I hear it over and over in my coaching practice. “But he said he was a Christian!”
Well…words are cheap. The mouth has to match the motive and the only way to discern whether or not a man’s motive is genuine is to watch and wait.
And forgo emotional involvement until you know: Is his motive genuine or is he mirroring you to mislead you?
One of the best ways to test motive is to see how a man handles disagreement. A controlling man won’t stand for it. But if you always agree with him, you’ll never be able to detect deceit.
This story in Ezra 4 is a great example of men who claim to be Christians in order to gain control—men who study their prey, find out what is most important to them, copy their behavior and camouflage their intent.
When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here” (Ezra 4:1-2).
They tried to convince the exiles that they worshipped the same God, but it was only lip service.
When the people of Judah answered that they wanted to build it by themselves their enemies did an about face. They set out to discourage them and make them afraid to go on building. They even hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans.
Can you say devious? Can you say control and manipulation?
The story is a great example of what I call the mirror motive. In a new relationship, not all men who claim to serve the Lord really do.
In fact, as this story showcases, when they don’t get what they want they actually turn around and work against you. Men with false motives often use Christianity as a cover to get what they want.
They use the faith connection to establish a facade of trust and intimacy so that they can later build a platform of control.
They’ll text you a good morning message and throw in the praying hands emoji or say something like, “May God bless your day today!” They’ll sprinkle the conversation with a devotional they read that day. They may have really read the devotional, but it was only to convince you of their spiritual commitment.
They aren’t legit. They’re counterfeit.
That’s why in relationships it’s so important to not fall for what men say. Men who are manipulative are great at mirroring. They’ll find out what your highest priorities and passionate interests are and in an effort to woo you they’ll claim to have the same interests. It’s a way of establishing common ground. One of the greatest tactics is using faith to create a strong bond.
They think it’s easy to mislead Christians. Not because we lack discernment, but because one of the foundations of our faith is trust.
But blind trust gets us into trouble. Salt looks just like sugar, so do your due diligence.
They’re skilled at using spiritual faith fuzzies to warm your heart. They know that faith is a powerful intimacy connector. Not only does it connect you on a soul level, sharing a faith connection builds a platform for a spiritual connection. That’s why If they know your faith is very important to you, men who are controlling and manipulative will use scripture and faith as a way to establish instant intimacy and worm their way into your heart.
These men seek out women who have weak boundaries. Like a puppet and a puppeteer, the relationship works well until the puppet decides to cut the strings. When the cords are cut, the puppeteer feels threatened and angry. They’ll do everything in their power to restring the puppet. It can get difficult and even nasty before the situation gets healthy, but there is a simple way of escape.
Just say NO.
After two failed abusive marriages, April continued to gravitate toward charming men. By the time she realized how manipulative and controlling Brandon was, she was in deep. He drank heavily and she caught him lying about being with other women. But he was going to church with her and said all the right things about wanting to change.
She believed his words over his actions. She called it off several times, but Brandon, like most manipulative men, pursued and persisted her with the tenacity of a lion after its next meal. Reluctantly, April continued to give him several more chances.
“He wouldn’t leave me alone. He knew where I hung out and he’d show up and beg to talk. He’d come to church and sit right next to me. I couldn’t tell him to move…at church.”
April tossed her long brunette locks over her shoulder. “Then I’d wonder. What if he really had changed? He keeps telling me that he’s going to counseling. Maybe I should reconsider. What if I’m wrong?”
Even though April continued to see social media posts of Brandon partying with other women, his charm continued to convince her that he was changing. Plagued by self-doubt, April went back and forth with him. Like a Ferris wheel of ups and downs, the relationship spun in a predictable spiral for over two years.
When a surge of reality hit, April had a final talk with Brandon and blocked his number on her phone, but it never stuck. Brandon would pressure her to talk after church and she’d unblock him again.
Calling off the relationship for good was beyond April’s comfort zone. She worried about being judgmental and felt guilty for not believing the best in others.
She worried about not honoring God’s call to love in 1 Corinthians 13: Love is patience, bears one another’s burdens, keeps no records of wrongs, is not easily provoked or demand its own way.
She didn’t know how to honor God’s word without being a doormat.
Because as a physician’s assistant, April’s core strengths are kindness, compassion and mercy. The perfect recipe for Satan to twist into his own version of a Christian concierge—one who serves at the rude, self-seeking, arrogant demands of another.
Satan is a master at perverting our greatest strengths and using them against us. He longs to turn us into puppets, pulling our strings so we never find the freedom we’re meant to have.
He strangled April’s kindness and convinced her that being firm and assertive was aggressive and rude. Standing up to Brandon and ending the relationship filled made her feel judgmental.
Satan twisted her compassion and magnified it into a sense of false guilt.
Then he transformed her mercy into a mountain of self-doubt that prevented her from closing the door on the relationship.
As a result, Brandon didn’t take her seriously.
April had enough.
Up until recently, her actions didn’t match her words. Her countenance defied her tongue and he could tell that she didn’t mean what she said, so he kept pressing.
But when April came to realize that discernment is not judgment and boundaries are how healthy women guard their heart, she began to embrace new behaviors that changed her identity. She’s no longer vulnerable. She’s strong and confident. And now she’s prepared with God’s wisdom to enjoy a healthy relationship.
If you’ve struggled with relationships like April once did, let me encourage you.
As hard as it seems, He prepares us all.
It’s through our struggles that we find growth…
and finally decide to cut the strings.