When I walked into the rooms of recovery in 2006 I was extremely angry with God and wanted nothing to with him. That is unless I was in trouble. Now for those of you that might be gasping at the thought of anyone being angry at God, I can put your mind to rest. Ephesians 4:26 says - Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. Anger is a very powerful and healing emotion when used correctly. The problem is, many of us were never shown how to properly display anger. Therefore, what we so often mistake as anger is actually rage or repressed anger. Was I using my anger correctly towards God? Absolutely not!
When I walked into The Betty Ford Center for the first time in 2006 and saw the word God in bold and underlined in Step 3. Those words were painted on the wall and flashing like a neon sign at me. I thought to myself; if God has anything to do with this program, we have a big problem. I knew I was going to have to meet with a spiritual counselor. In fact I couldn’t wait to talk with him and unleash my beliefs about God and the church on him. The time had finally arrived for me to sit down with him. I was both ready and apprehensive to tell him what I thought about his God and the church.
As I sat in his office for well over an hour, I shared with him about how the church turned its back on me when they knew I was being abuse. How the church judged me. How the church was full of people that loved you on Sunday and F _ _ _ _d you on Monday. How a God that was supposed to love me first took my father from me through divorce and then two years later took him from me when he died of cancer. How a God that was supposed to love me gave me a mother that was everything but love. A mother that was physically and emotionally abusive. How a God that was supposed to love me then put a stepfather in my life that would sexually, emotionally, physically and spiritually abuse me. Oh, and my mother was an outstanding member of the church and choir and my stepfather was a deacon of the church. Please, tell me about your wonderful God.
For over an hour my spiritual counselor listened to me spill all my thoughts and beliefs about God and the church to him without as much as a gasp. He sat quietly taking notes. In the end, he looked at me and said; “We have a lot of work to do,” not one word of condemnation. Not once did he mention anything about me burning in hell because of my attitude. Just a simple “you have a right to feel the way you feel, and we have a lot of work to do.” Honestly, I was not only set back, I was shocked. For the first time in my life I was being heard. My feelings were being validated by both my spiritual counselor and counselor. This was something I had never experienced before. This was the attitude that kept me focused on my recovery. No one was telling me I had to believe in God. No one was telling me I had to do this or that. There was never a must or else, only suggestions.
My therapist Deborah Meints-Pierson was actually the first person to display the kind of kindness and acceptance to me that my counselors at The Betty Ford Center had shown. I had been seeing Deborah for about a year prior to entering treatment. I started seeing her as a result of the affair I had in 2004. This was in reality the start of my journey into healing all the damage that was done to me as a result of the years of being abused. The affair, the drugs, the alcohol, and even the success was linked to my abuse. This is where a therapist or trained counselor is strongly recommended. In my case and in the case of many men and women I have worked with, they are not in any way ready to hear anything having to do with God.
Honestly, there are very few pastors, and I say this respectfully, that know how to address abuse issues. For all that matters, very few pastors know how to work a couple through the process of recovering after an affair, and again I say this respectfully. You see, much like drugs and alcohol, infidelity is not the problem, it is only a symptom of a much deeper issue. This is where many pastors and Christian therapist drop the ball. It is no fault of theirs. They just have not been schooled on this process. You see, I believe if you don’t know what is causing the sinful behavior, how can you correct it. This is a delicate process that needs to be handled gently and masterfully. It doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it could take months or even years to discover the root of the sin and change the sinful behavior. What is absolutely crucial for the person doing this work, is that he/she has God in their life, at least to some degree. Without God this journey is likely to come to a dreadful end. You see, there really is no scripture that tells us how to do this work. However, there is plenty of scripture that we can lean on as we are on the journey.
The Bible is the greatest book and tool of knowledge and wisdom that I know of. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:8 (NKJV) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Paul goes on to say 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 (NKJV) And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2I fed you with milk and not with solid food: for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still now able.
There are many people today, yes even people who faithfully attend church, that struggle with the fact that there is a God that loves them unconditionally and will meet all of their needs. I walked back in church after being away from it for thirty-five plus years. I was fully intending on walking in the doors and walking right back out. All it would have taken was for one person to get all up in my face about how I was such a sinner and was going to burn in hell if I didn’t repent right then and there. That never happened and seven years later I am a pastor.
All through my recovery I was not just guided and told how to change, it was demonstrated by the way my counselors, therapist, sponsors and mentors walked. In other words, they just didn’t talk about ways to change or talk about Gods love, they demonstrated it by walking the talk. While it is important to talk about the love of Christ and God, I believe it is much more important to show people the love of God. Like Paul said, I was perishing and to talk the cross or throw scripture at me would have been useless as it was all foreign to me. As Paul says in Chapter 3, I needed to be fed milk and honey, not solid food, I was not ready for it. Spirituality or therapy? I choose both.
I did not know whether or not my counselors, therapist and mentors were Christian, Buddhist, Hindus or any other religion. All I know is they showed me in their actions an unconditional love and acceptance that I had never before experienced. They allowed me to question the God I had grown up with. I researched the Eastern religions and compared them to the Christian beliefs I now have. This is what I needed to do and in so doing so, I found God. I then rededicated my life to Christ. No one forced me or pressured me into doing it. My wife and I made the decision together to dedicate our lives to Christ. Today my wife and I sit under the mentorship of our lead pastors. They can mentor us with the spiritual things we need guidance with, which is just about everything. However, when it comes to the more deeply rooted issues, I see my therapist. I love my church, pastors and God today. However, if it were not for all the guidance I received from my counselors, therapist and mentors outside of the church, I never would have returned to church or living a life for God.