A Gift of Authority

I serve on a jail ministry team. Each week, we lead church at the jail.

When I started with that team eight years ago, I was just beginning to heal from a lifetime of “fear of authority.” So of course, God sent me to serve at the jail, under the authority of the sheriff’s office and surrounded by uniformed officers. What better place to get healed?

Fear of authority is common with anyone who has been abused by someone in authority – a parent, teacher, husband, pastor, or someone in the legal system.

One problem with fear of authority is that we project it onto all authority figures, including those who walk rightly and don’t abuse. Fear makes it hard to submit to good authority. Once we’ve been abused, we don’t trust authority easily, and it’s scary to be around authority figures.

A bigger problem is that we end up fearing God’s authority – and I don’t mean “fearing God” in a healthy way. We may find it hard to trust or submit to God’s authority, so we never quite give Him our whole hearts.

In addition to that, God delegates His authority on earth through the people He places in positions of leadership. When we do not respond well to His delegated authority, we are not responding well to Him. (Please note: I’m talking about people who serve rightly, not abusers.)

I’m blessed that God has called me to serve in this particular jail because the sheriff is a godly leader who has raised up godly deputies. It has been a great place for me to find healing in relationship to authority. Over the years, I’ve been able to teach and model that to the women in the jail as well.

Last week, I had an unexpected opportunity to find further healing by watching healthy authority in action.

There was a situation that developed in which the guards had to be called in. It was a relatively minor incident that should have been cleared up quickly. The women were asked to cooperate and most of them did. But because one of them would not, the guards had to be called.

Two guards came in first to try to take care of the problem. When that didn’t work, they had to move a level up.

Next thing I knew, the door opened and a deputy walked in who carries a powerful gift of authority. It felt like a solar eclipse had consumed the jail pod. I have seldom, if ever, felt that level of authority in such proximity. I started weeping just from the weight of it.

Historically, everything within me would have liquefied just standing near the power of that authority. But because of my years of healing, I was able to stand upright, and breathe, even though my eyes did fill with tears. And I was able to watch.

Some of the women, who had been cooperative to that point, started lashing out verbally against him – simply against his presence. It wasn’t really the officer they were shouting at. It was the authority he walked in. Any unhealed areas in their hearts regarding authority started bubbling to the surface.

They were reacting as if he had done or said something harsh, when he had not. Again, it was the authority they felt. When someone has been abused, authority feels harsh, even when it is not.

As I watched, I could see how calm he remained. He didn’t raise his voice. He kept his words simple. He said he just wanted to find a solution.

It was a revelation for me to watch this encounter. My insides were shaking a bit, as if the officer were angry, which he was not. Meanwhile, my brain could see and hear that he was totally calm and trying to resolve the situation.

What an amazing lesson in how fear of authority clouds the way we see healthy and godly authority in action. That was further healing for me, and it’s not something I’ll forget. I’m always amazed at how God arranges these encounters for our healing.

Our jail team wasn’t sure if we needed to stay or leave. When we asked the officer if we could go, he gave us a big grin and said, “Of course!” He was very polite and understanding as he led us out. That was another layer of healing for me.

If you struggle with fear of authority, the first step to healing is to forgive those who abused you (God did not want that to happen to you). Invite Jesus to show you His love and how His authority protects you. Then repent for the ways you have projected your fear onto others, including God.

Then, I recommend that you watch someone who walks in healthy, godly authority, and observe how that person models that authority. Compare how it affects you inside (in your heart) with how you see it from the outside (with your brain). Note the difference, and you will be further along your way to healing.

By the way, it is better to try such an exercise when you are not on the receiving end of that authority, but just a bystander.

Big Reactions from Little Wounds

When I was a kid, I participated in the Girl Scouts. Our troop leader was amazing. She was a Catholic nun, but not stereotypical. In exchange for taking care of the Girl Scouts, she was allowed to have a van, camping equipment, and lots of other privileges. She was wild and crazy, and we all loved her.

Because she was such a favorite of mine, I think that’s why I was so shocked when she yelled at me one day. She wasn’t yelling “for real,” but I didn’t know that. She was quizzing me for one of my Girl Scout badges. The lesson had to do with emotions, and that was something I was really uncertain about. We didn’t talk about emotions in my home. I couldn’t come up with the words she was looking for.

That’s when she yelled: “Janet Gillis, get out of here!”

I started trembling. I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t move. I just stood there, shaking from shock.

As if nothing were wrong, she said, “How did that make you feel?”

“Bad.” That was all I could come up with.

“Okay. That’s the emotion I was trying to get you in touch with.”

Looking back now, I want to say to her, “Really?” But of course I said nothing. I was a smart kid, and I quickly realized she had yelled simply to prompt an answer from me. Wrong way to do it, for sure. I think nowadays she wouldn’t have gotten away with it. But back in the early 70s, things were different. More was tolerated, or ignored, overlooked.

I told my mom about it, and she said, “So did you understand what she was trying to teach you?”

Again, “Really?”

I never looked at this nun quite the same after that. I still participated in the Girl Scouts and had fun with my friends. But I gave our troop leader a little bit of a wide berth. I wasn’t mean to her. I just tried not to get into any kind of confrontation with her. Stay silent. Stay back. Stay out of trouble.

From that moment on, I became afraid of clergy. Anyone in a position of spiritual leadership. I gave them all a wide berth. With some of them, I was downright fearful. Because time had elapsed, I didn’t make the connection. I had forgotten the nun’s comments. I had simply put up an invisible wall in my heart, and everyone who was clergy bumped up against it.

As a middle-aged adult, I took an inner healing class. Our teacher, also clergy, had a wonderful, out-of-the-box personality similar to that lively nun I had encountered in childhood. However, I didn’t recognize that connection. I had long forgotten what happened. But I kept giving this inner healing teacher a wide berth.

Fortunately for my healing, she wasn’t having that. She kept trying to interact with me, to draw me out of my shell. She wouldn’t let me hide. She called me out as who I really am – the person God created me to be.

Eventually, after months of discomfort, I went into an inner healing session and asked God, “Why am I so afraid of clergy?” Immediately, He brought the encounter with the nun back to my mind – just like it was yesterday. I could feel myself shaking. Probably making all kinds of vows never to let that happen again. And I saw where that wall had gone up in my heart. My mom worked at the church office all through my growing-up years, so I encountered a lot of clergy. They bumped up against that wall every time.

I repented for my judgments against the nun, against church leadership, against God. The wall began to crumble. I still had to walk it out. As a volunteer at the church, I went through lots of interactions with clergy, still shaking, but finally able to get through it. Soon, I became part of the church staff, and went into seminary. I was still intimidated, and that was just something that had to be walked out through experience. I felt less and less intimidation as time went on, and especially as I interacted with clergy who acted in more affirming ways than our nun had acted.

But that outright terror, that wall, that thing that had paralyzed me around clergy for years – that was gone. Thanks to Jesus and the healing He brings.

Who would have thought one loud remark from a nun – a remark that wasn’t even intended against me, not really – could have shut me down in the face of clergy for so many decades? Often it’s the big traumatic experiences that get to us. But the little ones can shut us down as well. That’s why we need Jesus to help us see where our dysfunctions come from. They may come from a place we least expect.





A “Tail” of Two Rodents: Gauging My Progress with Trauma Healing

At Christmas, I was out of town spending time with family. When I returned home, I discovered a rodent had taken up residence in my apartment. Granted, I live over the garage of a log cabin on a wooded farm. Rodents happen. I get that. But now I had a rodent claiming squatter’s rights. It took about a week to reclaim my turf.

I am grateful for this encounter because it helped me see where I am on the path to trauma healing. Even though it took a few days to find my footing in this rodent encounter, I have certainly come a long way since I started trauma healing. I was unsettled, yes. At night, even fearful. (That’s something I’m working on.) But I wasn’t emotionally and physically shut down as in the past. And it only took two nights of fear before I rallied against the rodent and got my life back. Ironically, it was a previous rodent encounter that sent me into that season of trauma healing. I love it when God allows tangible moments when we can see our progress.

Eight years ago, before I moved to this farm, I had a cat. She was living at a friend’s house because I lived in a place that didn’t allow pets. So my friend took her in. On my way home from work each day, I stopped to visit my friend and play with my cat.

After a while, my friend became sick with cancer and moved in with her mom to get daily care. My cat had the house to herself. (Note: I had never lived in my own house, but my cat had a house of her own! As it should be.)

One day I was sitting on the couch with my cat in that otherwise empty house. I became aware that the door between the living room and garage had just opened. A squirrel came into the living room.

My cat was not fazed, as if this were a common occurrence. I freaked out. Not a normal “There’s a squirrel in the living room” freak out. My reaction was more like “Someone just threw an explosive device through the window and they will shoot me as soon as I run outside.”

In tears and terror, I chased the squirrel back to the garage and opened the outer door. Instead of leaving, the squirrel ran into the farm supply room, climbed up on a shelf, and put its tail over its head, as if to hide. I picked up a handful of hay and threw it at the squirrel, who then chattered at me. The whole thing should have been comical, but I was sobbing, and every muscle in my body was shaking.

“I … can’t … take … any … more …” I kept shouting to God.

I was beyond overwhelmed. Everything in me was shutting down.

My reaction was not really about the squirrel. It was decades of unhealed trauma that had consumed me. The squirrel in the house was the proverbial last straw. It magnified all the other trauma that was stored away. I literally couldn’t handle one more thing.

I finally left the house, and from the comfort of my own home, I called my friend and asked her to send her step dad to deal with the squirrel. That’s when I started to seek trauma healing.

Unhealed trauma fills up like a water tank. If it keeps filling without being drained, each new traumatic event picks up all the unhealed trauma. Suddenly, you’re not just dealing with the squirrel in the living room. Instead, that squirrel triggers all the traumatic experiences you’ve never been healed of, and they bombard your heart, mind, and body all at once. Talk about being overwhelmed and shut down!

Trauma healing has changed my life. I could see that as I gauged my reaction to the rodent in my apartment two weeks ago. More importantly, I can see the changes in my everyday living. I’ve had some hard hits, and my friends have remarked on the changes. I don’t crash as hard (sometimes not at all), and I bounce back faster – within minutes or hours, not days or weeks as before.

If you would like to learn more about trauma healing, a good place to start would be reading this article by Kerri Johnson at The Center for Inner Healing: “Exchanging Trauma for Peace.” She explains why we lock trauma away inside ourselves, and what it takes to find healing.

After you read the article, I recommend exploring The Center for Inner Healing’s website. This is the ministry where God helped me with my healing from trauma.

Kerri is leading an upcoming healing retreat that will make a big difference in people’s lives. I know. I’ve been through it. She also leads a tribe called The Journey that helps all of us walk out our healing in community.

Thank You, Lord, for giving us a way to heal from trauma. I am so grateful to You for all You have done – and continue to do – in my heart and in my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen

God bless!