Ten minutes into my home Bible study, Judith gasped.
I stopped reading Romans 12 and asked, “Any questions or concerns?”
To her credit, Judith decided not to confront me in front of the entire group. “No,” she said. “Nothing right now.”
After we finished, Judith hung back as I said goodnight to the rest of the group. Then Judith and I sat down.
“What’s the problem, Judith? You seemed concerned about something.”
“I’m just wondering . . . I don’t understand . . . but you’re teaching a Bible study and . . . you’re wearing a toe ring.”
I peeked down at my right foot where the second toe did indeed sport a silver toe ring. “Yep. I really like my toe ring. I bought it at that eclectic boutique downtown.”
“But a toe ring? Isn’t that . . . sinful? My church says women should only wear wedding rings and nothing else. Our beauty is supposed to come from a pure heart, not from a bunch of jewelry — an outward show . . . especially something as liberal as a toe ring.”
I knew Judith attended a church where Legalism 101 was the consistent textbook, but I did not realize how deeply spiritual abuse had affected her life.
She shared with me how afraid she was that someone would discover she colored her hair. Her entire spiritual focus was based on how ‘good’ she had to be and how many rules she had to obey.
I reminded her of Jeremiah 31:3. “God says he loves us with an everlasting love. He doesn’t mention any rules we have to obey to earn his love. It’s just there, because of who God is. Love. Available for us, no matter what we do.
“God loves you, Judith, no matter what you wear or how you choose to color your hair. God wants you to love him — not live in fear that you might make a terrible mistake and ruin everything. His love for you is eternal — forever.”
Over the next weeks, I helped Judith find Bible verses about the love of God. The Bible became more of a romance book rather than a judgmental tome. We looked at the life of Mary Magdalene, a leading disciple of Jesus. Nowhere did scripture condemn her or even mention anything she wore.
Even though she had a checkered past, Mary was the one who first saw the living Christ after his resurrection. She was given the task of telling the rest of the disciples that Jesus was alive. And she did not have to dress a certain way to spread the good news.
Throughout the next months, Judith began to smile more freely and even giggled a few times. The burden of carrying all that legalism in her heart lifted, and she shared her freedom with the other ladies in the group.
Then one night, she came to Bible study with a radiant grin. “Guess what I did.” She held out her right foot, and I laughed. Shining from the middle digit was a gold toe ring. We danced together in a happy hug.
Two years later, I received the news that Judith’s son had been killed. When I called her, she was, of course, heartbroken. But in between sobs, she said, “I still believe God loves me and somehow — God will help me make it through this grief.”
I was so grateful Judith had moved past the obstacles of spiritual abuse via legalism. Without her new freedom, she would have blamed herself for her son’s death and lived with the lie that God had punished her for something she had done wrong.
Judith and her husband moved away, but we occasionally called or wrote letters. When I saw her again — years later — she wore the prominent wrinkles of a woman who has been through the worst grief, yet that glow of faith was still there. She had survived to find acceptance and joy on the other side of the pain.
“I’m okay,” she said as I stroked her cheek. “It’s been hard, but I’m okay.”
Then she lifted her leg so I could see her foot. The gold toe ring still shone from the middle digit, a visual reminder that hope conquers even the most stubborn of lies.
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