I remember the morning my Daddy jumped up and, cursing, screaming at Mama, “I’m going to shove your *** teeth down your throat!” I can’t say I remember what happened that lead up to his outburst (though they were common) but I clearly remember jumping between them and yelling at him to “Leave my Mama alone!” Mama was trying to pull me back, afraid of my father’s reaction. Her actions must have shocked him because he stopped, stared at me for a few moments, and turned and left the room. My memory ends there though I wish I could remember what came next. What did Mama say to me in those moments following his attack? Did she scold me for interfering? Did she hold me close and cry? Did she quickly dress me and herself and leave the house? I simply don’t know. Mama’s been gone for a long time now and even when she was here, asking her questions about my father led her down a pathway I seldom dared to tread.
Mama was an abused woman. I was an abused daughter. I married into an abusive family. I’ve had friends who have been abused. I’m more familiar with abuse than I’d like to be. But the Lord, in His grace, uses our pain no matter where or how it originated. If we are His, it’s for His glory and our good. Nothing–nothing at all–goes to waste.
The seeds of abuse grow in the hearts of those who have not the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Abuse lays waste precious lives. Abuse is sin, plain and simple. Those who have grown up in abuse, have married an abuser, or who, somehow, have someone else in their lives who is now abusing them (a co-worker, employer, so-called friend, adult child, etc.), sometimes have a difficult time understanding the love of God, trusting God or even understanding human love and trust. When your sky has been black around the clock all of your life are you really going to believe someone who tells you that where they live and, indeed, everywhere else, the sky is blue during the day? Or that there even is such a thing as daytime? Who could believe such a thing? That would be…weird.
Normal behavior is weird when you’ve been abused. What’s normal to others is so abnormal to you. They speak of trusting. You can’t trust. They speak of joy and happiness. You don’t feel. They speak of engaging, being involved, accomplishing goals. You go numb, hunker down and simply try to survive. The pathway to survival might include drinking (as it did for my father who himself was abused as a child), it might include drugs, promiscuity, overspending, dedication to perfection, or any other kind of addiction or coping mechanism. Abuse victims engage in such self-medication because they often don’t know what else to do. No one is there to teach them, help them or to care. They need someone. They need Christ. And they need His people.
Some Christians respond with loving compassion to those who have suffered abuse. My mother was blessed in that regard. When we finally managed to escape my father, we settled down in her hometown of Tallassee, Alabama. There we joined a church and that church surrounded us with love. They cared what she’d gone through. They hurt for her. They supported her in leaving my father. They even supported her when she, fearing that he would come kill her, take me and vanish with me, as he’d threatened to do so many times, decided to divorce him. The leadership of the church was with her every step of the way. Her story is an anomaly. Most women (or men) suffering from abuse don’t have such loving responses from their churches. That hasn’t usually been my experience nor that of most women I have spoken with.
You might think that domestic abuse is something you will never have to deal with. Something far away and foreign to you. You might be right but, honestly, I don’t think so. More likely you simply aren’t adept at seeing the signs. One in four women in the USA is affected by domestic abuse at some point in her life. One in four. That means that somewhere along the way every single person has likely come across someone who has been abused or is presently being abused. Most likely, you’ve come across several. Likely there are some in your church right now.
You don’t know what to do? Be Christ to them. If they don’t know Him, teach them of Him. Then love them, listen to them, help them, get them to safety, and serve them in whatever manner you can. That’s what He would do. And that’s what abuse victims really need.