Implementing The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: Is It Worth Church Discipline? Pt. 3

Morning friends,

Thanks for your prayers. I have returned from Cuba a bit more exhausted than I wanted but the trip was amazing. The people were wonderful. They were so teachable, so anxious to gain more knowledge and skill in dealing with destructive marriages (which are plenty in Cuba). The living conditions in Cuba are what you would expect living in a Communist country. I’ve never had to live through a time where food was rationed, but most people in Cuba live on beans and rice as their staple meal – day in and day out. I ate more beans and rice in four days than I have ever eaten in my lifetime (or will eat again).   I’ve included some pictures for you, but if you want to see more, head over to my FB Fan page to check out the photos.

While on my FB Fan page, check out the blog I wrote called, Five Indicators of an Evil and Wicked Heart. Please share it with those you think would benefit from it. It’s a category of person that the church has been reluctant to acknowledge exists even though the Scripture is quite clear that they hide among the flock and do incredible damage.

This month we’ve been exploring the idea of our shadow self. Simply it is all the parts of “us” that we don’t know about. Everything about us that remains outside of our conscious awareness. Remember, self-awareness is one of the key components of good mental, emotional, spiritual and relational health. It’s important that we come to acknowledge and accept our good side – with its strengths, gifts, talents, as well as our ugly side with its sins, weaknesses, and brokenness. We are all both, not either/or.

Last week I asked you to pay attention to what draws you or repels you to others. Let’s look how that can help us see our shadow.   I’ll demonstrate by walking through a personal example. I’ll put the instructions in regular type, and my thoughts and feelings in italics.

1. Observe what’s bugging you most about this person. I’m really bugged by a person I know who whines and complains all the time. She never takes personal responsibility for her life, it’s always everybody else’s fault and she expects people to help her out or fix her problems. She exhausts me. She’s always got an excuse for everything. When you do this step, either journal or talk out loud to an imaginary friend about your experience in the third person. He did this. She said that… They are….etc. Don’t minimize your feelings, thoughts, or experience. Describe it as fully as you can and in as much detail as you can.

2. Next talk directly to that issue in the second person (you or yours) as if you are having an imaginary dialogue with that person or that experience.

ME: Why do you always expect everyone to help you out of your problems?

HER: It’s easier. I don’t want to have to figure everything out for myself. If others can help me, why wouldn’t I ask them?

ME: Don’t you feel ashamed or embarrassed to always be so dependent?

HER: No, it’s part of being human. I like it when people show they care about me when they help me out.

ME: Don’t you want to be stronger or more independent?

HER: Not really. I like being this way. It’s less work and I don’t have to worry about making a mistake or doing something that I am not equipped or prepared to do.

Use your imagination to think about what your person would say to you. Write it down. Allow yourself to be open to what comes. You may be surprised.

3. Now, shift your writing to 1st person (I, me, mine) and be the situation or feeling that you have been exploring.

ME: I want to be dependent and let others take care of me and do things for me instead of always having to strive to figure everything out for myself. I want to feel more love and care from other people when they help me.

Recognizing and owning the shadow: I see that I have disowned my dependent, “needy” self. I want to be taken care of and I rarely show that or ask others to care for my needs. The truth is: I am strong and weak, independent and needy.

Try it this week and let us know what you see.

Below is the third installment of a blog from a guest writer who is sharing her experience with us about being disciplined by her church for not being compliant with their counsel.





Implementing The Emotionally Destructive Marriage:
Is It Worth Church Discipline? Pt. 3

In the previous two blog posts, I’ve been explaining my response to a recurring situation that some women face in evangelical churches, that of disciplinary action taken when the woman begins to implement natural consequences as explained in Leslie’s book. After seven years of trying to understand and restore my marriage, I started to notice unfavorable themes in the words and actions of those in authority over me, despite their assurances that they loved me and “wanted the best” for me. These last three blog posts will deal with self serving ways our pastor-elders and my husband misused Scripture and the negative impact that had on my marriage and family.

There is a pervasive belief at our former church that right doctrine (thinking) necessarily will result over time in right (biblical) living. I heard this most clearly in a sermon series last summer about the church’s vision and values. The pastor was using Galatians 1:6 as his text, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–” to make his point that right doctrine prevents us from perverting the gospel of Christ.

As I mentioned later in a letter to the elders, I myself was astonished to observe in his usually deliberate and thorough exposition of scripture that the full-time pastor skipped over a key phrase at the beginning of verse 6, “him who called you in the grace of Christ.” Rhetorically Paul is saying that we turn to a different gospel not because our doctrine isn’t sound, but rather because we desert our relationship with God our Father. I disagreed with the pastor’s concluding point that right doctrinal thinking naturally results in right living before God. It’s not merely in our thinking but rather in our relating as a whole person to God that results in a life that reflects Jesus Christ.

Since the elders have validated that my husband is saved and he professes perfectly orthodox doctrine, my husband reasons that his good intentions (thoughts) can never be in conflict with his sometimes callous words, self-serving choices, and unloving behavior. This theological position allows him to dismiss as unwarranted any incongruity I point out between his intentions and outcomes – “I didn’t intend to hurt you, so what you see as a problem isn’t sin on my part.” If my husband’s motives are indeed pure, as he asserts, then the problem I’m seeing lies squarely with how I am perceiving things.

“You are not in a position to judge your husband’s heart,” the elder who gave us countless hours of marital counsel reiterated over and over from Matthew 7. I completely agree with that; however in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul exhorts believers to judge sinful actions of those who identify themselves with the Christian community. (I have in mind the idolatry of one’s own perspective, opinions, and self interest in my particular case, but there are other sins listed in this passage.) In other words, I cannot know the why of others’ actions, but I can with certainly perceive the what in terms of its impact on me and my family. I don’t need to spend time figuring out why my husband and this elder made the choices they did, but I do observe that they were both placing their interests over mine in specific ways. This resulted in my spiritual insight being trampled and their using my humble confessions to manipulate and attack me (again, from Matt. 7).

Out of all the men in authority over my husband at work and church over the years, only this counseling elder openly agrees with my husband. I observe that those who expressed disagreement initially in interacting with our situation didn’t follow through, even when I addressed each elder separately in a written communication, all have reputations to protect at the local seminary. I understand from other mixed group discussions with these men that the culture at the school is highly political, and appearances and interpersonal relationships are paramount to keeping one’s job there. The counseling elder admitted to having an over-much desire to please those in the academic world so that he can be widely published and well known.

I also observe that in the seven years we were active in this church, not one of these elders reached out to us in friendship after the initial getting-to-know-you period while we were becoming members. The counseling elder never invited us into his home for a meal, served alongside us in ministry, or lived life with us outside church functions in any way. While I cannot know for certain what was motivating their lack of involvement, it certainly wasn’t loving concern.

The passage that Leslie mentioned in Revelation speaks to the self-satisfied view of those in authority over me. The problem of one’s shadow lies not in being blind and naked but in where we seek pure gold, white garments, and eye salve from Rev. 3:18. These elders had arrived doctrinally and vocationally. My husband was obtaining his PhD in New Testament and was financially rich from selling the custom home we had built ourselves when we were on a church-planting team. Our current church leadership didn’t need genuine relationship from us, and not even my husband had any need for my input to see himself truly.

As soon as former friends and the previous pastor-employer began to critique my husband’s expressed viewpoint, though, we moved away and he would have nothing more to do with them. When another boss objected to my husband’s unwillingness to work cooperatively with him, my husband agreed to step down instead of adjusting his working relationship. Then as I started to point out how the pastor-elders and my husband were blind to how they were undermining our marriage, they exhorted me from scripture to be silent. It seems that the Lord was using various means to highlight their spiritual need, but because they refused to allow others to be a mirror of their attitudes and choices, they remain convinced that they’re fine.

Of course, I bring my own weakness and faults to the table, but I have been willing to accept hard truths about myself from scripture and others, even from my husband and these leaders. As I receive the gold, garments, and salve that God offers, I can stand firm in the assurance that, though not sinless, I am blameless in this situation.

Besides church discipline, the most pervasive form of attack I received from the elders was being excluded for several years from serving in any leadership role, except in the children’s area. Though I had led the women’s ministry alongside my husband when he was a pastor and had been asked to speak several times to the women of our previous congregation, I was not invited to provide any input nor teach the women in this church after appealing to the elders for help with our marriage. My husband said it was because I couldn’t “be trusted to lead other women when you don’t trust your own husband.” This kind of treatment did not demonstrate to me that the leadership was bearing with our struggles, believing the best about me, or hoping that our relationship would change for the better from 1 Corinthians 13, a passage with which I had been clobbered countless times. Instead, I felt like a second-class member, while my husband was teaching an adult Sunday school class, leading a small group, and starting a church-wide evangelist outreach.

When our family moved cross country for my husband to take a teaching position, I anticipated that agreeing on a new church was going to be a tedious process. I gravitated to a gospel-practicing church that had a strong emphasis on relationships and my husband preferred one that has the same doctrinal approach and culture as our last church. From the start my husband began to insist that the church I liked was “bad” and “damaging to our children.” The counseling elder from our former church felt that he still had the authority to require me to agree with my husband’s choice of church. He allowed my husband to insist on his own way, while requiring me “to influence him by means of your godly, submissive conduct (1 Peter 3:1-6)” and not to judge his willingness to repent and change from Luke 6:37-42.

I cannot know my husband’s or the church elders’ hearts truly, but I can truly object to how their self-serving decisions are still affecting me. Was the leadership justified in excluding our family from any community life outside official church activities? Why was my husband asked to serve in visible leadership roles, while I was relegated to serving behind the scenes in the children’s ministry (which is outside my interests and gifting) and with women one-on-one? Was my husband somehow more qualified to lead, though we share the same doctrinal convictions? Even when I ignored how my husband was failing to love me biblically and I pretended that everything was alright at home, my forbearance and patience weren’t acknowledged and supported, but expected. How can I be required to join a church that strongly resembles our former one?

Friends, from this blog, what is one of the most important things we must do if we want to “see” our shadow side? Why do you think many believers resist seeing it? 


  1. Pamela on January 21, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Shadowside: I’m a little slow on the uptake with this sort of stuff. I think I’m missing something… When we pay attention to what draws us or repels us to others and then talk or write it out in a dialogue– why should we assume that what we’re focusing on in someone else is also a part of *our* shadow side? I feel as if I missed a leap in logic and fell through a gap in my thinking somewhere along the way… Am I missing something?

    • Leslie Vernick on January 21, 2015 at 9:35 am

      Pam, I’m not saying we should assume it, but when we go through the exercise we will often “find” it. Not always but often, just as I found my dependent side, even though it didn’t show up in the same way as the person I was talking about had it. When Jesus says take the log out of your own eye, I think he was referring to our ability to “see” the speck in someone else’s eye because that trait is also within us in some way. The phrase “it takes one to know one” also reflects this truth that often the things that bug us the most about others are the things that bug us most about ourselves (if we’re willing to see them).

      • Pamela on January 23, 2015 at 3:11 am

        Thanks. That really helps. That was the missing piece I needed to understand.

  2. Lisa on January 21, 2015 at 8:40 am

    For me the most important thing I had to do when I asked the Lord to to do a work in me to “purge” me and make me whole was to humble myself before HIM. It was not always easy to accept what HE showed me about me, but I knew it was for good and to bring me to wholeness. I think it was a period of 2-3 years of work mostly done through dreams when I asked HIM to stop. I began dreading dreaming! Of course, the shadows that were showing me my good side I could receive non stop! It was my dark side that was hard to receive. Pride, fear, and lack of knowledge that we even have unknown parts to ourselves will block us from seeing and accepting our shadow sides. But, when a shadow side of ourselves is revealed and we accept it and incorporate it there is a healing that is palpable.

    • Leslie Vernick on January 21, 2015 at 9:33 am

      Lisa – thanks for your story. The shadow side is important to see, accept and incorporate it into your “view” of yourself because it contains important elements for your growth and healing. All shadows have a negative side just as all strengths have a negative side. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something positive about it as well. For example, if you see your proud self, the pride that you see might be a good pride that feels happy when you accomplish something worthwhile or meaningful but perhaps you never were allowed to feel that because “all pride is bad” So that because a hidden shadow. You may be repulsed by the negative aspects of pride, but by doing the exercise you may find out what are the important aspects.

      In my blog – I was repulsed by the negative side of “dependency” or “neediness” but there was an aspect of my humanness that I find difficult to accept and that is to “ask people for help”. So when I did that exercise it helped me acknowledge and accept I have a side that needs people to help me too sometimes and it feels good to allow that.

  3. Lisa on January 21, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Thank you for that reminder. And, I totally identified with your blog as well. Both the content and the method were revealing and really helpful. This is sooooo good!

  4. Alene on January 21, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I read recently that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”; not out of our mind. I sensed an important insight in that as the lady went on to share that that is why we sometimes can’t get right words out, we’re running into pride in our hearts, though our minds acknowledge what is right. (or self, or…). It would follow then that we can agree doctrinally in our minds but our hearts can be far from relational truth.

  5. Helen on January 21, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Thank you so much for taking the time to describe your experience with the leadership in your church. I can relate so closely to much of what you are saying. I am sorry for the difficulties you have encountered but applaud you for taking the time to think through the whole situation so carefully. God has gifted you with unusual, clarity, insight and discernment that has equipped you well for this situation. Have you had difficulty trusting church leadership because of your previous experiences? Any advice about how to address mistrust and fear of those who are in positions of authority over us as women, first in the home and then in the church? .

    • Guest blogger on January 26, 2015 at 11:20 am

      Helen, I would say I struggle against bitterness more than trusting church leadership. I have to confess and leave justice in the LORD’s hands nearly every day. After doing that, though, I’m at a place where I can evaluate and remember what choices I made that put me into that position. I’ve been very wary about choosing a different church in our new locale, being mindful of the warning signs of legalism, judgmentalism, and lack of biblical community I’ve seen in the past. I’ve gravitated toward a church that has God-honoring worship, biblical preaching, and that puts the gospel into practice. Not surprisingly, my husband is solidifying his participation at a church that is similar in every way to the church we just left and characterizes my church as “bad” and “harmful to the children.”

      Specifically, I address fear and anxiety of those in authority over me by turning to the perfect love that Christ offers me every moment of every day. I ask him, “Why do I feel anxious right now? Is this a conditioned response of guilt, or am I sensing true conviction?” Based on scripture reading and prayer, I often find that I have been living my life captive to others’ self-defined standards and not biblical ones. Since I have the spirit of Christ in me, I can confidently make a choice of what to do in a particular situation, knowing that He will guide me in the way I should go (Psalm 32:7-8).

  6. Grace on January 21, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    I find the way this guest writer was treated by her church outrageous! Dear writer, I don’t see any justification for excluding your family from activities or you from leadership. Nor for failing to support you, as the abused partner, over your husband. I think they are accountable to God for this. And I doubt he is happy with it.

    All sympathy to you. I know it’s in the past, but I still sympathise!

    • Guest blogger on January 26, 2015 at 10:49 am

      Grace, thank you for your grace-filled words. Although I mentioned to my husband on a few timely occasions that he would be held accountable for every careless word he speaks to me, he was haughty and self assured, saying, “Yes, I know; that’s why I’m saying these things.” Even when I posed the direct question, “What if you’re wrong?” to the counseling elder, praying that the Holy Spirit would use that question to convict him of possible errors in his thinking, he wrote back a detailed justification of how he had done everything right, and I should answer that question myself.

  7. Becca on January 27, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    Leslie, go to the website and watch the videos and the commentary on it. Whoever did it, did an exceptional job! The videos made the point.

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