Why I No Longer Condone Inner Healing Prayer Ministry, Part 1: My Story
I’m sitting in Starbucks with my laptop, and I’m about to tell you a story. It’s going to be a little long (but when have I ever been short-winded?!), so buckle up.
This story has been a long time coming, and I’ve put it off as I lived through it and processed and went through all the stages of grief including shock, denial, anger, depression etc. You know the drill.
I never originally intended to tell this story, but
as a kid I had to accept that all I could do was just fade quietly into the background and disappear whenever I was mistreated, and in my adult life I’m not real good at doing that anymore <smirk>
this dynamic that abuse victims are taught – the dynamic of protecting those who hurt us – is sick, and needs to stop. Period, the end. I actually didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing until recently. I realized that once again, even though I was the one who was mistreated, out of some strange sense of loyalty, I was protecting the ones who mistreated me. Which is ludicrous. When I realized it I thought Oh hell no. I’m going to tell this thing. If they wanted it to sound better they should have acted better. If they wanted it to end better they should have made better choices when I reached out to them for resolution.
I’m a writer. It’s what I do. I write to educate, advocate, and help others… but I also write for myself. Because it helps me. And telling my story is part of reclaiming the voice I lost to trauma. And that’s what I’m going to do.
So here we are.
Normally I try to eat really healthy, which for me means avoiding white sugar and white flour. But today at Starbucks I’m having a bona fide ultra caramel frappuccino (which should make for a fun day for my husband in about an hour 😉 ) and I’m going to try to get through this as succinctly as possible.
So here’s the deal: I used to have a very strong Christian belief system. I was raised in a somewhat conservative, evangelical Christian church, and I carried a lot of those doctrines into my adult life. Only in the last few years have I started to realize how patriarchal, misogynistic, dysfunctional, and utterly toxic a lot of those concepts and communities really are – which is another topic for another day. But I’m saying that so you know where I’m coming from.
This upbringing, combined with a lot of very traumatic and disempowering experiences in the realm of psychology and psychotherapy, made me seek other options when I started coming to the realization that I had DID (and then later, that I could potentially be an SRA survivor). This appealed to me because of the importance of my faith to me at that time. So instead of starting the grueling and frustrating search for a capable psychotherapist, I turned to a faith-based approach to healing.
Enter the concept of “inner healing prayer,” and all its corresponding methods, techniques, and ministries.
If you are unfamiliar with the idea of inner healing prayer, there are various methods (theophostic, Sozo, Immanuel moment, HeartSync, etc) and you can Google them if you want to learn more. The overarching theme in all of them is that you – and a facilitator (or two or three) – are attempting to communicate with God and/or Jesus to ask them to heal you from specific traumas. Also contained in all of this is the idea that God/Jesus can supernaturally change your perspective about what happened to you so that you can reframe the resultant thoughts and emotions that sprang from it.
To be fair, I still believe in the idea of it. I do not condone the system by which it is administered. But I’ll get to that in the next post.
I am going to have to slightly alter a couple things in this story to protect the privacy of myself and those involved. I am not so vindictive as to be willing to name names. I want to tell my story but I am not here to sling mud just for the hell of it. I’m heartbroken (and consequently, angry), but I’m not spiteful.
What happened to me is this: I started meeting with my main facilitator – let’s call her MF, for main facilitator – in 2013. I actually knew this woman for about 6-7 years before that. I met her in 2006 when she was working for another ministry, and since then she’d started her own. In between 2006 and 2013 I’d been in infrequent communication with her. We emailed occasionally, talked on the phone every now and then, and met at a coffee shop once or twice to chat. I stayed overnight at her house once when on my way home from a long road trip. She made me breakfast; we went to a park and walked the trails together while chatting, before I had to leave for home.
I did not live in the same city as MF until 2013. At that point I had realized I had DID and I had been working with my system on my own for about 7 years. But internal work can be difficult and confusing, and by 2013 I felt like I needed more help. I was starting to have flashbacks again, and this time they contained SRA-related content. My system was becoming overwhelmed. So I reached out to MF and asked if she would be willing to take me on as a regular client.
From the very beginning, my relationship with MF was that of a spiritual mother-spiritual daughter. She was old enough to be my mother and was known for having a very maternal vibe. She called me her spiritual daughter more than once, to multiple people. By coincidence I stumbled into the church she attended one Sunday morning after I’d moved to the same city and she invited me to sit with her. It became a regular thing. Every now and again if someone asked us if I was her daughter she would just smile and say “Spiritual, but not natural.”
We were only able to have sessions once every 3 weeks, but she allowed me to contact her outside sessions by email and text message. I don’t know whether phone calls would have been allowed or not but I’m not much of a phone person anyway and the few times I did need to call her for something logistical it was hard to get her on the phone, so I didn’t call very often. Although occasionally she would call me – especially if it had been a particularly hard session or the session had to end less smoothly than anyone liked. If the dynamic had been anything other than mother-daughter, this would have seemed inappropriate to me. But because that’s how things were set up, it didn’t seem inappropriate. She invited, and seemed to enjoy, hearing how I was doing and what was going on with me in the 2 weeks in between sessions. From the very beginning she told me it was not my job to manage her boundaries.
She said she’d answer if she was able to, and if she wasn’t able to, she wouldn’t answer. The thing is that she did answer, nearly every single time, every single text message, every single email. Usually within half an hour, and almost always by the end of the day or within 24 hours. The times when she had to go out of town for a conference or vacation, or out of the country (once or twice in 4 years), she would send videos of herself telling my little ones that she loved them and she would be back soon. Occasionally she would even sign emails or notes or text messages “Mama MF”.
Truth be told, I thought she had intentionally done things this way. I thought she specifically chose this way of interacting with me and my system because of the severity of the attachment disorder that we all wrestle with. I thought she was trying to heal the neglect and mistreatment from the past by exampling a stable and responsive caregiver. I thought she’d thought through this and determined that that was what I probably needed and had endeavored to give it to me, believing she had the energy and the stability and the staying power to see it through. I thought she was intentionally trying to re-parent me.
Just to be clear: I was a fool.
There’s no particularly adequate segue, so I’ll just move on…
Sessions occurred in a lot of different places over those 4 years. We started off in a large ministry room in a church that had a lot of couches and floor pillows. Most of the time there was a lot of physical contact in the sessions. She hugged me, put her arm around me, held my hand, touched my face. And sometimes if there were very little parts that came to the surface, she would hold them. It was always a loving touch – but only in retrospect do I understand the inappropriateness of it. And only in the context of the fact that she actually isn’t – and can’t be – my mother, is it inappropriate. It didn’t seem so at the time, with her playing that role.
For the first six months or so, MF had an assistant facilitator – we’ll call her AF for assistant facilitator. This was her ministry partner. AF was the yin to MF’s yang; she was a rather opposite personality to MF, and often had insights that MF missed. I appreciated having her be part of the journey, and she formed deep attachments to several of my inside people. She was younger than MF so they saw her sort of as a loving older sister, the kind anyone would have wanted to have. Six months in, AF had to drop out of my sessions to focus on her family. I understood this, and so did my inside people, but she was sorely missed and it was still hard to avoid the feeling that my littles had been pseudo-abandoned by her. We saw her infrequently after that, so the attachment to her died a slow but inevitable death. She remained a ministry partner to MF, however, and remained on staff in the ministry. Because of her status as the “partner” to MF, she was gradually allowed to become privy to everything that happened in our sessions, as well as emails and whatever outside communication occurred. This was confusing, as the confidentiality (or lack thereof) was never made particularly clear. What was being shared, when, why… none of this was communicated clearly. I didn’t really understand why AF needed to know everything that was going on if she was no longer personally involved in any of my sessions, but at the time I was too afraid to ask questions or rock the boat. The only reason I bring up the presence of AF on the scene is because it matters later.
To recap so far… I cannot overemphasize the impact of the mother-daughter dynamic with MF on me. By putting herself in the position to play the role of the mother I’d always wanted, I – and my inside people – were so enamored with her that we would have done anything for her. And we cared about her opinion on every conceivable topic. I don’t really know how we didn’t drive her nuts purely by the frequency that we were in contact, looking back on it (or maybe we did, and she was just too nice to admit it to our face). But we were in contact with her nearly every day. She never gave any indication that this was too much or that it wasn’t okay. When we saw her at church or even at other church events in other locations, we always sat with her and if we arrived first, she would find us and sit with us. What were we going to do, say no? She was our mom. Not our real, narcissistic, abusive mom…she was our good mom, the mom we’d always wanted, the mom we wished we’d had. The emails and text messages prove that I didn’t just fabricate this perspective. 75% of our communication was in writing (email or text message) and I have gone through many of those recently (but not all…that could take days). I have found a half dozen or so emails signed “Mama MF” and text messages in which she called me “baby” and multiple types of communications in which she expressed a longterm commitment to me. (I also have a journal that she bought for me as a gift with a note in the front — signed “Mama MF”.) She told me I would always be in her life, even if we should decide to stop praying together. She said I would always be in her heart. She said she wasn’t going anywhere, ever.
At this point in time, it appears to be bullshit. I honestly can’t figure out if she meant it at the time and then changed her mind when it got too hard, or if it was never sincere at all. I’m not sure which one is worse, but it doesn’t matter because I’ll probably never know.
For the first few years of doing inner healing prayer with MF, I had a horrific time outside our sessions. I had a lot of inside people who were suicidal or prone to self-harming, and ritual days or holidays seem to occur with great frequency which meant my system was in constant distress and chaos. I could only see MF once every 3 weeks and it seemed like so little progress was made in sessions that it was all undone – along with taking a few steps backward – in between. But I’d already tried to find someone else who was willing to work with me in addition to MF, and I just couldn’t find anyone. They were either too expensive, too far away, retiring, or flat-out unwilling (they did not feel qualified). So since I didn’t really see any other options, and since no one else seemed willing to take me, I kept plugging away with MF.
At times there were things that seemed off. Like when one of my inside people was suicidal. It was incredibly hard for them to admit it to begin with (there were lots of occasions that they just didn’t tell anyone and chose to fight through it on their own). But if they admitted it to MF, she would always bring up her obligation to report it to the police if they couldn’t agree not to hurt themselves. Knowing that a mandatory psychiatric lockup was possible if that happened (with all the trauma that that involves), it was always a desperate situation. Somehow it seemed to come up somewhere in the conversation that if she didn’t report it, and we died, she would be removed from ministry and wouldn’t be able to keep fulfilling her God-given calling to help people like me. I’m sure that might have been a concern of hers, but it just always seemed odd to me that she chose to bring it up when one of my people was so severely suicidal that they were having trouble agreeing to stay safe. Rather than making it about her and what consequences she would face if we died, perhaps just telling them that she loved them and didn’t want them to die might have gone over a bit better.
About a year into my 4-year ministerial relationship with MF, it became apparent that parts of my system were still being accessed for cult abuse outside of sessions. As a separate inside person, I was not immediately aware of this, because I wasn’t initially one of the ones being victimized. As I slowly worked on strengthening the relationships on the inside and breaking down all the lies my system had been told that kept them too afraid to try to break free, I began to gain awareness of it. My physical body also gradually began – bit by bit – to “thaw” from its trauma-induced frozenness, and I started to be able to feel the after-effects of the beating it was taking in between sessions. To say I was terrified is an understatement. I never knew if each new day might be the day they finally killed me.
Instead of being able to go to MF and AF for help, I casually asked in an email what, theoretically, could be done. I was told – again, in writing (I still have the email) – that I could not tell them about it unless I wanted the involvement of the local authorities. One of my inside people was terrified of the police, and even named one of the cult abusers as a policeman. So reporting it could have potentially been catastrophic – even deadly.
Yet, apparently, I couldn’t tell MF or AF either. As they put it, their hands were tied. For obvious reasons, so were mine.
The only option I was presented with was to keep trying – in sessions every 3 weeks (and in my own time, whenever I could manage it) – to free myself, without actually speaking plainly of the abuse going on outside the walls of the ministry room. I could tell them just about anything else, but not that.
I would eventually become aware that I was being trafficked in my night life, and the frequency of it was severe. The knowledge of it was too overwhelming for me to even admit for many months. Denial runs deep, and its protective component is there for a reason. I do not look like the type. I am not the stereotypical demographic of the type of person at risk for trafficking. But I was.
Fast forward to 2016. I’d had 2 years of utter hell on earth in my private life. (I ended up having a nervous breakdown of sorts in August 2016, if you recall…this was a major component of why that happened.) I was working full-time in the workforce, and in my own time I was also working my ass off trying to heal old AND new emotional AND physical wounds without anyone’s direct support. I was getting very close to being able to free my system from cult access, by methodically finding and freeing everyone inside who was still vulnerable to being accessed. It was grueling, exhausting, and terrifying. I couldn’t rush my people. I couldn’t force them to see the truth. I could only spend time talking with them, being near them (if they were too afraid to talk), being supportive of them, doing my best to befriend them, and very very slowly asking if they’d be willing to consider another perspective. Most of the time it felt impossible, until it was over.
But I did the work.
That alone is some mind-fuckery right there.
In October-November of 2016, MF stopped communicating with me outside sessions.
It may have been more gradual than I remember. But it felt like she stopped overnight. Rather than responding quickly to texts or emails as she had for the first 3 years, she began taking days or sometimes a week or more to respond to me, if she responded at all. And the responses were rarely more than one or two words, and often they were just emojis (like a heart or praying hands, etc). As someone intimately familiar with my history of being neglected, abandoned, and abused by mother figures, there’s no way she could have been unaware of how devastating this would be to me. There’s no way.
Because of the busyness of her ministry and the holidays, we didn’t get to have sessions at our regularly appointed intervals. The next time we got to talk – which was on the phone, because it was all we could manage – I tried to ask about her withdrawal from me. I could not get a clear answer.
Things went on like this for about 4 months. I kept hoping that it was “just a season,” a phrase she had used regularly throughout our relationship when she was especially busy with her ministry. I kept reaching out, my people kept reaching out to her. She kept being non-responsive, or only minimally responsive.
My default tendency is to blame myself when something goes wrong in a relationship. I wracked my brain in those 4 months, and beat myself mercilessly with the tirelessness of the desperate, trying to figure out what I’d done and why she had emotionally abandoned me. There were so many possible reasons, but the only one who could definitely answer all my questions was MF — and she wasn’t talking.
Finally I got wind of the fact that she was having some painful events going on in her personal life. Which I can understand. But it didn’t – in my opinion – absolve her of the responsibility of someone in her position as a minister to deeply wounded people. That was a role she’d taken on willingly. No one forced her to do that. I, of all people, know that shit happens. I know that. But if shit is happening, take a break, maybe? Just admit you need to tap out for awhile? The tendency for abused people (and just people, in general) to misinterpret and misunderstand – in the absence of actual communication – is immense.
People don’t experience your intentions. They experience your actions. Communication is the only buffer we have between the two. So if you’re not communicating, people don’t give jack shit about your intentions. They don’t know they’re supposed to.
After 4 months of radio silence, and me trying desperately to figure out and correct whatever I’d done wrong, a confrontation about something else brought it all to the surface. MF and AF unfairly reversed a decision they’d made regarding me being a student in their yearly “ministry school” and it pissed off one of my insiders. She exploded. In an email, she asked a lot of questions I’d wanted to ask all along, but didn’t know how to. I am better at living with cognitive dissonance. I am better at compartmentalizing things I don’t know how to live with, but feel I must. My other inside person does not have these skills. So she asked the things I’d silently wondered all along, but hadn’t given voice to. At the time she thought she’d lost her temper because the emotions were so intense. She held that perspective for more than an entire year.
MF never directly responded to the email. Her assistant – AF – responded on MF’s behalf. She offered to let us drop out of the ministry school if we just couldn’t be at peace with the last-minute decision reversal. They would release me from the financial obligation and I could just drop out.
Since I am not a quitter, I persisted in continuing the ministry school and finishing it. Although the irony of listening to MF stand behind a podium and tell a story about how painful it had been for her when a family member had inexplicably decided to “ghost” her for a year with no explanation was not lost on me.
Ironically, both MF and AF teach regularly about boundaries and finding freedom from codependency, as well as how to have a healthy marriage and raise emotionally healthy children (among other things).
At my next session after the emails, both MF and AF were there. It was unusual for AF to be there, but it had already been established that she had taken up the “bad cop” role in the ministry. I’d already come to realize that when she was directly involved with anything, something hurtful or unpleasant was about to go down. I was on high alert. They handed me a page of new “rules” for personal ministry sessions, including reducing the frequency to once every 4 weeks (rather than 3), no more physical contact, and I was now required to see someone else for help in addition to them. Communication outside sessions was still not directly discouraged (oddly enough), but hinted that it would not be a priority anymore.
I saw the formal disintegration of the mother relationship, and all its former promises, in that session.
This was a disciplinary session, and everyone knew it. No one said it, and it could have easily been denied by MF or AF, but everyone in that room knew what this was. The timing of it – coming immediately after the email – and the presence of AF, along with all the new rules being implemented; it was crime and punishment.
We’d done something “bad” – my inside person had dared question the almighty ministry and its ministers – and now this was the punishment.
They asked me if I had questions after they went over all the new rules. I didn’t. I still tend to freeze when I feel threatened, and that session felt every bit like I was in the principal’s office, receiving a paddling.
I only had one more session with MF after that, because I was moving away and wouldn’t be able to see her anymore. It was extremely obvious that everything that had transpired between us in the 4 years before that (or even the 7 before we’d ever started praying together) was irrelevant at that point.
It hurt too much to ask.
I was in shock for about 6 months. I couldn’t even be angry. I couldn’t cry. I was just in shock.
This relationship that I’d thought was going to extend and last for my entire lifetime had crashed and burned.
And – so it seemed to me at the time – it was my fault. I’d done it again.
I’d ruined things again.
My mother had left me again.
It took another year after that to start questioning those thoughts. And honestly, I don’t know that I ever would have if I hadn’t started dating my now-husband, Robert. As I began telling him the story in bits and pieces, he was outraged. Not anticipating that reaction, I slowly began to relate the story to a couple other close, trusted friends. They reacted the same way.
I also discovered that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to people in a relationship with MF – OR – AF.
This is a pattern. It didn’t start with me. It didn’t even start 2 or 3 people before me.
I slowly began to realize that none of this was my fault. There were so many problems, so many places where this whole thing started screwy and ended in disaster. I even dug up the email that my inside person had sent to MF, and let Robert read it. I’d never been able to make myself look at it again since then.
He read it, and said to me (referring to how my insider had written it), “There’s nothing wrong with anything you’ve said here. It’s kind. It’s earnest. You’re obviously in pain, but you weren’t mean. You were very restrained. You were candid and desperately wanting answers. They should have answered this! You deserved an answer.”
So many paradigm shifts. So many devastating realizations.
So here’s the rest of it.
About a month ago, I reached out to MF via email.
I told her that after taking a year to process what went on between us, I was requesting to have a conversation about it so that I could have closure. I was open to that conversation happening via email or phone if an in-person meeting wasn’t practical (because we don’t live close by anymore, if you recall).
She apologized to me for the pain she’d caused me but told me that she wouldn’t meet with me or talk to me about any of it. That “Jesus will have to heal you” because she was going through some things herself and did not have the capacity for anything further.
I probably would have accepted this, as insufficient as it was for closure of any kind on my part. There had at least been an apology for causing pain.
I responded to that email with one more reply of my own, citing some things I had seen as problematic (and also part of a repeating behavior pattern I’d become aware of). I said what I needed to say, and did not expect her to answer any further (she didn’t).
It probably wouldn’t have gone any further than that, except for the fact that then AF decided to get involved. AF came in and spoke on behalf of MF once again. She attempted to tell me that I had misunderstood the mother-daughter dynamic between myself and MF. That they had never set up inappropriate boundaries like that and never would. And that confidentiality within their ministerial relationships made it impossible for her to comment on the behavior pattern I was noting, because they couldn’t betray that confidentiality.
Essentially attempting to gaslight me and tell me the blame was all mine for not understanding the dynamics in the relationship.
This was too much for me. I am a fairly tolerant person in how much bullshit I will put up with, simply because I often have better things to do than split hairs or argue semantics with people who are determined to misunderstand me. But having someone who knew me THAT WELL, and who had witnessed THAT MUCH of my story, try to tell me the fault was mine for misunderstanding the situation – that they were free of any responsibility or accountability in any of it – was not something I am willing to tolerate. I responded to her with screenshots of my emails and text messages of MF with the written documentation of her perpetuating the mother-daughter dynamic.
AF did not respond. I requested that she respond, but she refused.
I have not heard from MF again either, although she AND HER DAUGHTER have now blocked me on Facebook. I had not contacted her daughter and had no intention of doing so. But it casts serious doubt on their claim of confidentiality within their ministerial relationships if her daughter (who is not involved with their ministry at all) has blocked me without having been given a reason to do so, which would have betrayed the confidentiality AF claimed was so important.
In light of this development, I contacted the board of directors for their ministry and asked to file a complaint. They are formally a nonprofit organization and I donated a substantial amount of money to them in the course of those 4 years (and even before then), so I am considered a stakeholder. Even if I wasn’t, it’s not okay to treat people this way.
It’s not okay to cause a shit ton of emotional damage to someone and then refuse to even have a conversation about it, send your lackey to tell them it’s their fault anyway (not yours), and then block them.
It’s not okay to refuse to take responsibility and have accountability for your actions within a ministry.
It’s not okay to pretend like it’s the crazy person’s fault for misunderstanding you (which is a convenient line to fall back on since we’ve been taught to question our perceptions anyway, and as the mentally ill person the doubt all falls on you when there’s any question), rather than just admitting you made a mistake and apologizing and doing your best to fix your own shit so that you don’t keep doing the same thing to other people.
I told the board of directors my story. I left out any assumption of what I believe MF or AF thought or felt, because there’s no way I could possibly guess and it’s rather irrelevant at this point. I included only what was done and what I can prove because it’s in writing. I included the emails and text messages, and the email conversations from last month.
The board agreed to review all the items I brought up and pursue training or adjustments where necessary.
It would be really really great if they could just admit that they’d screwed this up. I’m not out for blood. I’m not asking for a public apology or that they stop doing ministry or be burned at the stake or anything of the sort.
We could have resolved this quickly and privately and quite easily, to tell the truth. I am not even asking for restitution, although I think any sane person reading this would surely think that after all I’ve been through, at the least, I deserve for someone to look me in the eyes – in person – and apologize.
In my next post (Part 2) I will tell you why I no longer condone inner healing prayer ministries – as if this story isn’t enough of a reason – and break down some systemic issues that allow this shit to be perpetuated over and over and over.
I know this was long. Thanks for reading.
Also, I’m still kinda messed up – mostly from the trafficking, but also from the abandonment by MF – but all that notwithstanding, I’m still here. And I have an amazing, doting husband who spoils me every day.
So I’m doing better than I could be. So there’s that.
And also, if any of you are thinking of trying to hashtag-not-all-churches at me, just don’t. This is not the time, today is not the day, and I am not the one. Thanks for understanding.
EDITED TO ADD: Also. If you are a professional (or an ex-professional) in the mental health field, will you PLEASE comment on this post?
I don’t normally ask for feedback but on the off chance that MF and AF read this post, I would like them to be able to read the comments and see that no, this is not just in my head. This was a clusterfuck on so many levels. And in the professional world the ones they would have to be accountable to would not have stood for this.