat his wife.

Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh with them.  Colossians 3:19

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. 1st Peter 3:7

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.  Ephesians 5:28-29

Sadly, many husbands don’t realize that when they are impatient, and give their wives angry looks, and speak with irritated and harsh tones, they wound their wives and negatively affect how their wives feel about them.

Years later, after the divorce and a terrible time of raising the kids on my own with no child support, I lost heart and became the seed that sprouts amidst thorns.  My growth was stunted.  My Christian walk took a detour down Prodigal Lane.  I was stuck in a very unhealthy relationship and could just not break away from it no matter how hard I tried.

I had not been to church in several years.  Eager to get my heart right with God, I visited one particular church with a friend and was deeply moved to rededicate my heart to the Lord after the pastors touching message.

Desperate for support to break from this relationship, I went to talk to one of the church counselors the following week.  I told her I really needed prayer and asked to have the pastor anoint me with oil and pray over me. (James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.)

I told her about my struggle raising my kids without any type of support and on my menial wages,  and of other struggles I had; and I told her about my relationship with this man and how badly I wanted out but couldn’t seem to break the bond.  I considered my inability to break off the relationship like a sickness.

“The pastor is a busy man  but I can pray for you.  As for the relationship, you’re just going to have to make up your mind to get out of it on your own.  I don’t see how I can help you there.  And if you are looking for money, we don’t have any we can give you so I hope that’s not why you’re here.” She said this with a very icy and unsympathetic heart.

Once more, I sat in the chair with my mouth dropped open and left the office more dismayed than when I entered it.   I felt hopeless; she treated me as if I was a drug addicted person looking for my next fix.  I was desperate for support but did not return to any church for several years.

Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 15-22 Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.

James 5:16a Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

Ephesians 4:1-3 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Luke 22:26  But not so with you.  Rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.

As fellow blogger Jennifer mentioned in the comment below, the story does have a good ending. Though both of those experiences were very hurtful, it did not keep me from eventually going back to church. With much hesitancy, I finally decided to try again and I am glad. We now go to a church with a terrific pastor and staff.  I know a handful of people who have been deeply wounded, so wounded that they have never been able to get past it and go back to church.  And that is a terrible shame.

The words of these verses say a lot of how God feels about those situations.

Ezekiel 34:4  The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

Matthew 23:23-24  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

By ~ Elizabeth Yalian 2014 ©http://hiseyeisonthissparrow.com.


Filed under Inner Sruggles and Heartache, Life and Relationships, Life Lessons, Marriage and Relationships, Single Parent Struggles

10 responses to “When the Church Lets You Down

  1. I loved your response. Thank you. I think sanctuary–that place of safety–is what we all need where we can heal, grow, learn and reach out to others locking arms to support and never judging, never closing the door to others even the church family. It’s tough. Those who hurt cannot see objectively. Some people have the best of intentions and others…not. We tend to hurt others in so many ways. I don’t think many mean to–they don’t know any better. It has to do with our spiritual maturity. Thank you so much for sharing. I hate that you were in such a relationship and didn’t get the help you needed at the time but I think you are right about the pastor’s fruits. You have a powerful message to tell 🙂 . Take care! – Amy 🙂

    • Thank you, Amy. It’s so true what you say that when one hurts we cannot see objectively. Sometimes merely being the shoulders to cry on or the arms of hugs brings comfort and healing to wounded people, and isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing as the hands and feet or Christ? I have been praying lately that God gives me the eyes to see and the ears to hear as He does, and the wisdom to recognize a wounded soul without judgment. I would not want to live those years again for anything. But it did open a level of compassion and empathy (and as you say spiritual maturity) that I never possessed. Blessings!

  2. As for being Christian, I know that some of us call ourselves Christians but we act like we don’t have a clue to what being Christlike is about. I suppose we each act in a manner that we shouldn’t along the way but there is so much judgment today–and don’t get me started on the attitude that everything “wrong” in a marriage is the woman’s fault or that it is because she isn’t submissive enough. When I read the first part of your post, I wanted to come out with gloves on–me, someone who has been working on more peaceful solutions other than confrontation. Sometimes common sense and faith become like unknown enemies.

    I grew up in the church. I held very conservative views–well, in many things. Then I listened to Jesus through the gospels–sounds crazy but I really listened to them walling off much of what I learned when growing up and being an adult–like relearning to walk. I heard Him speak of love–no matter what–love–and that includes ourselves. After my husband left, I felt that I was to blame for my marriage failure even though he was the one who neglected and even abused me in ways I didn’t see but he chose to step out of his vows. Truth, I can only take credit for 50% at most. (Sorry-I got carried away)

    I am so sorry. This pains me. It seems that some of those who are supposed to have our backs to help give support are the wolves that want to eat us alive. Yeah, I know some of those wolves and I also know so many who have been injured. I’m glad you have been able to return to church–a good one it seems. 🙂 Take care!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your heart, garden2day. Listening through the gospels doesn’t sound crazy at all to me. I believe that is exactly what we are supposed to do as that is how God mainly speaks. Praise God you have ears to hear.
      Even the Bible warns us of the sheep in wolves’ clothing.
      I now realize the first church I mentioned was very judgmental and critical and lacking on love and grace, but of course I was in my mid-twenties and terribly naive, and that was my first experience with a church so I thought that was how churches were. I had little understanding of God’s love and grace then. This may sound crazy, but I believe this pastor was a man of God and that his gift bent more towards evangelism. He needed to refine and readjust his thinking in the areas of life. Since he was not much older than I was I believe he hadn’t had enough experience in counseling or his rationalization. After all, not all are called to be counselors. However, when the pastor made such an outrageous comment, I knew something was terribly wrong with his logic.
      What surprised me even more was when my then-husband questioned the pastor’s analysis with our marriage problems.
      Common sense and faith seem to be becoming distant allies more and more.
      After too many years of living in that marriage, and being placed in mortifying financial predicaments because of that husband’s actions and behavior, and hearing his latest teary-eyed over-the-top lie that his doctor told him he was dying of cancer (he was saying this because he knew I had enough), I told him I was done. I felt lots of guilt but I was about to lose my sanity and feared I would end up in jail over the latest predicament he put me in. He retaliated by going into hiding and not paying child support, then later when the kids were adults brought division into my relationship with them and lied and fabricated stories to make me the escape goat as to why he had abandoned his kids. Usually, people who abuse never see themselves as the ones responsible for the problems, not even 20%.
      To this day I rest in the fact that God knows the truth and that someday this man will have to face God with his actions.
      It seems like your husband did you a favor by leaving though I am sorry it must have been terribly painful. I am glad you “relearned” what church is about and have had the privilege to walk in the shadow of Jesus’ outstretched arms. Isn’t that the safest place to be?

  3. Christ died for the church but there are times when many churches would not welcome Jesus in their midst. Religion and not relationship with Jesus make for cold and hurtful churches. When we receive his healing and mercy, we can love like Christ, with a changed perspective. When he walked the earth, he had compassion for those who were hurting, casting out demons and healing the sick. The religious got offended but those who saw their need, welcomed Jesus.

  4. My heart breaks a little reading this. I’m so sorry you were hurt by churches (honestly, the people in them). I wish these kinds of stories weren’t true or frequent. It is my unfortunate “privilege” to know another woman who went through similar experiences to yours. I was stunned when I heard.

    It is my hope that there will be revival in the American church in lots of areas, but two might be in the head (wisdom and biblical foundation) and in the heart (compassion). For being “in the people business,” often the church needs a lot of growth on an interpersonal level…and basic communication skills. (Won’t comment on the biblical level, since I can’t really do that.)

    I hope your story has a good ending…

    • Yes, Jennifer, the story has a good ending, thank you for pointing that part out. I am sorry for your friend. I know a couple of other people who have had painful experiences also.
      Though both those experiences were very hurtful, it did not keep me from going back to church and we now go to a church with a terrific pastor and staff. But there are those who are so hurt they never return.
      And yes, I agree, America needs a major revival overhaul! I also agree with the fact that those in the people business need to be more people friendly. 🙂

    • Check out the 4th from the last paragraph! 🙂

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