For those who don’t know, I live on a farm in the Midwest. Right now, we need rain.

A friend from church asked, “So how do you get water to the plants if there’s no rain?”

“We don’t. There is no way to water hundreds of acres of land–not here.”

From there I explained that in northwest Wyoming, where I grew up and spent some of my adult years, there is a huge system for providing water. In fact, unless there is a spring or source of water nearby, the only things that grow are sagebrush and scrub grass.

She had no way to comprehend or understand, so I began to explain the vast system of waterways, irrigation canals, sprinkler systems, mountain reservoir, and twice-daily rituals of local farmers–row by row, tube by tube, gate by gate. “In fact,” I said, “when I was visiting last month, my dad set a dam at one end of the property and flooded his yard for a period of time. That’s the only way to provide deep moisture to trees, bushes, grass, perennials.

“But why?”

Oh–well, that’s easy. Because that part of the world receives less than 10 inches of precipitation a year. Although shocked, she began to understand the reason and importance of such a complex, well-preserved system.

The same is true of marriage. You and I can give advice, try to relate to a suffering or distant woman, and come alongside her, but if we don’t have the words or ability to understand the difference between a mutual relationship and an oppressive one, we aren’t even speaking the same language.

“My husband gets crabby, too.” What does “crabby” look like? Sound like? Feel like?

“That makes my husband unhappy.” How do you define “unhappy?”

A woman who is experiencing oppression is rarely safe or free to share the reality of her situation. Others don’t understand the complex system she’s put in place to protect herself and her children, to create space, and survive. And if/when she tells someone, she is inviting them into a sacred, volatile place, risking her safety and imbalanced equilibrium.

So the next time a woman asks you for help or shares something you don’t understand, be gentle. Ask questions. Let her tell you what’s safe and what isn’t. Pray with and for her. Let her take your hand and sensitively, carefully navigate your way into the light. Don’t assume she doesn’t have a flashlight in her pocket–hers is probably bigger than yours because her darkness is much deeper and lasts longer. Be her friend. Love her like Jesus.

And remember–trust is lost much faster and easier than it is gained.

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