Do We Use God Language to Enable Emotional Immaturity?

by | Nov 6, 2020 | Faith, Uncategorized | 74 comments

Do We Use God Language to Avoid Being Wise?
Merchandise is Here!

As Christians, we can sometimes use Scriptures to justify emotional immaturity.

And that’s awful.

We’ve been talking about emotional maturity this week, as we’re launching our emotional maturity series. On Tuesday I started off talking about four markers for emotional maturity, and then on Wednesday I was asking when people started feeling like adults (and the responses were fascinating)!

Yesterday I took the day off from podcasts, and I told you it was because I was having vertigo again (which is true–I’m going to the physiotherapist this morning!). But it was also because over the last few weeks I’ve had some follow-up tests for two different kinds of cancers, and I was getting more yesterday, and I was just nervous. But yesterday I got the all-clear on both the thyroid and the breast, so I’m very relieved and in a very different frame of mind today.

Anyway, I wanted to elaborate on several comments that came into the blog this week that pointed to some important things. I appreciated all of your comments, by the way, but two in particular show a similar thread, even if it doesn’t seem apparent at first.

And that’s a rather tragic one: We often use God language and interpretation of Scripture to promote emotional immaturity.

Here’s what one commenter said yesterday:

 

Before I met my husband, I dated a very kind man who couldn’t seem to figure out his career. I wanted to be patient with him because he was such a good and kind person. But he was in a dead end job working on exploring career options; I had already been in my dream job for several years.

One day he had been reading a devotional about how God wants us to dream big and suggested that maybe God wanted him to pursue becoming a professional race car driver. I suggested maybe that wasn’t the wisest choice since he was already 31 and had never done any competitive race car driving. He insisted that if he felt God calling him, none of that mattered.

I think this is another element of emotional/spiritual maturity we need to discuss more in the church. Do you let God lead you through wisdom, experience, and those who love and care about you? Or do you insist on using God language as a trump card to avoid challenging conversations? Soon afterward I communicated that I wasn’t sure if we could keep moving forward – and he suggested that if I was unsatisfied with the situation, I could just quit MY job so that we could spend more time together. At the time I owned a home, had a mortgage, and was in my dream career. Just quitting my job wasn’t an option – but also I realized that if I had to EXPLAIN that to him, we couldn’t make decisions together for the rest of our lives. We ended things, and I decided to never date someone who made me feel like his mom – like I had to explain how career paths, mortgages or reasonable life choices work. Part of what I love most about my husband is that we have a very similar strong sense of responsibility – but more importantly he doesn’t use “God called me” or other religious language to circumvent or manipulate conversations about what goals we want to pursue together.

I think this is extremely common, and we need to talk about it more in the church.

Often we do indeed use God language to avoid having to have challenging conversations or make challenging decisions. We use Scripture to justify doing very unwise things, because doesn’t God say that He will look after us, and we can cast our cares onto Him? Doesn’t He say that if two or more gather together and pray something in His name, it will be done? Doesn’t Scripture show God saying outrageous things to people, and then amazing things happen? So why can’t we hear God telling us to do outrageous things today?

I believe that there is a lot of emotional immaturity in the church that parades as “tremendous faith”.

And then people are afraid to call it out because it’s all done in God language. 

I’m not going to comment too much more about this, but I’d love your thoughts in the comments. I do believe this is a major problem, and I’d love to figure out ways to talk about this better.

We use Scripture to justify not having boundaries

Here’s another one that’s very common: We use the idea that Jesus made Himself nothing and Jesus allowed Himself to be abused to say that we should similarly believe that we don’t matter compared to others. We should allow ourselves to be nothing. 

And, again, this sounds very pious.

Part of Meghan’s comment spoke to this:

 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started questioning long-held beliefs and realizing that it’s OK to set boundaries and that it’s OK to say no and that it’s OK to advocate for what I need. I wear otter socks like a little kid and don’t care what other people think. I speak up at the doctor’s office when they’re making incorrect assumptions. I tell my father he can’t disrespect me. I take up space unapologetically. I report people who harass me or others. Basically, I’m done acting like I don’t matter, because I do. Wish it hadn’t taken me 30 years to get here, but hey at least I can model this for my daughter and start her off on a better foundation than I had.

I love that one sentence especially: “I’m done acting like I don’t matter, because I do.” Amen!

But too often, in Christian circles, we’re told that if we speak up for ourselves, or if we have boundaries that we are being mean, selfish, and unChristlike.

That’s not true at all. I explained this at length in my post about how we need to stop using submission to justify abuse; there is nothing inherently holy in suffering.

Here’s what I think happens: Somebody wants to control another person or manipulate another person, either out of genuine malice or because they’re so insecure and have never understood their own emotions that they can’t handle someone else with needs. So they use “God language” to tell the other person that their needs don’t matter.

Don’t be selfish. Be a servant. Jesus made Himself nothing. 

Then that person, often a child, internalizes this, believing that if they do have needs, that is selfish. If they are upset at someone, they are in sin and are suffering from “non-forgiveness.” Seriously, this rush to forgive that we so often see in Christian circles is largely about emotional immaturity and not wanting to do the hard work of confronting what people are actually feeling.


For more examples of how rushing forgiveness hurts, see:


What all of these things have in common is an unwillingness or a fear to allow ourselves to feel.

We use God language to make it sound like unwise decisions are really about having faith because we’re simply scared and we don’t want to have to be responsible for anything, so we put it all on God. We tell people they don’t matter because we don’t want to deal with the messiness of having to have real conversations.

We need to stop running away from our emotions.

Emotions are simply information about what’s going on in our social environment, and, to a lesser extent, in our physical environment. Emotions allow us to make wise decisions. Emotions tell us, “when I’m with her, I get sad, so something must be going on in that relationship that isn’t healthy.” Or “when I’m asked to speak up in class, I feel nauseous and scared, so something must be going on inside me that needs to be paid attention to.”

In Scripture, we see that God Himself feels the whole gamut of emotions. And Jesus, God in human flesh, also displays emotions. And He often changes what He does based on His emotions. He withdraws after John the Baptist dies because He’s grieving, and He needs to give Himself room for that. He has compassion on people, and He feeds them.

It’s not wrong to have emotions influence your decisions, because emotions tell us what to pay attention to. When we pay attention wisely, and listen to our emotions, they can point us to what work needs to be done; where safety resides; and where safety does not reside.

Wondering about how to process emotions?

Wisdom of Your Heart

If you struggle with understanding emotions, The Wisdom of Your Heart is an excellent book helping you see how God experiences emotions, and how emotions are integral to what it means to be made in the image of God.

In church we’re often taught that emotions are bad; you can’t trust them. What if the opposite is true? My husband found this such a great read!

We need to stop using God as an excuse to not grow emotionally.

Those who follow Jesus should be the most emotionally mature, because we know the One who made us. And yet too often that’s not what happens.

So let’s have a conversation about this.

Do we use God language to stunt emotional maturity? Do we often disguise emotional immaturity as “having faith”? Do we call denying oneself the pinnacle of the Christian life? What should we do instead?

Let’s talk in the comments!

Using God Language to Avoid Growing Up

Posts in the Emotional Maturity Series:

  • Four Markers of Emotional Maturity
  • Do We Use God Language to Avoid Maturity?
  • Accepting Your Emotions–and Getting Beyond Manipulation (November 9)
  • Accepting Responsibility for What You Can Change (November 16)
  • Dealing with Emotional Immaturity in Your Spouse (November 23)
  • When Christian Resources Perpetuate Your Spouse’s Immaturity (November 30)

And check out 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage–my book that covers emotional maturity. Plus there’s a FREE group study you can take with it!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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74 Comments

  1. Erin

    I’ve seen this done so much in my lifetime that I often avoid “God language” entirely. I’ve seen God language used in the context of this post as well as used to manipulate and abuse people. Any time I feel that some God language is appropriate in a situation, I still cringe when I say it remembering the many people who have said it with bad intentions. I have people in my circle I can’t even talk to about anything serious because if you challenge them on anything, they’ll tell you God told them XYZ…and how are you supposed to argue with The Big Guy? It’s sickening! These are the ones I’ve heard preachers call “unteachable.” And they really are! They stay emotionally immature because they continue to believe they’re hearing God tell them to do all these unreasonable, immature things. And no matter how many times they pay dearly for these bad decisions, they continue to believe they hear God telling them things. They continue to believe that they’re right on the cusp of all the amazing things “God” has been telling them is just around the corner in their lives.
    I think we have to read our Bibles. ALL of it, not just cherry picking the scriptures that support our emotional immaturity. And allow God to work in our hearts to shine a light on the things we need to change. It’s so much easier said than done. We have to stay humble.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen, Erin! Totally agree. One of my husband’s pet peeves is hearing people say, “God told me X.” It actually probably makes both of us fall too far on the OTHER direction–to always question too much when we think God is telling us something. But we’ve seen it be so abused that it’s hard to trust even when it does happen. And I agree. If God tells you something, it will line up with Scripture.

      Reply
    • M Willess

      You make valid points. I wish the title was better though. It’s not stupidity, it’s immaturity. Let’s not belittle our brothers and sisters.
      And on top of that, God calls us all to “live by faith”. I know it’s Christianese but it’s true. How often do we compromise our morals and our beleifs in order to keep a job? How often do we look away and let abuse happen because we cannot stand up to our boss? And how often do we justify our cowardice as being mature, being logical, bring realistic?

      Reply
  2. Penny

    This is sooooo relevant in my life right now. I have a family member who is very mentally ill and got divorced. Not even three months later he’s married to a “Wonderful Christian woman” because God told him too. He ‘didn’t want to’ but it was God’s plan… I’m like “um, no”! Note, he told no one in his family because they would all judge this as not being from God… including two pastors and many long-term Christians whose lives prove their faith.
    How do I respond when he expects me to be in approval over his decisions “because it’s from God”, especially when it clearly isn’t???

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s so tough, Penny. I absolutely HATE the God card. Thanks!

      Reply
  3. Kacey

    I hate to be this person, but you may wish to revise your horizontal graphic. Right now it says “Do we in the church God language….”
    Glad to hear you have good news on some health questions, at least!

    Reply
  4. Char

    Sheila, it’s brilliant that you put these two comments together. The race car driver comment was mine – and there’s another half of that story I decided I didn’t have room for in that comment. My church at that time advocated a philosophy of male submission and headship. They believed per “biblical” teaching, women submit to their husbands – and husbands should submit to other godly men. They taught that one of the most important questions you should ask when you date is “who is this man submitting to?” A man’s choice to submit to other godly men demonstrated humility and would help protect women from poor or unwise decisions. So when my boyfriend suggested the professional race car driver career, I briefly expressed that I thought it wasn’t wise – and then asked him to go talk to the elder he was submitting to. When he returned from that conversation, he said the elder suggested that many wives try to control their husbands, and I very well may have that issue. So whereas I though an older man would give him wise advice about the career decision he was working on, instead it turned into a conversation about whether or not I would submit properly. I always had questions about that interpretation of scripture – but that was the moment I knew it wouldn’t work effectively. Nobody is entirely safe from a spouse occasionally making unwise choices. But what keeps me (mostly) safe from my husband’s poor decisions is actually marrying a wise and mature man who shares my values and listens to me – not some crazy male submission tree. I’m convinced that the combination of God language that circumvents hard conversations AND these “biblical submission” ideas have created an environment where women are very disenfranchised in making decisions, and in the worst cases, these ideas create an environment ripe for abuse.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Char, I totally agree! We’re actually going to tackle that in the last few weeks of this series, and maybe spilling over into December. We have so many terrible examples we’ve found in books and online articles about how women are to submit in a way that simply reinforces a man’s emotional immaturity. It’s very wrong. And it’s very dangerous for women married to unwise or abusive men as well.

      Reply
  5. Meghan

    Sheila, you totally hit the nail on the head with “then that person, often a child, internalizes this, believing that if they do have needs, that is selfish. If they are upset at someone, they are in sin and are suffering from ‘non-forgiveness.'” I’m not 100% certain where the internalized belief that I didn’t matter came from, but it definitely started in childhood and was reinforced by various people throughout the years. And I *definitely* remember hearing over and over and over that I should have a servant’s heart like Jesus and always put myself last (usually when studying Philippians in small group Bible studies, if I recall correctly).
    I think I shall wear my otter socks today. I can even send in a pic if you’d like. 🙂
    (There’s a backstory to the otter socks and why I included them in the comment yesterday. My father was always yelling at me to grow up any time I cried or acted the least bit silly or otherwise out of line with his idea of maturity. So buying myself otter socks and wearing them outside the house is one way I’m fighting those internalized ideas.)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that, Meghan!
      By the way, Keith and I have otter socks, too, because otters hold paws when sleeping so they don’t drift apart, and it’s an analogy we use a lot when speaking at marriage conferences. Someone who heard us speak once gifted us with them. But now when I wear them I shall also remember your story, and how otters play even when adults. I think that’s awesome!

      Reply
      • Meghan

        Oh my goodness, we might have the same pair! Mine show otters holding hands!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Those are them! 🙂 mine are light blue and Keith’s are dark blue.

          Reply
  6. K

    So glad you tackled this! I think a more subtle form of this is when “spiritual ness” is prized over maturity. In my young adult days the church I was going to had a very dynamic, “spiritual” leader who you didn’t dare question. I can remember him saying how he force fed his toddler daughter when she wouldn’t eat her food as an example for something. And therefore we were all supposed to consider force feeding a toddler ok – no one explicitly said that, but I know that questioning that would have been questioning his spiritual authority. I remember this example but what scares me is how many other immature messages did I hear and internalize in those years in the name of following a “spiritual” pastor who heard from God?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely, K. That’s all too common. I wrote about this in a post a while back about 10 signs you’re in a legalistic or dangerous church. Not being able to question the one in authority is definitely one of those signs! It’s like we forget that one of the core teachings of Jesus was that there wasn’t to be a power hierarchy, but instead the last shall be first. But we focus so much on authority and power in the church, and in so doing show that we’ve missed the point.

      Reply
  7. Rebecca

    I think it can be so tempting to want something with all of your heart and then talk yourself into thinking that God wants you to have it too.
    I avoid “God told me” or “the Lord said” language too, partly because of the abuse I suffered from controlling people, and also because I don’t know if I’ve ever heard directly from God and that’s a VERY big claim.
    I’m so glad you’re in the clear healthwise Sheila! Thanks for your ministry!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I’ve struggled with that myself. And I have definitely had times in my life where I have heard God tell me things. I think that if anything i err on the side of not believing what I hear because this has been so abused in churches I have gone to.
      At the same time, we recently started attending a smaller church where I feel very at home and very safe, but one thing I do miss is that they don’t stress that personal, one-on-one relationship with Jesus as much. It’s like they go too far to the other direction. I don’t know how to find a happy medium, where we do hear God’s voice in the way Jesus was saying in John 10–my sheep know my voice–but we don’t abuse that to promote just what we ourselves want.

      Reply
  8. Sarah O

    (Sorry this was supposed to be in response to Char, but for some reason I can’t get it there!)
    I think you’ve touched on something here – one of the subtle ways in which the “male headship” doctrine hurts men.
    What happens if a man is a poor leader, under the headship doctrine? And not just the egregious sinner, but simply the man who is maybe not super ambitious or competitive?
    Under headship doctrine, males who fail to lead or lead poorly are inherently flawed. If they don’t have some horrible sin that can be identified to explain the warping of their God- ordained role…then what? We question God’s design?
    Adding to that…who is most likely to intimately know an adult man? To be able to give full context and nuanced information about his behavior? Probably his wife and kids. So who will be bringing up the concerns? Probably the wife.
    So now the only way to address poor choices or immaturity is to validate the wife’s concerns, which really threatens the “submit submit submit” line, and simultaneously question the man’s leadership, which has been ordained by God. Why put yourself in that compromising theological position?
    And so, a man who desperately needs accountability and mentorship with wise Christians is instead validated and encouraged in his bad decisions, and he SUFFERS.
    The elder who validated your ex cost him his relationship with a high quality, responsible partner. It probably also set him back several years financially and career-wise. The headship doctrine was not only used to bully you, but to HARM HIM.
    I am not suggesting here that women don’t have issues with emotional immaturity or certainly “God told me so”. I am just pointing out one area in the church where good counsel is held hostage by doctrine and “God-speak”.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is so true, Sarah. The elder actually harmed the man, not just the woman. The elder held the man back because of flawed headship doctrine (and here’s a podcast I did about what headship really means, and here’s my submission series for people who are interested on what submission means).

      Reply
  9. Rebecca

    I grew up in such a strange and legalistic church I grew to fear God, and not in a reverent way! There were so many abuses of the Bible and “spiritual ” talk that happened at church and at home that I had (and maybe still have) a very warped view of God. I still struggle with that fear, and I don’t know if it will ever go away. I do know, however, that getting a surgery recently and having the hospital forgive the bill [!!!] without us asking them to, was from God. I’m not ready to give up on Him, I just have trust issues inflicted AROUND Him, but not BY Him. I hope that makes sense.
    Thanks for replying, Sheila!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Makes perfect sense, Rebecca! And don’t be afraid to keep asking God the hard questions. He can take it!

      Reply
  10. GG

    Could it be that the reason some men and even church leaders dismiss emotions and tell us they are unreliable is because they are emotional immature themselves and so are afraid of emotions? The only emotion ever shown or acknowledged in my home growing up was anger (although I as a child could not express that) so I grew up not knowing how to feel anything except anger. I was too often dismissive of others emotions and now realize (after gaining some emotional maturity) that the reason was I was uncomfortable with emotions and didn’t know what to do with them or how to feel them.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think this is very true. I think that too often Christians are allowed to feel “peace” and “joy” but that’s it. And joy just means “you don’t bring up anything bad.” But then, when we feel bad, we have nowhere to put those emotions, so they come out in anger.
      Anger is actually usually a secondary emotion. It’s safer to express anger, because it’s less vulnerable than the emotions that are triggering it–insecurity, fear, frustration, boredom, etc. I hope to revisit this in December and spend some time talking about anger and rage. But, yes, I think that in church men are told they can’t express or experience emotions, and this does lead to emotional immaturity.

      Reply
  11. Melissa

    I am going to potentially open a can of worms here.
    What about Christians who join an MLM because of God-speak? Many MLM’s are “founded on Christian principles” and members will use that as a selling point to get others to join. Many MLM members see their MLM career as a calling from God and will keep at it even when it harms their personal relationships, costs them more money than they’re making, and takes up all of their time, but when challenged on it they pull The God Card. This is something that increasingly bothers me. In the interest of full disclosure I have spent periods of my life deep in MLM culture. I have made those same arguments. As I’ve grown as a person, though, I’m not okay with it any more.
    What are your thoughts?

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I personally believe that MLMs often have a detrimental effect on the people around them, and the “God-card” is used as a spiritual manipulation tool in order to get people to sign up to be a part of someone’s down-line.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, so many people have asked me to write about MLMs! Maybe I will. I think there can be some good ones–but those are ones that sell product people actually want and consume and that don’t require consultants to buy a ton of product themselves.

      Reply
  12. Renae B

    Glad to hear you’re in the clear, missed you and Rebecca on the podcast this week! Always a highlight. Also, what happened to episode 76? It seems to have disappeared and I never got to finish listening to it!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Renae! Thanks for your best wishes! We ended up taking it down because it caused a lot of controversy and I told a story badly and muddied the waters. We’ll be addressing it again next week. We filmed it yesterday, so I know this time it will be ready! I just didn’t want to release it in the middle of election vote counting because it seems like most people aren’t paying attention to regular blogs this week (for obvious reasons!).

      Reply
  13. Lynnica

    Yes. If you know God then you have all you need. Therefore, expressing anything other than joy/cheerfulness/always smiling is a lack of faith and shows that you don’t really know God. Tears, annoyance, anger. All of these things are emotions/emotional reactions, and can be controlled. Act, don’t react. We are to be in control of our emotions, not allow our emotions to control us. One of the fruits of the Spirit is “self-control”. You need to take these emotions to God and stop allowing them to control you.

    Reply
  14. Lynnica

    That was supposed to be a reply to Sheila’s comment about Christians only being allowed to feel “peace and joy”

    Reply
  15. Nick Peters

    Whenever you hear someone say “God told me” send up red flags immediately. I say the same thing when people talk about God leading them to do XYZ. There is no biblical precedent for God speaking through your emotions like that. None. There is plenty of precedent for wisdom, so much so that that’s all the book of Proverbs is about.
    Also, the Bible was written in a culture that was highly collectivist in nature and was honor and shame based and not guilt and innocence based. We read our own culture into the text and then misread the text.
    I recommend everyone read Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes and Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes.

    Reply
  16. Wild Honey

    Oh my gosh, yes! I have heard this before, also, that when a wife disagrees with her husband it’s because she’s trying to “control” the situation. No, actually, it’s because God gave her a brain and a voice, too! The accusation of being “controlling” is just an avoidance from having to work through conflict resolution.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Completely agree! Sometimes, of course, there can be controlling wives (just as there can be controlling husbands). But the idea that all women want to control men, or that women’s original sin was trying to control her husband, is just bunk. If you look the world over, which gender is trying to control the other? Let’s just stop with this, and instead start looking at how both of us can resolve conflict better!

      Reply
  17. Wild Honey

    This was originally in the context of spiritual abuse in churches as opposed to marriage, but I heard someone (wish I could remember who to give them due credit!) say that truth should not trump unity. Basically that we as Christians have idolized unity of the church (or marriage) over truth, and this has been to our detriment because now we can’t speak up when things are unhealthy or plain wrong. I would say this ties in with enabling immaturity, stifling character growth on the parts of people who need to wrestle with uncomfortable truths. Given that Jesus flipped tables in the temple and had a number of choice words for “teachers of the law” who abused their positions, I think this is worth considering.

    Reply
  18. Renae B

    I see, too bad! I look forward to the next podcast 😊

    Reply
  19. Char

    Totally agree with you, Sarah. I think a lot of the complementarian headship doctrines end up crippling growth for both people.
    On a side note – Sheila, so glad you’re feeling better and that the health results were good! ❤️

    Reply
  20. Lynnica

    I also wanted to comment on “Then that person, often a child, internalizes this, believing that if they do have needs, that is selfish. If they are upset at someone, they are in sin and are suffering from “non-forgiveness.” ”
    I’ve always felt selfish for saying that I need something, or for asking for help, especially if doing so could in any way be in conflict with what someone else needs/wants. And since I have an overly analytical mind and a pretty good imagination, I can always think of ways that me asking for something would cause problems. A lot of the time I can also see that it would be a problem NOT to ask (and of course there’s the thought that if I don’t ask they can’t say yes), but that’s hardly ever as strong a thought as the one urging me to stay quiet.
    Thank you for this article Sheila. I’ll be checking out a couple that you linked as well.
    Sorry you haven’t been feeling well. Glad you’re in the clear though. God bless!

    Reply
  21. Bonnie

    Thanks for this timely post, Sheila! First, glad your tests came back clear. Hope your vertigo will subside too.
    In my marriage, I have had to carry the load of being responsible much of the time. Long story short, it has become his habit, if there’s something I want to discuss, something that needs to change or be worked on, to accuse me of “always wanting to be in control”. He uses this goes alongside of scruipture, which says, “the man is the head of the wife…”. Feels like another God card, since it ends the conversation.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Definitely another illegitimate God card! We’ll be dealing with this later in the month as well. It’s its own category of harmful. So sad.
      And by the way–just because he thinks the conversation is over doesn’t mean it has to be. It’s okay to say, “I understand that you don’t want to talk about it, but I do. This is important enough that I am going to make an issue out of it. We aren’t going to pretend that things are fine and go along with normal life when you refuse to engage with things that are important. Our relationship is too vital for me to let it be ruined like that.”
      I’d also consider getting some licensed counseling to help you through this. That’s not okay to be treated like that.

      Reply
  22. Christie

    An example of emotional immaturity…. My first husband could not settle down into a career. He went from job to job to job. Once he went through the police academy (we sacrificed – paying for childcare so he could study during the day while I was at work. Academy classes were held at night.) In the middle of Field Training – he came home in the middle of his shift (3am) and said he quit. “I felt that the law of man was replacing the law of God in my heart.” So he had to quit.
    (Today I believe he actually got in trouble at work and was given the choice to resign or be fired. But it was 10 years before I realized that was a possible explanation for his resignation.)
    We attended a “mom wear skirts stay home, homeschool the kids, have lots of kids” church, and I was the only woman who had a full-time job – as an engineer. He started a brand new business: a gym. Within the first three months of opening his gym he put immense pressure on me along with the pastor to quit my job and stay home. (Kid #3 was on the way and trusted sitter said she couldn’t care for 3.) So I quit my job even though I was shaking – afraid we’d end up on welfare.
    His gym folded within the year and we went on welfare – twice.
    The kids went 10 years without any dental care. My oldest had an emergency tooth pulled when a cavity went to the nerve. I didn’t even have the money to pay for that. My parents paid for it.
    “Trust God with your fertility.”
    After 5 kids – plus going back to work making 2/3 of my previous job then getting laid off. The money COMPLETELY ran out. We had $500 in the checking account. I had to choose: my husband or my kids. I couldn’t take care of both.
    My kids were innocent. My husband was the source of all the troubles. I had spent myself completely trying to prevent the results of his bad decisions from coming home to roost. I still had my engine degree. I could care for them if he was out of the way. I choose my kids – and left him.
    He was mad. “Now I have to go out and get a job!” He complained to his mother after I was gone. Not heartbroken that the love of his life drove away taking his children. Mad that his meal-ticket had fled.
    And what had lured me into marriage to that man? What had kept me there for 15 years through bad decision after bad decision? God-talk.
    Today I am married to a wonderful man. Making decisions together is amazingly easy – we both make good decisions and discuss things respectfully! And the finances are a complete 180 degrees! I no longer fear that I shall be an old woman in a house falling down around me, waiting for Meals in Wheels to deliver my one meal a day. I can plan travel and vacations, take care of the kids’ needs and some wants too, and look forward to the future with no fear.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Christie, I’m so glad that you’ve found real intimacy. And I’m so sorry that God was ever used as an excuse for your ex-husband to be irresponsible, and that no one stepped in and told him to step up. How enabling of his immaturity! That must have been so scary to wonder how you were going to care for your kids. I’m glad you’re in a good place now.

      Reply
  23. Hannah

    My experience of the phrase “God told me…” has been quite different! It’s been a shorthand for, “I prayed, read the Bible, spoke to other Christians and here is where I believe God is leading me.” It’s come with the caveat that random ideas popping into your head need testing because they may just be you, and that certain things will be seen by multiple people, not just you (particularly a calling to full time Christian ministry). When people started telling me some years ago that I shouldn’t say “God told me…” I found it really difficult, as if we’re saying God doesn’t speak to us personally. This post is very helpful for me in explaining why people would have real problems with “God told me…” and how it can be badly misused.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m with you, Hannah. I do believe that God can speak to people, and that we SHOULD be seeking His voice. That’s why I find this all so muddy. I find that I’ve become so jaded that I often don’t think God does speak to me, even though I know He does. It’s hard to hang on to both things–that it can be misused, but also that you do want to hear from God!

      Reply
  24. Andrea

    One effective reaction to someone saying “God told me to [do some ridiculous thing]” is to counteract it with an even more ridiculous thing. When a guy told one of my friends that God told him he would marry her, she said: “Oh no, but God told me I would marry [another person]! Maybe we should just both pray about it more?”
    I’ve recently watched my dad try to pull the “God told me to…” card on my mother. She won’t even indulge him by bringing God into it, she just says “I disagree.” I like how she owns it instead of bartering with the God card. It’s interesting because they’re egalitarian, so he can’t just make a unilateral decision, so he’s trying the God card.

    Reply
  25. Boone

    About two months after my wife and I started dating she was approached at church by this rather awkward man about 35 or so. This guy had graduated from this unaccredited bible college near Knoxville. He was living with his parents and working at a local Subway. He claimed to be starting a ministry to Hindu Subway owners. He told my wife that God had told him that she was to break up with me and marry him and be his partner in ministry. She would also have to quit her job in administration at the local hospital and get pregnant as soon as possible because neither of them were getting any younger. She assured him that she had talked with God that very morning and that God didn’t mention anything about him so there had to be some mistake. He assured her that it was true and that they would speak in this at a later time.
    He showed up during her lunch at the hospital on Monday and was prompt escorted away by security with instructions not to return. Monday evening I’m sitting on the back porch with the dogs when I see an old beat up car heading up the driveway. This dude gets out and proceeds to tell me that God wants me to break up with my wife so she can marry him. I told him to “git and git quick “ before I set the dogs in him, both of which were giving a low down in the chest growl with the hair on their backs standing straight up. He started to protest. I interrupted and told him that if he was still there when I got back I was going to shoot him. He left as I headed in the back door.
    He then drove over to the county seat to my wife’s condo. She called me in a panic and I called county dispatch and had a deputy sent. He was arrested for stalking. He got two weeks in jail and a years probation with the promise that if he came near either of us again he’d serve every day if that year.
    We had no more trouble out of him.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s crazy, Boone! And I hate how he used God language to justify it all!

      Reply
  26. Chloe Marie

    Two years ago, I figured out that my husband of 30 years was having an affair with one of my church friends. Here is one thing that my husband said early on that I can’t let go of: “What if I’m supposed to be with her(the other woman), but, because I took matters into my own hands, I made everything worse. If I had just waited, God would have taken care of it for us to be together.” This “God card” still hurts and will probably never go away.
    We did go to counseling for 9 months; we’re still together; but I honestly don’t know what God wants. I trust HIM completely;I know HE never changes; and HIS word is to be my guide. Trying to be emotionally mature thru this is like a roller coaster!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Chloe, that was a terrible thing for your husband to say! I don’t think God’s will works that way at all. I think God gives us lots of choice, and once we’ve made our choices, we’re to honor them. Using “God’s will” like your husband did to justify hurting you like that is just plain mean and wrong.

      Reply
  27. Rachael

    I recommend the book ‘decision making and the will of god’ for people who want a more biblical view on decision making that’s not trite “God told me” stuff.

    Reply
  28. Natalie

    Omg, I’ve so noticed this too recently!!! (probably cuz more of my friends have turned to MLM’s to make ends meet since Covid). What I really hate is all the sales pitches, trying to get people to join their “team”, of things like “you never know what God is going to put in your life to grow you and challenge you and draw you closer to Him.” “When a door closes, God opens a window.” “Something _______ (whichever MLM they’re part of) has taught me is that I really should never say no to God when He gives me an opportunity. That’s like saying ‘no’ to His direction in my life.” & then follow that up with all their “want to make extra money for your family doing what you love from home?’ Uuuuuugh, I cringe so hard!!! So scammy, and talk about using spiritual guilt to get your Christian friends to join your MLM!!!! No shame! 100% NOT of God! I’ve also noticed a lot of the Christian MLM saleswomen seem to have a very Prosperity Gospel “Christian” sales pitch… like “God wants you to succeed financially. He’s giving you this opportunity to join me and make more money and help other people”, etc. Super scammy!
    Sheila! Please do an MLM post!

    Reply
  29. Natalie

    Sorry, that was meant to be a reply to Melissa. Idk why my post started its own thread.

    Reply
  30. Jane Eyre

    “But too often, in Christian circles, we’re told that if we speak up for ourselves, or if we have boundaries that we are being mean, selfish, and unChristlike.”
    After being told that I was a bad Christian for not wanting a torrent of abusive messages while at work, it became really clear that people use such language to avoid having to be better.
    This happens in the secular world, too. “Be more patient with your jerk boyfriend.” “Be nicer to your awful in-laws.” “Stick it out a little bit longer under your abusive manager.”
    It shifts the burden from one person to another. If the other person is twisted into knots being “better,” the person who is screwing up doesn’t have to change.
    Christ doesn’t tell us to deal with people treating us badly by pretending we are the problem. We are to be loving and patient; we are also to be wise. We are to know someone by their fruits.

    Reply
  31. Pamela

    And remember — the Psalms are full of emotion — every emotion imaginable! God himself displays emotion, and we are made in his image, so a variety of emotions is to be expected, and the Psalms beautifully demonstrate this.

    Reply
  32. Cynthia

    Interesting. I’m from a religious tradition (Judaism) that doesn’t have that “God told me” idea except for a few groups that are really into mysticism, so this is a bit of a foreign concept.
    My sense is that we have teachings, and we have general principles on how to apply those teachings to real life. Sometimes, I’ll have an experience that illustrates a teaching, or be put in a situation that provides an opportunity or forces me to grow or changes my perspective, but for the most part, it strikes me as a bit arrogant to think that the Master of the Universe is going to personally dictate instructions to me that haven’t been revealed to the rest of the world. It also strikes me as arrogant when I see someone state a bit too confidently that they know exactly what God’s plans are, or why something happened.
    There are two images that I do think are useful: being a tool for God, and making a vessel to receive blessings. I think it’s useful to ask yourself how God can use you as a tool in any given situation, to bring blessings to others. That gives us purpose. It’s also useful to think about what we need to do on a practical level in order to receive blessings. For example, we can hope that something is successful, but we have to make an effort.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Cynthia. I like that–a tool and a vessel. I shall ponder that.
      I do actually think that God wants to talk to us individually, but I don’t think it looks like what many think it does. I think often it’s just reassurance of His presence.

      Reply
  33. Ingrid Malmberg

    Sheila, you keep reading my mind!
    I have been thinking about the use of “God language/religious jargon a lot”. I actually became interested in this after hearing and reading the work of Dr. Jordan Peters, the U of T psychology professor who got notorious for taking a stand against bill c-16 in Canada a few years ago. He had spent most of his career trying to understand totalitarian societies, and the ideological possession that accompanies philosophies like Communism. Due to his influence, I then read the Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the book that documented his life in the Soviet prison system where he was placed as a “political prisoner” because he criticized Stalin.
    In the second volume, Solzhenitsyn outlined how to tell if someone is ideologically possessed. There were also loyal Communists who were in the Gulag camps but they always had an easy, prepackaged explanation for why they were there, in accordance with Communist philosophy. If they heard the news that a neighboring town was short on food, they would say it was because “the proletariat workers had not met the quotas”. They said they were in prison because ” there was a mistake, that Comrade Stalin would understand that they should not be in prison, that they were going to write to Stalin to allow them to be released”. These types were the equivalent of well known things you could say today like “society is inherently sexist” or speak of a “tyrannical patriarchy”. Solzhenitsyn concluded that people committed to ideology in such a dictatorship said the words of that ideology because they were easy to say, predictable, and required no responsibility for what you said.
    This clip sums it up pretty well.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLLB4OH0x-Q
    I started to think that sometimes speaking with “God language” is a form of ideological possession too: easy to say words that allow you to pat yourself on the back for your “faith”. I realized this after trying to figure out how most of the people who ever abused me in my childhood also made the claim to be “Christian”. I rarely ever got an apology from any of them and they continued to do it, all the while attending church and calling themselves Christian. I think that “god language” has something to do with it because you can use easy words without be careful about what you mean. If you had to think hard about what you mean and therefore, believe, then maybe you would feel bad for your inadequacies and then repent, as Christianity requires us to do. “God language” are easy words that get you out of responsibility and as a result can turn people tyrannical.
    Thank you for posting this. I appreciate this blog for tackling the hard stuff.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Ingrid! Yes, God Language is a way to escape responsibility quite often. I think we often forget that the people that Jesus was the angriest at were the Pharisees, who put God language into everything. They were always excusing themselves because of God. We have to ask: Are we resembling the Pharisees or the early church? And all too often it is the Pharisees.

      Reply
  34. Ingrid Malmberg

    Spelling correction, it’s Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Psychology professor at University of Toronto.

    Reply
  35. Maggie

    This is a great piece! Back in my university days, I had a friend who had a total of THREE guys in her fellowship tell her they were certain God had told them they were going to marry her. Each time she said, “Well, God never told me that” and they would try to convince her or even bully her into dating because otherwise she would be going against God’s will. I understand what it’s like when you are young and full of emotions and you just ‘happen’ to find yourself reading Matthew 7:7-8 again and again, but we need to be discerning about what is from God and what is from ourselves, especially so if it involves other people’s consent.
    I’ve also seen well-meaning Christians fall back on the idea that God must not want any harm to come to us to give false assurances, for example “God told me you will be healed of your cancer” or “I know God will change your straying spouse’s heart” when in fact this is more like wishful thinking. It sounds helpful but it can cause people to become angry with God when what was promised does not come to pass and it can keep us from moving forward and making peace with the circumstances God has placed us in. As a childess woman who has dealt with infertility for many years, it is frustrating when I try to speak honestly about my struggle of how God can withhold such a good gift from His daughter and the response is, “As you were speaking, I felt God tell me He will give you a child.” The belief that I know what God wants and it is coincidentaly exactly what *I* want keeps us spiritually immature, unable to wrestle with the God in the grief and unmet longings that come from living in a fallen world.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Maggie, that is such a terrible thing for someone to say to you! I know they mean well likely, but it is still terrible. I’m sorry.
      When I was pregnant with my son, shortly after we got the diagnosis of his heart defect that was very life-threatening, I had a woman tell me, “God has told me he will be healed.” It was such a careless thing for her to say. It insinuated that because he wasn’t healed, it was my lack of faith. We need to be more careful about these things.

      Reply
  36. Alex

    Sheala, I just love how you tackle the tough subjects. Oh my, yes. I grew up in these kinds of evangelical churches. I do genuinely believe some of the people really heard God, but there was also so much pressure to hear Him too. Like when I was a teen and doing a course before my baptism the person running the class actually told us we had to pray about every little decision, even for example which bus to take. His reasoning maybe God wanted us to evangelize to a particular person on that bus… It’s been hard sometimes to have to admit I don’t hear God, but at the same time I know I have dedicated my life to him.
    It’s interesting now with my own kids. They tell me they are also told to listen and try to hear God. But I can tell them it’s OK if they don’t, and to know what is in scripture to help guide them that way.
    Also, the thing with the God speak is it can be such a turn off for non-believers. I live in a relatively small town, but it has a world-wide famous mega church. The irony is most locals can’t stand the church. Meanwhile people from all over the world descend down on the town, and use their God-speak on the locals. And it doesn’t work. People are so annoyed with it. They want to be able to take walks in the park without being asked to pray. The church won’t build their own dorms, because they believe their students should live throughout the city interacting with their neighbors, but the locals complain about rent prices being driven up. It’s all just so heart-breaking. I think some of these people really do love God and are seeking him, but I just see more harm then good. I remember once one of my student’s (I’m an elementary school teacher) family went to this church. In the parent teacher conference I tried to bring up a concern to the parents (it was a good kid, just something I worried about) and the Dad just totally started covering with God-speak.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Alex, that is sad. And, yes, I’ve heard of that sort of thing happening with megachurches in small towns. Godspeak can be very toxic, and can really wreck people’s faith, too. When you think you heard God, and then you didn’t, what can you do about it? We need to be far more careful about this stuff!

      Reply
  37. Doug Hoyle

    I have my own take on this. I absolutely know that God has spoken to me a couple of times. There was no room for doubt, because what I was being told to do was the last thing in the world that I wanted to do. There was no burning bush or smoke from the skies. Usually, the words were actually spoken by a friend, but there is no question of who was the real source.
    Those were powerful, and altogether unpleasant experiences. They all involved confession of one sort or another.
    I know God talks to us, but I don’t think he does so over trivial matters. I don’t think it is necessarily a pleasant experience. In my own experience, he gets directly involved when he has chosen a path for me to get on, and I am resisting him on it. The way I described it at the time was that I had just gotten things smoothed out in my life, and he was telling ne to take a big stick and knock a hornets nest down from a tree, and just trust that I wouldn’t get stung.
    There have been other instances when I desperately wanted to know his will and the direction he would pick for me in a given situation or circumstance, and ….SILENCE.
    God directs us all in a general sense, thru his word, and in trying to live a Christlike life. I don’t think he has specific instructions for us in the day to day minutia of our lives, but when he does, it is un-mistakable, and un-comfortable.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Doug! I’ve had experiences where God has spoken specifically to me, too. At times it was uncomfortable; at other times it was very comforting (in times of grief for instance). So I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I’m with you. We just have to exercise discernment!

      Reply
  38. Chloe Marie

    Thank you – that was very helpful! When my children were growing up, I used to tell them to honor God with their choices.

    Reply
  39. Doug Hoyle

    Still waiting on the comforting words. Maybe I am just deaf to them.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Doug. You know what’s really helped me? Only reading the gospels for a time. And try to listen to Jesus’ words without thinking of all the sermons you’ve heard. Just take them at face value. And let yourself feel it. It does change it. So much of what we think of God is filtered through so much tradition. I think we need to just get back to watching Jesus sometimes. Then we see that His words are meant for us, even individually.

      Reply
  40. Maggie

    Thank you for your kind reply. I am sorry for your loss.

    Reply
  41. Anon

    Oh, I’ve loved otters for years, but I never knew that about them before! I’ll extra-love them now. Thank you for sharing that gem!

    Reply
  42. Anon

    I tend to use the phrase ‘I think God wants me to…’ or ‘I believe this is from God’ instead of ‘God told me’ – because there have been times when it definitely feels like He has spoken to me directly, but I put that little caveat in there as a reminder that I’m human and make mistakes, and while this ‘may’ be God speaking, it ‘may’ also be me mis-hearing!
    I’ve also found over the years that it’s a pretty good guide to how much to listen to others too. In general, people who tell me they have a ‘word from the Lord’ for me have nearly always been wrong. People who say ‘I THINK God may have this word for you’ or ‘this has been on my heart to share with you so I think it may be from the Lord’ are nearly always right. Perhaps God speaks most clearly to those who are humble enough to realise they don’t always get it right?

    Reply
  43. Lindsey

    Emotional immaturity! I have been feeling this way for a while but never had the words to explain it directly! My family are deeply rigid in their beliefs. For example- they have said to me that death isn’t something that has to happen. How am I supposed to talk about advanced directives as my parents age? Or dying with dignity as their parents age?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Wow, that’s awful! They think death doesn’t have to happen? Definitely emotional immaturity. I would say something like, “I find it very selfish of you that you won’t do a little work now to save me a lot of pain and heartache later. I find it selfish that you would rather I endure pain and heartache than that you might have to think about the fact that you will one day die. I think this could be a lovely conversation if and when you are willing to have it, but it hurts me that you don’t care enough about me to talk about it.” Something like that?

      Reply

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