Erosion of the Soul

This has become a 'living document' that gets added to as needed. Writing it has become deeply therapeutic for me. It has helped ground me in a reality that is based on goodness and truth; not the many lies and it's ensuing destruction. It has also been instrumental in helping me recover my God-given identity in Christ – mind you, ever so slowly. Finally it has served as the antidote to a lot of the gaslighting and abuse that I (we) have experienced over the past 16 years.

The Post is pretty emotionally raw and opinionated in some places; based on a lot of what I have experienced and what I can remember – mainly supplemented with facts and evidence from conversations with my wife as well as the emails/letters/texts sent to us, my place of employment and my family back home in Australia. As with most posts of a personal nature, the events described here, have been written about through the lens of my pain and experience.

As this has become a long post, I have provided the the following links to break it up and make it easier to come back to a specific section.

Intro | Emotional Abuse | Spiritual Abuse
The Sermon | Insincerity & Narcissism | Boundaries


Where do I start?

A couple of summers ago, I was experiencing a high level of anxiety along with some post-traumatic like symptoms; as a result of repeated emotional trauma over many years. This has resulted in a nervous breakdown and bouts of both active and passive suicidal thoughts. I started to feel things unravelling, my mind wasn't as sharp as it normally is (I lost my love of reading) and I developed a noticeable hand tremor when stressed. After another abusive event, I decided to get help. While working with a psychologist alongside my family doctor, I got a diagnosis and began a treatment program that included therapy, some lifestyle changes, and anti-depression medication. I still have a long way to go; the process has been further tweaked with other doctors. There has been a lot of ups and downs but it is a start towards getting healthy.

As I progressed through therapy, a constant pain point kept on reappearing. Toxic people. Toxic relationships. It became apparent that I'm a magnet for toxicity. Initially, I was worried that I was super toxic and attracted similar people in my relationships. However, the psychologist explained to me that “empaths” or very empathetic people tend to leave themselves constantly exposed to the manipulation of toxic people. This made a lot of sense given my empathetic nature and the history of toxicity that I have experienced with my uncle in Australia, lots of 'church folk' from my time in ministry and also my in-laws.

I don't have a great relationship with my in-laws.

And It's not that I didn't want to have a good relationship with them. I was actually quite excited that I was marrying into a family that supposedly shared the same faith; a father-in-law who enjoyed history, theology and politics; things that I believed were similar values and interests. I was always coming to Canada to marry my beautiful wife Jen, I had no reservation about that, but these were some of the “extras” that I believed would help make moving to the other side of the world much easier.

I was wrong. It didn't take long for it to be communicated to me that I was lacking, insufficient and disappointing.

It took me over a decade to admit this; mainly out of fear of hurting my wife as well as being labelled the problem; but this relationship, with my in-laws, has been both extremely emotional and spiritually abusive. A relationship, from day one, that was built on a foundation of shame, condemnation, disrespect and manipulation. It has been very soul-crushing and life draining. A cause of so much pain for our small family. As time marched on, I have felt my soul slowly erode with the ebbs and flows of the abuse.


Can't Buy Me Love – The Emotional Abuse. {}

A lot of the emotional abuse that I have experienced, in this relationship, centres around one of two things – Money & Possessions and Respect. Though I think, as I write this, 'disrespect' might be a better word to use.

Money & Possessions

I am worthless (and spiritually favour-less) because our family is not affluent. The constant digs about our home and possessions, my wage throughout the years as well as the subtle and unwanted comparisons to more well-off family members. For the longest time, my mother-in-law wouldn't shut up about money and possessions.

A good example of this was seen when they made the comment “my daughter's life hasn't turned out the way she wanted and is very disappointed” when my mum and sister were once visiting. Constantly griping about our family and life situation.

Who does that? Who has the gall to point out to someone's visiting family that their child is worthless? A failure because they don't meet your expectations? My mum and sister were so hurt by what they heard that they vowed never to visit them again. And I really don't blame them.

As a side, my wife has never communicated that she is disappointed in her life. I have learned, over the years, that material wealth (and health) is very important to my in-laws; especially in regards to the status of spiritual blessing in their lives.

So what if I'm currently the stay-at-home parent? Yes, it's not what I envisioned but I have worked hard at it and tried to give my family my best. It has afforded me the opportunity to be more involved in my kids' lives – something that a lot of dads don't have. To give love and spiritual guidance as best as I can. I have done this while going back to school, retraining and trying to change careers.

When I worked in Christian ministry, my in-laws didn't really care. They only ever visited the churches that I pastored twice (and one time was for the dedication of two of my girls). They never listened to any of my sermons. Never really took an interest in what I was doing – unless they could get something out of it (e.g. curriculum, VBS/Soccer Camp stuff) or if there was a problem to fix. You know tangible stuff that could bring them accolades at their church and give them an increased sense of self-worth and importance.

Then a number of years ago, when everything had hit the “proverbial fan” in our last pastorate, when we were hurt and needing support – we got 8 whole months of silence. Nothing said. No reaching out. No love. We were in one of the darkest of times and had to rely on the love and support of my family 13,500 km away in Australia.

We desperately needed our family. We needed their encouragement and support. However, from what my in-laws communicated through their silence and distance – we weren't worth the effort...

The same can be said for the recent COVID19 pandemic. They barely reached out to see how our family was doing – their daughter who is a pediatric ICU nurse (that got redeployed twice to work the COVID units) or their grandkids who have had their young lives uprooted. As for me, well I got nothing; no calls, no emails. No encouragement to see how I was doing at home; teaching 3 kids (one with special needs) as schools went online. The only reaching out, from them to me, was related to my job search.

You'll see, repeatedly further on, how the pandemic became a point of contention with my in-laws as well as how it was used to twist the narrative about us amongst family and people in their church.

I don't buy this whole interest in my job search either. Like I said above, it's purely about the money. In fact, when we were visiting one time, I was studying for a major Infosec certification – something that I had been doing for over a year. I tried really hard to use this to connect with my father-in-law in conversation – a guy who has an office wall full of certifications; who has had to repeatedly retrain and upgrade – only to be met with mean-spirited negativity. “It's a waste of money and you're wasting your time.” You would think someone with his work history would be a little more supportive and encouraging.

I had the exam the next day also. Did he reach out to see how it went? Absolutely not. (I passed if your're wondering).

You will also see below that through their self-centered actions; they didn't have much concern for my livelihood anyway.

Back to the Pandemic; when our family tested positive for COVID in January, we were met with my mother-in-law repeatedly asking “It's just like a cold right?”

Thankfully, it was very mild (Yay! Vaccines!). After a week, and only due to the insistence of extended family, did they finally checked up on us. Regardless of their politics or thoughts on COVID, it really hurt to see their beliefs take precedence over loving our family and showing concern for our well-being.

Furthermore, my in-laws have spun this grand narrative that we cut them off because of COVID. Absolutely not true. We pursued them a lot as you will see.

The truth is, they stopped visiting us two years before COVID. As pointed out above, they have been pretty absent in our lives. We also have encouraged them to call over the years; to set up weekly connections with the girls. But nothing ever comes from it – we are just met with more months of silence, usually until they want something or need to complain or gossip about someone.

It genuinely seems that because we don't meet their material expectations; we aren't worth the time or effort to pursue. It seems that this relationship is purely about them. Their expectations; what they want us to be and what they can get out of the relationship. It's pretty much a one-way street.

Now, though I have not always acted honourably and have at times lashed out in my pain, sometimes very angrily – I have sincerely tried to make this relationship work. Yes I have said stuff. Perhaps I have occasionally trolled my father-in-law online because of his political ranting and promoting of conspiracy theories. Even though I don't agree with a lot of what he says; I shouldn't act like a jerk. I shouldn't bite back in response to the hurt they have caused.

In all honesty, though, I have tried to show love towards my in-laws. I have pursued them lots over the years to show that I care.

When my father-in-law lost his job, I emailed or Facebook messaged him regularly to see how I could pray for him. I read his MTh thesis, I tried to connect over politics and history, listened to most of the talks that they gave at their church, helped with said ministry resources, listened to their problems, made meals for them, drove 6 hours to deliver a Christmas package at the height of the pandemic when my mother-in-law was incredibly sick and the restrictions prevented us all from visiting. Oh yeah, when my wife happens to be working on their birthdays; I usually take the initiative to get the girls to call them.

And at the beginning of the pandemic, I regularly emailed to see how they were. I was legitimately concerned about their health, the isolation and even how it affected them spiritually. I sent links to sermons and even invited my father-in-law (3 times) to an international online mens Bible study that my dad and I were doing. I got nothing in return from my father-in-law; not even a thank you. You can see one of invites here.

What I did get in return, however, was a vitriolic spray about how people are stupid, believing a lie and how the church is powerless and living in fear. Yup an angry spray with zero concern shown for others or even their nearby family.

Then there was my email politely asking them to reconsider getting the vaccine, out of nothing but love and concern. That was a majorly bad mistake as I was met with a disgusting passive-aggressive response in regards to an inheritance from my mother-in-law. We have never expected or come to my in-laws for any financial help – ever! But my mother-in-law likes to use money to flex her authority (more on that below).

Disrespect (and needing to fix)

A key example of this, is the event that led me to have a nervous breakdown just before Easter in 2017.

I was working with at-risk kids for a Christian social non-profit. Though it was stressful and hard with all the brokenness; at times difficult with some of the team dysfunction; it was the most rewarding job that I had ever had. I absolutely loved it. At this time, we were having some major discipline issues with a few of the kids. As a staff team, we went through some frustrating times trying to navigate these issues. Very frustrating times. My mother-in-law got wind of these issues and decided to take it upon herself to deal with the situation. Yes, you can probably guess where this is going.

She decided to write a very inflammatory and accusative letter to the executive director of the non-profit – based incorrectly on the bits and pieces that she had heard from my wife. Lots of bold text and underlining to get her point across – like a tantruming child. Lots of errors and misconceptions that really became ungodly slander towards my manager (and co-workers) at the time.

And going back to the money thing – she also threatened to stop giving donations to them. Money used as a weapon again; similar to the 'inheritance' attack on my wife and I during the pandemic.

You can read the letter here: Page 1 | Page 2

This is a good example of disrespect that we are always shown because “Mother knows best” – to quote the song from Disney's Tangled. In their eyes, I could not do the job that I was actually good at and so they had to step in and save the day.

“If there is any way we can help you “fix it”, we would be more than willing to do so.”

Wow! Can you say Messiah complex?

But that is their attitude towards life including our small family also. If anything doesn't conform to their expectations... then it needs fixing.

Furthermore, this all happened after my wife specifically asked her TWICE not to get involved. She didn't even call me to clarify any of it. She just wrote the letter and sent it.

What was even worse was the ungodly pride and justification of her actions in the response to us after she did the deed. See image below (click to enlarge):

It is funny, in a cringe kind of way, that she said “Reliable Source” – How is gleaning from the already selective tid-bits that my wife has told them, considered reliable? They just believed what they wanted to believe – without any verification. Without any thought or prayerful consideration.

Then there is the whole “hiding” or “protecting” the source of information thing. Like that would work. I was on a small staff team... this “source” was always going to get revealed.

Think about it – if you need to hide it – isn't that a clear indication that it might be wrong? That your actions might not actually show integrity and godly character? That you weren't actually listening to the Holy Spirit in this instance? I personally don't think the Holy Spirit produces fruit in the form of arrogance, gracelessness and self-centered impulsivity?!?

Well, no surprises there, as everything blew up. I was branded a gossip and someone who sows discord; someone who is disloyal and disrespects leadership (if you know me well enough, you know that this caricature is not true). I was mercilessly mocked for supposedly getting my mother-in-law to do my dirty work. Absolutely not true. I lost some really good friends who I prayed with and shared dreams about ministry with. I didn't even get to say good-bye to the kids that I worked with for almost 4 years. I lost my community, my reputation, my career – all because my in-laws had that messiah complex and made my job about them. And let's not forget the consequences that it also had for the ministry, other staff and the kids involved. Their horrible selfishness affected a lot of people, not just our family.

There is another example that I share further on, in regards to the spiritual abuse, but it also applies here too. They wrote a letter to my parents, years before, trying to enlist their help in dissuading us from going to a particular country as missionaries. Purely because my judgment and assessment of the situation was wrong in their eyes (not to mention the spiritual aspect of their argument). Once again, they couldn't show me respect by coming and talking to me about it. Like always, choosing not to listen or understand; choosing to fix and circumvent my wife and I because of their pride. Their need to be right, in control, to manipulate and have some form of authority over us.

We have actually got numerous letters like that over the years... one might think that they don't trust us enough with our lives.

My wife has also had to deal with a lot of this kind of behaviour in regards to parenting also. Often met with criticism because something isn't right with our kids (the expectations & fixing thing again) or with unsolicited advice from the worse possible sources via my mother-in-law. This advice comes from one of her friends, who has a highly dysfunctional family. Like really?!? We aren't taking advice from a woman whose daughter took out a restraining order and looked to emancipate herself from her mother.... No Way!

But because she is a “church” friend, she, seemingly has spiritual clout or something and we just needed to listen to. Go figure.

So what's the fruit of all of this? Hmm...

These events led to a very public meltdown in front of my children when we were out doing a family activity. I don't remember much outside of sitting fully clothed in the shower bawling or afterwards laying on the bed with my concerned mum and dad trying to get through to me over the phone. Something that day broke inside of me. It was a long time coming and I don't think I have ever really recovered from it.

Then there is also the strain on my marriage because of it. We have had to fight hard to get through the pain and I'm just thankful that I married probably the most gracious, loving and loyal woman imaginable.


Shot Through The Heart – The Spirtual Abuse {}

I will be upfront and blunt with this – my in-laws are spiritual abusive. They will take the things of faith – amazingly good things from God – and turn them into a mechanism of shame and condemnation. They will twist the truths of the Gospel, the Character of God and one's own spiritual identity to manipulate and tear down. To prey on and to have superiority/control over another.

I think the following tweets from psychologist Diane Langberg highlight this fact pretty well:

Not too long ago (read: in the last few months), I learned during a conversation with my wife and her parents, that even before they had met me; they were questioning my faith and upbringing based on the church tradition that I was brought up in.

I came from a good Christian family. My dad was an elder. My mum the church secretary. Faith was central to my upbringing. My parents modeled Christlike love and service throughout my entire early life. Generosity, humility and pastoral care. My family isn't perfect either. We have our issues also. Like any family, there is sin and a desperate need for God's grace.

My dad, who would cringe at me saying this, exemplified what a pastor (and the pastoral gift) looked like – even though he “officially” wasn't one. He just lovingly served and cared for people. My dad influenced me so much in that regard, more than any other Godly man has throughout my life.

Titles and ordinations don't mean a thing, if you don't have the godly character, love and humility behind it. Too many crappy people have “pastor” before their name.

I hate that I have to defend myself, my family of origin and my upbringing this way. But my in-laws have had so many misconceptions about me from day one. They pigeonholed me and decided that I was a heathen long before they had even met me. They have continually torn me down by their words and actions over the years based on this twisted view of who I am and the family that I came from. And not only does this affect how they see me; it affects how they see their grandkids. That my supposedly “bad” spiritual upbringing as led my wife and I to do the same with our girls. My mother-in-law is the worst at that pointing that out with her subtle digs – “Maybe they need Jesus” – to every problem imaginable. Not helpful.

This attitude and ensuing abuse happened pretty early in our marriage, when my wife and I returned home from a young adult's missions conference in the US. Our love for taking the Gospel to the nations is what brought us together in the first place. We wanted to be missionaries and returned from this conference pretty pumped.

A week after we returned home, I got an email from my mother-in-law that basically went along these lines: “I forbid you to take my daughter on the mission field because you have not experienced the baptism of the Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues. And because you are not born of the Spirit, God will never bless any ministry work of your hands.”

Umm Thank you?!?

This is nothing but shaming and condemning. Being manipulative. Nothing but spiritual gaslighting with the intent to lead someone to question their own identity in the Lord; their salvation and exert control over them. Using, what I consider to be, a toxic and twisted spiritual means to prey on and manipulate someone to do their self-centered will. To push a person to conform to a worldly expectation (that word again) instead of conformity (and obedience) to Christ.

We can have differing opinions on secondary theological issues, such as spiritual gifts. That doesn't make anyone less of a believer than the next person. Same with non-spiritual things such as politics too.

I think we have lost the ability for grace-filled discourse on issues, whether spiritual or not. We are too dogmatic on the lesser issues of faith while neglecting the more important ones – or as Jesus would say – those things that are more “weightier”. We are way too quick to trade holiness and love for the ability to win an argument. Usually for an argument that doesn't really bare on the Kingdom or eternity anyway.

We can have orthodox (right) belief, serve in Christian ministry, have an emotional “worshipful” connection and even have God do the miraculous through us – and even after all of that – at the gates of eternity, we can still hear Christ say “I never knew you; depart from me...” (Matt 7:21-23)

This sobering verse should kill any form of religious dogma; as only a relationship with Christ matters.

For the record: I don't adhere to the Pentecostal doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is evident through the speaking of tongues. BUT I do believe that the full gambit of spiritual gifts, including tongues and prophesy, are active today and are to be exercised in the church according to what is laid out in Scripture.

I am also more of a believer that the Spirit is evident in a person by the fruits (of the Spirit) that they exhibit. Fruit produced by abiding in Christ (John 15).

I beliieve that the gifts of the Spirit have much less to do with flexing a supernatural power and authority; but rather, the gifts are seen as a means to spiritually equip the believer to exalt Christ. To make Him look great.

I have tried to be very charitable with my in-law's beliefs in this area. I have never made it a matter of first importance nor used it as a weapon or have questioned their salvation. I sat and listened to all the Benny Hinn and John Hagee stuff that they put on the TV in those early days. I read a lot of the books that they were reading. All with a humble view to learn and better understand. I watched and read Kenneth Copeland and Andrew Wommack when they jumped on those bandwagons. I approached it all with a humility and an openness. An openness that God might still teach me something new about himself... even though I fundamentally disagree with a lot of the theology that was being expound by these teachers.

Again, my in-laws never approached me or what I believed in this way. I was instantly wrong and they were always right. Always making sure they were seen as being correct and as spiritually superior. That I needed to submit to their will. In their eyes, I was some project that needed to be spiritually fixed.

Though I do not have that original email anymore; as I mentioned above, this one was sent to my parents in Australia only a few months later. I think it underscores well the spiritual abusiveness of my in-laws and shows that it was there from the very beginning of the relationship.

Before I unpack all of this, I want to say that I understand the fear that my in-laws felt in regards to the mission field and the particular country mentioned in this letter. I witnessed my own mother work through this fear when I first went there in 2004. My mum, however, got to that place of release through much prayer, trust in the Lord and by doing a world missions course with me as I prepared for my trip. My dad even did the course after I came back. I am ever so thankful for the peace that the Lord gave them as well as their prayerful support when I went.

They took the time to listen and understand. Not abuse and manipulate through some over-dramatic and hyper-spiritualized means. Not question my judgment and knowledge of the country and issues there; or my leadership or faith.

Honestly, I think it's a bit rich being told that I know nothing about a country that I actually had lived in for a time; especially by someone who never watches the world news or hasn't traveled beyond Disneyland.

Here's the thing with this email though; my wife and I were nowhere close to going abroad to do missionary work. We never started any process. Yes, it was a common love that we both shared (and it is what brought us together in the first place). And yes, we talked about it lots – my missionary trip, her missionary trips as well as us dreaming about where God might call us to in the future. We were young and passionate about our faith!

We never decided on a particular country, region or people group. We were still in the process of prayerfully working these things out. In fact, the Lord led us into pastoral ministry, in CANADA, a month after this email was sent.

My in-laws over-sensationalized a possible scenario and made it into some form of “Chicken Little” hysteria; in an attempt to manipulate us into not going and to gaslight my parents into helping them intervene. Manipulating using fear. Their fear.

I can see the irony here too – they belittled people over “fear” during the pandemic; yet they are allowed to, conveniently mind you, show fear here. Solely because it benefits them. That is so self-centered and hypocritical.

Though the original email (after the conference) was pretty abrasive & blunt, this one was more of a veiled shot at the same things – namely my faith, judgment and spiritual maturity. You can see this easily in the sentence:

“If this is of Him at all.”

In 7 simple words, my mother-in-law has questioned our faith and whether we are actually filled with and being lead by the Spirit. More so, she questioned our judgment. It's the same horrid Satanic lie as in the first email – just cloaked and sent to my parents instead. Again, who belittles someone's child and their spiritual standing and worth?

Then there is the gross misquoting and hyper-spiritualization of the “three confirmations” thing from Scripture. None of which, actually function (in the Biblical sense) in the way my in-laws use it.

Upon my research, most of the passages of Scripture that get “cherry picked” to form the basis of this three witnesses/confirmation belief; all have to do with accountability in the community of faith.

Again, I think there is some form of irony there.

That said, I think the premise behind it still holds. I actually like it. It's a good and spiritually mature thing to do – to prayerfully seek God's leading – which my wife and I try to do when making our decisions.

Just because my in-laws don't agree with something, doesn't mean God isn't in it. That's pretty crass. This is just a form of Pharisaism. More of their religious superiority complex.

Not to mention their patronizing explanation to my parents. What's the theological equivalent of “mansplaining”?

This whole three confirmation thing reeks of hypocricy too. Them throwing this belief at us is just a convenient way to use the Holy Spirit to manipulate. And there is no way that my mother-in-law, with all her impulsivity, seeks 3 confirmations before she sends any of her letters and emails. There is just no way. Because if she had done so and prayerfully sought God's leading before she wrote a lot of the stuff that she has over the years – then I wouldn't be writing this post about all the hurt and abuse, would I?

This example of spiritual abuse is based purely around hypocricy and convenience.

Then, there is my mother-in-law's quip about “standing opposed”. You know what? We are freaking adults, a married couple, no longer under the authority of our parents. Only God. That is the whole point of that “leave and cleave” thing in Scripture. You can stand opposed all you want. It wouldn't have made a lick of difference. We strive to be obedient to God, first and foremost.

And that's the thing – I don't think they have once come along-side us and prayed in 16 years. Not a single instance of them praying with us to know God's will for our lives or our family. Just what they want; just what they think is best. Not once asking “how can we be praying for you”?

This is whole scenario illustrates some major spiritual pride issues and blindness. It is clear that being led by the Spirit is only second to their need for control; their desire for (worldly) power and authority and the self-importance that comes with that.

Ironically, I believe the Spirit frees us from such desires and brings us into submission under Christ.

Years later, we see this kind of thing happen again. This time, when we went through the adoption process with our oldest daughter. They contacted my parents, via phone call, to enlist their help in persuading us not to adopt a special needs or native child through our local child and family services.

Once again, gaslighting my parents with hyper-spiritualized language and a twisted lie about God not being in this adoption process. That, by my parents allowing this to go ahead, the adoption is outside of God's will and will make life hard for our family.

What they really mean is “their” family.

Reading between the lines – they have their prejudices and don't want you to poke at them with how you're living your life ...even if your life is being faithfully and prayerfully led by God. It is easier to manipulate the narrative about someone else, so you don't have to deal with your short-comings, sins and need for God's grace.

A child with a disability. A native kid. Or going back to the email that they sent to my parents about our missionary aspirations – taking the Gospel to those horrible Muslims. You'll also see later on, in my bit about my father-in-law's recent sermon – these prejudices also extend to anyone who is not politically conservative (even though I am; just not to the same extent as him – which makes me a dirty “liberal” in his eyes).

All these things make them squirm and feel very uncomfortable. Even with the explicit commands in Scripture to do these things – care for the orphan, go to the nations with the Gospel etc. – they will twist the things of faith to avoid what we as believers are actually called to do in Christ.

It is funny that people can use the Holy Spirit as an excuse to be disobedient and not follow the will of God.

As I process and write about all of the above, this is my major takeaway:

The abuse has never been about conformity to Christ. It has never actually been about where I am in my faith or my spiritual identity. It is simply about conformity to their will, their worldly aspirations, their self-serving agenda and meeting their expectations.

So back to that original email; How has it affected things over the years?

If I'm being honest, I didn't really think too much of it at the time. Its affect only became apparent many years later when we were going through the hurt that we experienced in my last pastoral charge (as mentioned above). During that dark time, I had planned to take my life. To hang myself in the basement when my wife and kids weren't home. I even got as far as rigging up the noose.

In that darkest of times, my mother-in-law's words from that email came flooding back. It led me to believe that the traumatic events in our last church were a result of my standing with the Lord. A lack of His blessing. His disapproval. It was a satanic and insidious lie whispered in the dark. By the grace of God, I could not go through with it.

It's a toxic pattern that has continued even to today.

Last year, my mother and sister-in-law came down to look after the girls so that my wife and I could get away for a couple of days to celebrate our wedding anniversary. That was generous of them and we were thankful for the opportunity to get away.

As you can tell, my wife and I have some very different spiritual and moral values from that of my in-laws. We clearly asked before we went away, that they would refrain from speaking to the girls about anything spiritual. They agreed and so we went.

When we got home, and only after they hastily left, we found out from our daughters that my mother-in-law took it upon herself to give an emotional retelling of the tower of Babel story because the girls had an argument.

What became apparent, when the girls were replaying what was said, is that my mother-in-law twisted the story in an attempt to manipulate and shame the girls into a certain behaviour.

“If you fight, you won't be able to accomplish anything!”

That's not even remotely close to what the biblical story is about... or how the book portrays it. You can watch the actual story from the book here.

Yes, fighting is bad. Our home isn't built on anarchy. But it's part of life together and kids growing up. This was a graceless, abuse of authority and, in my opinion, more spiritual gaslighting – this time aimed at our children.

I'm thankful that my girls know and understand the true Gospel message of that story.

Anyway, when my wife called out my in-laws on what had happened, my mother-in-law confessed to willingly disrespecting our wishes. But what was even more astounding, in a follow up email, was the fact that she doubled down on it and essentially told us that she was a teacher (in the spiritual sense) and that it was her right to spiritually impart stuff on her grandchildren.

Wow! The sense of entitlement.

She used the Jesus' storybook bible which lays out the Gospel in each story; in a very straight-forward way. You cannot get it wrong if you read it as is. But she decided to ab-lib and twist the story. Take the Gospel and twist it into some form of manipulative false teaching to get the girls to stop fighting.

But that's at the heart of all the hurt that we have experienced over 16 years. It's this narcissism, spiritual pride and this religious superiority that my in-laws have.

That they have some special calling, knowledge or power from the Holy Spirit that gives them the authority to do and say what they want. Often selfishly, impulsively, unlovingly, and without any thought to how it might wound.

Like the Pharisee beating his chest in self-exaltation while disparging others.

My father-in-law said as much in his sermon – that he was “born into fire” or some spiritualized ego garbage like that.

Entitlement is the core of narcissism. More on that later...

Unfortunately, this event led to things spiralling out of control again last year and was the trigger for me to seek help. I was so angered that the same behaviour that had detrimentally affected me over the years was now being used on my children. A twisting of the Scriptures to manipulate.

And it's not just our little family that has experienced this destructive behaviour. It's a toxic pattern that has been seen throughout their relationships with other family members, friends, church folk and it even led to them getting kicked out of the para-church ministry that they were volunteering with. Ironically, for being disrespectful towards that ministry's leadership and for sowing discord. And I came to this conclusion based solely on what my in-laws, themselves, had told us about the incident. It was glaringly obvious as I listened.

Let me be clear: the Holy Spirit doesn't make you an asshole. Please excuse my language. It doesn't leave a multitude of spiritually and emotionally broken people behind the proverbial bus that you are driving. The Holy Spirit isn't a weapon to club the sheep over the head with; to exert control through spiritual disparaging; nor is the Holy Spirit used as a “temple prostitute” for our own gratification or to satisfy our lust for power, control or worldly significance. It does not bring about spiritual ecstasy in the form of a power trip. (Note: If you are getting ecstacy from a power-trip, then you might just be a sociopath)

In all that has happened, I cannot help wonder, how does all of this point to the greatness of Christ? It doesn't. If I was an unbelieving on-looker, I wouldn't want to have anything to do with this garbage. I can fully understand why lots of people are antagonistic towards the Christian faith.

I have a godly mate who has listened to me share about a lot of this abuse over the years. He has listened, prayed and given wise counsel. And who has also repeatedly given me a loving rebuke as I have bought into a lot of the lies that my in-laws have spoken over me.

I can actually hear him now as I write this – “Dave, those are all a lie from the pit of Hell!”

Yup, well I'm kinda slow. It has taken me 16 years to realize that these words are all a lie; that there is no truth in them at all; that the gateway to that hellish pit has been, unfortunately, the lips of my in-laws. And that is not a commentary on their salvation...


Read Between the Lies – Abused From the Pulpit. {}

Recently, one of the most hurtful events happened when my father-in-law did some pulpit supply at the church that they attend.

I'll be honest: Father-in-law's sermon was everything that I expected. A theological and abusive trainwreck. It was probably one of the worst sermons that I have ever heard. I don't think you can even call it a sermon, let alone, “Christian”. It was basically a far-right political diatribe, an extension of his Facebook ranting; pushing an angry, loveless and hyper-spiritualized political worldview; bemoaning how he and my mother-in-law were persecuted because of COVID; while at the same time doing a lot of self-exaltation.

It was super political. Heavily influenced by American exceptionalism, Christian nationalism & the prosperity gospel. In my opinion, an unholy trinity that is the antithesis of the Kingdom that Jesus preached.

There was lots of self-exaltation happening from the pulpit... And even less Jesus.

To be very blunt, this sermon was nothing but false teaching. My father-in-law is a false teacher. I cannot escape this fact after hearing this sermon. The Holy Spirit leads a faithful preacher to proclaim and exalt Christ; not exalt themself. It does not push any political agenda – left or right – no matter how much one tries to reconcile the politics with things of the Kingdom. What was preached was a horrible distortion of the Gospel. Loveless, entitled, self-exalting and without the hope of Jesus.

You cannot supposedly preach on end times, trying to make sense of our current times, without preaching about the hope that is found in Jesus.

Yes I know that I'm being very uncharitable with my assessment. But the preaching of the Word is a serious thing. It is something that I'm called to. It is something that I am very passionate about. I always have been. The Spirit in me is grieved by this kind of garbage; lies peddled as the Gospel. The Gospel is non-negotiable. It is of first importance unlike those secondary issues mentioned above. Plus Scripture is very clear about the consequences of (unrepented) preaching of another gospel.

Preaching is not about you getting your 15-60 minutes of fame; or a platform where you can push your hyper-spiritualize political opinions beyond your 20 Facebook followers.

It is also a major red flag when you talk about yourself more than Jesus in a sermon. When you have to self-affirm your gifting and supposed “Spiritual Authority” more than preaching the glorious riches of the Gospel. Even in a testimony – Jesus is the hero of YOUR story. He still should be the focus. He should still be the one exalted.

There was also very little Scripture used in the sermon; except for a handful of those hyper-charismatic dog-whistle verses that contain words like “power”, “authority”, “prosper”, “prophesy” “bind” etc. – often grossly misquoted and taken out context.

Apparently though, by sprinkling in these verses like Tinker Bell's fairy dust, it somehow makes even the most Gospel anemic talk seem like you're bringing the roaring fire of the Spirit.

But what was equally troubling was the fact that the church and its leadership gave my father-in-law a platform to preach this garbage in the first place. From what I understood from the sermon, the Senior Pastor knew what was going to be said... and he allowed it. Totally reprehensible. A shepherd protects the sheep and does not allow wolfish behaviour and false teaching to be spewed from the pulpit.

To be fair, I think this problem occurs in a lot of churches, not just this one. Often those of us charged with shepherding the flock will trade holiness, integrity and the right use of the Word for either used-car salesman charisma, a political cause or just a warm body to fill in on a Sunday to give us a break.

I think Diane Langberg hits the nail on the head:

I'm just thankful that the church had the sense to take the sermon down from it's Youtube channel recently.

Now for what really shocked us...

In his “sermon”, my Father-in-law decided to make an example of my wife and I. He said a lot of disparaging and hurtful things that were mainly based on a bunch of lies or sensationalized half-truths. He made an example of us as a means to suit his political agenda. We became one big sermon illustration to fit his hyper-spiritualized political narrative.

Firstly, we never cut them off because of COVID as it was stated in the sermon. We genuinely pursued them and tried to keep in contact with them. I'll explain it again – I drove a care package six hours. I wrote emails. My wife went up and cleaned their house. Yes we followed the government guidelines. This was not done out of fear or because we had bought into a dark lie; as it was stated in the sermon.

Rather, we believed (and still do) that it was an opportunity to show God's love and be a good neighbour in the midst of a world filled with turmoil and upheaval. Even when we got those vitriolic responses to our caring emails – any push back from us was along those lines – firm in communicating how we believed God was leading us and gracious in the explanation of that.

But remember – if your life and how you're living doesn't conform to theirs, well then you are the ones that are wrong....

Next, the only other COVID related thing that I can think of, was us asking them to consider how it would make our children feel if they gave their grandparents the virus.

I think that was a fair ask. I think its alright to ask “supposedly” spiritually mature adults to consider someone other than themselves.... Actually I think the Apostle Paul wrote something along those lines in Philippians 2.

It was not the grand scale persecution that my father-in-law made out in his sermon. It did not stop us from visiting them when an opportunity presented itself. We still visited them over the course of the pandemic. Remember, they stopped visiting us 2 years before the pandemic even had happened. They never took up our invitation to regularly call ... so no we didn't persecute them.

Finally the whole “cutting them off” was because we had implemented some boundaries that weren't being respected and because of the ongoing abuse – we decided to distance ourselves. It was not because of COVID. We communicated that as such. They chose not to believe it and he twisted that truth in his sermon.

You could almost hear the disdain in my father-in-law's words when he talked about my wife and her profession in light of Covid during his sermon... “My RN daughter told us to do the responsible thing” (or something along those lines).

Is caring about someone such a bad thing? He chose to show public disdain and mockery for his daughter, who worked hard during the pandemic serving others. It wasn't a fabricated conspircy – I heard the stories and saw the toll it took on her; the sleepless nights, the stress and the tears. If he had even cared to call her and ask; he wouldn't be making these kind of comments in a public forum, let alone a community of faith.

No consideration what-so-ever. Such a loveless and crass remark. It's a disgusting trait to unfairly stomp over someone as a means to elevate yourself... especially when you stomp on your daughter.

Then my father-in-law proceeded to retell an event that happened in March. Yes I was angry. Yes I did not want to visit with them as I had recently found out from my wife (and her entire family) that a lot of the issues that I have outlined in this post, pre-dated my arrival in Canada. That I was doomed to be spiritually and emotionally abused by my in-laws from the onset. Torn down literally from day one in I didn't conform.

It was hard news to take after going through it for 16 years. I felt majorly betrayed by “family” over here. So yes, I was a little edgy. And yes I could have acted a little differently. But it's not like I went crazy on anyone... I didn't even raise my voice. I just refused to come inside.

In his retelling, he told this seemingly beautiful story of God using my children to melt my heart as I came into the house. Apparently, them coming over, hugging me and asking me questions provided a much needed spiritual breakthrough in the moment.

Barf! That sounds like some crappy Hallmark movie.

It is a very common thing in our family that when we enter the house, even after the shortest period of time apart, we as parents engage with our children. We talk with them. We hug and kiss them. We ask how they are doing. I am unashamedly affectionate and encouraging with my children. It is a normal, everyday, part of our lives.

This story, as told by him, is nothing more than another unhealthy dose of gaslighting. He is taking a very normal thing in the life of our small family and hyper-spiritualizing it, once again, to fit his narrative and to elevate his illusion of spiritual grandeur.

Over-sensationalizing a normal thing that any aspiring godly parent would do with their children. It wasn't a spiritual breakthrough but a normal rhythm of our everyday lives. An act of everyday grace that doesn't need to be publicized as something super spiritual from the pulpit.

If my in-laws took any interest in our family – they would have known that this is how we do life together. God does amazing things in the boring ordinariness of life – it doesn't always have to rain down “Holy Spirit fire” from Heaven.

And God is just as present in the quiet everyday routines that we find ourselves in.

Anyway, he then moved on to his recounting of the conversation that followed between me and them. This was very hard to listen to because he was very selective in what he retold and was even dishonest about some of the things he did choose to share. A lot of it was a twisted narrative.

From my perspective, we talked. I got to share about how detrimental my mother-in-law's email and their critical nature had been over the years. How their lack of support really hurt our small family. Their constant obsession with our material prosperity. There were the usual apologies, excuses and tears from them – the standard response anytime we try to address any of these kind of issues with my in-laws. We gave a goodbye hug and went home. That's the extent of it. Things were said but with no resolution or heart change made.

We constantly do this dance with my in-laws; it is exhausting, demoralizing and often comes with the same results. Isn't that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over? Yes, every time, we pray and hope that this will be the time that things will change for the better. Obviously, after listening to this sermon – we were wrong. Again.

I found it very hypocritical and devastating that in his recap of this event, he talked about me believing a lie, believing/following the dark side.

In fact, throughout his entire sermon, this is what he inferred when he talked about my wife and I... That we are constantly living in the dark; essentially following Satan because we chose to respond to the world events around us, in faith mind you, quite differently to him and my mother-in-law.

Again, this is another good example of their spiritual superiority complex. More of their chest thumping Pharisaism.

Furthermore, any sincerity and hope of reconciliation that came out of that March meeting was essentially destroyed by that sermon.

Didn't I spend all of that time in March explaining the devastating effects of that email? The devastating hurt, over the years, brought on by your questioning of my faith? And now you go and do the same thing in a sermon... You were quick to point out the lies that I believe... but you forgot to tell people who the mouthpiece was that repeatedly spoke them over me; over our family.

Actually this sermon was a lot worst than the email. The email was private. My father-in-law, wanting to elicit sympathy and adulation through his twisted narrative; did it in a public venue. A church.

He chose to vilify and tear my wife and I down in front of other believers; all in an attempt to exalt himself and push his politics. That is disgusting. That is a new level of horridness and evil, even for my in-laws.

Finally, the absence of what I actually said in his recollection, is quite telling. Though he was quick to publicly tear me down and point out all of my failings – there is no acknowledgement of their part in any of this.

Did they tell the church about all the crushing letters that they have written over the years? No. The pain and their constant spiritual attacks on us? No.

It's justification of their sin by it's omission. By ignoring it. By minimizing it. Often it's blame-shifted on to us to hide their sin. Obfuscation of the truth in an attempt to “keep up appearances”. Acting like the consummate politicians, who spin-doctor the details or they just outright lie; in an attempt to save face and keep their authority and control.

Fabricating the narrative to suit their own agenda.

There is one last thing that has majorly bugged me as I have processed all of this – the events, the various correspondence and my father-in-law's sermon. It's something that I haven't really been able to put my finger on until now...

Over the years, I have pretty much given my father-in-law a “free pass” with a lot of the hurt that has been done to us. We have always assumed that the vocal and seemingly opinionated one, who writes all the letters, is my mother-in-law. I have always thought that my father-in-law was just a passive participant in all of her schemes; just going along with it, allowing his name to be unwillingly added to the horrible stuff that she says and writes.

However, after hearing the lies and disparaging comments in his sermon, I now can see that he has been complicit in the abuse; if not the one driving it... as he heavily influences and controls the flow of information for my mother-in-law.

As I said above, he is perpetuating the same lies as my mother-in-law has done... so obviously they are on the same page with what they do to us.


Words as A Weapon – Insincerity & Narcissism {}

So you're probably thinking that I'm being very unloving and uncharitable by sharing all of this. And you may be right.

But what I want to make clear is that my wife and I have always sought to follow the Bible by coming to my in-laws to work through the hurt, to seek reconciliation and see the relationship restored. We try hard to always forgive even though this pattern of toxicity and hurt keeps repeating.

Unfortunately, when we do, we are met with a change of subject that focuses on their misery and hardships or a long stretch of silence with no contact as a punishment or are told that we are being oversensitive and overreacting. Hmm... does any of this look like an overreaction? I have even had my Father-in-law tell us that he is too old to change.

At the crux of it, we rarely get a sincere apology and are often made to feel that it is our fault or that it's not a big deal.

To be fair, my father-in-law has never offered an apology for any of the hurt; it's always come from my mother-in-law. When the thing went down with my job, I had sent him a message asking why they did what they did. I never got a response. Absolute silence from him. You'd think the Holy Spirit or at least a little bit of empathy or shame would have elicited a response, an apology or something. But deep down, just as my mother-in-law justified it initially, it is obvious that he feels the same. That they did the right thing.

Even in my mother-in-law's emotionally abusive letter (see below) in response to our displeasure at the sermon (and it's consequences) – they still don't believe they have done anything wrong. Like always, they never take responsibility. They are never held accountable by their church leadership either. It's the same old story.

MIL Letter Sept 2022

Actually this handwritten letter sums up this whole post and the relationship with my in-laws beautifully. It is nothing but a toxic tantrum, a vile piece of emotional manipulation, that abdicates any real responsibility of the hurt that has been done. Shifting the blame, once again, to us as the “unforgiving ones” or to my mother-in-law herself; which is actually void of any sincerity in of itself. It's just another veiled dig at how horrible my wife and I are for our unforgiveness. That they are constantly subjected to our wrath. This cannot be further from the truth.

Essentially she said – “If you are going to blame someone; blame me.”

No, we don't need to blame you for the sermon. You didn't write it. You didn't preach it. He did. He needs to take responsibility for what he said.

And if I'm being honest, my level of of grace has been tapped out with all of this. Did my in-laws consider the emotional, spiritual and physical toll of their repeated abuse over the years? The nervous breakdown? Loss of calling and career? The abuse that led to me contemplating and actively preparing to commit suicide? The slow breaking down of my identity over the years with lots of satanic spiritual lies sprouted by them? No! Of course not. They cannot do any wrong. Everything revolves around them!

Yet I'm expected to care deeply about my father-in-law sobbing (which to a certain level, I do). To care about his seemingly over-the-top emotional reaction to us holding him/them accountable for more hurt and abuse; to apologise for finally standing up for ourselves... This, unfortunately, leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I really have zero emotional capacity left for this manipulative garbage from them.

It is glaringly obvious that narcissism drives this relationship. As I have repeatedly pointed out – it is always about them.

One of the books that has helped me see the pattern the abuse (along with therapy) is Shannon Thomas' Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse. As you have probably noticed, I have already shared some of her tweets in this post but I really like this quote:

“A Narcissist will run you over and scold you for being in their way. They will endlessly complain about how you damaged their car.”

And this relationship feels like that a lot of the time. The sermon and angry letters all feel like they are scolding us FOR WHAT THEY have done.


Don't Fence Me In – Establishing Boundaries and Creating Distance {}

So where does this leave me/us?

Firstly I say “I Forgive them”. I sincerely mean that, have meant that in the past, and pray regularly for them. I constantly ask the Lord to bless them regardless of the history.

And I do care for my in-laws. In some ways I still want things to improve and have a good relationship with them (but this desire has diminished lots recently of obvious reasons).

For my children to have a happy and loving relationship with them.

But really at what cost? They have made it abundantly clear over the years that it's all our fault; that it's our issue to deal with and that this relationship isn't worth the hard work of repentance, reconciliation and restoration.

But forgiveness doesn’t mean you get a blank cheque. It doesn't mean you can abuse someone's grace by repeatedly hurting them; only to then demand forgiveness. Do we go to Jesus and DEMAND forgiveness for our sin? I sure hope not. It's graceously given. Not demanded. I'm pretty sure Paul addresses that attitude in Romans 6.

Scripture is also pretty clear, in the context of community, that if someone is repeatedly unrepentant – then we are to distance ourselves from them and their sinful actions (Matt 18:15-20).

I often think about all of this in relation to how I would counsel someone in a marriage after years of repeated abuse with very little effort made in regards to repentance, reconciliation and restoration.

Would I counsel them to stay? No, I wouldn't.

So should we stay in an abusive relationship?

More from Diane Langberg; this time on repentance:

We only ever get shallow apologies from my in-laws. Like I have said, we have never been met with repentance. There has never been any concerted effort in regards to change. We just follow the same toxic pattern over and over again.

So, initially, my wife and I got to the point where we needed to put boundaries in place and be strong about communicating and enforcing those boundaries.

Boundaries are healthy. Boundaries are Biblical. Having boundaries does not cheapen the work of repentance or forgiveness in a relationship nor does it hinder a relationship's growth. Boundaries are good.

For me personally, and for the sake of my mental health, the plan was that I would no longer stay with them or engage in spiritual matters or worship with them anymore. I have blocked their phone number and email. I have asked my wife not to give them much information about me (out of fear of being “fixed”). I won't allow them to force their opinions, manipulate my wife or drive a toxic wedge into my marriage anymore.

As for the girls, as I mentioned above, I am happy for them to have a relationship with my in-laws. However, this needs to be monitored with strict guidelines, especially in regards to the spiritual stuff. They don't share the same values as my wife and me, so we need to limit their influence in that area. This means that we won't give them unfettered access to the girls over social media or email. This is pretty self-explanatory given my in-law's history of mean-spirited and nasty writing. It sounds harsh but is needed.

As a side: this is the ONLY mode of communication that we had decided to implement boundaries with regarding our girls. Like I previously said, we have encouraged them to call etc. Welcomed it in fact. But we get this constant tantrum that we think they are “child molesters” because we don't capitulate to what they want (in this case access over social media). We have never used such language with them. It is more sensationalizing as a means to emotionally manipulate.

That being said, the boundaries only worked for a time. If I'm being honest, we grew tired and complacent in enforcing them. In part due to the fact that hotel rooms are so freaking expensive – but also because we dropped our guard, foolishly, hoping that things would change for the better.

They weren't willing to accept our wishes or work with us – the sermon was a good example of that.

So as a result, we have decided to break off contact altogether. It sucks but it was the last straw. It sucks but it was the right decision; a very hard decision for my wife, one that was never taken lightly. But we had to do it for the sake of our hearts and our family. We cannot continue to live with this constant emotional and spiritual abuse.

In making this decision, I sought the wise counsel of some godly family and friends. Some were our pastors. Others were godly people that we trust and respect. They all listened to the sermon and they all said it was horribly abusive. That it was another example in a long line of repeated spiritual and emotional abuse at the hands of my in-laws.

Though we are still very grieved by having to make this decision, there is also a bit of relief (and vindication) that came from receiving that feedback. Relief, that we aren't crazy. That we aren't being over-sensitive or easily offended (remember that this is my in-laws favourite accusation to gaslight us with). That there is something definitely toxic and dysfunctional happening in this relationship.

For years I have been told that I am the problem. That I have essentially brought a curse/lack of blessing on my family because of my faith. Re-reading that last sentence back to myself... well it actually sounds highly-irrational and bloody stupid. But that is how ingrained the lies and abuses have been over the years.

In further conversations with those godly friends, I realize now, that I would have not found any form of acceptance from my in-laws unless I was just like them.

That any relationship with them would not be based on my proximity to Jesus; my relationship with Him... But rather my proximity to (and acceptance of) their politics, over-the-top religiosity and whether or not they can get what they want out of the relationship.

Even with cutting them off though, I feel like they have won. It really doesn't affect them outside of their loss of control over us... surely, they will just move onto some other poor bugger or do something similar in some community. But it's effects will still linger here for a long time to come; including probably a number of unknown affects/consequences that are still to be revealed.

That is what scares me. That, even at the end, this hurt can still cost me everything. Yes, I realize that I'm responsible for its affects; for any of the decisions that I have made in response to the hurt. I know that the “buck stops” with me regardless of what they have done – but man Satan has used my in-laws to break me down over the years.... and I think we are only starting to scratch the surface of all the destruction that has occurred.

#abuse #health


Feel free to Discuss... or connect with me on Twitter: @x0darkpadr3 and/or Mastodon: @x0darkpadr3@neonsoup.xyz