How Do I Center Myself in God?

Hi friend, 

I'm traveling for two weeks to Nashville for the AACC conference, Canada, and then Chicago. I'm having some computer problems (and you know me and tech), so couldn't write a new blog for this week. 

But a chronic problem in growing our spiritual life and our emotional and mental health is the lies we've been told, especially about God. 

In this repeat blog question, I want you to pay attention to the fear and control tactics this woman's church uses to maintain “power over” her. They pressure her using the Bible to do what they believe is right, yet ignore the impact his sinful patterns have had on her and their marriage. They ignore the damage it's done to their marital trust and her safety. 

Is she not important to God? Just the marriage? 

Her healing begins when she begins to believe she IS important to God. She matters to him, and therefore, she must learn to matter to herself. What might be possible if just that one thing changed? And she began to use her God-given brain, with the Holy Spirit to discern what was good and right for her next step. 

If you have trouble understanding spiritual oppression or coercive control, I'd recommend watching the documentary Shiny Happy People. It's time women experience themselves as capable adults whom God equally loves as men are. Women too are his image bearers and co-labors in his Kingdom. 

Question: I have been in an abusive and controlling marriage for what I will count as 33 years, as that is the place we were at when my husband’s pornography addiction became exposed.

For the last 2 years, we have been separated, though living in the same house. I’ve been trying to process and work through issues and have not left because of fear of many things, one being church discipline. I have been hammered about how disobedient I’m being because I am keeping my distance and have not hopped right back in the bed with him.

My husband was always angry and yelling and condemning. I got my view of God through him so I always carried around a tremendous amount of guilt and shame and saw God as a hard task master, with a very heavy yoke, a God who was always “out to get me”, who was waiting to hammer me for any sin.

My marriage has been bondage, a prison, as I succumbed to my husband’s headship that has been without love, so much so that I submitted to him cutting our first born daughter off for 15 years now because she left the household and got married against our blessing. She saw what I could not see and got out. Now that I’ve processed the deception and abuse (your book was very enlightening and relatable) that I’ve lived under and in for 33 years, I came to see that my view of God has been wrong and where it came from. You state about living in the center of God’s love in your book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. I would like to know how to do that exactly.

I have read the Word, though inconsistently over the years, and have definitely cried out to Him almost constantly even though sometimes it was just “God, Help!” There is much more to my story I could tell you but feel time doesn’t allow currently. Can you clarify or help me understand how to live in the center of God’s love?

I also have a second question: does staying in the marriage and rebuilding it absolutely HAVE to take place because the spouse is repentant (seemingly) and stopped doing porn and yelling? I’ve been told that I do not have biblical grounds to begin with and also that because he is repentant, that I cannot divorce, that I have to stay in the marriage, although there is no love or respect or trust or communication.

Answer: I am so sorry for all you have been through. It sounds like you’ve not only gotten a harsh legalistic dictator view of God from your husband, but also from your church through the way they have handled your husband’s problem with you. You ask some tough questions and I’m not sure I will be able to adequately answer both of your questions in this one blog, but I will give it a try and invite others to share their journey with you as well.

How do you center yourself in God and his love? That is a great question and I’m not sure I have the answer. John, the apostle and one of Jesus closest friends said it best when he wrote, “We have come to know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16).

That tells me that learning to trust God’s love – to rely on it fully, is a process and not a once-and-done event. John said we have come to know, and come to rely on it. There must have been times when John didn’t rely on it or know it as fully as he did when he wrote his letter.

What a relief! If someone who actually walked and talked with Jesus in the flesh didn’t always “feel” it or “trust” then maybe God isn’t so disappointed with you and me when we struggle with it too.

I think one of your biggest obstacles in “relying” on God’s love for you is that you’ve been taught that it’s conditional. If you mess up, or make a mistake, if you don’t get it right, or make a bad choice, God’s love for you will stop.

You’ve been told you’re a bad wife or a bad Christian and felt rejected and cast away by your spouse and your church. That may be your experience with the people who were supposed to represent God to you, but that behavior is not reflective of God’s love. God’s love never fails. His love is never based on our behavior – good or bad. He doesn’t love those who get it right better than those of us who don’t get it right.

The Bible tells us that while we were still sinners – when we were at our worst, God loved us (Romans 5:8), and Jesus tells us that the Father loves us as much as the Father loved him (John 17:23).

There is great comfort in knowing that God loves us because he is God and not because we’re worthy or deserve it. It is in God’s nature to love, therefore, He cannot NOT love us. There is nothing you can ever do to earn or deserve God’s love, and there is nothing you can ever do to lose or lessen it.

The love of God is active, relentlessly pursuing you, seeking your good, fighting for your eternal well—being.

His love is perfect and sufficient, never more and never less than it always is (Romans 8:31-39).

The reality and security of God’s love does not depend upon us at all. God doesn’t love us just the way we are; he loves us despite the way we are.

This kind of love is too good to be true. It’s such unspeakably good news it’s hard to put our mind around it let alone our heart. If we could rely on that kind of love for us, we would feel peace and joy. We would feel as secure as a child wrapped snug at her mother’s breast. But we don’t grasp His great love for us most of the time. Not that we don’t want to, but it’s hard to believe that the good news is really that good.

When asked by followers what they must do to do the work of God, Jesus answered them by saying that the work is to believe (John 6:29). And, it is hard work. However, once we do the work to believe, the rest comes fairly easily.

So what are some specific things you could to do the work to believe, even just a little bit? Jesus says we don’t need a lot of faith, just a tiny bit, the size of a mustard seed can be sufficient. My pastor once said if you have strong faith in weak ice and go running out in the middle of an icy pond with great faith that it will hold you, it won’t. Not because you don’t have enough faith but because your faith is in a weak object.

However, if you have weak faith in a strong object, it doesn’t matter how tentatively you crawl out on a strong piece of ice, it will hold you. It holds you up because it is a strong object, not because of your strong faith.

What could you do today to put a tiny bit of faith in God’s powerful love for you? What small steps could you take this week to walk that faith out – tentatively, haltingly, having weak faith but trusting a strong, capable God?

Your second question – has a lot to do with the first problem. Jesus tells his followers, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.” Your church is telling you that you do not have Biblical grounds for divorce. That’s debatable and not everyone agrees on biblical justifications for divorce. But the error your church is making with you even with the set of beliefs they hold is they put the emphasis on obedience without helping you to know and love God.

The Bible says, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). As our hearts are centered in God’s love, we begin to love him back in humble gratitude that God would love us that much.

And as we love him first and most, of course we want to obey him, whatever that looks like in our particular situation.

We are not capable of obeying God on our own. The Jews could not with the Jewish law and Christians’ cannot without the love of God and the Holy Spirit’s help.

So, friend for now, it’s important that you realize God is pursuing you. People don’t naturally have any desire to center themselves on God or his love unless God is drawing them to himself. Your question reflects your desire and so fling yourself upon him for help, wisdom, and strength and he will show you his love.

Once you get that in perspective, you will be much more equipped to deal with the marriage question from a position of wisdom, courage, grace, and strength.

In closing, let me share with you an old hymn that was running through my mind as I wrote this blog. We don’t sing hymns much anymore but it starts with the words, “Jesus I am resting, resting, in the joy of what thou art. I am finding out the greatness of thy loving heart.”

To listen to it click here

Friends, share with us how you have come to know and rely on the love God has for you.

13 Comments

  1. Laura Petherbridge on September 21, 2023 at 8:22 am

    Sweet Sister in Christ, I used to work in divorce recovery ministry and I was appalled at the things the Church would do to the one who WANTED the marriage but the spouse wouldn’t stop sinning. So my heart aches for you. PLEASE find a women’s bible study that is focused on the subject Leslie describes. Fortunately, there are many of them today. You need to discover your Daddy, your Abba. I walked in legalism for MANY years, but God wouldn’t stop pursuing me to know him as my Daddy. When that happened the floodgates opened.THIS is the abundant life Jesus describes. Go find other women who are learning this alongside you. Your church can not provide this. They dont believe it themselves. My heart is with you, Laura Petherbridge

    • Amy Jo McMorrow on September 21, 2023 at 11:27 am

      💖

  2. Stacy on September 21, 2023 at 9:20 am

    It’s interesting how the church or pastor will focus on the compliant spouse, not the dominant spouse. It’s easier for them. They don’t want to confront the dominant spouse with their sin as that WILL get very messy…. serious consequences for those that address the reall issue. Whereas, you address the compliant spouse, it makes them feel better, like they are doing something to help them stay together. Very twisted theology. God said we are to address the sin. Period. Abuse is grounds for divorce. Hopefully this mother is able to reunite with her daughter and apologize.

  3. Beth Bingaman on September 21, 2023 at 9:23 am

    I know there are many who do not agree but I believe that a man who gets sexual pleasure/satisfaction from a woman who is not his wife has committed adultery. It does not matter if she is physically present or on a screen. This is grounds for divorce. Many churches do not believe this but the Bible is clear (Matthew 5:28).

  4. Marie on September 21, 2023 at 9:52 am

    I’m so sorry you are living in this . I pray you can have distance from him to stop the influence he has . You need to renew your mind and heart in God’s word , fill it with truth of who God is and who you are , His beloved . I can so relate . We are just dissolving a 35 year marriage . My husband was a pastor and no interventions from our church ever addressed his sin. It was all toward me to try harder to be what he needed. After crying to God to show me truth and then finding this site , my eyes were opened . I agree you need support from loving, wise women and the Word in your heart daily , to know the truth rather than lies that have been in your thinking about God and you . We can do this with the truth that will set us free, Jesus is truth.

  5. Linda Becker on September 21, 2023 at 10:49 am

    “Is she not important to God? Just the marriage? “
    This question hit me with such truth! Why do churches prioritize the marriage over the individual? I stayed in an abusive marriage much longer than I should have. It did untold damage to my children and myself! It is taking years for God to “renew my mind” and believe that I am not a useless , unlovable person. I wish I hadn’t blindly accepted the misconception that since “God hates divorce” I should believe my ex husband’s lies about me and allow myself to sink into despair. Praise God I am set free.

  6. Pam Hollis on September 21, 2023 at 11:14 am

    Yes! What Leslie & Laura have said!

    Many of us are walking alongside you on this painful path, faith shaken, expectations shattered, like those two familiar disciples on the Road to Emmaus. But because the never failing love of God pursues us the way it pursued those two on that first Easter? 1 John 4:16 has proved to be true again and again–in spite of our grief & loss & confusion– perhaps even because of it :

    “We have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us… ”

    Leslie writes about the process that clarified our perceptions and transformed the way we chose to respond to what was happening. Laura (above) writes about the community in which this process often takes place. Some of us found community with Leslie and other women online, in groups at local domestic violence shelters, and in Christ centered 12 step programs. Isolated as many of us had become, we discovered it doesn’t take a whole lot of people for community to happen– and that it often happens unexpectedly, in secular as well as sacred settings. We refused to let ‘bad church’ stop us from looking elsewhere for what we needed because–

    “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name [because they are MINE! And My followers]” Jesus says, “I Am with them, among them; I Am there, in their midst right in the middle of what’s happening!” ~ Matthew 18:20 amplified by multiple versions

    Courage dear heart! It’s an oh-so-very-brave step to put your pain into words– especially when you can’t understand what God is doing and wonder Who He is. It’s all about the process Leslie writes about, and telling our story is the way many of us began. The very same thing happened to those two disciples on the way to Emmaus and you can read about their surprising encounter with the resurrected Jesus in Luke 24:

    The way these two talked about what had happened (v. 1-12).
    The way Jesus comes alongside them incognito, inviting them to tell their story–but preventing them from recognizing Him (v. 16-19). And they do.
    They tell Jesus how their expectations had been shattered, how their hopes had been crushed (v.19-24) and Jesus sees them, knows them, and loves them just as they are– sad, foolish, and slow to believe (v.25).
    [shock] Instead of punishing their unbelief by withdrawing or holding Himself aloof from them, the resurrected Christ comes close (v.26-27) explaining the necessity of His suffering and interpreting all the Scriptures concerning Himself (John 16:13). And after several hours walking alongside the unrecognized Jesus, as the Word of God is made understandable, something totally unexpected happens! As they draw near to their destination and Jesus acts as if He were going to go on without them, they “strongly urged Him” [begged, pleaded, insisted, held Him back, pressed Him warmly, constrained, compelled Him] to remain with them –and He does! (v.29)
    Before the healing happens or the answer comes; before the solution presents itself and things ‘make sense’. Even before we recognize Him for Who He is– Jesus, the Living Word of God, is at work inside our pain, transforming the desires of our hearts.

    Have courage! Take heart! There are many of us in process on the Road to Emmaus, You are not alone! There’s fellowship in this furnace because the God of Hope Himself is with us in the fire, showing us His hands & His feet (v. 40) setting our hearts ablaze with the Living Word of God! (v. 32, 44-45). Have courage! Take Heart! Don’t settle for simple survival. Don’t give up on JOY! (v.41, 52).

    [Shock & awe] There are many unexpected oaks hidden inside the acorn of our pain– not the least of which is joy & peace! (Romans 15:13; Nehemiah 8:10) Don’t give up until you find them!
    .

    • JoAnn on September 22, 2023 at 6:21 pm

      Very beautifully expressed, Pam. Thank you.

  7. JoAnn on September 21, 2023 at 11:21 am

    Probably the most powerful aspect of God’s love for us is the fact that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) To know and experience God’s great love for us, is to know the freedom He purchased for us on the cross: freedom from guilt and shame. Therefore, it is also important for us to apply God’s forgiveness to any guilt or shame in our hearts over sins we have committed. Having a clean conscience brings us closer to Him and allows us to have a sweet, intimate relationship with Him. To receive and apply God’s forgiveness to us and then in turn, forgive others for sinning against us is powerful, liberating. To enjoy a closer relationship with the Lord, we might need to do some “house cleaning” first. Spend some time each day reading your Bible and getting to know our wonderful triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As you read, He might touch you about someone you need to forgive, or some sin you need to confess. Just take care of it right then and there. This will bring you closer to God, to enjoy His great love for you.

  8. Connie on September 21, 2023 at 11:50 am

    I tried to convince myself for a long time that God loves me. You know, memorize verses, read books, etc. One day I looked in the mirror and asked Him how He felt about me. Then I wandered off and left the question with Him.
    When you want to know how another person feels about you, you just hang out, right? You will know, and there is nothing you can add to what He has done. If you divorced 15 men, He would still meet you at the well.

    If committing adultery with hundreds of women online isn’t grounds for divorce, I don’t know what is. I pray that you are able to divorce that so-called church .

    • JoAnn on September 21, 2023 at 3:37 pm

      Good points, Connie. “Committing adultery with hundreds of women online” is definitely grounds for divorce (See Matt. 5:28).

  9. Janelle on September 21, 2023 at 2:13 pm

    Dear friend, your hearts desire is so beautiful. I’ve been in a similar situation for 20 yrs. God started an amazing work in my heart a few years ago when I was challenged to “take every thought captive” I asked God to show me every time I spoke a negative thought to myself what was not in agreement with how He sees me. ( and if you want to dig deeper, ask God when you first agreed with that lie that satan whispered to you about who you are, and confess and forsake that agreement with the enemy of your soul) When He reminded me, I caught myself, and asked Him what He would say to me in that situation, and I listened for His answer. Sometimes it came later that day, but it was always something very personal and special to me- in a song, a bible verse, nature, or something a friend said. It took several years to get to a place where I rarely speak negatively to myself or hold things against myself after I have confessed them, because He promises if I confess and forsake my sin, he is gracious to forgive me, and He knows better than I do, so who am I to say I’m not forgiven when He says the price was paid for by His son! Praying, dear friend that you can stand true and firm to what God shows you regarding your situation too. He is faithful to lead you and guide you if you seek His face and ask Him, and then do what He calls you to do, regardless of what others say who don’t understand or have the full picture. Truth will prevail. Gods got your back, dear sister. I highly encourage you to dig into His word daily, and cover yourself with what He says to you in scripture too. (not what others say regarding scripture by twisting it and using it to condemn you.) Hugs and prayers, dear friend!

  10. Jo on September 22, 2023 at 1:17 pm

    I’m so sorry you have endured the abuse you are experiencing for so long. I’ve been where you are and can say you no longer need to. I stayed in a toxic marriage for almost fifty years and agonized the last five over ending it, only to realize that he ended the marriage years ago. I love marriage and deeply believe in it, and I wanted ours to be a light to a lost world through ours. I could write a book on the emotional roller coaster I lived on for those years and the effects it had and still has on me, and now see some of the impact it had on our children. I take great comfort in knowing that God loves me and cares how I have been treated. It has been two years since my divorce, and some days, I still feel lost as to what to do and how to feel, BUT I have not once doubted if I did the right thing by “legally” ending the abusive marriage. Knowledge was vital for me, God’s word, women like Leslie, and men like Wayne Grudem, a theologian who has taken a stand for a third reason for divorce. I would suggest his book “Divorce and Remarriage,” it gave me the knowledge I needed to stand on biblically. I pray you will be strengthened emotionally and be able to remove all the negative voices to make the right decision to stay or leave.
    Blessing! Jo

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