Matthew 22: 36-40, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
This isn’t a social justice post. I’m anti-social justice but I’m very much for justice, mercy, kindness, and grace. I’m for those things because they are commanded by our Lord. If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and our neighbor is being abused, it behooves us to know what to do to help. This is especially true when our neighbor is also a fellow church member. The things listed below are a good place to start.
The Pure Gospel
In far too many churches the Gospel is watered down, mixed up with fun, and served up in a culturally pleasing manner. No wonder such a “gospel” doesn’t save. It can’t save. It’s poison. We need preachers who are dedicated to the truth of God’s Word who are willing to stand up and preach that truth without changing it one iota; only then will the church be pleasing to God. Only then can it have the power to save. Concerning domestic abuse victims, it is useless for the church to help save someone from a hellish life here only to help them find a spot in hell in eternity.
For someone to listen to her
If a woman came to you and confided to you that her husband was abusing her, would you listen? Most of us are uncomfortable when it comes to hearing such things but listening is actually the first step towards helping abuse victims. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to come forward and say, “I’m being abused.” If someone comes to you with a story of abuse, sit down with her and listen. Ask her questions. Try to understand. Show compassion. An abused wife has far more to lose from confiding in you than most could imagine. Yes, some people lie about being abused and you have to be aware of that but remember it’s not the norm; far more women lie about not being abused when they are being abused because they are afraid of their abusers. So listen.
Someone to pray for her
After listening to her, pray with her. Ask her what her needs are–spiritual, emotional, physical, financial, and so on. Ask her how her children are and how you can pray for them. Pray for her abuser to repent. Pray for her safety. Pray and ask the Lord how He can use you to help your sister who is suffering so.
Someone to care and to help
Do you know what keeps a lot of abused women and children with their abusers? The lack of money to leave. Abusers often isolate their victims and that decreases the chance of someone being able to help them. Financial abuse frequently accompanies other types of abuse. Her needs, no doubt (and even if they aren’t financial ones), are many. Do what you can to help her. It might be as simple as being a friend. It might be more complex. She might need food, money, clothes for herself or her children. Medical care or supplements. If she’s trying to escape her abuser, she might need somewhere to go and some way to leave. Offer her a room to stay for a while, help her find a job or find a way to work from home, help her by watching her children, offer to run errands for her. Be a friend. Even if she stays with her abuser, chances are great that she and her children have needs that aren’t being met since abusers often use deprivation of various kinds to make their victims more dependent upon them.
Leaving an abuser is dangerous. Staying in an abusive marriage is also dangerous. An abused wife needs an advocate, someone on her side. Someone who will stand up for her, defend her, help her to find resources available to her, and help her to navigate the legal system should she choose to leave.
Someone to trust
Victims are often afraid. They don’t know who to turn to. It’s hard to know who can be trusted, especially since abusers often lie to and about their victims. If children are involved, it’s even harder. There’s nothing–nothing at all–more painful for a mother than to watch, hear, or see her children being hurt–be it physical or not–and being unable to do anything to stop it. Let her know you care. Do what you can to earn her trust and keep it. Never, ever, take what she has shared with you and broadcast it. Don’t share it with anyone without her permission. Especially do not share it with her abuser.
Someone who will let her make her own decisions while offering guidance as needed
With all that said, it’s also important to let the victim learn to make their own decisions. She must move from victim to survivor and learn to discern truth from lie. She has to learn how to rebuild her life when the foundation she’s starting with is so utterly destroyed. She has to learn to trust again and that includes trusting in herself. She’s been lied to by her abuser, told she was worthless, that her opinions didn’t matter. You know what? After hearing it over and over, she started to believe it. She’s been told she can’t do anything and she feels helpless. Help her find a counselor, suggest solid books on finances, theology, parenting, depression, abuse, and other subjects. Help her learn to discern truth from lies. Help her to find the information she desperately needs and offer your guidance when asked for it but, through it all, help her see the importance of making decisions about her life herself.
As someone who lived with an abusive husband for over 30 years, and as someone who repeatedly reached out to the church–multiple times the Reformed church–in multiple towns and cities, and was more often than not sent away with little or no help, I ask you–I beg you–the next time a sister in Christ comes to you and says, “Help me, I’m being abused,” do what you can to help her.