I admit this is an abrupt departure from my recent posts. But this is definitely an issue that God has brought to the forefront of my mind. I pray as I post this column that the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart will be pleasing in His sight!
I almost did not say hello. She was an acquaintance really. Someone I knew from long ago. She had not noticed me when she walked in and was now around the corner. But something compelled me to go over. I said hello then asked her a simple question. What tumbled out was a story that should not be a part of any marriage, much less a Christian one. I think she was bit stunned that the words spilled out. I was taken aback as well, yet humbled that she had chosen to share a bit of her story with me.
Lines of his betrayal and abuse. Of his secrets. Of his dishonesty. Of her hiding the truth of the evil because it was not supposed to be that way. Who would believe such a far-fetched tale? But this courageous woman stepped out, being confident that allowing such a pattern of sin could not be what God intended. She escaped the dailyness of dealing with such treachery and is providing a new life for her family. One that will not be easy to rebuild.
God has continued to lay this burden on my heart. By sending women my way who have undergone similar struggles. Normally Domestic Violence Awareness month passes by without me giving it a single thought. After all, while my marriage is not perfect, I have never even been close to an abusive situation. But as I am seeing more women I know breaking free from this burden, I know that I am no longer unaware. So I must not be silent.
I must be clear on one item. I am not a trained counselor. I am not a pastor. I am only a woman who is a lifelong student of God and His Word. I feel that the violent acts that have been done because of submission or in the name of discipline should not be done against women or children. At times even men can find themselves victims of aggressive women, but for this article I will be talking as if the abused person is a “she” simply for clarity’s sake.
When I began to research this topic I was astounded by the extremes in responses to situations of abuse. “Be quick to leave” or “Stay no matter what.” The former usually was in cases of physical danger, and I would definitely agree that certain points fleeing is necessary. Staying seems to be only possible if the abuse is “minor” (by relative comparison) and if concurrent counseling is taking place. To begin healing, I personally feel that some separation needs to happen. And the earlier the issues are addressed, the sooner there can be possibly be a resolution.
Can every situation involve reconciliation? In my human eyes, some situations seem unreedemable. Thankfully in God’s eyes, nothing is beyond the scope of a potential miracle. No matter what. But only if He is involved in the solution. And only with A LOT of time taking place! And some people seem to get that.
I did discover one site that seemed to help define abuse. The article, Christian Primer on Emotional Abuse is thorough in explaining what constitutes abuse as opposed to anger issues that we all might struggle with. Patterns of behavior rather than isolated incidents. I especially appreciated this quote.
Telling the victim to submit to sinful behavior will rarely encourage the healing God wants to bring about in the life of both victim and abuser. Instead, it enables the abuser to continue down his or her destructive path, while their family pays the price. The best chance a marriage has for long-term survival is for the cycle of abuse to be broken, and for the abuser be brought to repentance (not just remorse) and get the help they need, preferably from professionals trained to address abuse. Churches can assist families in finding this help, and come alongside them to provide spiritual guidance, emotional support, and ongoing accountability. (p. 2 of the online article)
If I discovered through this article that another friend has these abuse issues in her life, this would be my advice to her.
1) Get help. From a trained counselor or trained pastor. From someone who is willing to get to the truth of your allegations. Someone who will take your concerns seriously yet knows to guide you to God, the ultimate healer and protector.
2) Recognize your part but do not shoulder all (or even much) of the blame. You are not right any more than the abuser is always wrong. BUT, a person does not do anything to “deserve” abuse. You may cause someone frustration (I know I do at times!), but your foibles should NEVER cause violence.
3) Form a support community. Going down the path of healing will be lonely as it is. You will need others to come alongside you. While each person does not need to be privy to all of the details of your story, if they know the basics, they can provide a support system. This burden is too heavy to carry alone for you. And also too heavy for only a friend or two. Church should definitely be a resource.
4) If this abuse was hidden well, know that it may take others some time to come to grips with it. Especially if the person also knew the abuser but in a better context. Probably it took you some time to recognize the mistreatment as well. Forcing others to take sides immediately may hinder the healing.
5) Pour out your heart to God. He promises to collect our tears in a bottle. And He is the healer of broken hearts. While in situations like these, wondering where God was throughout the abuse is a natural conclusion. But God Himself promised that He would never leave us or forsake us. Abuse was NOT a part of His perfect plan for you, but He can use even this to bring about redemption.
And what I have learned by trying to be a friend to someone in this hard place …
1) Take what your friend shares seriously. Even if it seems completely unfounded. She does not need judgment – she needs compassion. She needs a listener. And pray for the ability to discern truth.
2) Be careful in giving advice. Especially in encouraging extreme solutions. Encouraging your friend to pack up and run to the border is only a temporary solution. Although in certain situations fleeing is the best option, if the situation is that extreme, involve the authorities or a shelter that has experience in such cases.
3) Do what you can to help. This type of a situation is a vortex, sucking the life out of your friend. And you can be pulled in as well. Set some boundaries. This issue will not be solved overnight. And there is only ONE Savior. I know that I want to rescue and solve and fix. That is not my place.
4) Encourage your friend to find a community. If you are her only support, you will not survive. And she will not get the help she needs. Public assistance is an option. And many churches will be able to help the victim get on the path to healing.
5) Pray. The last answer and best solution. I know that I want to help more than sometimes time allows. (Even though my friend’s life is at a standstill, mine is not.) But I can always continue to pray for her even if I am unable to daily assist in other tangible ways. I can pray for her safety. I can pray that she will not succumb to manipulation. I can pray for discernment – that God will make the truth clear to her. At the root of every abusive relationship is a point of deception. I can pray for honesty to prevail. I can pray for wisdom as she determines what do to next Especially if she has taken a step away from that relationship, she has rocked her world. Knowing the direction to go for healing is overwhelming. Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. Without ceasing.
This post is only able to touch on a bit of this enormous issue. Here are some additional resources that I discovered that may be even more helpful than my words.
In the Lincoln area, we have the Friendship Home. They provide shelter and counseling to those who need it. (This is a public resource, so the advice may or may not follow the Bible directly.) They have an emergency hotline: (402)437-9302.
Lincoln Counseling and Enrichment This is a Biblically based group of counselors who speak God’s truth in the midst of pain.
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233
Help for Abused & Battered Woman This site has an excellent checklist and suggestions on getting out of abusive situations safely. This could also help a person identify if the relationship is truly abusive.
I recommend this blog with a bit of trepidation. Danni Moss is a pseudonym of woman who survived abuse but did not survive cancer. God has relieved her from the burdens of this life. I have not read all of her articles (this is my bit of concern), but I thought there was a lot of truth to this one! Does God Want Me to Stay in an Abusive Marriage?
Unraveling: Hanging On to Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage (This is the author’s personal blog that includes resources and her own experiences)