When Abuse and Our Faith Are Tangled Up Together


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When abuse and our faith are tangled up together, it’s confusing to tell the two apart. That damages our connection with God. How can we untangle the lies of abuse from the truth of God?

We have to do spiritual surgery on ourselves in order to remove the shrapnel of abuse from our hearts of faith–to separate the two so our hearts can beat again in a healthy, strong way in harmony with our Savior.

Join Natalie for a lesson that will help untangle you from lies and renew your trust in Jesus, a God who doesn’t abuse people.

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When Abuse and Our Faith are Tangled Up Together [Transcript]

Download the transcript for Episode 50 here!

Welcome to episode 50 of the Flying Free podcast! You guys, this is kind of a milestone! I started this podcast one year ago at the very beginning of 2019, and here it is – 2020 and we’ve hit 50 episodes. So, like I mentioned last time, we’re gonna be starting something new once a month we’re going to be doing a featured testimonial of a survivor who got out. And once a month it’s just going to be you and me, and I’m going to give you a lesson, and the lesson will either come from the Flying Free private Sisterhood group, or it might be something like a refurnished blog article that I wrote from a while ago, or it might be something brand new.

So that’s what we’re going to do today. Today’s lesson is actually kind of a combination. It’s coming from a session that I prepared for the Reclaim conference which is through Bob and Polly Hamp who have a counseling center down in Hurst, Texas, and they are holding the Reclaim Conference at the end of January, and they’ve invited me to come and speak at that conference. I’m going to be presenting four sessions there – two of them are going to be on the subject of reclaiming our faith. And so I’m going to pull a little bit from one of those sessions today, and actually, what I’m using to create those sessions comes out of the Flying Free membership group. So I have a couple of courses in that group where we really dive into our faith and the topic of spiritual abuse and recovering from all of that. Many of us have basically had our faith decimated, and I believe we are rebuilders, and that’s our job as survivors—to rebuild what has been destroyed. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Now, our faith was used as a weapon of control against us, it got hijacked from its rightful place in our life as a source of safety, love, and connection with our Creator and Abba Father.

I believe this is actually the greatest damage abuse causes in the lives of victims – both women and children. And this is precisely what the enemy wants. He wants us to believe God is not good, and He is not powerful, and He is not present.

So he weaves our faith together with the abuse so it becomes difficult and confusing to tell the two apart. I have heard hundreds of stories of women and children who have walked away from God – at least for a time – because they see Him as an abuser God.

Our opportunity and challenge is to do a spiritual surgery on ourselves in order to remove the shrapnel of abuse from our hearts of faith. To separate the two so our hearts can beat again in a healthy, strong way in harmony with our Savior.

So that’s what this session is about. Because this process takes years – we will only get started. And we will only be able to open up, observe, and identify some of the shrapnel embedded in our hearts.

You job will be to walk away from here and begin the hard and precise work of extracting these things from your heart. Be gentle and patient with yourself.

One of the biggest things that kept me stuck in my emotionally abusive relationship was what others had taught me about God. I learned from a young age that God loved me, and that I needed to make sure I lived a holy life in order to bring Him glory.

But then I was taught all the specific, black and white ways to live that holy life. And the rules would change, depending on who my authority was at the time. Do you see the problem with this? Rather than learning how to grow up into my own relationship with a Living God, living by faith according to the law of LOVE, I learned how to stay in a child-like state, relying on the rules others made for me. And the rules changed depending on who the authority was!

My “authority” (first my mom, and then my husband and church leaders) spoke on behalf of God. They interpreted Scripture for me. They told me what pleased them, and my job as a “girl” was to obey without question. Every time I questioned what I was told, I was shamed. I was told I wasn’t glorifying God. I was disobeying Him.

All I wanted in the whole wide world was to love God and to know He loved me, but I equated the love of others with the love of God. If they were happy with me, then I felt God was happy with me. And if they were disappointed with me, I felt God was also disappointed with me.

Do you believe these things? They are lies from the pit. Satan doesn’t want us focused on Christ and the law of Love. He wants us focused on humans and controlled by the law, because then we are rendered powerless. And the more of our lives we live as powerless ghosts, the more chaos and destruction reigns in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

This is not what God wants for any of His children.

I had to learn the hard way that God was not people, and people were not God. I had to learn that Christ died and rose to dismantle all power-over relationships and systems and laws and set up a new “law” that is written on the hearts of His children. The law of LOVE.

Your only authority is Jesus Christ. And the only law you live by, as a Christian, is the law of LOVE.

How do we know what this law is and how to live it? Jesus lived out that law perfectly.

And GUESS WHAT?! He made a lot of people pig-bitin’ mad in the process!

You know what that means? If YOU decide to live by the law of LOVE instead of the law, you will make law lovers angry as well. But your faith and your life will have the butterfly effect on the world.

(The butterfly effect is “the theory that even the smallest step one takes in his/her life can change the course of said life immensely. The name of this theory came to be when a Chaos Theory stated: “It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.” Source)

The apostle Paul wrote: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5: 1, NIV) And also: You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. (1 Corinthians 7: 23, NIV) At the root of it all, we find that too many today have forgotten the incredible price that was paid, in blood, for our freedom in Christ. For we have been called to a spiritual life built upon the free gift of God’s grace (Ephesians 2: 8– 9). The works we are to do are only those that our God and Father prepared for us (v. 10). It is to God alone whom we will answer for what we have done in His name and what we’ve failed to do (Matthew 25).

Johnson, David; VanVonderen, Jeff. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

Between fourth and 7th grade, I was mercilessly bullied by several of my peers.  I’m not sure why some people get their kicks from bullying, but in my case, I didn’t wear the right clothes or look the right way or act the right way, according to their set of rules. They were “in” and I was “out.”

My current husband had a best friend for years who came into a lot of money and joined a country club. Suddenly he was too good to associate with Tom. It was very painful to see that this was the extent of the depth of that relationship.

Have you ever been part of an organization where one of the unspoken rules was to keep your trap shut about any corruption you might observe? If you chose not to obey the rule and you spoke up or questioned it, you were kicked out.

Are you part of a minority group that has to deal with the hidden undercurrents of prejudice and privilege that are hard to expose and pin down? If you speak up, you are the bad guy – further persecuted for breaking the rules that supposedly make the world go round.

It’s human nature to create categories and put others into those categories. We’ve got fraternities and sororities and country clubs and political affiliations and religious groups and economic stations, and minorities and majorities. We’ve got old and young, rich and poor, men and women, black and white, Jew and Gentile.

These categories are based on a socially destructive belief system that says “I will only love and accept people who are in the club I belong to. That means anyone who meets a certain set of qualifications, obeys a certain set of rules, and holds the same opinions I hold. I am justified in disrespecting and dehumanizing anyone who doesn’t do these things.”

Jesus came to break all those categories. The only polarization left is good vs. evil. Good is truth, love, life, while evil is lies, hatred, and death.

Jesus taught that love trumps law. Jesus taught that caring for the hearts of individuals trumps standing on your principles. Jesus taught that We exercise SELF control. Not control over others. Jesus never put anyone in a category. And He never pushed anyone to do anything they didn’t want to do. He reached out  IN LOVE to men and women right where they were at. Jew and Gentile and Samaritan. Rich and poor. Young and Old. No distinction for Him except one.

He had hard words for the arrogant religious leaders who snubbed their noses at anyone not in their club of rules and regulations. He called them white washed tombs full of putrid, dead man’s bones. They looked good on the outside, but inside, they were ugly. They didn’t like that, and they murdered Him. The ultimate exclusion, huh?

I want to speak to all of you women who belonged to your church club. Because this is part of where we mixed up Jesus with all that held us prisoner. Maybe you obeyed all the rules including home schooling, wearing skirts and long hair, baking bread, and birthing a baker’s dozen kids. You served in the church nursery and led a Bible study for stay-at-home-moms. You obeyed your husband and your elders and pastors. You kept your mouth shut so as not to break the rule about being a dripping faucet or a whiny wife or a rebellious Jezebel. Because, as a woman, those were your only two options in that club. Gold star quiet, obedient (to all the men in the club) woman OR rebellious Jezebel. There was no middle ground like, say, Esther, Ruth, Lydia, Priscilla, or Deborah, to name a few.

As long as you fit their mold and got under their control, you were in like Flyn. But if you dared to open your mouth to call attention to sin or corruption in your marriage or your church, your head would roll. They’d jump all over you with accusations of being bitter, angry, unforgiving, deceived, rebellious, unsaved, and so forth. I’ve talked to literally hundreds of women who have gone through this.

When this happens, it’s your wake up call that the church environment you thought was healthy is actually covering up a thick, toxic lie. Exclusive environments like this use bully tactics, disrespect, and shame to maintain control over the lives of human beings who were created to rest in freedom. Jesus never modeled this. Satan models this. Satan has a big foot in the local church, and he’s laughing his fool head off at how everything is upside down. Abusers are coddled and fawned over (poor little abusers) while victims  who have to make the painful decision to escape their abusive marriages and file for divorce are consequently turned out of the church with no financial assistance, no help for their children, and no emotional or spiritual support for their difficult future as a single parent mourning the loss of her life. Divorcing an abusive spouse is often a long, drawn out nightmare in which the children are caught in the crosshairs of one parent who is using them to manipulate the abuse target and another parent who is desperately trying to protect them from the abuser’s manipulations. The church Club’s response to this situation is to forbid divorce and try to threaten and manipulate the abuse target to get back into her abusive situation or God will reject her. They instill fear and a deep sense of betrayal in that woman, thereby causing repeat trauma that she will spend a lifetime dealing with on so many levels.

I wonder what Jesus thinks of this behavior?

Too many churches are invested in self-preservation, covering up cesspools of evil that destroy human lives. Toxic communities control with many unwritten rules. Spiritually toxic communities control with rules, too, but they claim their rules are God’s rules.

You need to know that just because someone says they are a follower of Jesus and SAYS they are glorifying God, doesn’t mean they are. A person’s or a churches habitual actions and character define them, not their words. Healthy trees bear healthy fruit. Sick trees consistently turn out sick fruit or no fruit at all. Bullies are liars. They throw sand at another child in the sandbox when the teacher isn’t looking, and when the victim tells on them, they lie and say it was the victim’s fault. A lazy, apathetic teacher will blame the victim for tattling, and the bully knows this. It’s a perfect world for a bully. The church is the perfect front for an abuser.

So what should we do when we are surrounded by individuals who are only content as long as they can control the lives of others? We walk away. It’s as simple as that. We say, “I don’t trust you, and I don’t need your lies in my life and your sand in my eyes. So long.” And we go find another sandbox to play in. You see, the world is a big, big place, and your church is just a drop in the bucket of humanity. The opinions of the controlling individuals in your life are just that. Opinions held by a small minority of people who desperately need help for their own pathology.

If you’ve been categorized as a rebellious Jezebel for staying safe by separating or divorcing your abusive spouse, you can rest assured that Jesus Christ is FOR YOU. He loves you completely and unconditionally. I’m sorry that some of those who claim to be His people do not act like Him. They don’t represent Him. He isn’t like them, and it’s important for you to separate them and their view of you from Christ and His view of you.  This is one of the biggest pieces of shrapnel to dig out of your heart.

Not all Christians behave like that. There are many Christians who refuse to control others and instead focus on self-control. Many Christians WILL have compassion on you. They WILL listen to understand, and they WILL support you on your road to recovery.

You are in the game, and you are an important player. Your experience is real, and your voice matters. There are a few haters in the stands who do nothing more that criticize the active players. The ground breakers. The warriors who fight against all odds. Stop looking at the haters and weighing their opinions. You keep your eyes on your Captain, Jesus Christ. Focus on Him, and fight for freedom and justice.

Here is a quote from Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly.

“Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.”

So – if obeying a bunch of rules is not the move here – what is? What does it look like to have an authentic faith in Jesus Christ?

Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.

John 15:4

At first this might sound like to-do with a warning. “Unless you do A – B will not happen. SO DO A!”

But you know what? When you are a child of God, A (abiding) is the natural byproduct. You can’t HELP but remain in Him, because HE KEEPS YOU THERE.

This is where we get stuck. We think it all depends on what we, ourselves do. We have to “abide.” So what does “abide” mean?

Going to church? Reading our Bible for 15 minutes a day? No, wait – is it 30 minutes a day? Of if you are a beginner, maybe 5 minutes a day? Praying with the ACTS method? (Make sure you do the adoration and confession first or God won’t take you seriously when you get to the supplication part.) Being part of a small group at church? Remembering to think godly thoughts throughout the day? Never getting fed up with your kids? Never getting fed up with your narc spouse or parent?

Maybe just sitting in a chair with a peaceful smile on your face saying “om” over and over?

Yeah, that’s not Christianity. Christianity is living by the law of LOVE, and Jesus was our example. He was the ultimate Abider.

You know what He did? It’s super simple.

He lived.

He was the Son of God, and all He did was live. He ate, slept, drank, watched his dad work, helped his mom, loved his siblings, took care of things, took care of his body, and stood up for the marginalized, disenfranchised rejects of the world.

He told the truth about himself and about false authority, and that got him killed.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matt. 11:28-30

Is the yoke you are bearing easy? Is your burden light? If it’s not, you are not carrying the yoke and burden of Jesus Christ. You are carrying a yoke and burden put on you by man.

You can’t fly free under that, sister. How about dropping the yoke of man and abandoning yourself to the yoke of Christ? He is waiting with open arms to carry you into freedom.

He wants you to have it so bad – He died to give it to you.

To “abide” simply means to live. To “abide” in Christ, simply means to “live” in Christ. To BE in Christ. That’s it. Super simple.

So simple, we throw it out the window at the first opportunity to PROVE our devotion with some kind of measurable yardstick.

Maybe it’s time to throw the yardstick out the window?

(Read the gospels)

As a child of God, you are simply to live the life you were given as Christ lived the life HE was given. Speaking truth. Being authentic. Living in love. Helping those who can’t help themselves.

The only work we are required to do is the work in front of us at any given moment. The person in the room with us is our work. The food in the pot in front of us is our work of love. The paperwork at our desk is our work of love. All we do belongs to Jesus.

Living the law of Love requires faith. There are no black and white, rigid rules to follow. We make decisions at any given moment based on what LOVE is. Jesus modeled that and taught that over and over.

You are not a perfect specimen. There are good parts to you. There are bad parts to you. Strengths and weaknesses. You live your life knowing that the Holy Spirit of Jesus is in and around you. You will never be righteous enough no matter how hard you work. That’s not our job – to work at our own righteousness. The miraculous, incredible inheritance you have RIGHT NOW is that HIS righteousness is imputed to you!!

Amazing grace!

If you’ve lived under the bondage of the law for a long time, this will seem foreign and even “unbiblical” compared to the “biblical” rules you so meticulously followed. The problem with those man-made rules is this: who gets to decide where all the lines are drawn? You? Me? Your pastor? An author? Your husband? Your mom?

Everyone has their own standards and convictions. One of my dearest friends abandoned me and wouldn’t let her daughter come to our home to visit my daughter. (Our daughters were 17 years old at the time and have been friends most of their lives.) Why? Because I was getting divorced. That’s her standard. Not Christ in me, but rather my marriage status. Love? No. That’s law.

Here’s another example. A law-based family wouldn’t let their son work on his school project with my son (they were working on a group assignment where everyone had to contribute for one grade) because it was Sunday. No working on Sunday. So my son had to do the entire assignment by himself – and they both got full credit for it.

Love? Nope. Law again.

I’m sure you have examples of how LAW trumped love in your own relationships. Jesus never let law trump love. He healed on the Sabbath. He and His disciples ate grain they gleaned from the fields on the Sabbath. He talked to Samaritan women and drank from their cups. He spoke hard words to religious leaders and was accused of having a demon. He spoke kindly to a woman accused of adultery when the law said she. Had to be stoned.

All because of love.

He loves you that way. Oh, if only I could get this from your head into your heart. I spent most of my life begging God to get this from my head to my heart, and you know what happened? I lost everything and everyone important to me – and only had Jesus left! That’s when it clicked into place. I had spent my life living by the law, not to win the love of Jesus. But to win the love of HUMAN BEINGS! To win their acceptance and approval and love!

So the law as defined by those closest to me at any given time was my measuring stick. Oh, tragic loss of years. Futile chasing after wind.

Someone recently asked me if trusting God meant she should sit and wait for Him to move in her life, or if she should take action.

Many of us stay in our destructive relationships because we are genuinely trusting God to move in a powerful way. We trust He sees us and hears our cries for help, and that one day He will set us free.

Is that bad?

Women who choose to leave often hear others rebuking them, saying, “You didn’t trust God. You took matters into your own hands rather than trusting God in your suffering.”

Is that right?

Let’s deconstruct this a little and see if we can get some clarity.

First of all, as a CHRIST follower, our focus is on CHRIST. Not people. We have His Holy Spirit living in us. We have His mind in us (I Cor. 2:16). It’s when we take our eyes off Him that we start to feel a bit dizzy, like Peter in the raging sea, and we begin to sink in despair.

Religion likes to have everything black and white. But a Christ follower lives a life of FAITH, and that requires an organic wisdom from His Spirit as we navigate different life experiences. This is part of what He tried to teach us when He demonstrated over and over that LOVE trumps LAW.

This means that sometimes, God may want us to wait on Him (lots of examples of this in the Bible.) And sometimes God may want us to step out in faith and take action. And there are lots of examples of this in the Bible. How do when know when is what and which is when? Faith.

And guess what pleases God more than anything else in the universe? Faith. (Hebrews 11:6)

One of the most incredible opportunities abuse survivors have is to exercise faith in the middle of an extremely confusing, satanic attack, shrouded by lies and misinformation and human mistakes

In other words, when you come out of this crucible, you will come out GOLDEN. Strong and bright. A true daughter of the King. A true sister of Christ.

It’s like the ugly duckling story. You are surrounded by ducks and chickens, and you don’t fit in. By comparison, you feel ugly and small. But when you grow up into your own, you will find your people. The swans. And you will discover the beautiful creature God created you to be. You are not alone.

Don’t trust yourself. But trust the Holy Spirit in you to direct your paths. He may be telling you to “wait” right now. He may be preparing you for the next step. Or maybe you are feeling that strong sense of “NOW, My Daughter!” and you know you must move in an area. You are afraid, but you know He is pressing you.

Susan David says “Courage is fear walking.” It might be time to gather up the courage God gives you in the middle of your fear and start walking.

By faith.

And when others start meddling (and they will), you just tell them, “I’m keeping my eyes on Jesus. He’s got me, thank you.” And you keep waiting or moving, depending on what He is impressing on your heart.

If your decisions lead you down a dark path, that doesn’t mean you did the wrong thing. Often the best choices are the hardest roads to walk. Not always, but often. You take the jump because you must, and you know He will catch you. He will always catch you. Even if you make a mistake.

That is what it is to trust God.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” Matt. 11:28-30

Thank you for joining me today. Until next time, fly free.


  1. Avatar

    Are other women having anxiety, depression & just basically “dead inside” about attending church – any church?
    Thank you – so glad to have found this very helpful information!

  2. Avatar

    This is a great reminder Natalie.
    Who do I listen to, man or God?
    You often mention part of your recovery was reading the book of John.
    I watched a youtube movie yesterday on this.And you followed up today with this encouraging message.
    God is on my side – what a relief to know how much I am loved.

    • Avatar

      Too funny- Never had a hubby, so I didn’t think that this site would be for me. Turns out that all of my relationships to churches have been…..TRAUMA BONDING. I’m 66. Thanks for the podcast Natalie- I never had the right category to put all of my handwringing in.I thought it was because I thought the male pastors were emotionally unaware and I judged them as stupid. I was being played in every church to believe whatever the heck THEY believed. I can see clearly now. Freedom lies in Christ alone.

      • Natalie Hoffman

        Wow, that is fascinating. I’m so glad this has been helpful for you! We were all created to be FREE and to fulfill our destiny in Christ. Both male and female.


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