Things domestic abuse victims need from Christians

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.

An advocate
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.

The abusive husband

Colossians 3:19, Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

Ephesians 5:25, Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

(There’s a world of difference between a difficult marriage and a dangerous marriage. I’m speaking here to the woman who is married to a dangerous man. If you are married to a man who makes you unhappy but isn’t dangerous, please go to your pastor or a counselor. It is your duty to God, to him, and to your children, to do whatever you can to make the marriage better. If you are married to a dangerous man, or think you may be, read on. If you need to talk, email me at annagaynellwood@gmail.com).

You’re married to a man who sometimes seems to be the greatest guy in the world. When he wants to, he can be so wonderful. A loving husband, an involved father, and just an all around great guy. This version of your husband is amazing. He makes you happy. This is the man you thought you married. You just wish that you could stop time and make this moment last forever. But these moments never last. Do they?

No matter how nice he can act, it never lasts. An abusive man won’t remain acting like a loving husband and father because that’s not who he really is. He isn’t really the greatest guy in the world, is he? Because the greatest guy in the world wouldn’t systematically try to destroy you. He wouldn’t try to hurt you. He wouldn’t lie to you or about you. He wouldn’t be addicted to porn or use it as justification for sexually abusing you. He wouldn’t break your heart again, and again, and again. And he’d never, ever, do anything that would endanger his children. But your guy does, doesn’t he? All the time.

But maybe he’s not really an abuser; maybe he just hasn’t gotten over the things he went through as a child. Depending on the case, that is possible but it is also doubtful. It’s true that there are some folks who take a long time to heal from childhood trauma but it is also true that, even if this were the case, if he loved you, he’d be doing his very best to be a better man, a better husband and father, and he wouldn’t be systematically hurting you and your children. 

Maybe he wants to do better but hasn’t learned how to yet. You must ask yourself if your husband is doing everything he can to heal and to grow? Is he actively working on improving himself? Has he stopped abusing you? Is he devoting himself to being a better husband and father? Or is he making excuses for why he’s not farther along in his healing? For why he’s not able to control his temper? Or his mood? You need to seriously consider these questions, pray over them, and be honest with yourself.

The most important thing to consider when you’re trying to decide if your husband is an abuser and you are a victim of domestic abuse is this: Are you afraid of your husband? If you are truly afraid of him–afraid to cross him, afraid to anger him, afraid to disagree with him, afraid of him hurting you, afraid in anyway whatsoever of him–something is dreadfully wrong and needs to be addressed immediately.

Maybe you aren’t really sure if your husband is an abuser. Ask yourself these questions: Do you walk on eggshells around your husband? Have you changed your beliefs, the way you speak, act, or dress, or what you like or dislike, not just to please him but because you had no choice but to do so? If you are constantly stressed when you are around your husband, if you must do whatever he says or accommodate his wishes no matter how bizarre, if he gets angry for little or no reason, if you’ll do anything to keep from setting him off, the chances are very, very great that you are in an unhealthy or even a dangerous relationship.

Domestic abuse is a sin. Domestic abusers may masquerade as Christians but no true Christian abuses his family. If you are married to an abuser, do whatever it takes to protect yourself and your children, including leaving if you need to.

What should your response be if a Christian woman comes to you and tells you she is being abused?

 John 15: 12, This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…

I saw something the other day on a reformed site on Facebook that broke my heart. I saw it on a page for women, most of whom are reformed, that I have had the joy of being a part of. I haven’t actually ever posted on there but I regularly read the posts and I pray when needed; occasionally I will respond or offer advice if I have something useful to say (it’s so very easy to think that our advice is useful and wise when, in fact, it’s anything but). The other day, I came across a post where the answers were, to put it bluntly, anything but.

I don’t remember what the original question or comment was but the conversation turned to what would be appropriate to say to a woman who comes to you wanting to talk about the abuse she is facing. What should your response be? As a woman who has been abused and who has faced less than loving responses from many in the church, I was hopeful that among this group I would find women who would have understood had I gone to them asking for prayers, guidance, or encouragement. I was wrong. Overwhelmingly, their responses ranged from labeling such a woman a complainer to saying she should be shut down for gossip. Only one response was fully compassionate. The ways these Christian ladies thought was appropriate to handle an already hurting woman, a woman who is being abused by her husband, a Christian sister who is aching for all that her children are having to endure, who is facing the fight of her life and is longing for help…. It was…heartbreaking.

It got me thinking about what our response ought to be if a Christian sister comes to us and hesitatingly shares with us that she is being abused by her husband. In order to glorify our Lord, in order to rightly respond to her in a way that helps her and pleases God, what should our response be?

Since, as Christians, we should always start with the Word and with prayer in everything, we should start there in determining a proper response to a sister telling us she is being abused. We should prepare our heart for responding to her by knowing what God’s Word says about the oppressed. We should pray and ask the Lord for wisdom, and for a heart to serve. Remember Jesus said that the second greatest commandment (which incorporates the final six commandments) is to love thy neighbor as thyself. As a Christian, our neighbor is any of our brothers and sisters. If one of our sisters is being abused and she comes to us asking for help, our job as Christians is to love her as we would love ourselves. So we should keep this in mind: If I was being abused, how would I hope someone would respond to me?

Next, we should listen to her. If a woman who is being abused is reaching out for help, she is not doing so lightly. Reaching out for help could get her in trouble with her abuser, should he find out. Reaching out for help is dangerous. Confessing she is being abused–any kind of abuse–could cause her abuser to punish her, beat her, or even kill her. For her to confess what she is enduring and ask for help is a huge step and we should view it as such. We should be humbled that she would trust us enough to reach out to us. We should ask her to meet somewhere where she feels safe in talking (at a public place, at our home, at the church, etc.); if she wants to meet but has no way to get there, we should offer to pick her up. If she can’t meet and wants to talk via email, letters, or over the phone, we should accommodate her. We should give her our full attention. No matter what she says, we should never act shocked or let repulsion for what she shares show on our faces. Don’t say, “I never would have let a man treat me like that.” If we have not been in her shoes, we don’t know what we would have done. We should never tell her “just leave”; domestic abuse is far more complicated than that. The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she is pregnant and when she is leaving or has left an abuser. Don’t shame her. Ask her what she wants to share with you, gently ask leading questions if she is comfortable with that. Simply let her be open and honest.

We should respond with wisdom, with gentleness, and let her know that we care. A woman being abused who reaches out for help is not being an unfaithful wife. She’s not being disobedient to her husband. She’s not being neglectful of her wedding vows. She’s not being a nag, defiant, she’s not failing to be submissive, or anything else along this line. Likely, she’s been very submissive, far more obedient than most women, and is still living in terror. If she’s reaching out for help, she’s doing so with fear of being disbelieved, ignored, castigated, turned away, or punished should her husband find out. We should let her know that she is safe in talking to us. We should let her know we care by responding in gentleness, with kindness, and by praying before we make accusations or misjudgments and add to her pain.

If we are worried about her safety, we should tell her. It’s alright to tell her, “I’m concerned for you” or “Have you considered leaving him?” Domestic abuse of any kind is horrible and needs to be seen as such. If she is in physical danger, we need to encourage her to get away from her abuser (and help her figure out how). Everything else can be dealt with later.

Make a specific offer of help. We should never say “If you need me, call me” and leave it at that. Ask her what her needs are and make the request genuine. By finding out what her needs are, we are then in a position to tell her what we can and can’t do. We can say “I can watch your children for you”; “I can go to a lawyer with you, if you would like”; “I can give you money for a hotel so you can get away for one night”; or “I have some food that I would like to share with you” are clear offers; “Let me know how I can help” isn’t. If she is comfortable with us doing so, we can offer to share her needs with others who might be able to help.

Ask her what her prayer needs are. Be faithful to pray.

We should help her to understand the truth about domestic abuse. Point her to a sound counselor, book, blog, or to Christiawoman who has lived through abuse. She may not understand that her husband’s “anger issues” are actually abuse issues. She may not have been told that her husband will probably never change. She may not have ever been validated by anyone. She may not realize that there can be life outside of abuse.

Be her friend. We should be there for her. Offer her our friendship. Support her. Listen to her. Call her. Text her. Email her. Go by her house and check up on her (if it is safe). Let her know you care.

Do something nice for her children. If an abused woman is a mother, her children’s pain will be her greatest concern. Mom is probably much more likely to share her children’s needs than her own. Maybe they need clothes, books, or games. Perhaps we can help with gifts. We can offer the gift of time, listening, and encouragement. We can include them in our own family activities when we can. We shouldn’t forget to include Mom in outings, also.

We should not try to tell her what to do. As the wife of an abusive man, she hasn’t had the chance to make important decisions. She doesn’t need us to tell her what to do. She might need help with researching her options. She needs our prayers. She might need our input or guidance or suggestions. But she also needs us to let her make her own decisions. Make sure she knows she’s supported.

If she decides not to leave her abuser, know that she has the right to make that decision. She may leave and go back to her abuser repeatedly. She may feel that she cannot survive apart from him–something abusers work hard on instilling in their victims. We may not understand her decision but she needs to know that we will still be there for her.

If she wants to leave her abuser, we should do whatever we can to help her. Leaving an abuser is terrifying and dangerous. There are many things we can do to help her. We can offer to put her up in our home, a hotel, or find another safe place to stay. We can offer to house her pet or find someone who will. We can be in constant prayer for her. If she needs financial help, even if we can’t afford much just a few dollars can make a big difference. We can go through our closets and drawers and share things she might have need of. We just need to be there for her. She’s more terrified than we can even begin to imagine. She needs us to care.

After she has left her abuser, her struggles will be far from over. We mustn’t forget her. She will lay awake at night crying. She will feel horribly alone at times. She will feel overwhelmed. She will be afraid. She will fear that she’s making poor decisions. She will wonder how she can make it on her own. She will be afraid of her abuser getting revenge. She will still hurt over all that her children have lived through and all they still have to face. She needs an encouraging word and a helping hand.

Remember–We don’t have to do all of this or even most of it in order to be a good friend. We should prayerfully do what you can and we’ll have done more than most people ever think of doing.

Soli Deo Gloria!

An abused woman gets up in the morning…

Galatians 6: 2, Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Psalms 11: 5, The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.

Women who are suffering in an abusive marriage usually suffer alone. This is true even if she is a member of the Lord’s church. Women who are being abused are afraid of reaching out for fear of the repercussions she or her children might face. They are humiliated by the fact that they are being abused. They feel alone, misunderstood, and broken. They are often told if only they didn’t, hadn’t, or wouldn’t, do thus and such, their abuser wouldn’t abuse them. All of these things make it hard for an abuse victim to find the help and support she needs. What follows is a peek inside the life of an abused woman from one who has walked in her shoes. If we don’t understand, we can’t help them. If we aren’t willing to talk about it, no one will ever understand. It is my hope, indeed it is my prayer, that by our burgeoning willingness to address domestic abuse in the church, we can make a difference for our sisters who are suffering under the heavy hand of domestic abuse.

May God open our eyes and our hearts to the suffering of our abused sisters in Christ….

She gets up in the morning, full of apprehension. There’s so much to do, and only herself to get it done. If she does it the wrong way, or at the wrong time, if she fails to do something that she ought to have done…she doesn’t even want to consider the consequences.

Her life is full of chaos, despair. She doesn’t want to give into despair, doesn’t want to doubt God. But is God even pleased with her? That she has to wonder. Her pastor told her to search her own heart, make sure her motives are pleasing to God, and that God would be pleased with her. She wonders if she has done it. She’s tried. Her Bible is underlined and highlighted. She tries hard to live it out. But no matter how hard she tries, no matter what she does, her husband says she’s not submissive enough, that’s she’s lazy, and selfish. Her pastor tells her that if she loves her husband more, obeys him better, things will get better at home. He assures her that her husband wants to be a good husband; she just has to be a good wife first. Daily she searches her Bible to see where she’s failing, to find out how to be more holy. If only she could do better, be more, be more perfect, then maybe, just maybe, her husband would be happy with her. Maybe things wouldn’t go so bad so very often.

She hurries to get her children ready for church. Serving breakfast, finding lost shoes, combing hair, washing faces, and cleaning up, are her jobs. Always are her jobs, even when her husband is going. But today he isn’t. Last night, there were things he wanted to do. Friends he wanted to be with. Places he wanted to go. He came in late, exhausted, and agitated. Today he is just too tired to spend time “in that place.” She tries hard to keep the children quiet so he can sleep. If he awakens, things will not go well.

She sits through the church service trying to follow along. She wants to worship God with joy like she used to. Before.… She sings, she prays, she listens to the sermon, to the announcements, but as she does her mind strays. Will the service go over and cause her to be late getting home? Will her husband be angry? Will she fail to get his lunch on time, fail to please him in some way and things escalate? Will her children be too childish once home and frustrate him? He says he loves them but he gets so irritated with them so very easily. The same could be said about her. No matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries, she never measures up to her husband’s ever-increasing demands. She keeps trying to bring her mind, her heart, back to this moment. Back to worshiping God. The sermon ends. She feels like crying.

While others are talking, making plans for an afternoon of fellowship, of rest, terror crashes in on her. She’s afraid to make eye contact with those who speak to her. She’s afraid that someone might find her secret out, might see inside her. Might notice the bruises, crudely covered by makeup. Might notice she always hurries away. “We don’t have time for you to play,” she tells her crying son. “Hush, we’ve got to get home,” she tells her talkative daughter. Her husband is awake, looking disheveled, scowling, as she walks in the door. Her heart sinks. She sends the children to their room. They start to fuss, wanting lunch. “Please, I’ll be right with you.” But she isn’t. Her husband comes first, demands to come first. He always, always, comes first.

She goes through the afternoon in a haze. Her head is pounding, meeting the rapid ratcheting of her heart. As she feeds her children, as she cleans, she talks to God, tells Him she wants to please Him. Begs Him to change her husband. Begs Him to change her. Begs Him for forgiveness for ever doubting Him. For a moment, hope rises. Maybe there can be a better day…someday. From another room, her husband screams at her son, calling him stupid. Reality rushes in. This life, right here, just like this, may be all there ever is. She rushes to try to sooth her son, calm her husband. He turns on her, anger in his eyes.

She goes to bed alone, exhausted, tears spilling down her cheeks. Her children asked why Daddy did the things he did. Why he said the words they were forbidden to say? So young. So full of fear and confusion. She tried, she really did, but it just wasn’t enough. Not for her children. Never for her husband. It was never enough for anybody. She was never enough. She justifies that he shoved her. That things got so far out of hand. She really shouldn’t do things to set him off. She really ought to try harder…shouldn’t she? That’s what he always tells her, no matter how hard she tries. His words of condemnation play around her head. His threats loom heavy. She falls asleep praying for a better day tomorrow.

She gets up the next morning, full of apprehension.

Depraved

Sexual abuse in marriage is not something that the church has, overall, been willing to talk about. It is hard to discuss simply because of what it is. It’s embarrassing. It’s awkward. We’re rightly uncomfortable talking to others about their sexual lives, and we are rightly hesitant to share the details of our own lives. That’s as it should be. But sexual abuse in marriage is a sin and, as such, it needs to be addressed. But how do we do so without causing more pain? Or without venturing into territory we have no right to go into? Even those intimately affected by sexual abuse in their marriage frequently don’t want to admit it. It’s humiliating and shameful to have to admit that your husband uses your body to fulfill his most base and vile desires—sometimes even against your will. It’s hard to even admit that to yourself, let alone to anyone else. This is especially true if the sexual abuse has gone very far.

But there are things that need to be said. Sexual abuse in marriage needs to be discussed. Some woman somewhere, perhaps even within your church, is hurting right this very moment because the man who stood before God and man and promised to love and cherish her has instead been using her to satisfy his most base desires. This is wrong. This is sin.

Sexual abuse in marriage isn’t just about whether or not a man rapes his wife. Marital rape is wrong, and it’s most certainly abusive, but there are other forms of sexually abusive mistreatment that are often overlooked. It’s wrong for a man to do, say, or force participation in, activities that are vile, disgusting, painful, and humiliating. It’s wrong for him to force his wife to engage in sexual activities that she doesn’t want to engage in. It’s wrong of him to force her to do, view, say, or participate in things that are designed to arouse his sexually but that make her spiritually, emotionally, sexually, or physically uncomfortable. Some examples of these kinds of activities might be stripping her against her will, dripping melted wax on her bare skin, calling her sexual or vulgar names, forcing her to watch or view pornography, trying to recreate pornographic images he’s viewed, forcing her to do chores, etc., while in a state of undress or while dressed in a way he insists upon with the idea of getting sexually aroused by her state of undress.

Sexual abuse, like any abuse, is always about an abuser gaining and maintaining control and domination over his victim. Sexual abuse, in any shape, form, or fashion, is a corruption of the gift of sexual intimacy. A man who engages in these activities is sinning against his wife, and, ultimately, against God. Sexual abuse in marriage isn’t about love. It’s not about romance. It’s about one partner inflicting pain and humiliation on the other in order to satisfy their own twisted vile lustful desires. Such a man is depraved.

Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash

Cancerous relationships and Christian burden bearing

Galatians 6: 2, Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. 

Cancer is defined by Merriam-Webster as a serious disease caused by cells that are not normal and that can spread to one or many parts of the body or something bad or dangerous that causes other bad things to happen. That pretty much defines cancerous relationships as well. Abuse never happens in a vacuüm. One part builds on another, and another and another until it becomes a way of life for the abuser and makes life unbearable for the abused.

Abuse takes many sizes and shapes. From emotional abuse to physical, from sexual abuse to financial, from isolation to control, any type of abuse hurts. Any kind of abuse is sin. And nearly any case involving domestic abuse will far too often cause Christians to abandon post and forget that God’s Word  commands us to bear one another’s burdens. Being in an abusive situation that you cannot get out of is hard enough. Being in one continuously over a long period of time while God’s people shake their heads and turn away is one of the most painful things anyone can endure. I know. I lived this life for decades.

During my over three decades as an abused wife, I turned to fellow Christians, to pastors, to elders, to deacons for counsel, for prayer, for guidance, for help, only to be turned away, blamed, told it wasn’t so bad, that he had anger issues, or that I just need to hang in there. I begged for help, for guidance, for advice (Please, tell me how to help my children. What can I say when my children ask me why their daddy is doing and saying the things he does? What can I do to comfort them? How can I help them? Provide for them? How can we get out? Can I get out…?) I had children…little ones…teens…who were witnessing abuse, dealing with the fallout of the abuse, who were being verbally, emotionally, and financially abused by their father, and I begged for help. I got some money from time to time. Money I didn’t ever ask for. But what I begged for, pleaded for, again and again and again and again…guidance…I didn’t get. I wasn’t out there running my husband down, or smearing his name, or even telling everybody what he was doing. I was sharing just enough to try to get some help. I was afraid for my children. We were doing without and in so much pain. I had no one to turn to. I was alone. I was desperate. I told them that. And it did me no good.

If it were just me I’d think, well, that it was just me. But it isn’t just me. I’ve talked with abuse victims from around the world. This is too often the norm for the way abuse victims have been treated in the church.

Bear ye one another’s burdens is what Scripture says. What it doesn’t say is unless they are abuse victims trapped in a cancerous relationship or trying to leave one. I love the Lord’s church; I mean that with every ounce of my being. Even though this has happened, I love God’s people and, so often, I don’t think that they mean any harm. They simply have no clue what to say or do.

My heart goes out to abuse victims. I know the pain that gnaws away at every part of your life until there is nothing but pain. I love the Lord. He truly is my everything. Without Him, I would be bound for hell. If not for Him, I wouldn’t have made it a year, let alone three decades, living as we did. I love the church. I long for Sunday every single day of the week so that I can be with the Lord’s people in worship. But things have to change. This must be dealt with. My prayer is that God’s people will examine their stance on how they relate to those who have been abused and start standing with victims as they ought to do…in obedience to God and for His glory.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Church, will you not care?

I’m an abused woman. The man I married turned out not to be the man I thought I was marrying. His real colors revealed themselves within days of our “I do’s.” I spent 30 plus years trying to love, obey, and respect a man who abused me in nearly every way possible.

There are many women like me. Women whose men have, through their abuse, torn the very fabric of their lives to shreds. There’s no organic wholeness to their lives, just a grasping terror due to trying desperately to hold on. There’s no plan for the future, no stability to plan one, just a prayer to make it through this one minute. Over and over again, this one minute lived takes them to places they’re both afraid to face and hungry to embrace. Maybe it will bring the change, the hopeful future, they long for. More likely, it will bring more of the same brokenness, full of pain, fear and confusion, that has haunted their lives for years.

This is the life of an abused woman. As fear grows, hope diminishes until she is afraid to hope. Scripture says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13: 12) When disappointment builds on disappointment, it tips over into the overwhelming. Finally, there’s little reason to hope. Domestic abuse is a killer of hope, a destroyer of dreams.

Fear is a paralyzing force. As the blows from her husband intensify, be they verbal or physical, she retreats further inside herself, afraid even to look up lest she make him angry. It’s no different if the abused wife is a Christian. The life she lives, she lives alone. Afraid both of the consequences she’ll face from her abuser should she reach out to others, and simultaneously afraid of the reactions she might receive should those outside find out the secrets of her life, she keeps her horrible secrets to herself.

Alone but for Christ, she collapses and cries out at the foot of the cross.

Does God care about her pain? Does he see pain of her children? Does He want her to stay? Will He enable her to leave? How can she provide for her children? How can she protect them…their bodies, their hearts, their minds? How can she make it through another minute, let alone another day? 

Thoughts and prayers, hope and fears, bump against one another during the crawling fearful minutes of her day. In the late night hours they mix and mingle, twisting crazily into one another, giving her yet another night of fitful sleep and terror-filled dreams.

Sometimes it becomes too much and she decides to reach out, to hope that just perhaps somebody might care…

You wouldn’t know by the responses of many in the church that God cares. Many are more willing to ignore such a woman than to get involved. Time and time again, an abused woman’s story is told; time and again, her story is ignored or disbelieved by those who claim the name of Christ. Refusal to listen, to help, to get involved crosses all denominational lines. If advice is given, it’s too often bad. “Go back home, serve him, keep praying, and know that you are suffering for Christ” seems to be the most widely used piece of junk advice Christians have to offer. Junk because in that one sentence, they are both linking Christ to her abuse and excusing themselves from having to extend any effort to help her.

But her pain remains, the tears keep on falling. And she’s still alone.

And for now, as in the past, too many churches keeps right on failing abused women and their children.

Mark 12: 31, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash