My first marriage taught me that I couldn’t trust God. After all, I prayed for my ex-husband extensively and nothing ever happened. He must be one of the most prayed for humans on the planet since my mother spent a lot of her prayer time having a go at him as well. Because my prayers didn’t work and God did not change my ex from a narcissistic abuser into a good guy, I lost my trust in a God who changed people. I didn’t pray for people for a long time. I didn’t think it would do any good.
Abuse taught me not to trust myself. To stay in an abusive relationship takes a lot of self-deception. I rarely see this mentioned in the literature about domestic abuse, but the reason I couldn’t trust myself is that I lied to myself all the time. I lived in a perpetual state of denial, and the lies I told myself often contradicted each other. He will change. If I am good enough, he will change. His abuse isn’t so bad. I can handle it. I’m doing the right thing for the kids.
The gaslighting didn’t help either. My ex used to tell me that I was a pathological liar. He would do something inexcusable but I would dutifully shield him with a lie and then he would tell me I was crazy. Everything was turned upside down.
Of course, each was a lie designed to keep me from taking responsibility for myself instead of him. I took constant responsibility for him, apologizing for him, explaining away his behavior, and defending him to the world. I couldn’t trust people because I couldn’t be trusted! I showed the world what I wanted it to see. And my trust had been so betrayed by a husband turned enemy that I don’t think I was even able to trust anymore.
You see, trust is a valuable commodity these days, and as Christians, we are often taught falsely that we cannot trust ourselves. We are taught to pray in a way that God will not answer and then we learn to distrust Him as well. I could pray for my narcissistic ex all I wanted, but God will not rescind His gift of free will. I wanted God to be controlling, but He is not.
Betrayal upon betrayal piles up and we rescind our trust of anyone and everyone. Friendships end, businesses fail, and people get ill. We lose our trust in the idea that life is good. And in the end, that can be a very lonely place to live. Our hearts long to find a safe haven in relationship.
Because trust is a refuge. Without trust, there is no peace, no sense of safety. But you see the reason we do not believe in trust anymore is that we take shelter in false refuges. A false refuge is a refuge created by our own mind and will to create a sense of comfort and protection outside of God. We are very good at justifying our false refuges as being from Him. And we are very creative in our building of them.
So how did I relearn how to trust God? And myself? By understanding what I need. I need protection. I need comfort. And value, purpose, love, power, well-being, affection, acceptance. I cannot be fulfilled unless I have someone who listens to me and understands me.
I used to think I didn’t need anything. After all, I could bury myself in a book and forget about everything. I could relax in a hot bath and push off the inevitable for at least half an hour. I thought getting my needs filled was hopeless so I gave up and called it surrender to God. I worked really hard to be approved of. I called my constant striving spiritual discipline. If we accept emptiness and call it surrender to God, we have turned Him into a false shelter.
I thought God was calling me to give up my needs. A God who calls you to pretend you don’t have deep needs is a false one. My revelation was that He wanted me to die to my sinful ways of meeting my needs so that He could fill them.
Here is where the rubber meets the road. Once our place of safety is exposed as a lie, we deny, minimize, blame others or rationalize it in order to hold on to that false refuge. And we all have more than one. A typical false refuge map looks like a road that travels from anger to self-defense to withdrawal and self-pity and then on to our favorite: addiction. Food, spending, television, romance novels, gossipy conversations… You name it. Each one masquerading as something that will fill you right up and then doesn’t.
And our disappointment in God and ourselves grows over time. We go to church, we pray for others, and we try to be good, not realizing that our hearts have become hardened over time to protect the aching, unfulfilled needs that wreck us from the inside out.
And the list of false refuges is so long! Here are just a few:
Fantasy, Indecision, Comparison, Victim Mentality
Indifference, Helplessness, Pride, Cynicism
Needing to be right, Denial, Control, Blame, Complaining, Being a Martyr
Food, Alcohol, Sugar, Drugs, Adrenaline, Caffeine
Busyness, Workaholism, Social Media, Cleaning, Perfectionism
I had to relearn what safety really is. My safety is in the Lord, in whom I have taken refuge. He will never let me be put to shame. I am in a game of chicken with myself. I leave my false harbors behind and then wait. Do I suffer? Yes. I have to admit to my need and feel it. But the freedom of leaving them behind is indescribable, particularly since it is the Lord who catches me mid-fall. I discover that He has not shut me out. I have been hiding out in my unsafe havens.
With the Lord, I can face the deep wells of need inside me and let Him touch each one, drawing them to the surface and healing the wounds. I relearned to trust God by forsaking my avenues of escape. I felt the pain of my need and invited Him in. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens.
I also relearned to trust myself by listening to the cries of my heart. My heart, where Jesus is enthroned. The whole time I was married to my ex, I knew that I was starving for freedom and for love. I was wrong to ignore my own grief and pain. The moment I began facing how I truly felt, began telling myself the truth, is the moment I began to trust myself.
None of my cisterns hold water. But it doesn’t matter because I have the river of life flowing out of me.
For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13
If you have not heard of Loren and Paula Sandford, you have not been exposed to some of the best inner healing material out there. This post came out of a teaching of theirs. I highly recommend you explore some of their books.
As an Amazon affiliate, any purchases you make may result in a small commission to me without additional cost to you.