A woman noticed my nametag as we stood in line. “Did you write that book in the bookstore?” she asked. When I told her I had, she shared her own story of domestic abuse, then she wanted to know mine. I fumbled for an answer. In the year since the book was published, she was the first and many others have asked. “Why did I write Sanctuary?”
I could tell you that in a group of women close to me, 3 of 5 have experienced domestic abuse. Or I could tell you that when it was time to write my master’s thesis, my husband wisely asked, “What counseling situation is most difficult?” Or I could say that the department chair suggested researching physical domestic violence when I wanted to write on how to respond biblically to a sinning husband.
Here is the truth. One morning, instead of meeting in my office, I met a woman in her home because her husband made her choose between money for groceries or money for gas. They had fought most of the night. We sat at her kitchen table and when she brought up the topic of divorce I asked where he was. She calmly replied that he was sleeping in a nearby bedroom. That didn’t feel particularly safe or smart, so we took our conversation outside.
We had met many times and discussed different facets of life. As I desperately prayed for words and direction, we turned to Matthew 22:37-40 and I asked, “If you continue the way things are now, is it possible to love God with your mind, soul, and strength? Are you free to have a personal relationship with God? (Read your Bible, pray, and attend church?)” Yes, she said, that was not an issue. “And if you continue as you are now, are you loving your husband and children well? Can you do what is best for them?” No, she answered. She could not continue living this way without giving in to sinful lifestyle choices, constant chaos and fear. Loving her husband meant making changes, dangerous ones. If she chose to love God and her neighbor, those changes could lead to removing herself and their children for their safety and his overall well-being. He needed help and they a) couldn’t fight against his sin and b) didn’t have the resources to fight their own under his influence, c) would continue to be in danger and d) were harboring a criminal by not reporting him (physical assault/domestic violence is a crime).
I offered to go with her to the courthouse and file a protective order. She said she couldn’t. She wasn’t ready. We talked about safety plans, contacting extended family, daily schedules and opportunities, but I quickly realized this was not about surface issues. There were struggles deep in her soul and mind that had to be overcome for her to step out of the cycle of violence to safety from the man who controlled and undermined her every move and resource.
As we walked through the weeks and months that followed, God more than provided for her needs financially, spiritually, and practically. He also gave her miraculous courage and insight into herself, her husband and children. With help from family, friends, the local church, law enforcement and social service agencies, she and her husband received counseling and multiple opportunities for change. She chose change, Jesus Christ, and freedom. He chose himself.
I continue to meet with women whose husbands sin against them, armed with the truth that only Jesus works change and is worthy of worship. Through Christ, God’s Word, His Spirit, and His people are vital tools that empower and enable victims to become victors. The odds against victims of abuse are overwhelming. Coercion, confusion, belittling, demeaning, violent behavior traps them against their will. Even after building up gumption to leave temporarily, women return to abusive relationships an average of 7 times before leaving permanently. But God has a better solution.
Only God can make the local church aware that some men prey on and use their wives as objects instead of equals. God can put it in women’s hearts to search out, pray for, and come alongside the suffering. God can provide His Spirit though salvation in Christ, newness of life, courage and a desire to do things differently. God can change hearts and lives of not just victims, but abusers, and the entire local church. God can provide secular resources and legal intervention to provide for their practical needs.
Sanctuary: Help and Hope for Victims of Domestic Abuse is not about changing the dynamics or circumstances of domestic abuse. It’s a look into the heart of our God who comes alongside the suffering soul, providing comfort, healing, and help. Sanctuary empowers victims of domestic abuse to use Scripture as a means of change and loving others–not according to their own understanding–but in a courageous, biblical way that calls others to respond to God as the Judge, the Avenger, and, potentially, personal Savior from sin and God’s deserved wrath.
I wrote Sanctuary because the gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes. God’s Word is living and active. God’s Word is a healing balm of grace and mercy.
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 119:7-11)