Tells

If you’ve watched detective shows or read crime stories, you know a “tell” is a quirk or mannerism that demonstrates and individual is lying.

facial expressions

Although abuse is characterized by secrecy, here are some things to look for in a friend or family member that, collectively, may indicate an abusive relationship:

  • The word, “just” is overused: “It was just an argument.” “I just pushed her a little.” “He just does that when he gets angry.” Just is a minimizing, or buzz, word for domestic abuse.
  • An abuser will place more emphasis on his reputation and other’s perception of him than the incident or state of those he’s harmed: “I don’t want you to think….” “It’s not what it looks like.” “Don’t tell….”
  • One individual (the abuser) does most or all of the communicating. He dominates by interrupting, making excuses and speaking for the other, expressing anger, or playing the victim.
  • The relationship moved incredibly quickly from its beginning to a permanent, or serious, commitment.
  • The relationship is clouded by confusion. Something is wrong, but there is little to no obvious evidence of the problem.
  • Over time, the victim has extinguished relationships with friends and family for multiple reasons. She is, both socially and practically, isolated from others.
  • An abuser does not take responsibility for failure in any way, shape or form. It’s always the fault of someone or something else.
  • An abuser is openly disrespectful of the victim, telling embarrassing stories at her expense, laughing at her, or making her the object of criticism and sarcasm. Victims, on the other hand, seldom speak against their abuser publicly or privately. When/If they do, take them seriously.
  • An abuser destroys objects or items of sentimental value to the victim. He may pose it as an “accident” or necessity but it always happens to her stuff, never to his.
  • Physical abuse results in unexplained bruises, cuts, welts, slow physical responses (i.e. due to sore muscles, strain, injury); inappropriate clothing (sunglasses, long sleeves, turtleneck sweater); extreme make-up, sleepiness, fatigue.
  • A victim may grow less active in community or church activities and less gregarious over time. Changes may be due to other circumstances, but it’s worth asking questions and providing an opportunity for her to share.
  • The victim displays anxiety, apprehension, fear or withdrawal in the presence of the abuser.
  • A victim is in almost constant contact with her abuser via text or phone, or she is anxious to meet a deadline.
  • There is limited access to a vehicle (“I don’t drive….) and money (“No, I can’t.”)
  • A loss of personhood and personal choice often results in depression, suicidal tendencies, drug or alcohol use, an inability to make decisions, and/or loss of interest in daily activities or interests.
  • Because of constant coercion and manipulation a victim makes constant apologies, is apprehensive and confused, expresses helplessness and hopelessness.
  • A victim of domestic abuse will often cancel appointments at the last minute, repeatedly, and/or be late for work and other appointments.

The most important part of being a friend or family member that cares is not to fix the problem, but to believe the victim and encourage her safety. You cannot do it for her. Please don’t seek help without her permission–you may put her in harm’s way. Be there. Pray. Intercede. Speak truth. Don’t slander her abuser; be Christ in all ways.

Because it’s so very, very difficult to see past an abusive relationship, the book Sanctuary focuses on a woman’s identity in Christ. He alone is her hope, her confidence, her motivation to love, honor, and choose Him over and above her husband. Christ will keep her. Focusing on Him will also prevent falling back into harmful patterns of thinking and behavior. Jesus is the answer.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV

Jesus’ Broken Body

Church members, pastors, people helpers, be gentle. If you must, repeat to yourself, “This is not about me. This is not about me,” as many times as necessary.

A woman who has endured domestic violence (physical, sexual, financial, digital, you name it) is a real person. As a result of who she is and what she’s experienced, she has done some things you and I may never understand. She may suffer from depression, anxiety, self-harm, hospitalization, drug abuse or alcoholism. It is not our job to fix her. Life change is a result of God’s love, not a prerequisite.

We need only begin where Jesus does. When the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, Jesus didn’t wag His finger, rebuke her, or demand fulfillment of the Law. He provided safety and acceptance, a place of refuge from her accusers. He resisted them, defending her life, humanity, and dignity.  His acknowledged the image of Himself, Creator-God, in this weak, humiliated, half-naked woman. When others walked away, He did not. He waited, silently, rescuing her from her circumstances before speaking to her heart.

A woman’s response, means of survival, relief, or escape does not restrict or negate the character of God. Her reaction to abuse does not lessen or cheapen His love, grace, forgiveness or mercy.

Alcohol abuse, drug use, smoking, abortion, self-injury, violent outbursts, depression, suicidal tendencies, unbecoming intimacy, and/or a sense of confusion and insanity are normal outcomes of and responses to trauma, crisis, and unpredictable violence. Let that sink in. She is not a “bad person.” She has survived. Day after day, moment by moment, she has pushed through an impossible existence.

jesus cross

We, Jesus’ Body, must be prepared for ugly, painful, difficult, dirty–life. Take a moment and think literally. Jesus’ body. Beaten. Whipped. Torn. Bloody. Oozing. Covered with spittle and filth. Screaming silent anguish. He is our Head, now risen and resurrected, transfigured and glorified. But once, once He was broken and bruised. This woman may be part of His body. Jesus precious, broken body. Here, in this place, in His physical absence, we are called to suffer with others, to bear their pain, despair, and enslavement. This–being Jesus in the flesh–is what you and I so easily dismiss, quickly avoid, and flippantly ignore.

May Jesus find us, like Joseph and Nicodemus, faithful to minister love, grace, and healing to His broken, beaten body (see When Joseph Wrapped Jesus).

One of Us

A victim’s greatest need is safety and security. Unfortunately, she is more likely to find it outside church walls than within.  Why?

Too often church members and pastors excuse an abusers’ treatment of his wife by believing (or saying) something like this: “If only you were more submissive.” “Have you prayed about it?” “Do you keep up the house? Laundry? Meals?”  Expecting her to change or fix the problem puts her on a different team. (Yes, ask him. You’re either on his team or you’re not.) When that happens, the wife becomes an outsider. She is “less than” everyone else.  Even if it remains unspoken, those who don’t understand think of her as someone who  doesn’t (fill in the blank);  can’t (fill in the blank), or won’t (fill in the blank) while everyone else does, can and will. And as soon as we identify someone as “less than,” we have given ourselves and others permission to treat her differently.

This is why most women receive help from former victims of abuse: survivors. They know they’re on the same team.

When it comes down to it, if one is to pick sides, the Bible says God is for the oppressed, hurting, downtrodden, broken, and contrite. So where do I really want to be? I want to be on His team…not just for my sake, but because I realize we’re all the same. The fact is, we’ve all been the underdog at one time or another, but coming alongside and cheering on women in abusive relationships–well, we’re going to get it wrong sometimes. By God’s grace, with humility, practice, and a teachable spirit we hope to get it right more and more.

Our example is Jesus, who made us part of His team. He not only picked us, He became one of us in a way the universe never has and never will see again.  The question is not one of picking and choosing, but joining others in their weariness and struggle against evil. As God’s representatives of reconciliation, may we bridge the gap between His goodness and grace and other’s pain, isolation, and enslavement. Even if I cannot comprehend what it is to be abused, I know my own limitations and need for Living Water. And, as I drink deeply from the well, may I draw a cup and minister it to others as well.

We all need fresh awakenings of the hope only God can give, of the transforming power of His Word and Spirit, of peace. And rest… Of the nearness of His presence and the beauty of His holiness. God is good to break us. To use us. To draw us in dependence on Himself as we see, hear, and love, and to glorify Himself in and through the lives of one another.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:14-21)

The Face of Evil

Two men were having a conversation and one was recounting an abusive relationship. “You mean he actually thinks about it?” one asked. “I know,” said the other. “And it gets worse.”

In writing the book, Sanctuary, I was aware of the fact that many pastors, leaders, and churched men struggle to address abuse in marriage because of their own frailty. They understand what it is to be impatient, unloving, to speak an unkind word and act unbecomingly to their own wives. Much like King David who failed to address his son’s sexual assault on Tamar after he himself committed adultery, all of us struggle to address others’ sin when it’s an area we struggle with ourselves.

The marriage dynamic of abuse, however, goes far beyond arguments and strained interactions. There is one type of abuser, the fool. According to the book of Proverbs, the fools is arrogant, refuses counsel and mocks any who reprove him. He is defiant, stubborn, boisterous. There is yet another type of man, or combination with foolishness, found in abusers: the wicked. The wicked man is crafty, sly, and evil. He not only sins against his wife, he schemes, plans, and fails to sleep until he gets it done.

faces-of-evil-exhibition

In researching domestic abuse, I discovered an incredible number of forums, books, blogs, and organizations that resist, warn against abusers and provide support for victim/survivors. Many have been founded and sourced by abuse survivors. There is a fire, a passion and drive to protect women and children from the horror of their experience.

From the outside, it’s easy to misread the passion as a livid desire for vengeance or extreme justice. In some cases, that may be true. But those of us who have never lived with evil incarnate cannot know the intense fear, panic, or underlying anxiety of the unknown and what’s coming next. We have not screamed and begged for mercy that never came, nursed deep bruises for days, walked on broken bones, tried to erase profane violations and acidic names from our memory. Those wounds never go away. Some refuse to heal. They are the work of the wicked.

Listen to these descriptors of the wicked from the book of Proverbs. The wicked:

  • Seek opportunities for violence (1:11)
  • Ambush the innocent for no reason (1:11)
  • Intend great damage (1:12)
  • Focus on personal gain (1:13)
  • Run to evil (1:16)
  • Are quick to shed blood (1:16)
  • Cannot sleep unless they do evil (4:16)
  • Are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble (4:16)
  • Live and thrive off wickedness and violence (4:17)
  • Walk with a perverse mouth (6:12)
  • Let you know trouble’s coming (6:13)
  • Signal with feet, point with his fingers (6:13)
  • Continually devise evil (6:14)
  • Spread strife (6:14)
  • Conceal violence with actions and words (10:6, 11)
  • Use perverted speech (10:32)

And that’s just the first ten chapters of Proverbs. A woman who is married to this man can expect nothing less than hell on earth–and that’s what you’ll hear if you ask. This is a terrifying way to live. It has nothing to do with anger, losing his temper or self-control. It has everything to do with dominance, sport, winning, power, and control. It includes verbal tirades, coercion, physical threats, financially twisting of her arm, and using  children. To clinch the deal, he will seal his threats and control with physical and sexual assault. If you think he doesn’t have sexual perversions, inclinations, and fantasies with which to prey on her, think again.

The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, in their training manual for law enforcement officers, says this,

“Men who batter are usually not violent towards anyone but their wives/partner or
their children. They can control themselves sufficiently enough to pick a safe
target. Men often beat women on parts of their bodies where bruises will not show.
Sixty percent of battered women are beaten while they are pregnant, often in the
stomach. Many assaults last for hours. Many are planned.”*

You can’t trust this man. You can’t “take him at his word.” His wife/girlfriend will be hesitant to give you information because of past repercussions and future threats. You will not get helpful or useful information counseling them together; she will simply be in greater danger.

Perhaps someday Jesus will hear, “We never knew.”  And perhaps He’ll answer, “Because you didn’t want to know. You didn’t see, you didn’t hear. You were too preoccupied with programs,  numbers, media, your facility and reputation. Instead of caring for the sick you fed the prosperous and provided spa treatments for the healthy.”  Jesus did say, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:31) Having experienced life under Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak.”

The world is very aware of the evil that exists in the heart of man. Wake up, Church of Christ! Rather than shelter in place, we should be on the front lines, pulling the oppressed to safety, ready to defend, protect, provide for, and love those who need it most. In Christ, we can offer life, hope, help, peace, joy, and purpose. It’s what Jesus would do. It’s what Jesus did.

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

*https://www.nj.gov/oag/dcj/njpdresources/dom-violence/dv-dynamics-instr.pdf, p. 1-3

Why Address Sin?

“If a woman is not to blame for her abuse, aren’t you finger-pointing and blaming the victim to talk about her sin?”

When a woman comes to a pastor, biblical counselor, or older woman for help, the last thing that should be addressed is her sin. Literally. The last thing. Her primary need is practical help, hope, and comfort in the face of unjust suffering; mental, emotional, psychological, physical. She is a sufferer. There is no other, better term.  Because Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse had to be written all at once, it addresses every part of a woman’s spiritual life: salvation, suffering, and sanctification. Sanctuary speaks to her position as a child of God, a saint who is fully forgiven. The greater portion of the book acknowledges her suffering as a woman experiencing domestic abuse. Finally, Sanctuary her reality as a sinner. To look at some parts of her life (saint and sufferer) without seeing her as a whole person would be a disservice. Forgiveness, freedom, and and long-term healing are the result of confession and repentance.

As a victim of abuse learns to cry out to and trust God and His people, there will be a time to walk through sinful thought patterns and habits–things that prevent her from addressing her husband, seeking help, or finding the courage to change. According to statistics, a woman will return to an abusive relationship seven times. That reason alone should move us beyond safety, escape and relief to a desire for personal transformation, which is only available by faith in the substitutionary life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The greater element is her relationship with God; her spiritual growth and ability to glorify God as she lives out the beauty of her original design. In that case, the most unloving act is to provide immediate help, make her feel better, and send her out the door, still dependent on her abuser, desiring to change him or fix their marriage, tied to a need for approval, appreciation and affection from someone other than God, who alone is worthy.

Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).  Sanctuary shows women, churches, and the people who love them how to apply the power of God and His awe-some love for her to a man acting wickedly and sinfully. By faith, she can transfer blame to the deserving individual, the abuser, placing her burden of sin and shame on Jesus Christ. She is then able to live abundantly: free of guilt, shame, failure, and condemnation.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, (Romans 8:1-6)

Couldn’t Be!

A common response to the book, Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse, from those who have never lived in an environment of domestic abuse is, “Wow. I’d never allow that.” Or, “What’s wrong with those women?”

For those outside the dynamic (by God’s grace), this type of thinking and speaking is called victim-blaming. It comes in many forms. I am guilty of it myself–and see it rearing its ugly head in the most unlikely places. The underlying message is, “It’s the victim’s fault (she ended up in that relationship, he treated her that way). If only she (left, fought back, walked out, etc), it wouldn’t have continued.”

There are a number of reasons that line of thinking is wrong. Here are a few:

  • Abuse is sin on the part of the abuser, not the victim. If you hit someone, you are guilty. If you degrade an individual, neglect, or use them, you are wrong.
  • The reason we attach blame to victims is because it creates a sense of safety. Once I have a list of what-not-to-do, I can simply avoid those things, thus avoiding an abuser. That is not true.
  • You. don’t. know. Even if you think you know what’s going on, you have no idea what happens behind closed doors: what mind games are in motion, which words are charged and have been reinforced with physical force or punishment, what a look or reference may communicate between two individuals. You cannot begin to understand the dynamic of domestic abuse until you have lived with those involved.
  • Control is the name of the game. Reputation is everything. Appearance is the running commodity. If you are questioning the victim’s integrity and character, the abuser has accomplished his goal. She has been compromised, and you are the reason why.

In looking for plausible reasons for abuse, begin with the abuser. The desire for power and control is never satisfied. “The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper.” Proverbs 28:25. Read The Heart of Domestic Abuse: Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Control and Violence in the Home by Chris Moles along with Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse for a biblical understanding of how to truly bring help and hope through the Person of Jesus Christ.