PODCAST: How Your Story Affects Your Choices with Natalie Hoffman

by | Mar 14, 2024 | Podcasts | 16 comments

Podcast Natalie Hoffman IFS
Orgasm Course

Understanding our stories helps us understand our choices–and make different ones in the future.

The last book I read in 2023 was an advanced copy of Natalie Hoffman’s new memoir, All the Scary Little Gods.

It’s absolutely devastating and lovely and completely quirky and different. I really, really enjoyed this.

Natalie, who founded Flying Free Sisterhood, and coaches women coming out of abusive marriages, has done a lot of counseling to understand her own story. Much of that counseling used IFS (Internal Family Systems), which is such a neat way to honor the different parts of us who were trying to protect us–even if they did a bad job.

She writes the memoir from the point of view of “little Natalie”, as she narrates her childhood, and then different parts of her as she narrates her marriage.

It’s so well done, and it invites the reader to understand our own little voice, and our own different parts.

This convo was so fun, too!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

When we haven’t examined our stories, we can repeat the same dynamics. 

Here’s what Natalie said in her book:

In Part Two, I made choices that I look back on now and regret because at the time, I chose to continue in much of my early programming. On the one hand, I understand why I made those choices, and I have compassion for the young adult version of me. She did the best she could with the resources she had. On the other hand, if I want to heal and grow into the next version of myself, I need to take personal responsibility for my adult choices and the programming I reinforced through my choices of friends, books, music, churches,and intentional experiences. If I don’t take responsibility, I will always blame my lack of growth and stuckness on outside forces, and that leaves me in a powerless position. I’ve chosen to take my power back by being an adult who takes responsibility for my own self.

Natalie Hoffman

All the Scary Little Gods

That’s a hard thing for a lot of us to accept, but it is powerful, and it is the key to growth. And this memoir is a great place to start, because in listening to little Natalie, and the different parts of Natalie, I found myself able to hear little Sheila a little bit louder, and able to understand the different parts of me and have compassion for them (especially the Spiritualizer part! Natalie and I had a great conversation about that in this podcast). 

All the Scary Little Gods by Natalie Hoffman

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

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Future Speaking Events:
Belleville, ON: 
St. Thomas Anglican Church in Belleville, Ontario is throwing a party for us to celebrate The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better! March 23, 2:30-4:30 pm. Q&A, crafts with toxic books, and more.
More information here. 


What do you think? Have you ever used IFS? How did your story affect you? Let’s talk in the comments!


Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage podcast.  I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from baremarriage.com where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage.  And today we’re going to bring on one of my good friends, who has been on the podcast a couple times before, to talk about her really confusing marriage and how she eventually left an emotionally abusive marriage and what led to it.  But we’re going to tell her story in a totally new way.  It’s just fascinating using IFS, Internal Family System.  So that’s going to be awesome.  But before we get to that, I just, as always, want to say a special thank you to the people who make this podcast possible, our patrons, who give so generously.  You can join our patron group for as little as $5 a month and get access to unfiltered podcasts and our Facebook group and more.  It’s a great place to hang out and ask questions and just a very supportive group.  And if you are in the United States and you would like to give more money, we do offer tax deductible receipts, and the link to that Good Fruit Faith Initiative of the Bosco Foundation is in our podcast notes.  And, of course, when you buy our merch like our biblical womanhood mugs, biblical manhood mugs, anything like that, it also supports us.  So please check out those links because they help us keep going.  And now without further ado, I am going to bring on my good friend, Natalie.  I am so glad to bring back to the podcast one of my good friends, Natalie Hoffman.  Hello, Natalie.

Natalie: Hi.

Sheila: And you were on just—let’s see.  I think it was last month when we talked about Lies Women Believe.  You and Gretchen Baskerville joined me for that one.  And you were one of the top podcasts of the year the first time when you came on when you told your story.  So yeah.

Natalie: Oh wow.  I did not know that.

Sheila: Yeah.  I’m so glad to have you back.  And you and I go way back.  I know we started talking maybe 10, 11 years ago.

Natalie: Yeah.  Well, that was back in my conservative days.  And you probably were more conservative back then too.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I know you had just gotten out of your marriage when I started talking to you and—yeah.  Really, really neat.  So why don’t you—I don’t even know what to say about you because I know so much about you.  So why don’t you tell people what you want them to know about you before we start.

Natalie: Sure.  I’m the author of two books, Is It Me?  Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage: A Christian Woman’s Guide to Hidden Emotional and Spiritual Abuse and then a brand new book that we’re going to be talking about today.  Just came out a week ago.  Called All the Scary Little Gods.  It’s a creative telling of my own story using IFS theory.  And I’ve also been advocate for many years.  I work closely with Christian women through my private program, The Flying Free Sisterhood, and my public podcast also called Flying Free.

Sheila: Yeah.  Awesome.  And I recommend Is It Me? all the time.  It’s a great book for if you have a friend or a sister or maybe even you and you just—you’re confused by your marriage.  You keep trying, and nothing is ever getting better.   It’s a good one to recommend just to sort of ease people in to recognizing when things aren’t right.  So yes.  I definitely recommend that book too.  But today we’re not talking about that one.  We are talking about your new one, All the Scary Little Gods.  And I read an early copy of this.  Probably back in December.  And I just loved it.  It’s just beautiful.  It made me cry several times.  And so many little things.  You and I have so many things in common.  We both went to Urbana ‘87.  

Natalie: No way.

Sheila: Yeah.  I was there too.  We lived very similar lives in some ways.  And then in other ways very different ones.  So that was super interesting.  But let me set the stage for our listeners about why this is a memoir that is really different, and it works.  It hits you in a totally different way because you’re not just writing your story.  You’re writing your story from different perspectives.  And so in the first half of the book—we’ll deal with the first half first.  And then we’ll get into IFS later.  Because the first half, you’re actually writing it from the perspective of little Natalie and the voices little Natalie—even when you’re six years old.  You’re talking—you’re trying to make sense of the world the way a six year old would.  And it’s really emotional.  And it’s lovely.

Natalie: My inner world was very real to me when I was younger.  I found a journal when I was a little girl, and it was fascinating to read that and to read my thoughts about things.  But yeah.  Just going through all of my paraphernalia brought up a lot of memories for me.  And I really went through a phase where I despised myself.  Most of my adult life I despised myself and despised that little girl.  And so as I walked through my healing journey, I started to connect with her and realize how precious she was.  I even put up pictures of myself as a little child in my office so that I could—because I would never treat any other little children like the way that I was treating my little Natalie.  So when it came time when I finally felt like, okay, I think I’m ready to write my memoir, I—just this idea kept—popped into my head.  I should let her tell her part—her side of the story in her voice.  I wonder what that would be like to let her talk.  So as I let her talk then I also realized she never had an empathetic witness when she was little.  She never had someone who validated her experiences.  She had a lot of invalidation happening.  And so I thought, “What would it be like if I answered back?”  So the chapters are really short.  It’s her little voice talking about one little thing that happened in her life.  I should say, too, that it’s a spiritual memoir.  So it’s focused on my walk—my journey with God.  So I don’t tell my whole story.  It’s just the parts of my life where I—that intersected with God.  But I realize that I could be that empathetic witness for her.  And so I try to model what that looks liken by—at the end of each little chapter, I—yeah.  There’s a little—just a little paragraph of me saying—it’s me intertwined with the Holy Spirit.  What would we—if we were to partner together and be an empathetic witness for this child, what would we say back to her about that experience that she had?  And I’ve heard from other readers.  They’ve said that’s been really powerful for them even to realize that maybe they grew up and were looking for love and to realize that that love actually exists for them.  It’s heart breaking that they didn’t have it but also very cathartic to realize that it’s actually there.  They just haven’t been able to tune in to it.

Sheila: Yeah.  It was very powerful.  I really appreciated that part of it.  And I appreciated your little Natalie voice and the little Natalie voice gets older as you get older.  I just thought it was very well done.  And then in the intro, as you’re introducing little Natalie, you’re explaining why she’s going to be talking, you say this.  And you explain the title of the book.  And I’m just going to read a little bit.  I know this is always awkward for authors when someone reads your quote, but I just want people to hear your words.  “So for me the journey has been about discovering that empathetic witness in the tangled maze of religious programming that taught me how to worship and fawn after scary little gods.  Gods that included authority figures, pet religious beliefs, my own confused and conflicted shadow parts, and a powerless, petty god made in the image of all the abusers I had ever known: a god who gas lighted, manipulated, and terrified humans for his glory and pleasure.”  That’s so sad, but that’s what so many of us did grow up with.

Natalie: Yeah.  It’s actually really freeing because when I started deprogramming from a lot of the beliefs that I had I didn’t want—I wanted to hang on to God as I knew Him.  I mean I grew up reading the Bible too, so I had a lot of programming from other people.  But I also read the Bible, and I recognized that God was a God of love.  I mean there were also problematic parts that I was confused about.  But I recognized that God was love, and I wanted to hang on to that.  So I was trying to figure out how do I maintain the best parts of my faith that really enrich my life and give me so much hope and peace and discard the parts of it that were really destructive.  And I realize that you can do that.  It’s not just this—it’s not just what we were taught.  I hope that we all as we get older and evolve and grow in our relationship with God that we will always be pruning out things that just don’t quite fit with what we are—as God expands in our minds and becomes bigger to us.  We get to prune out the things that don’t fit into that newer understanding of who God is.  We should all be doing that, and it is exciting and adventurous work that we can do within us, within ourselves, spiritually.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  And it does lead to so much freedom.  And what’s interesting is when you read little Natalie in the first part of the book that’s what she’s looking for.  She’s looking for goodness and faith, and she believes it’s there.  But the adults and the authority figures in her life keep trying to squash it in her.  And it’s so sad.  Your very first part in the book you open—you call yourself a bawl baby.  Like you’re always bawling.  And it’s interesting that little Natalie thought of herself that way as opposed to just I’m always sad or I’m always crying.

Natalie: Yes.  Because that’s what I was told.  I tried to tell the story from her perspective, but an adult reading it would be able to interpret that, oh, if she’s calling herself a bawl baby and she’s that little that means someone in her life has labeled her that way.  And I don’t say who it is.  But I was labeled that way.  I had one other sister who was labeled that way as well.  But we were just highly sensitive, emotional people, but emotions were not—they were looked down on.  And you were weak.  You were not trusting God if you had emotions.  You could have the emotion of happiness and joy, but you could not have sadness.  You could not have anger.  You could not have frustration.  You could not have anxiety.  Those emotions were bad.  So in that chapter, I’m just kind of setting the stage for that whole idea.  And yeah.  Really that idea was rooted in me that bawl babies were bad, and I was a bad girl because I bawled.  And as I got older, I would not let anyone see me crying.  I got really—even today it’s still very difficult for me to be vulnerable and cry in front of my kids or my husband.  Yeah.

Sheila: Yeah.  It’s so sad.  And then you did tell a story.  We don’t need to dwell on it, but I want to mention this because I’m going to come back to it later.  About how one of your earliest memories, when you were that little bawl baby, you were drying dishes and you were crying about something.  And your mom smashed your face into the countertop. 

Natalie: Yeah.  Yeah.  There was a little bit of that kind of thing going on.  But it was so intermittent, and I never—as an adult, I never—if you would have said, you experienced some physical abuse as a child I would have said, “No.  I didn’t.  That’s ridiculous.  I was not abused as a child.”  But as I learned more about abuse and then looked back on my experiences, I was like oh my word.  I experienced so many layers of abuse as a child.  But it was all normalized for me.  Even now, my family of origin won’t talk to me because I talk about this.  I’ve never accused them of anything.  But I talk about abuse.  And it’s like they don’t want to have anything to do with me because they’re afraid of being exposed in that way. 

Sheila: Right.  That’s so sad.  Okay.  And then we see you as you grow up.  You’re learning more about God.  You start going to church.  Your mother starts going to church.  And I see you so desperately wanting to be loved by God.  You talk about you’re praying.  And you’re excited about Jesus.  But at the same time, you’re giving us all these stories of these terrible—I know many people consider these foundational doctrines.  And I don’t want to argue that.  But the way it’s being presented, right?  I wish we had all been ready in the rapture, and you’re going to be left behind and all the threats about Hell—to give those to a little child is really—yeah.  When you see it from her perspective and what that does to how she sees God, it’s scary.

Natalie: It is.  Well, and I remember my own kids—raising my own kids and being really scared—well, I guess I do get into that later on in the book.  Being really scared for their salvation also.  And then I project that on to them.  So all of my kids can remember.  We’ve had conversations about it.  All of my kids can remember except the very youngest ones feeling terrified that if they didn’t pray the prayer the right way or maybe they didn’t pray it in the right attitude or whatever that now they’re going to go to Hell.  And they would keep asking me, “Well, how are you—are you sure I’m going to go to Heaven?  Can you pray the prayer with me again?”  So even my own children, I passed that on to them.  It’s so sad.  

Sheila: Yeah.  It’s that you can never have a relationship with God where you’re just at rest.      

Natalie: Exactly.  Where you can just trust that He loves you no matter what.  And that’s just the other thing too.  We had this idea—I was raised with this idea that you couldn’t lose your salvation on the one hand.  A lot of times we get taught opposite things.  You can’t lose your salvation, and God loves you so much.  And also if you step out of line, you’ll be slipping down the slippery slope to Hell and perdition, and all of your children will go to Hell in a hand basket.  So there’s this—a lot of confusion, and we don’t really stop.  Well, I finally did when I got older.  For most of my life, I didn’t really stop and think, “Those two things can’t both be true at the same time.”  So yeah.

Sheila: Yeah.  But that faith that we are led into is often very fear based, and that has an effect.  And you mention a bunch of things.  Like you said, this is more of a faith memoir than anything else.  And so we get these little glimpses of Natalie as she grows up.  And these other things that happened to you with regards with faith.  And there was one really sad one that really stood out to me.  I think you were around middle school age, and you read a book called Light From Heaven.  Can you explain that?  What the plot of that book was.  

Natalie: Yeah.  Oh my gosh.  That book haunted me.  And I read it several times.  It was dog eared.  I don’t know.  And I really feel like I was trying to find clues about how to figure this whole thing out.  But in that book, the wife was married to an abusive man.  He was physically abusive and mentally abusive.  And he was also a leader in their church.  So the wife—the book presented it in—and he beat his child too.  His oldest son.  All through his life.  But the wife never told anybody.  The book presented it like the wife was a godly woman, who made sure to honor her husband and respect her husband in public.  And she trusted God with everything.  So in the end, she ends up dying.  But she dies like a noble Christian woman’s death.  Her son honors her for how she kept the secret and never told anybody.  In my mind, I thought that was the best thing to do.  That that was how God would love me and how that would make me a good Christian if I also kept my mouth quiet about any kind of abuse that came up in my life.  And I didn’t even recognize it as abuse because that book was so obviously—I mean he would beat her and beat his son.  So if she should keep her mouth shut about that, then surely we would not say anything about someone who is gas lighting us or manipulating us or threatening us with words, right?  That would be—that’s not—that didn’t even cross my mind that that was—that that is also abuse.  

Sheila: I think back to some of the books that I read when I was 12, 13, 14, and a lot of them really do impact you.  But why did you read that book?  Was it just in the church library?  Or did someone give it to you?  

Natalie: I don’t know.  It was my book.  I have no idea.  My mom would often buy me books because I love to read.  And back then we didn’t have anything else to do.  Do you remember that?  We had nothing to do. 

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah.  There was never anything on TV on Sundays.  It was really—yeah.  Mm-hmm.  

Natalie: Yeah.  I mean we rode our bikes.  And then I loved to read.  So I’m sure my mom bought it for me or maybe I won it at a church thing.  Who knows?  You know how you acquire books as little Christian kids.  That was in my bookshelf.  And I just kept pulling it out and reading it over and over because it was horrifying.  I was horrified.  It’s like morbid fascination at this story.  I just didn’t get it.

Sheila: And yet, as kid—when we’re—developmentally when you read this stuff when you’re that age, the more extreme seems more godly, right?  So the more extreme something is the more we think, “Well, this is what I need to get in line with,” because it’s very hard to see nuance, right?  And so that’s priming you to think like this which we’re going to see as you get older.  But your parents start going to Gothard seminars.  And we’ve talked about Bill Gothard, the Shiny, Happy People documentary.  That’s what we’re talking about here.  So super, super fundamentalist, homeschooling conferences.  So your parents are talking you to these.  And you start getting told that you are rebellious, and that rebellion is the sin of witchcraft and that you are very, very rebellious.  And I don’t see any rebellion in you in this—except that you had opinions.

Natalie: Yes.  Exactly.  Exactly.  

Sheila: That was the only thing.  You weren’t drinking.  You weren’t stealing.  You weren’t dating.  

Natalie: I was the quintessential good Christian girl.  In fact, people called me goody goody two shoes.  My youth group—the people in my youth group used to make fun of me for how pure and holy I was.  They didn’t like that.  They were all trying drugs and sleeping around and doing what teenager—what some teenagers do.  And I wouldn’t do that.  And they didn’t like me because—they didn’t like me.  So yeah.  And I would sing in church, and I was friendly to everyone at church.  I loved my church family.  The adults, the kids, everybody.  I loved everybody.  But I did.  I had opinions, and I had questions.  I was constantly asking questions and challenging—I think I was challenging my mom about some of the beliefs—because as you get older then, you start going, “Well, now wait a minute.  This doesn’t really make sense.”  And every time I asked a question about it I would get squashed.  I would just get told that I was—and then so what that does is it leaves you feeling like okay.  It’s bad to question.  It’s bad—it’s rebellious to think differently than what you—than what your authority believes.  That’s what the big thing was because Bill Gothard was big on authority.  And God speaks through your authority so if you have a different opinion than your authority, therefore, you are—not just opposing your mother or your husband or your pastor.  You are opposing God Himself.  And that was terrifying to me.  I didn’t want to oppose God.  They could have told me anything, and I would have believed it because that’s what my authority said.  That’s who God is speaking to.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so you just simply thought about things.  You were just a kid who thought about things.  And because of that, you were labeled rebellious.  And there was this one great passage where your mom would often give you the silent treatment until you fully repented because you were so rebellious.  And you were supposed to repent of you didn’t know what.  And it just seemed really unfair.  And then you said this, “What stumps me is that Mom has never been sad or sorry for the ways she has hurt me.”  And so you’re constantly having to repent, but your mother never did.

Natalie: Right.  And I experienced that.  And then when I got married, I experienced that in my relationship too.  And I remember even as a young wife thinking, “This is so weird.  My mom never used to say she was sorry either.  Why do I always have to be the one that says I’m sorry if I want peace in this relationship?”   And then anything that they do to me is just supposed to be forgotten about and forgiven and put under the rug, and I’m just supposed to absorb it.  I didn’t know that that’s what emotional abuse is, but I learned later on in life that that’s what that is.  And I had been basically living in it, marinating in it my whole life.

Sheila: Now what I find interesting too is—so the episode where your mom slammed your face into the counter happened before she became a Christian, before she got involved with Gothard.  And I just wonder do you think, in your experience—because I’ve never been involved with Gothard.  I talk to all these people who have.  But do you think that people who are already abusive are naturally drawn to things like IBLP and Gothard?  

Natalie: Oh, gosh.  I don’t know that I have an opinion on that.  There’s a part of me that’s just like ugh.  I don’t like talking like this about my mom because there were—and I really tried to put, in my book—you can tell me if you got this impression or not.  I tried to put really good things about her in there too because there are many ways that my mom was a fantastic mother that she passed on to me that I have passed on to my kids.  But I think it’s important to note too that it’s never just all—people are never just all bad or all good.  There’s always going to be a mixture of both.  And my mom really—she loved being a mother.  She was very enmeshed with us and continues to be enmeshed with my other two sisters.  But she was a good mother in many, many ways, but I think she never got healing or help for her childhood issues.  I don’t know what happened in her childhood because she didn’t talk about it that much.  But I am guessing that she had trauma in her childhood and probably a lot of neglect.  She grew up in a large farm family.  And perhaps that—she brought that into some of her mothering.  And we all know, as mothers, that we can get angry with our kids and frustrated, and she maybe didn’t—wasn’t resourced enough to know what to do with that or how to handle that at times.  And like I said, it was very intermittent.  That slamming incident was the worst incident that I can think of.  There was a lot of spanking, pushing, slapping your face, that kind of thing. 

Sheila: And I think maybe, as you’re talking about this, I think that’s one the strengths of this book.  Because as you’re reading this book, even though it’s Natalie’s story what I felt with each chapter was I felt invited into it to think of my own story because it—as you’re telling stories of what it was like dating and what you were thinking.  You sort of hear little Sheila speaking up too, right?  When we understand our own stories, that’s when we have the strength to do something about it and to stop the cycle so that we don’t have to just act out of our stories.  We can understand and honor our stories and then choose how to act instead.  And we’ll get to that in a minute.  But I’m going to fast forward.  So you’ve been through Christian college, had several relationships there that didn’t go anyway, and now you’re in a church.  And in this church, people aren’t dating.  They are just—they are courting.  And they are waiting for God’s perfect mate to show up on your doorstep.  And you wrote this, which I thought was quite funny.  “Many of these couples don’t even like each other when they start working together, but God’s ways are mysterious.  And love comes softly with no dating required.  Just lead a small group and watch your destiny unfold.  I love this idea because it removes the decision making and angst of dating.  I hate all the forks I’ve come to in my life so far.  They require me to figure out which path is right and which path is wrong, and I’m always making the wrong choice.  But the right choice leads to blessings and love.  The wrong choice leads to getting yelled at and kicked out of people’s love circle. It’s tricky.  This method of finding a mate takes care of all that.”  Poor little Natalie just wants to be loved, and everything has gone wrong.  And so you’re like maybe the problem is I keep making the wrong decisions.  So if I don’t have to decide, then that problem will be lifted.

Natalie: Yes.  And it was in a lot of ways.  I mean I did—I went on staff and started working full time with a Christian ministry.  And that’s where I met my husband.  He was also on staff.  And our brains, when they’re looking for a specific story to unfold, we can kind of make that happen.  And I think we made that happen.  And then I just put God’s stamp of approval on it because everyone had already indoctrinated me with this idea that that was how God does it.  And I married him even though I wrote in my journal.  I don’t think I put this in my book.  But I wrote in my journal—we were engaged.  We had a wedding date set, and I wrote, “I think I might be making a huge mistake because this guy can’t ever own his—doesn’t ever take responsibility for his behavior.”  And that was it.  I saw it before I married him.  But because I believed that God was going to use me as a woman—this is—goes—gets into the male female roles.  He was going to use me as a woman to help develop my husband to be a man, who would rise up and take responsibility and be this godly person.  It was going to be me that was the catalyst for that.  And I was up for the job.    

Sheila: Little passionate Natalie.  I want to serve God, and then this is it.  Okay.  So you talk about your early marriage.  You had a real heartbreak with a miscarriage.  You had a scary premature baby.  This is stressful stuff early in your marriage.  And then at the same time, things are going wrong with your marriage.  He wasn’t a go getter like you.  He wasn’t getting good evaluations at work.  He was mean.  And you’re desperately trying to hold it all together.  And as I’m reading this story, I realize that over the course of your life leading up to this God has put at different times good people in your life who show you what life could be.  So even in the midst of some of this, a few years earlier you had been living with a really great couple.  You did have glimpses of what health looked like.  And do you think that having those glimpses was one of the things that eventually helped you get out of the destructive marriage?

Natalie: I mean I don’t—yeah.  I think I always knew deep down inside—I feel like there’s this little truth teller in all of us.  We just don’t always know how to access it.  But there was this little part of me inside that was like we know this is wrong.  I just didn’t know how to get from that to what to do about it or that I had any agency to do anything about it.  I felt like I had made mistakes.  I didn’t marry the kind of person.  I didn’t—that couple that I lived with for one summer was like.  We weren’t those kind of people.  I made choices to stay at home and have nine kids and homeschool them, not to build a career.  But I wasn’t sure what to do about all of that anymore.  I wasn’t sure what I believed anymore towards the end of it.  And it all just started—it just all began to unravel so quickly.  And I was really just lost at sea towards the end there which is why I contemplated suicide.  Eventually, I just got to the point where I thought maybe I just need to end it all because I’m causing so many—I felt like I was just a problem child.  My husband hates me.  My kids are—they were actually normal.  Well, I did have some kids with special needs.  But they were actually just your normal, run of the mill kids, right?  With normal, run of the mill problems for the most part except that I just interpreted anything as rebellion against God.  And I was such a black and white thinker.  And so I thought, “I’ve just ruined my kids.  I raised these children, and then I ruined them.  I might as well just end it.  And then everyone will be better off.  And so will I because I’m in—all I can feel anymore is pain.”  So that was a—that was the critical turning point.  That was the lynchpin that really got me out I think.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And I think that’s important for people to hear is that if you feel at the end of your rope and you feel very black and white thinking this is something other people have gone through too.  And you’re not alone.  And this is a story that is shared by many, many people.  So yeah.  Read All the Scary Little Gods because you’ll see yourself in it.  But I want to move to part two.  So you’ve ended part one.  You’ve talked about how your marriage is getting really confusing.  Sex wasn’t good.  Nothing was good.  And then we start part two, and the tone totally changes.  So we’re no longer listening to little Natalie.  We’re now listening to different parts of Natalie.  And this is where you kind of—well, you did write a memoir based on IFS.  So will you explain that to people?  What IFS is and how you used it in your book. 

Natalie: Sure.  So IFS—it stands for Internal Family Systems.  And it’s just a way of looking at ourselves that recognizes—actually, this is a quote from my book, so I’ll just read it because it says it more succinctly than I could.  “It recognizes that we each have different parts inside of us.  And these parts each have their own beliefs or programming based on our life experiences.  And some parts are called manager parts, and they try to manager our pain by working hard to manage the people and our circumstances in our lives.  They might do this by trying to please people or control people or manage other people’s emotions or judge them.”  I’ll skip through here.  I won’t read everything.  But “other parts of us are called firefighter parts, and they come online when our manager parts have failed to manage.  So firefighters put out the fire of the pain that we feel.  And they might try to do this by overspending or self harming or over drinking or overeating.  They just think that immediate relief is what we need to solve our problems.”  So I tried to explain this to my kids because I was trying to help them with some of their issues.  And I came up with this idea of a bus.  It could be anything though.  It could be you’re sitting around a table in your house.  But I thought of the idea of a bus because a bus has two sides.  So you, yourself—capital S, who you are in the essence or the core of yourself—you’re in the driver seat of your bus.  And then on one side of the bus are all your manager parts barking orders about how to manage your life.  And on the other side of your bus are all of your firefighter parts ready to spring into action if you start to feel pain.  But way in the back of the bus are parts called exiles.  And they’re the younger parts of yourself that experienced trauma or—and it doesn’t have to even be big T trauma.  It can be little T trauma.  Something painful in your life that ended up putting within them this—some core idea or belief about themselves such as—for me, one of my exiles believes there is something fundamentally wrong with me.  And when you really feel into that, you may feel a very dark hole inside.  If you’ve ever sat and felt like I feel like there’s a dark hole inside of me and I’m just going to get swallowed up inside, that’s an exile inside of you that is feeling that way because that exile believes this really terrifying core belief.  The parts on our inside of us will sometimes disagree with each other.  They judge each other.  They fight.  And I used to think there was something wrong with me because I had all of these different thoughts.  One part of me—I couldn’t figure out which ones to obey, right?  They were like—they also—my title, Scary Little Gods—it means so many different things that you’ll see throughout the book.  But my parts were kind of like these scary, little gods too that I—were all threatening me if I didn’t do things right.  But now when I feel chaotic in my brain and body, now that I’ve learned about IFS and I’ve worked on getting to know some of these parts, I am more aware of them.  And they feel more seen.  I talked a lot about an empathetic witness in my book.  These parts of us need that empathetic witness too.  Just like children and even grownups—we need someone to be able to hear us and understand us and validate what we’re going through.  That’s how we heal.  And these parts inside of us need that too.  And they maybe didn’t get it from their mother or their father or their teachers or their husband.  And so we have this beautiful opportunity to partner with God, with the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of us, and be that empathetic witness to these parts of us.  So anyway, the second part of my book then I decided—because I’ve done a lot of IFS work.  And I’ve gotten to know different parts of me.  And as I was going through my  journals to write this memoir, I realized—I was reading my journals and I realized these are the different parts of me writing in my journal because I could see Melancholy writing her, “Woe is me,” things in the journal.  And then Rosy would come out and write all the rosy things about my life in the journal.  And then Freaked would come out and write all the things she was freaking out about in my journal.  And I thought, “What if I let those parts of me write the second part of  my story?”  And so that’s what I did. 

Sheila: Yes.  I love it.  So each chapter you’ll be telling a story of a little thing that happened, but you’ll be telling it from all the different perspectives of rude, freaked, melancholy, wonder, spiritualizer, and rosy.  And I have to say I love spiritualizer.  Spiritualizer.  I think a lot of us who grew up in more fundamentalist circles—we all have a spiritualizer, right?

Natalie: Yes.  I picture her as a—when I was reading this for Audible, I would—I had a body pose for each part, so I could get into the part.  It reads like a play kind of.  And so for my spiritualizer part, my body post was like this.  Me raising my hands in the air like a pastor talking to his congregation.  

Sheila: Yes.  I was telling you how—yeah.  It’s basically spiritually gas lighting yourself.  How you’re not supposed to be feeling that way because—yes.  Yes.  Spiritually bypassing.  Spiritualizer is just a big spiritual bypasser.  I am parachuting in here to say to anybody who lives in the southern Ontario region that on March 23 in Belleville, Ontario, in my home town, we are going to have a big post COVID party.  We never got to do a launch party for The Great Sex Rescue, for She Deserves Better, for The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, or The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, or even my 50th birthday because it was all during COVID.  So we are going to have a wonderful party on March 23 at Saint Thomas Anglican Church.  And you are all welcome.  It is free.  There is a link where you can get some free tickets just so that we know how many people are coming.  So please check out the podcast notes for that because we would love to see you there.  I want to read to you a longer passage, which I think is probably the most powerful passage of the book.  And I think this is really what you’re trying to say.  You can tell me if I’m wrong.  But I think this is the really, really important part.  So let me read you this.  “In part two, I made choices that I look back on now and regret because at the time, I chose to continue in much of my early programming.  On the one hand, I understand why I made those choices, and I have compassion for the young adult version of me.  She did the best she could with the resources she had.  But on the other hand, if I want to heal and grow into the next version of myself, I need to take personal responsibility for my adult choices and the programming I reinforced through my choices of friends, books, music, churches, and intentional experiences.  If I don’t take responsibility, I will always blame my lack of growth and stuckness on outside forces, and that leaves me in a powerless position.  I’ve chosen to take my power back by being an adult who takes responsibility for my own self.”  

Natalie: Yes.  That was an important lesson that I had to go through and learn.  But taking responsibility for myself also meant that I could say no to people and things.  And I didn’t know that.  I didn’t know that I had permission to say no to so called authorities.  That I could stand and face a pastor or an elder or my husband or even my mother and say, “I don’t believe that.  That is not what I—that’s not what I’m about.  This is my decision that I’ve made.  And I’m going to make it even if you don’t like it.”  Before, I let them take responsibility for me.  I let them run my life but also to recognize I made the decision to let them run my life.  That was my decision.  Yes.  And I mention there too it was my programming that led me to make that decision.  And as children, we don’t have any control over that.  But once I realized, “You know what?  I really do—as an adult, I can make my own decisions.”  And that means that I need to—if I want to think differently, maybe I should be reading different books.  Maybe I should be hanging out with different people.  Maybe I should be listening to different pastors or different leaders.  But I am ultimately responsible for what I expose myself to and take in to myself and how I—and what I make that mean for my own life.

Sheila: Yeah.  And honestly, this is why I think that this memoir is one of the more powerful ones I’ve ever read because what you’re doing is you’re inviting us all into the story the way that you’re telling it.  Inviting us into little Natalie and then inviting us into all the different parts of Natalie.  And we can all see that we all have melancholy.  We all have spiritual.  We all have rude.  We all have all of these parts of us.  But the point is that we can’t get to health until we recognize these parts of us, until we decide what we’re going to do about it.  And so it’s so important to understand our own stories.  And that’s what you’ve done in this book is you’ve shown how—okay.  Before I could change, before I could get to health, I had to understand my story.  I had to understand how I got here.  But then once I got here, I had to realize okay.  I have choices now.  And I have sympathy for Natalie, who didn’t realize she had choices.  I have sympathy for little Natalie.  But now I have choices.  And I have to take those choices.  I can’t keep myself trapped in my programming.  And I think that’s where a lot of people really get stuck even after you’re out of an abusive relationship or out of substance abuse or whatever it might be.  You’re out of something that was destructive in your life, but then you’re stuck because you don’t give yourself permission to make choices.  

Natalie: Yep.  I want to say something here.  I want to interject one more thing about all of those parts because it would be easy to—well, let me ask you this.  When you read and you heard the perspective of my parts, did you feel animosity towards any of them or did you feel like judgy towards them?  Or what was your feeling towards them?  I’m just curious.

Sheila: I was very judgy towards spiritualizer.    Spiritualizer just rubbed me the wrong way all the time.  And I think it’s because I had a big spiritualizer too that really led me into some bad places.  Constantly telling me, “Well, God says you need to be happy, and you need to rejoice even—whatever you’re going through.”  And so not allowing yourself to feel pain or—yeah.  I had a big part of that. 

Natalie: Okay.  So let me ask you this.  Thinking about your spiritualizer part, do—what do you think that part of you was trying to do in your system that was good?  Because all of our parts have good intentions.  So what was good that that part—what was that part trying to do for you?

Sheila: Thinking back when I was a little girl, I remember going on walks with Jesus.  And I just knew that Jesus loved me.  And I think a lot of my spiritualizer was trying to take me back to that term where I could rest in Jesus again knowing that what I was going through was going to lead me closer to Him and that I just needed to surrender all so that I could get back to that.  

Natalie: Yeah.  Yeah.  So isn’t that beautiful though?

Sheila: It is.  It is.  But I still want to slap her.  I still want to slap her.        

Natalie: Well, that’s another part of you that wants—there’s another part of you like a judgy pants part. 

Sheila: I have a really big rude.

Natalie: Exactly.  That’s what I’m talking about.  Food fight.

Sheila: Okay.  This is totally not on topic, but it’s funny.  Okay?  Because I have a big rude part too that you were discussing.  There was a meme on Threads recently where it said, “Whatever movie was the top movie when you turned five, that’s how 2024 is going to go for you.”  So I looked it up.  The top movie when I turned five was Jaws.  So I put this on Threads, and I said, “I don’t know what this means.  Am I the shark?  Or am I the person in the boat?”  And then a friend of mine, Kristy Hemphill, said, “Maybe you’re the theme song.”  I want to be the theme song.  So I actually think I quite like that part of me.

Natalie: I like that too.  I like that too.  The way that we heal is by learning about these parts and loving them.  All of them.  All of their crazy beliefs and their crazy—I mean—and that’s really what I wanted part two to do.  I wanted part two to do exactly what you said.  When you said, “I could see that I have a melancholy part, and I have a rude part.  And I have a spiritualizer part.”  And to see that these are just—these are our little Sheila parts and our little Natalie parts.  They’re so precious.  And they’re just trying to do their best and figure it all out and keep us safe so that we don’t get gobbled up by the whatevers out there ready to eat us up.  And they’re just doing it the best way they know how.  And when you see that, you lose that judgment and then you can get in to—you can drop into compassion and curiosity about those parts.  And that’s when you start to heal.  And that’s also when you start to realize I can make decisions that are different from the ones I made in the past.  And even if other people don’t like it and they hate me for it, I’m going to be okay because I’ve got all this connection within me.  I know I’m going to have my own back.  I know that the Holy Spirit loves me.  And it will hurt that these other people reject me.  But I know that I can survive, and I’ll make it through that.

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s lovely.  And I want to interject here too and just tell everybody.  This might sound really airy fairy what we’re talking about, but IFS—it’s a fairly new field in counseling.  I think Richard Schwartz started it in—what?  The 80s or 90s?

Natalie: Yeah.  It’s about 30 years old.  But it is very much just blowing up right now.  Yeah.

Sheila: It really is.  And it’s been found to be one of the most effective therapies when it comes to trauma especially just trying to work through that.  There’s also other therapies that are more brain based like EMDR, biofeed—those are all really good as well.  But IFS makes a very good partner to that as you’re working through a lot of trauma.  So what is it?  Altogether You?

Natalie: That’s Jenna Riemersma’s book.  And I should interject here too.  She’s the one who coined the term spiritualizer part.  And I mention that in my book and refer to her book for that.  I have to give her credit for that.  But yeah.  She wrote the book Altogether You, and that’s a good book for Christians because she comes from a Christian perspective.  And then Richard Schwartz’s book.  He’s written  (cross talk).

Sheila: No More Bad Parts?  Is that what it is?  No More Bad Parts?

Natalie: No Bad Parts.  No Bad Parts.  Yeah.

Sheila: I will put links to both those books, but they’re very good.  I’ve read them both too.  We read them.  My husband and I read them—I don’t know.  A year ago or something.  Yeah.  Really, really enjoyed them and just a new way of thinking about this.  It can be very, very effective in counseling and in thinking about—in telling your own story.  And those books also have exercises where you can start trying to learn your part, so it’s—they’re interesting books.  So I’ll put links to those too.  So to continue with your story.  Here you are.  You’re married.  You’ve got a bunch of kids.  And what strikes me as I keep reading these little snippets you have is just how confusing everything is.  You’re in the midst of such confusion because everything you’ve been taught is that there’s a formula.  And if you just follow the formula, things are going to be good.  And you see Natalie trying so desperately to figure out, “Okay.  How am I getting this formula wrong because things aren’t good?  And I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do.”  So you’re reading more and more books.  You’re going for pastors.  You’re talking to counselors.  You’re trying to figure this out, and nothing is working.   

Natalie: Yeah.  Well, I’m testing things too.  I’m learning new things, and then I’ll try testing it.  And then I’ll get squashed.  Every time I open my mouth and use my voice I get batted back down again.  And then I start noticing that pattern.  And then I’m like, “There’s—something is not right about this,” because it helps to be a mother.  Because you see your own kids and you think, “Well, I would never want this for my kids.  Why am I allowing this for me?  Am I not just as important as a human being than my own children or than my husband or than anybody else on the planet?  Why am I always throwing myself under the bus?  I got to stop doing that.  Other people?  Okay.  Maybe they can throw me under the bus.”  But I was starting to realize how I threw myself under the bus, and that was—then I began to see that’s the one thing I can change.  I can’t change them.  I’ve been trying.  I can’t get them to see me.  They don’t want to see me.  I’ve got to take back what I actually do have control over, and that is my own mind and my own thoughts, my own emotions.  And I need to figure that out for myself.

Sheila: Yeah.  And by they, as you tell your story, you’ve obviously got your husband, who is very emotionally abusive.  And often some of that emotional abuse is often being passive and not taking any responsibility for anything.  And then you’re also seeing pastors and counselors, and it doesn’t work.  They’re not listening to you.  So you’ll quit.  And then you’ll do another counselor, and so your husband is making himself seem like he’s the good guy because here’s Natalie.  And she never continues with counseling.  She keeps leaving the counseling.    

Natalie: He never wanted to go to counseling in the first place.  Every time he would drag his feet about it.  But then we’d get there.  And basically, the counselor—they were all Bible counselors.  They would just reabuse me because I was—I didn’t have the right anatomy.  And so then I’d realize, “Well, this isn’t working.”  And yeah.  He would say, “Well, see?  She just keeps quitting on the counselors.  She’s just trying to find someone to agree with her.”  And yeah.  I was.  I was trying to find someone who could see me.

Sheila: And, again, you—at this point, you were going to John Piper’s former church, right?

Natalie: Yeah.

Sheila: Yeah.  So very, very conservative church.  And you were seeing biblical counselors.  And this is why here on the Bare Marriage podcast we always recommend licensed counselors.  Please see someone who is trauma informed even someone who is trained in trauma therapies even if you don’t have trauma because people who are trained in trauma therapies tend to recognize abuse better.  So I just tend to tell people do that.  And if you are in an abusive marriage, please do not go see a counselor as a couple.  See a counselor by yourself.  Because in counseling as a couple when there’s emotional abuse, the counseling situation can be a place where the abuser can reabuse.  And you can see that in your story how this kept happening.  You’re going to these biblical counselors, and you are getting reabused.  There was this one brilliant anecdote that you left.  It ended up backfiring on you.  But I was like, “You go, Natalie.”  But this is where Rude—your part Rude spoke up.  And you’re in a counselor’s office.  And they always start by asking you to confess your sins and how did you contribute to this problem.  And you said, “I was always the one to go first, right?  I could list all of my sins.  I could list all kinds of things I’ve done wrong.”  And this one particular time you decided to say nothing to see if your husband would say something.  And it got super uncomfortable, and he wouldn’t say anything.  And you said, “That’s the problem.”  

Natalie: Exactly.  Exactly.  I did finally go see a licensed counselor by myself.  And she diagnosed me with complex post traumatic stress disorder, which you get if you’re—there’s three things that are usually in place in order for you to acquire that.  CPTSD.  One is an uneven power dynamic, which is—think about a lot of Christian marriages.  If you believe that the man is more powerful and has all the power in the relationship, that’s an uneven power dynamic.  Number two, repetitive prolonged trauma, which is what you get when you have any type of abuse that’s ongoing in your relationship.  And three, the perceptive that there’s no escape from it which is what a lot of Christian women believe because they don’t believe that divorce is an option.  So all three of those things I—and I’ve seen this in my work with women.  So many Christian women in abusive marriage have CPTSD symptoms because they were in an uneven power dynamic, repetitive prolonged trauma, and they didn’t think that there was any way out.  And it’s tragic.

Sheila: Yeah.  One of the interesting things in the literature about Christians and abuse is that it doesn’t seem like the abuse rate is necessarily higher in the Christian church than in the general population although I would argue that it likely is in fundamentalist areas.  And I’d love to do more research on that.  But what happens is that Christian women stay longer.  And they don’t have the support.

Natalie: Yes.  Which makes sense.  Yep.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so that’s why it has more of an effect because Christian women will stay longer.  Yeah.  Yeah.  And their community often abandons them if they leave which is, of course, why they stay longer.  So really, really sad.

Natalie: The bad thing about that too is that then the kids are in that environment longer.  They grow up.  They spend more years being immersed in that.  And then they often grow up, and it ends up perpetuating itself into their lives as well.  It’s very sad.

Sheila: Yeah.  So fast forwarding.  You finally realize that you do need to leave, and you do.  And the church really betrayed you.  And you told this story before.  But when you do realize you need to leave, you wrote a post many years ago.  I remember reading it when it was first out that just so beautifully illustrated the problem with your marriage.  And you wrote that.  I think you may have made it slightly longer in the book.  But it was the tennis ball illustration.  And could you just tell people that?  Because it’s just so well done.  

Natalie: Well, I’ll tell you what.  It’s too long to read.  It’s not as powerful.  I think you have to read it for it to get the power.  

Sheila: Maybe you do.  But it’s really good.

Natalie: Well, let me just say this though.  I actually just recorded a mini podcast of mine.  So it will be on the Flying Free podcast with just that chapter.

Sheila: Oh good.  Okay.  

Natalie: I don’t know when this will come out.  But that will be out probably in—end of April or early May.  So if you go to the Flying Free podcast and you follow that, then when that comes out you’ll hear that story.  

Sheila: Or better still you could just buy the book now, and then you can read it.  

Natalie: Buy the book.  Exactly.

Sheila: Because it’s worth it just for the chapter on that tennis ball episode because it’s an illustration of how marriage is supposed to be where you’re lobbing the tennis ball back and forth.  But what happens if someone stops doing that and won’t pick up their balls?  And yeah.  It’s really well done.  And so you end up leaving.  And the church blames you.  The church actually excommunicated you which is quite unbelievable.  And they really betrayed you.  You had an email thread where the church had promised they were going to hold your husband accountable.  They never did.  And they ended up turning their back on you multiple times until you just stop playing the game.  

Natalie: Yeah.  I just finally realize I’m just going to walk away.  It was very painful because I mean I was immersed in the church my whole life.  My life was—revolved around the church and the people in the church.  And I just could not wrap my brain around the fact that—but that’s what I grew up with.  If you say something, if you point anything out, you are going to be given the silent treatment.  You are going to be told that you’re rebellious and bad.  I grew up in that culture.  And sure enough.  And you know when you grow up that way you instinctively know deep down, inside, I better keep my mouth shut.  I better play this game right, or I’m going to lose everybody.  And when I finally just said, “I’ve already lost everything anyways.  What do I have to lose?”  And did it.  I found out that I was right all along.  I lost everybody.  Even in my family of origin.  I lost everybody in my life except my college friends.  We’re still friends.  But college was—oh, go ahead.

Sheila: I really was sad about your sister.  I’m sorry about that.    

Natalie: Yeah.  That’s—and yeah.  That just is still an ongoing pain for me because we were—we did develop—well, I thought it was a close relationship.  For many years, she worked for me.  In my other home business.  And we were very close.  And then some things happened in my family of origin, and that was the end of it.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And I guess maybe that’s something that listeners need to know too is that you can leave for all the right reasons, but it doesn’t mean the people around you are going to agree.     

Natalie: Exactly.

Sheila: And sometimes you have to do it anyway to honor yourself and to honor Jesus because I think stopping cycles of abuse is a way to honor God.  

Natalie: I do too.  We, so many of us, have heard that you will honor Christ by your suffering by staying in an abusive marriage.  But we don’t often hear that you actually can honor Christ by suffering because there’s a lot of suffering when you leave a marriage in those Christian cultures.  The only difference is that long term, if you stay, you stay.  And nothing is ever going to change.  When you leave, what I’ve seen in my own life and in the lives of really hundreds of Christian women who have left, there is a healing and there is a rebuilding.  You can rebuild your life.  You can build something very, very different and something that’s more life giving for you and everyone around you.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  And then at the end of the book, you’re filling everybody in on where you are now.  You’re remarried to a wonderful man.  And you’re learning that marriage can actually be quite easy.

Natalie: Exactly.  

Sheila: Which I love.      

Natalie: It’s very easy.  Yeah.  

Sheila: Yeah.  All the things that you thought that you would be doing with your kids—a lot of those things have gone by the wayside.  As you started getting counseling, you got your kids tested for some things.  And now they’re getting help that you never would have gone to before.  And you just—you found Jesus in a new way too.  And I really love that.    

Natalie: I did.  The end of my book—it’s not like a ride off into the sunset pretty picture with a little—sprinkled with sugar at the end because there are still hard things going on in our life.  There’s definitely fall out.  When you’re raised in that kind of environment—and my older kids were definitely immersed in it throughout their entire childhoods.  There’s going to be repercussions for that in their lives.  But because we all faced it together and called it what it is—when you hide things and you cover things up, there’s a pathology to that.  When you bring it all to the surface, it’s like mold that you hide.  You don’t want anyone to look at it, so you keep it in the dark.  Well, it thrives and grows and proliferates in the dark.  But if you expose it to sunshine and air, then it can’t survive.  And that’s the way it is with these kinds of toxic environments.  You need to expose the lies to the truth, expose it to the light, and then it’s hurtful because you see, oh, there’s a lot of mold here.  This is really gross.  This is really painful.  But that’s how it slowly—over time it starts to die away.  And then it’s replaced with new healthier thoughts.  I see my older kids.  It’s been many years now, and I see them growing up, maturing, establishing their families in very different ways than our family was established—or then my family of origin was established.  So I’m seeing cycles that are breaking in my family.  And I know that when I die there will be—my posterity after me will have a chance.  They’ll have a chance at something different depending on what—how my kids carry that forward.  Which is not in my control.  I just want to say that too.  Because as parents, we try to control everybody.  And letting go of my kids and letting them have their own journey and just being an empathetic witness to them and a support to them and just love them right where they’re at even in their messiness has been a game changer for our family and our relationships.

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s so lovely.  

Natalie: That couldn’t happen until I had been okay with my own messy parts.  Again, it starts inside of ourselves and learning how to love our own messy parts.  The love just kind of spills out, and then we can love and accept the messiness of the people around us because we are all messy people.  We all have issues and struggles and love and connection and see—really, truly seeing one another is what changes our lives for the better.

Sheila: Yeah.  I love that.  And Jesus is right there with us being our empathetic witness and wanting to enter into that with us.  But we can push Him away when we try to do everything by formula, when we try to have control, when we try to think that we can make everything fit a mold, and it doesn’t work that way.  I think one of the other things I really want people to hear about your story—because I know a lot of people listening to this are not in abusive marriages.  And I’m really happy about that.  I am really happy about that.  But all of you know people who are in abusive marriages even if you don’t realize you do.  All of you know people who are in abusive marriages, and I just want you to ask yourself.  If someone beside you in the pew at church was in an abusive marriage, would they have a safe place to go in your church?  Would they be told that they matter?  Or would they be told that, well, they just need to confess more of their own sins?  And they’re not trying hard enough.  Would they be given help to get safe or would they be excommunicated for speaking up?  And if you’re in a church that would excommunicate someone for speaking up about abuse, then you are hurting women yourself.  And I know that’s harsh.  But when we give our volunteer time and our tithe money to a church that would hurt a woman like that, then we are participating in that.  

Natalie: Yep.

Sheila: And so this is on all of us, even those of us who are not in abusive marriages.  This is on all of us to make sure that our churches are safe.  

Natalie: I 100% agree.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Because I’m not in an abusive marriage.  And yet, somehow I’ve ended up in this place where I’m talking abuse so much.  

Natalie: Thank goodness.  Because your voice is needed.  And people need to—it shouldn’t just be the people—the victims that are speaking out.  They should have advocates out there who understand—every church should be a place of advocacy for women.  There would be more divorces, I think, at first.  And then also what would follow is healthier marriages.  Yeah.  

Sheila: Yep.  I completely agree.  And we don’t need to cling to the shell of a marriage.  I think sometimes we—we’re so proud that we don’t have more divorces because we’re beating the atheists.  Having a low divorce rate does not matter if those marriages are unhealthy.  

Natalie: Yep.

Sheila: Because Jesus isn’t interested in white washed tombs.    

Natalie: Exactly.

Sheila: He is the way, the truth, and the life, and so we need to speak truth.  And we need to bring life back to our congregations.  And let me just say too.  As I said, I was not in an abusive marriage.  And yet, I really enjoyed this book.  All the Scary Little Gods too because I think all of us have a little Sheila or a little Mary or a little Kevin or a little Joanna or a little whoever that we need to get in touch with.  It’s just a really interesting, fun, teary, heartfelt book.  So do check it out.  I will put the link in the podcast notes for All the Scary Little Gods by Natalie Hoffman.  It just came out, and it’s wonderful.  And you can check it out, and I’ll put links to the other things that we mentioned to.  But before we go, anything else that you just want to leave people with?

Natalie: Well, I just want to say thank you for sharing my book.  It’s a very vulnerable thing to put a book like this out there.  All of my little parts were very scared to do it.  There was a lot of arguing about it.  But we did.  And I just really appreciate your reception of it and your willingness to share it.  Can I just read the—or maybe you can just read the last line of it?  Because the book is called All the Scary Little Gods and some people were saying, “Oh, that sounds kind of scary.”  

Sheila: Yes.  “Everything made sense in my core.  Where God was, where God is, where God will always and forever be.  And guess what?  God isn’t little or scary.  Surprise.”

Natalie: Yeah.  I think that’s a good place to end it.    

Sheila: Yeah.  Amen.  I’m so grateful for Natalie for joining us.  She is a good friend.  We talk a lot behind the scenes as well.  And I really—I like bouncing ideas off of her.  And I love seeing her journey and how hard she has worked to make sense of things.  And Natalie just has the ability to put things into words like that tennis ball illustration in such an amazing way that makes things so clear.  And I think that’s what I most appreciate about her writing is that she takes people who are in a very confusing place.  And she just shines a light on it.  And it’s like oh.  I get it now.  So I will put a link to both of her books in there and also to the Flying Free Sisterhood where you can join her.  I do want to say too that my daughter did have her baby.  So I am the proud grandmother of another little girl, Diana Joy.  And we are so excited that she is here.  And I wanted to let you know because we’ve been talking about that for the last few weeks.  And we didn’t get to announce when she was actually born.  So she is here.  And we’re happy as clams.  And my daughter is not getting a lot of sleep, but she is still happy too.  And so that’s all for us for this week.  And I hope you will join us again on next week’s Bare Marriage podcast.  Thanks.  And bye-bye.

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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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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  1. Lisa Johns

    Thank you for another wonderful discussion! I haven’t read the book yet (too deep in the semester at the moment), but I’m really looking forward to it come vacation time. I think I will probably see myself in it. Natalie’s comments about how she handled her unhealthy marriage and brought her children up in this toxic pool sound really familiar…
    I am so glad we have been able to find freedom, and the truth about how God loves us!

  2. Jo R

    Every time you do a post or podcast on a topic like this, how is it that SO MANY WOMEN say, “Listening to your story made me realize it was MY story”?

    And if that’s the case, then how are soooooo many people “doing” these widespread “church” teachings wrong in alllllll the same ways? People are, after all, unique despite broad similarities, and yet, they are tending to get the same results. So what, pray tell, might be the common denominator all these people share? Hmmmm???? 🤔 🙄

    Here’s a hint: it’s not that women are living in abject rebellion, are not trying hard enough, are not doing enough.

    It’s called rotten fruit, all falling from the poisonous tree of the teachings themselves. THAT’S what all these stories of real-world outcomes have in common.

      • Lisa Johns

        Great article. And who cares about the language? She’s spot-on!

        • Jany

          Ummm…maybe God does?! “ Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, then it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 5:29)

          My kids and I have been having a conversation about swearing, particularly in music, and why about why someone who calls themselves a Christian would use swearing in their music. How does that build anyone up?

          • Jo R

            Sometimes those words are the only things that cut through the miasma of “Christian” “teaching” that gaslights people and especially women.

            If coarse language frees people from chains that Jesus never put on them, I’d say that’s quite a lot of building people up.

            Hard to point out injustice with a lot of nice langauge, hence “whitewashed tombs” and “brood of vipers” and all those other polite phrases that got used two millennia ago.

          • Lisa Johns

            Also, what is the definition of “coarse talk?” Perhaps it’s not the adjectives we use, but the substance of the conversation we’re making. So for instance, the “damned” lies is not an example of coarse talk, but “respect your husband at all times in all instances no matter what he is doing” is.

          • Amy A

            @Lisa Johns
            I agree! Not long ago, I did some studying and realized that swearing is really not a big deal, as long as it’s not being used in a destructive way. Me calling someone a piece of garbage can be just as damaging as calling them a piece of sh*t, and saying “F*ck!” when I stub my toe isn’t any more harmful than saying “Fudge!” as long as the people I’m with wouldn’t be made uncomfortable by such language. Likewise, using God’s name in vain has a lot less to do with saying “oh my God” than it does with claiming harmful ideologies as being from Him. I still wouldn’t do the former, because I do think that God is more serious than an expletive, but I am much less bothered by it than I am by people hurting others in His name.

  3. Codec

    I kind of want to look into these books. I find psychology fascinating. Their is this part of me that feels like I deserve to be punished. I also however have this part that wants to rip and rear at the world. That part of me reminds me a bit of Wolverine. To quote Wolverine part of me acts like this ” You like pushing around people that are smaller than you well I am smaller try pushing me”

    Another part of me wants to make people happy. To see people stop crying as they feel safe enough to cry.

    I often feel at odds with myself. Sometimes I feel like if I’m happy that means I’m going to screw up or something inevitably will happen to sober me up.

    It is an odd series of sensations.

    • Jane King

      Codec, you are definitely not alone feeling at odds with yourself. I think many of us have struggled with these kinds of conflicting emotions.

      • Codec

        Yeah. It us something I am trying to understand.

  4. Jany

    When I read L&R years ago, I remember noticing that he never defined the word “respect.”

    In listening to this podcast, it would have been helpful
    if you had defined two terms: 1) abuse, and 2) trauma. What exactly does each of those mean?

    • Natasha

      These words may not have been defined in this particular Bare Marriage episode but they have been defined and discussed extensively in other ones.

      • Jany

        Natasha, would you link one or two of those, please?

        • Jo R

          The search button is your friend.


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