I just returned from Lincoln, Nebraska from speaking there and planning our CONQUER Conference happening in just 7 weeks. It’s so exciting for me to see this coming together. We have some amazing workshop speakers and I would encourage you to consider joining us for this event. Click here to learn more.
I’ve asked another guest to share her story with you for this week. SK will be doing a workshop at our Conquer Conference. She has been through an ugly divorce and the battle continues to rage even though she is now divorced. She is going to share some of the lessons she’s learned about warfare, and especially what she’s learned from a Navy Seal.
Here is her story:
Journeying through difficult multi-year separation and divorce seasons with a destructive spouse, I’ve encountered the term “Warrior” from Leslie and others. I’ve wondered what it means to have a “Warrior Heart” in dealing with destructive people, without responding destructively? And how to step out of fear and anxiety into peace, courage, dignity, and wisdom, in the face of one who only wants war?
A recent guest post by Christian novelist Angela Strong, Battling for Peace with an Abusive Ex, posed a question:
“Friends, what kinds of things have you learned to do to have peace in your heart when there is still war around you?”
I’ve also sought answers to the moral dilemma Angela penned: “I still want peace…but I’ve realized that the Bible never says to KEEP the peace. It says to be a peace-MAKER. I’m going to make choices that will create peace in my own heart…I may never have peace with my ex, but I will have peace…”
Early in my divorce, I sought a peaceful settlement through ‘shuttled’ mediation and email contact with my then-husband. His replies, filled with blame, name-calling, denial, projection, twisted truths and outright lies, sent me reeling, as did his covert manipulation and triangulation with the mediator. He used my proposals as ammunition to fight harder against the offers of agreement I suggested. Rather than make counter-offers, he filed litigation to fight the proposals. Court filings contained similar accusations to his emails. I lived Psalm 120:6-7, “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war.”
As the divorce continued, my husband’s retaliatory behaviors escalated dramatically in intensity and frequency–covert psychological manipulation using the court, our teenage daughter, friends and family as weapons–increasing my sense of helplessness. I felt like he’d opened fire with an AK-47 and was shelling me with rockets and grenades. One of my pastors who’d traveled to Israel, shared with us news about a cell phone app in Israel that monitors active air missile strikes, alerts civilians of the estimated strike zone and a detonation time and provides a time interval for evacuation. When I heard that, I wished I had a warning app like that for impending abuse!!
I also read a few fiction books having characters in the U.S. military “Special Operations Forces,” the most highly trained, elite soldiers in each military branch (called Rangers, Raiders, Air Force Special Operations Command, and SEALS). I’d had no veterans or active military in my family, so this was my first exposure to these warriors, who are often assigned to the most dangerous missions. I wondered why these fictional accounts reminded me of so much of my life. I felt prompted to search out more on military training and combat. I found that a SEAL acronym for high-risk combat situations, “VUCA” (“Volatile, Complex, Uncertain, Ambiguous”) perfectly fit my regular experience with a destructive person.
During the divorce, I started my Conquer membership and one-on-one coaching with Leslie. She exhorted me that, while I didn’t need to stay in a destructive marriage or continue to expose myself to abusive behavior, I needed to become an “owner” rather than a victim. I held a lot of victim-based, self-limiting beliefs and learned helplessness embedded from childhood trauma. Overcoming them required learning what my counselor calls ‘radical acceptance’ of every situation, including numerous false accusations and financial strangulation tactics, no matter how hurtful. With help, I began to more quickly grieve my losses and rise above them. Out of desperation, I prayed for more of God’s guidance on how to be an “owner.”
First, God impressed upon me to stop my knee-jerk verbal and non-verbal outward expressions of frustration. I had to quit whining, complaining and making excuses. A seemingly simple but inwardly excruciating test, it forced me to examine my thinking, feelings, attitudes—and even more, my motives. When another person wasn’t changing or meeting my expectations, or when life didn’t go as I wanted or planned, I had to admit my disappointment and trust God had better ways than mine. Now, I still process my feelings about distressing things, but in healthy ways without reacting—helped by God, counselors, and a few trusted friends.
The next step: learn to accept myself while God made me aware of my own shortcomings like impatience, fear, self-rejection and resentment. I couldn’t make excuses or react anymore, so I had to ask for God’s help; this was not a self-help course. He had to re-make me in a ways only my Creator and Designer could. He revealed my entire belief system was faulty. I needed “heart surgery” to transplant my heart of fear and shame with a heart of courage. [The root of ‘courage’ is the French word for heart, ‘couer.’] Slowly, my beliefs about myself, God, and unfortunate people or events began to change. I became more patient and forgiving: first with God, myself, then others. I accepted being the mom of very confused kids and let go. I learned I’d unconsciously been a volunteer for abuse. I made choices to stop enabling it. Through grief work, I let go of resentment and grew more compassionate.
As time went on, I gained adaptive tools, unexpected resources and new strategies to overcome fear without reacting. For example, I learned when to take cover and care for myself. I grew to confidently stand my ground or let go; I discovered my courage to speak up in situations I never dreamed I’d be in; I also learned when to stay silent and/or practice “no JADE (justifying/arguing/defending/explaining)” when confronted by false or distorted accusations; and also how to “sidestep” manipulation; go “no-contact;” guard my heart; tend to my own wounds; expose truth when it’s hard; as well as how to love others and myself by boundary-setting and the authority of my ‘”no.”
Finally, I had to stop allowing other people and circumstances to define my values, identity and character. This involved assessing what I could and couldn’t change. I prayed the powerful Serenity Prayer often: “God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change what I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” God answered! I gained confidence that He’ll always provide options. Wisdom will come when I ask for it and wait for it (James 1:5). I began to take time to listen to God, listen to my own heart, and walk in obedience to that ongoing heart ‘conversation.’ As I did, I came to believe that, in any situation I face, I will have a path in which I can walk in victory and peace. Most importantly, I understood that my identity depends on what God thinks of me, not what others think.
My divorce finalized last year, but as I grew stronger and more independent, my former spouse’s destructive behaviors grew worse (very typical). Digging deeper about the military, I read real-life accounts, watched movies and interviews. Recently, I spoke with Retired Navy SEAL Officer Brian “Iron Ed” Hiner, who served in combat and as a Training Officer, then authored First, Fast and Fearless: How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL. According to Hiner, SEAL training is designed to stretch the belief systems of its participants far beyond their level of previously known capabilities. Trainees are routinely subject to what he called a “RAW Deal.”
For example, they’re sprayed in the face with high-pressure hoses and verbally harassed by instructors while performing extreme physical training. They’re disciplined for failures of teammates. They’re thrown to the bottom of pools, hands, and feet tied, required to unbind themselves or hold their breath while undergoing “pool harassment.” As I learned of these, I wondered, what’s the point of all this intentional harassment and abuse? How did it help one become an elite warrior? I’d unwittingly and involuntarily endured years of physical, verbal, and psychological intimidation and abuse. I’d gotten a lot more “Raw Deals” during my divorce. But these men sign up for it as a lifestyle. Why?
Hiner explained, “’RAW’ spelled backward is ‘WAR,’ and warfare is life. This understanding is basic, that you have to take action and not let the action take you.” He added that SEAL trainees have to learn “extreme ownership of the outcome” in order to pass (on average, 75% who try it don’t). There are “no excuses” for failure to achieve objectives; they have to admit their shortcomings and either learn to do it differently and better or get out. To join an elite combat team, “they have to decide they’re no longer a victim, keep moving forward no matter what happens to them or how they’re treated, and let their extreme hardship mold them into something special by mentally ‘reframing adversity,’” said Hiner. “Your life is your own…You define you…That’s what SEAL training does. You have to reframe the strength you have. When bad things happen, decide the past is all gone; it’s attached to a belief system. You have to find a path to change your belief system.”
I realized God’s already been teaching me some “Warrior” lessons Hiner described: be accountable for my own life; admit when I believe I’m getting a “Raw deal” and move beyond it; stop reacting out of my emotions or making excuses; capitalize on my strengths; reframe my adversity as a form of “warrior training.” God, the Master Trainer, has stretched me “far beyond my level of previously known capability” as I asked Him for help and guidance. As my Commander-in-Chief, He has higher, better ways than mine. All this helps define for me what it means to have a “Warrior Heart” and achieve peace in the midst of intense spiritual battle.
Paul admonished Timothy, “You, therefore, must endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3) and “train yourself to be godly. ‘Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.’…Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them” (1 Timothy 4:8). Military special operators learn to endure hardship for this world’s battles. God calls us to endure hardship, including finding the courage to seek freedom from destructive partners, as training for Kingdom warfare.
I love Psalm 18. David, who had the heart of a Warrior, the tender heart of a shepherd/poet/musician and a big heart for God, wrote, “For by you I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall…It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect…He teaches my hands to make war so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze…For You have armed me with strength for the battle; You have subdued under me those who have risen up against me” (Psalm 18:29,32,34,39).
Friends, how is God using your circumstances to stretch your beliefs beyond your current capabilities and train you as a Warrior for His Kingdom?
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