Sometimes, when I share my blog posts, I receive comments that I find heartbreaking, such as “I’ve tried praying, but I can’t feel God’s presence or sense He is answering… I don’t know what I’m doing wrong… I’ve given up”.
I know that these are sincere, open-hearted, genuine people, but very sadly, some of them have received judgment and even condemnation when they’ve dared to express themselves honestly about this issue. They fear they’ll be accused of not having enough faith, or of harbouring some secret, unconfessed sin or be told to fast more or “try harder”. Sometimes, other well-meaning souls will inform them that they shouldn’t try to “feel” God’s presence at all, but to content themselves with an intellectual knowledge of His existence.
However, none of these responses takes into consideration the context in which these individuals find themselves: each of them has suffered tremendous spiritual abuse at the hands of a toxic Cult or a religious High Control Group. Imagine if you’re speaking to someone who has been sexually abused; wouldn’t it be understandable if they then go on to struggle with intimacy?
In a similar way, many victims of spiritual abuse find it incredibly difficult to pray, because so many things that are related to prayer are now emotional and intellectual triggers, leading to confusion, soured memories and great pain…. Initially, we close our hearts in order to protect them, but sometimes we end up shutting them up altogether…
Many cults equate the group with God himself, as they presume to speak for him and dictate every detail of people’s lives. This means that even things like God’s name or the question of who to pray to can be very difficult for those who have left. People who have stayed in the group may accuse us of turning our backs on our Creator, and we want to assure them that this is NOT the case, but untangling who God really is can take time and isn’t easy.
I do not claim to have all the answers to these difficult questions; it’s taken me a long time to pen these words, as I have no solution to offer, no magic words or silver bullet.
However, what I can say is that after traumatic experiences and great disappointment, our spirituality often changes, maturing and becoming less dogmatic and closed minded. Our heart is stretched to breaking point, now able to stand in compassion alongside other victims of abuse.
In fact, none of us has the right to stand up like a Pharisee and tell other people how to pray or what they’re doing wrong. When someone shares with us that they’re having trouble praying, we don’t need to “fix” them; it’s better just to listen with grace and mercy, not “helpful tips”, advice or criticism.
If the opportunity seems right, other people may be encouraged to hear of our own spiritual journey towards Christ. It’s probable that we’ve all experienced times of dryness in prayer, when we’ve had to press on despite not feeling God’s presence or peace. As Jesus walked through the desert for 40 days, we also follow a similar path at certain points in our lives.
Having the courage to say: “I find prayer hard” is an enormous step. We need to know the encouragement of other people on the same journey in order to stay sane. Christianity is a “team sport”, in that we were not designed to sit alone, struggling in silence.
The Christian Koinonia Support Group (Spiritual Abuse Recovery) and “Faith after Deception Fellowship” Facebook groups are safe spaces, where we can all share openly and receive comfort and support. They are not places to fight or argue with others about doctrinal issues, but a place for encouragement and compassion. [NOTE: Faith After Deception does not operate the Christian Koinonia Group.]
If you haven’t already, we’d love you to join us, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, please feel free to send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You are not alone!