All or Nothing

Recently, a friend of mine posted something like this on Facebook: “In a week I’ll be deleting my account, so please send me your contact info. I just can’t seem to stick to my own Facebook limits.” This was the third friend of mine this year to post something like this.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that all of these friends are Christians. All-or-nothing mentality thrives in the church. Rather than see struggle as an opportunity for growth, a way to practice moderation and self-control, many Christians see no solution but to completely avoid their sources of temptation. Things meant to be enjoyed become inherently evil.

This mindset is especially prevalent in legalistic Christian circles. To avoid drunkeness, legalists insist on temperance. They insist dating couples not touch or be alone together. Rather than helping men conquer lust, they impose ridiculous modesty rules on women. The list goes on.

The most insidious aspect of this all-or-nothing mentality is its ability to permeate every aspect of life and make it unlivable. I can never achieve my weight loss goals, so why try? My house is hopelessly cluttered. I’ve already screwed up today, so I might as well go back to bed. Panic and anxiety become the norm.

As a result of my spiritually abusive upbringing, I fight the all-or-nothing mentality every day. This week, I have faced it regarding a major decision. Sometimes it’s hard to see the choice for what it is, to realize there may be more than two options. As I wiped my eyes and looked again, I saw not Robert Frost’s two roads, but an open vista waiting to be explored.

Photo Credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli,


Religious Addiction

A couple of years ago, in the midst of marriage and family problems, I began to question whether my nightly glass of wine, which had recently grown to two, might indicate I was developing an addiction to alcohol. I knew I was seeking relief from the pain of life (much of which I have now come to understand resulted from spiritual abuse). I decided to go to an AA meeting.

The meeting was held in a local church. I was the only woman there. We all drank coffee as the five men each shared their stories in turn. As they talked, they read from their copies of Alcoholics Anonymous (which they called “The Big Book”) with tattered covers and pages as worn and marked as many Bibles I’ve seen. A couple of the men had attended AA meetings daily for decades. Though I found their commitment to sobriety admirable and their stories inspiring, I couldn’t help but wonder if they hadn’t traded one addiction for another.

“Hi, I’m Grace Maginnis, and I’m an alcoholic.” Somehow that statement didn’t ring true within my soul. In fact, I wasn’t an alcoholic. What I didn’t understand then was that my addiction was not substantive, but behavioral. Just like the men around the table with their tattered books, I was addicted to meetings. Mine were called church.

People who study addiction have in recent decades increasingly recognized that behaviors can be as addictive as substances. Gambling, sex, computing, dieting, and even exercise have joined substances like alcohol, drugs, and food as commonly treated addictions.

Whether substantive or a behavioral, addictions have common characteristics.

  • The addict finds physical or emotional pleasure or relief from the substance or behavior.
  • The addict develops tolerance and must indulge in increasing amounts of the substance or behavior to experience the desired effect.
  • The addict cannot stop using without experiencing withdrawal.
  • The addict will go to extreme lengths to secure adequate supply.
  • The addict often engages in risky behavior in association with the addiction.
  • The addict is unwilling or unable to admit the addiction or change even in the face of dire consequences such as physical illness, loss of relationships, financial crisis, or even death.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but when we take a close look at it, we see how for many like myself, religious observance has become an addiction. Just listen to how some people talk.

“I have to get my Jesus fix every week”

“How do people live without church?”

“That worship service was awesome! Everyone was drunk in the spirit!”

“I had such a spiritual high after the conference, and now I’m just crashing.”

Just yesterday, a Christian friend of mine asked me for prayer and advice. She said she thought she was under spiritual attack because an ear infection she had treated with antibiotics seemed to be coming back. She felt discouraged and defeated because she was not receiving a miraculous healing.

I did pray for my friend, for about 30 seconds. I prayed that her ear infection would be healed. Then, I told her to call her doctor and make an appointment. This wasn’t a spiritual attack. She was just plain sick. But to her, it had to be spiritual. This way of thinking is typical with religiously addicted people.

For those of you who wish to learn more, here are some articles and books on religious addiction:

When Religion Goes Bad: Part 2 – Religious Addiction, by Dale S. Ryan and Jeff VanVoneren

Can Religion Be an Addiction?

When Religion is an Addiction, by Robert N. Minor

Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing Over Painful Spiritual Abuse, by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton

Symptoms of Religious Addiction

Can Religion Become an Addiction?


My dad was the son of a preacher who abused his family. He was asthmatic and small — a full head shorter than his twin sister. With abuse at home and bullying at school, fear was his life-long companion. He compensated with control. Mom wasn’t prepared for marriage to such a man, and her coping mechanism was yelling at me.

Spiritual abuse was woven into the fabric of our family.

The fundamentalist church I grew up in justified the abuse my parents were enduring and perpetrating and solidified in me that I was unworthy and disappointing. I was a lonely, scared little girl who received regular “spankings” from my father that left deep bruises from my hips to my knees. When mom tried to intervene, dad threatened her and accused her of being “unsubmissive.”

Fourteen years of Christian school thoroughly indoctrinated me in fundamentalism. Naturally, I followed my father’s and grandfather’s advice (as I had learned from countless Bill Gothard seminars) and “chose” Pensacola Christian College.

PCC was a big lake to my small-pond upbringing, and I had no idea how to navigate. The culture was permeated with fear – fear of failure, fear of the administration’s power, fear of being known, fear of God. Naïve, lonely, and afraid, I was in no way prepared for what lay ahead.

Rita (not her real name) asked for help with a class assignment. She made me feel smart, important, even loved. She told me no one loved me like she did. Though time would prove her a user of the worst kind, I believed her. When the principal from a Christian school in her home town across the country offered me a job, I accepted.

Monday through Friday, we taught fundamentalist children. On the weekends we went across the bay to party with our lesbian friends in anonymity. To my surprise, these friends seemed more genuine than the hyper-religious community of my childhood.

I began to question everything I had ever known, even God. No God, no consequences, I thought. Then Rita slept with one of our friends, and then a stranger, and then another teacher from her school with 6 children of her own. Our secret got out and we lost our jobs.

I was amazed when my parents embraced me and let me move back home to pick up the pieces of my life. The scared little girl was back in her small pond, but not for long.

Three years later, I jumped into the biggest sea of people on the planet – China. It was a chance for a new beginning. At the time, I was “going to the mission field.” In retrospect, I’m sure I was trying to regain the favor of God I was sure I’d lost. That was probably also the reason I had left fundamentalism for charismatic circles. The charismatic church offered energy and hope, until I discovered it was even more fraught with abuse than the church of my youth.

I taught English, fighting illness and injury for a year and a half. I prayed. I talked to people about Jesus, and some put their faith in Him. Then, a newbie supervisor more hungry for power than truth grilled me for an hour about my relationships with school officials. I had no idea what he was driving at until he finally told me they had not invited me back and that he would not recommend me for language school. He assumed I knew something. I didn’t. He treated me like a criminal.

“Don’t speak to anyone about this,” he ended.

I was crushed and confused when I returned to my school for my final semester. I had not regained God’s favor; I believed I had lost it forever. People kept asking what was wrong. I kept quiet as I had been told.

Three months later, I was suicidal. I called our Hong Kong office and begged them to let me out of the rest of my contract. Within days I found myself on a plane to America.

I was completely shut down and would probably never have gotten help if my hair hadn’t started falling out. A doctor from my church prescribed medication. I went into three years of church-supported counseling at the charismatic church.

Ten years after China, and after a year teaching in Japan and what seemed like interminable singleness, I met my husband. We married within six months. Dad reminded me to be a submissive wife. My pastor’s wife advised me against marrying someone who wasn’t “Spirit-filled.”

I chose not to listen to her.

Something changed the day we got married. He was now my husband, my spiritual leader, my head. He would provide, and I would have babies. I would homeschool and keep a perfect house and be everything my husband always hoped for in a wife. I had yet another chance at a new beginning.

But I was still depressed and broken on the inside. I found myself unable to keep house or be the wife I wanted to be. We lost three babies. My father died. We decided to adopt. Five months after we returned from China with our first daughter, I gave birth to another. Our already-strained marriage began to crumble. For years we were in and out of marriage and family counseling.

As my husband and I began to embrace the Hebrew roots of our faith, I began to see God in a new light. I took a class on listening prayer and began to hear him. Through everything, God had been there — unseen, unknown, but always there.

One morning, I woke up with the words “spiritual abuse’ repeating in my mind. Spiritual abuse? I thought. What’s that? I ended up on Soulation watching videos of a fellow PCC alum I’d never heard of talk about experiences that struck a chord in my soul. I wept through the videos about his PCC experience and began to see the true source of my lifetime depression – spiritual abuse.

I immersed myself in articles, videos, and books on fundamentalism and abuse. I listened to podcasts and talked with old friends who had begun to emerge from spiritual prison. I heard God say He was reaching down and gently pulling me out of the deep, dark hole where I had lived so long.

At first, the light was so bright I could barely stand to look at it. The world began to open up, and I saw truth in the most unexpected places. I found God’s voice not condemning, but consistently encouraging and loving and good. And deep inside of me, where no one but he could see, a very old, festering wound began to heal.

My husband noticed the difference first. As I shared what I was learning, his eyes began to open too. We defied our church tradition and embraced egalitarian marriage. The shackles I had been laboring under fell off. I found out my husband had more grace for me than I did for myself. Together, we are pursuing a brand new way of loving each other and parenting our children.

I don’t know what the future holds, but for once I’m not looking for a fresh start. I’m beginning to see my life and myself as wholly valuable. God continues to show me how He is weaving the threads of my life, even the dark ones that were not part of His original plan, into something truly beautiful. The fear and shame and abuse that has thrived in my heart for so long is being crowded out by God’s unconditional, unfathomable, and unending love.

Photo Credit: Rajesh_India,

The Self

In my last post, I quoted the Buddha and the Apostle Paul on evil. In case you missed it, they said,

“Desire is the root cause of all evil.” — Siddhartha Gautama

“The love of money is the root of all evil.” — The Apostle Paul

So which is it? If you read my last post, you know I tend to side with Paul. But I think there’s more to his statement than meets the eye.

The Greek word translated “love of money” is philaguria. A more modern term would be avarice, or extreme greed for wealth or material gain.

But we miss something if we forget that Paul was Jewish. He thought like a first-century Jewish teacher because he was one. Another first-century Jewish teacher spoke of evil too. Jesus said,

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Matthew 6:22, ISV.

It may surprise you to learn that Jesus and Paul were speaking about the same thing. In fact, Jesus’ Jewish audience would have understood his reference to the evil eye idiomatically to refer to greed.

So we shouldn’t be greedy. That doesn’t sound like new information, really. But wasn’t it greed that caused the first sin? Of course, Adam and Eve wanted knowledge, not money. But don’t we still say “Knowledge is power,” and even “Money is power?” And isn’t that what they really wanted?

If you could sit in a room with Jesus and Paul and have an good midrash, I think the conversation would at some point hit on selfishness as the root problem.

The Buddha spoke a lot about the concept of self. “Very basically, the Buddha taught that ‘you’ are not an integral, autonomous entity.” According to Buddhist teaching, it should be your goal to see yourself not as an individual person, but as merely a part of the vast universe. One who does so escapes desire (greed?) and the evil that results from it.

Maybe these writers agreed after all. What do you think?

Whatever its cause or results, I think we can all agree selfishness is a bad thing. Buddhism tells us to abandon the concept of self entirely. But Christianity holds the individual as infinitely valuable, so much so that for the salvation of the individual (and at the same time, everyone) Jesus gave his life.

The Buddhist practice of seeing one’s self as part of the vast universe has great value. It enables the follower to gain a rich perspective on himself and others. It causes him to see the bigger picture and his part in it. But something very valuable is lost in the process — the concept of self-worth.

Only in Christianity does the individual regain the true value of his soul. If the God of the universe would sacrifice his own Son for my sake, for your sake, what then is our worth?

In my mindfulness meditation practice, I also focus on my place in the universe, as the beloved of God whom he rescued from a world of evil and brought into the kingdom of his beloved Son. And I see you too, whatever your background, lifestyle, race, or religion, as equally valuable to him. To harm you for my gain is to sin against God’s beloved. That’s what makes spiritual abuse one of the worst manifestations of evil.

In my next post, I will share my story.

Photo Credit: laura6,


As I pursue mindfulness practice, I stumble on the concept of acceptance. I can be aware of the present moment, but I cannot accept everything I find in it. Some things are worth desiring, fighting for, even dying for.

Mothers suffer in childbirth to bring forth new life. Police officers and firefighters place themselves in harm’s way to protect others. People join the military knowing they may be asked to give the last full measure of devotion. Even within Buddhism, altruism is valued. What is altruism but desire for the good of others?

According to the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism, desire causes suffering. When the Buddha observed suffering for the first time, he was motivated to end it. His quest led him through years of discovery culminating in the conclusion that the cause of suffering “is the deep-seated desire that all living beings have for the pleasures of the senses, and for life itself.” Life itself causing suffering.

Is it any wonder that the ultimate goal of Buddhist adherents is the termination of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth? They see the end of life as the end of suffering.

But what if life didn’t have to include suffering? What if the goal IS life, eternal life, life WITHOUT suffering? Wouldn’t a future life free of suffering be worth the suffering of this life? The Apostle Paul thought so.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18, NIV.

Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, suffering greatly as he anticipated the torture and death he was about to experience? Why did he come to a place of acceptance? Because he wanted something else MORE than he wanted to escape his own suffering. His desire to free mankind from the power and consequences of evil overpowered his desire for escape. Put simply, He LOVED us!

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrew 5:7-10, NIV.

My God, YHVH, the God of Israel, is a God of desire. The world began because He wanted it to. He created it all, created us, knowing we would fail, knowing we would bring suffering into His perfect world, knowing many would turn their backs on His love. Why? Because He had a much greater thing in mind. He wanted to create an eternity with people whom He loved and who would love Him in return.

It was the only way His infinite love could grow!

But what of evil? The Apostle Paul and the Buddha both weighed in on the subject.

“Desire is the root cause of all evil.” — Siddhartha Gautama

“The love of money is the root of all evil.” — The Apostle Paul

Did they agree? Do you? We’ll talk about this more in the next and final installment in this series.

Photo Credit: PyroDemi,


“Look at the Indians, Laura,” said Pa. “Look west, and then look east, and see what you see.” *

Laura Ingalls Wilder was watching the Native Americans leave the land on which her family had settled. The Osage chief who had just saved their lives by convincing other neighboring tribes to leave rather than kill the white people now led his own people away on horseback in a line that stretched from one horizon to the other. Young Laura saw a particular baby she wanted as her own. When her parents explained the mother wanted to keep her baby, Laura became increasingly upset. Her father broke in with this exhortation to “see” what she was seeing.

In this unlikely (and undeniably tragic) story, we find two major Buddhist concepts which have recently come to my attention — mindfulness and desire. According to Buddhist teaching one leads to insight, the other to suffering.


Professor Ronald D. Seigel defines mindfulness as “awareness of the present moment with acceptance.” Think about each part of that phrase.


of the present moment

with acceptance

When was the last time you were fully aware of the present moment with acceptance? Before I began to pursue mindfulness practice, I could not count many times I had been mindful. But the other day, I spent time with my two daughters, really listening to them, enjoying them, fully present in that priceless moment. No smart phone. No craft project. No consideration for the day’s agenda. I was fully present with them in that moment, accepting them and the moment exactly as they were. It was glorious.

This sort of mindfulness does not come easily. It requires constant effort and practice. Try it for 5 minutes. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. But when we practice mindfulness, we find ourselves increasingly aware and accepting of the present. In a culture where multitasking has gone from admirable to necessary to addictive, we long for a return to simplicity.

The incarnation was the ultimate act of mindfulness. The Son of God who exists outside of time, took on flesh and placed himself within the constraints of time. He lived moment to moment just as we do. There were times he talked about the past or the future, but he did so while being present with people, listening to them, meeting their needs, empathizing with them. And he encouraged them to be present in the moment too.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34, NIV.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus in his humanity. He knows what is about to happen. He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) He sweats drops of blood. Yet even in this moment of utter terror, he finds acceptance. How? We’ll talk about that next.

Photo Credit: Luca Galuzzi,

* Wilder, Laura Ingalls. (1953) Little House on the Prairie. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. p. 310.

Truth. We could spend hours debating its meaning or whether it exists at all. Many with better skills of reasoning and debate than I would leave with their opinions unchallenged. Nevertheless, I see truth as objective and eternal.

Churches call their view of truth doctrine. In every church I’ve attended, internal doctrine is embraced and external doctrine eschewed without question. In other words, each church believes it has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. While I find the Bible to be true, we have not always interpreted it properly, nor does the Bible hold the monopoly on truth.

When I left my sheltered, fundamentalist world, I was amazed to find people who do not believe in God, who do not see Christian Scripture as authoritative, who have never entered a church but for a wedding or funeral, yet seem at peace. Some of the most well-adjusted people I know are not religious at all. Some belong to faiths so different from my own that they were never a topic of discussion in my circles. And yet these “pagans” had found something I hadn’t — inner peace.

I am not a universalist. I believe with all my heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But I also see a God who so longs for people to find the truth that he has hidden it everywhere. It can be found in the words of Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama. I have seen it in the spires of a cathedral and the strokes of a painting. I have heard it the lofty thoughts of Greek philosophers and the simple words of a child. I have found it in the lyrics of a hymn and in the lyrics of the Beatles.

Recently, I have felt compelled to look for truth in the teachings of Buddhism. Amazingly, I found that the Path and the Way intersect at some points, and from these new understandings, I have gained much. These will be the subject of my next post.

Photo Credit: Reinhard Klar,

He Restores My Soul

What do you think I did as a little girl all those times I was sent to my room to await a beating? I cleaned my room of course! I knew if my dad saw the state of my room, the beating would be all the worse. My brother did the same thing. Is it any wonder we both grew up to be slobs?

Now, I’m not trying out for Hoarders, but there are chronic cleaning issues at my house. To go into detail would be embarrassing, even on an anonymous blog. It has been a source of contention for my husband ever since we married. This week, we had a heated argument about it (and other things, of course). When we discussed all this with our therapist, he wisely pointed away from my cleaning (or lack of it) as the source of the problem. Still, I have been taking a much closer look at this issue in myself this week.

I can plan cleaning sessions like nobody’s business, but when it come time to actually get started, I freeze. This week I’ve practiced mindfulness in those moments, looking deep into my heart and asking myself what I am feeling and why. I feel deeply depressed, even sick to my stomach. I feel tired and afraid. All the negative feelings overwhelm me, and before I know it, I’m sitting on the couch checking Facebook again. As the song goes, “What’s goin’ on inside me? I despise my own behavior.”

What seems clear to me is that I associate cleaning with pain and abuse. When I start to clean my house, I feel all those feelings I used to feel cleaning while waiting for a beating. The dread of those moments transfers to the present and paralyzes me. I obviously need healing in this area.

Last night, as my mindfulness meditation, I chose Psalm 23. I pondered each phrase.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

Wait a minute! He restores my soul? He does? Really? That’s what it says. He restores my soul.

You mean, God wants to fix the broken parts of me? He wants to turn me back into the beautiful person He created me to be? Is that possible?

When a restorer goes to the flea market, he searches for the things others have overlooked. He wants that special piece he can return to its original beauty. He finds it, buys it, takes it home. He stares at it for a long time. He’s imagining it in its former glory. Then he gets the wood stripper and begins taking off the old paint. Why would anyone want to paint over this beautiful wood? he wonders. Gently, carefully, he wipes and brushes away the changes others have made. Then he sands the wood smooth, being sure to remove the last vestiges of abuse. Finally, he applies oil to the wood, and the piece glows again.

I think this is what my Restorer is doing in me. He’s stripping off the paint people have slapped on me to get me to look the way they wanted. He’s sanding smooth the splinters of abuse that have arisen from my core. And He’s rubbing in the healing oil that will return me to the original beautiful woman He created me to be.

I’m not there yet. I still feel dread when it comes time to clean, but I’m cleaning anyway. And I’m trusting my Good Shepherd to complete the work He has begun in me.

ADDENDUM: A few days after I wrote this, I had the opportunity to buy myself some new t-shirts, you know, the everyday kind. I really needed new shirts because I tend to get grease on mine while I’m working in the kitchen and I’ve never quite figured out how to get it out. Well, I loved my new shirts and didn’t want them to be ruined too. So I decided to pull out an old apron and start wearing it when I was working to protect my clothes. Not only does it feel really good to be taking care of my new things like this, something amazing happens every time I put on that apron. The depression lifts. I feel energized. There’s a spring in my step, and work gets done without dread. The other day I started working in my room while my apron was downstairs. I just pretended I was wearing the apron, and the depression lifted. He really does restore my soul.

Photo Credit: Richard,

Spiritual Abuse

The words were rolling around my mind as I was waking up — spiritual abuse. What’s that? I wondered. Earlier that week He had woken me up by speaking my name. Yes, audibly. It sounded like my husband’s voice, but when I turned he wasn’t there. I had found him, asked if he had called me. He hadn’t.

God was trying hard to get my attention. Maybe this spiritual abuse thing was Him too.

A few minutes of clicking online gave me more questions than answers. So I changed my search to “spiritual abuse Pensacola Christian College.”


Spiritual abuse is misusing God’s name. It is claiming the intentions and character of God are behind the thing that men and women are wrongly doing.” So said author Dale Fincher, a fellow PCC alum I had never heard of. On his blog, Free At Last, Dale had posted a series of videos detailing his personal experiences at our alma mater. As I watched them one by one, something in me stirred.

He had been mistreated too? But he was one of the popular people! He was student body president, became a grad student, taught classes! Why would they do those things to him?

I had always thought it was just me. I thought the administrators at PCC must have seen the truth about me, that I was unworthy, that I was a screw-up. That’s why I had been mistreated. It was all my fault. But Dale wasn’t a screw-up, and look what they did to him!

I read more and pondered. Maybe my recurring PCC nightmares meant something. I had joked with my college friends that it was PCC PTSD. Now the joke didn’t seem so funny.

The more I read, the more I realized that spiritual abuse was the cause of more than just my nightmares. It was at the root of my 20-yr clinical depression. SA’s voice had spoken louder than God’s for most of my life. Until now.

For more About spiritual abuse, including a list of articles, visit recovering

Photo Credit: c. 2010 Brian Pennington

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