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

The Nunya Zone

As you work through how to respond to an abusive husband, it is important to understand the Nunya Zone. It is discussed in more detail throughout the book, Sanctuary, but not by that name.

Nunya is a term I use regularly in counseling sessions that refers to those things that are not my responsibility, as in “That’s none ya’ business.” Even in a healthy, normal marriage, couples get their wires crossed when one or the other overreaches. Paul Tripp, in his book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, writes that rather than striking a perfect balance, each of us tends toward taking either too much or too little responsibility for ourselves and others. In an abusive situation, determining nunya’s is complicated, twisted, misapplied, and misused, requiring an extra measure of wisdom and grace.

A wife is not responsible for her husband’s decisions, spiritual growth, leadership, financial integrity, or responses (among other things). She is responsible for her own decisions, spiritual growth, expressions of love, prayer, and responses. This means she cannot change her husband–and God does not expect or ask her to. A husband may make poor decisions–but it’s a nunya. A husband may tarnish his name. That’s a nunya. He may create extra work and spitefully use others. What he does is a nunya. It affects you, it is sinful, wrong, evil, wicked. But it is his decision, no one else’s. A wife can  determine what to do next–and that is a nunya for her husband.

man-yelling-at-woman
http://vk.am/blog/14583.html/man-yelling-at-woman

Working through your end of a nunya (as the current victim in an abusive relationship) is addressed in the book, SanctuaryRealize, however, that nunya’s work both ways. In a relationship driven by one partner’s dominance, it is common for the abusive partner to overstep the boundaries God has set in your life.

Understanding what the Bible says about you as an individual, created by God for His purpose, dependent on Him for change and growth is the basis of a biblical response. Your husband is one means God has provided for your spiritual growth, but he is not–and was never intended to be–the source of it. Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

You have personal tastes and preferences that can and should be expressed because you glorify God as no one else can. You have a responsibility to steward your time, resources, abilities, and talents in a way that uniquely glorifies God. These are nunya’s.

As a couple, you should have shared goals, dreams, plans, and desires. As an individual, you also have goals, dreams, plans and desires that are not necessarily dependent on your husband. And that’s okay. You are you. You are not him. You do not belong to anyone but God Himself. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The primary audience and recipient of your life’s glory is God (1 Corinthians 10:31). If that is being hindered by another’s sin against you, it is right to be angry. God is angry about that very same thing (Psalm 7:11). That is the right response. But anger is intended to move us to solve problems, seek reconciliation and Christlikeness. Our example is God, whose wrath against ungodliness and unrighteousness coupled with His love moved Him to send Jesus (Romans 1:18; 3:25). Jesus lived a perfect life in this sin-cursed world and died unjustly. In Christ, God provided a holy, radical solution to pay for our sin. When we experience God’s incredible love, we respond with gratitude, praise, devotion and obedience–and God is glorified. He gets all the credit! We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). This gentle, submissive attitude brings Him glory.

The same should be reflected in the marriage relationship. The biblical description of marriage is that of a wife responding to her husband’s great love, sacrifice, and devotion with affection and submission (Ephesians 5:22-33). Submission is not a dirty word, it is a beautiful, godly gift given to another. Jesus submitted to His Father. It was a choice; a personal, God-glorifying decision. Submission that is choked, required, or faked results from fear of judgment (1 John 4:18). It may look the same on the surface. But God knows. You know. A husband who requires submission is in the Nunya Zone. It is outside a husband’s jurisdiction to make demands on the human heart. A husband who requires an appearance of submission does so because he himself is failing to initiate the love of Christ. Instead of overreaching into his wife’s personal responsibility, he is called to take care of his own: to love his wife as Christ loves the Church. That means a husband’s love of his wife is outside the wife’s Nunya Zone.

Whether or not he loves her well, a wife can choose to submit to his preferences and direction as she lovingly submits to Christ. Submission is her choice, a gift she will either give or withhold. But when she views submission to an unloving man as an act of worship to God, that, in itself, guides her choices about what to submit to and how far she will submit. Will God be honored and glorified by her submission to a particular request? If yes, then she will offer it as a sacrifice of thanks to God Himself. If no, she will decline, graciously refuse, remove herself or report illegal and sinful actions (as she’s able) because it’s all about God’s glory–not her husband’s. God is clear, He will not give or share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11).

Nunya’s–it’s not about my rights, but God’s glory. Finding the biblical balance of responsibility and concern is a constant growth process, but we are not alone. God has given us His Spirit, His Word, and His Body in the form of the local church, to help us along way. If you haven’t already, read about God’s love for you in His Word, pick up a copy of Sanctuary , find a woman to help, and make yourself at home with in your local church.

 

Fool Repellant

I grew up near Yellowstone National Park. One year a man was taken to the emergency room because he applied bear spray to himself instead of the bear. Repellent can be effective when applied properly. This passage could be described as Fool Repellent.
Heartfelt responses to God’s Word  (or wisdom) are underlined, outcomes are in bold, the character of God is in red, descriptions of the abuser are in italics, additions are in (parentheses). To every woman in the world who needs protection from an abusive partner–and those who want to avoid him:

My son (daughter), if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
8 guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his saints.
9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11 discretion will watch over you,
understanding will guard you,
12 delivering you from the way of evil,
from men of perverted speech,
13 who forsake the paths of uprightness
to walk in the ways of darkness,
14 who rejoice in doing evil
and delight in the perverseness of evil,
15 men whose paths are crooked,
and who are devious in their ways. (Proverbs 2:1-15)

Whether you are already in an abusive relationship or trying to avoid one, use this passage as a prayer.

God, please help me receive your words and treasure your commands. Help me listen to wisdom and desire understanding. I’m crying out, begging You for insight and understanding. I need truth more than anything else in the world right now. I want You to be the most important Voice in my head and heart. Help me see past myself, my circumstances, my relationships, and my immediate needs.

God, I need you to give me wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Only You have what I need. Only You can be my shield. Only in Jesus Christ can I receive complete forgiveness, walk uprightly and hope to have integrity. Please be my righteousness; I have nothing to bring but brokenness, anger, hurt, pain, and confusion.

Help me understand Your way and Your word. Deliver me from the way of evil, from the man with perverted speech, who walks in darkness, rejoices in evil, walks a crooked path and is deceitful in his ways. You are here, God. You see the wickedness and deceit that surround me. But You are Truth. You are goodness. Please be my Way; my Truth; my Life. Guide, protect, defend and deliver me for Your sake.

In Jesus name, and in Your mighty love and power I pray. Amen.

Pray. Practice. Repeat.

Change

I’ve spent time with women in stinky relationships–and it’s hard. Life is difficult. Unpredictable. Painful. Hopeful. Then heart-breaking, hope-shattering, disappointing.

newsphotos-abuse-111114-620x330

Because women in abuse relationships don’t talk to others about the pain, shame, and abuse, they rarely hear what other women in similar situations say. If they did, they’d hear:

  • “When everything is good, he’s a great guy. When he drinks/does drugs/gets in a bad mood, life is ugly.”
  • “I don’t want to live without him.”
  • “He needs me. I help him. I don’t want to think about what could happen if I’m not there for him.”
  • “The kids love him.”
  • “We need him.”

A woman will leave and return seven times before making a final decision not to go back. The truth is, most abusers don’t change. They say they will. They “try.” They manipulate. But they keep returning to the same habits and patterns of power and control.

The Bible calls this type of individual a fool. He despises wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7), hates knowledge (Proverbs 1:22, 29), does not accept counsel (Proverbs 1:30), practices wickedness like sport (Proverbs 10:23),  brings trouble to his house (Proverbs 11:29), is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15), displays anger on impulse (Proverbs 12:16), refuses to turn from evil (Proverbs 13:19), is arrogant, careless and quick-tempered (Proverbs 14:16), and despises his mother (Proverbs 15:20). Sound familiar?

What happens to people who spend time with fools? The Bible says they suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20) and are unable to discern truth from lies (Proverbs 14:7).  Proverbs suggests leaving his presence (Proverbs 14:7) or hiding one’s self (Proverbs 22:3).

What this means is that you–the woman experiencing the trauma, uncertainty, trickery, and abuse–must change. This does not mean you are responsible for the abuse. He is the fool. If you took a snapshot of his life, you would see victim after victim. You are one individual in a string of others. His behavior will continue until he decides to get help. You cannot be his help; his sin is on his own shoulders. No one can bear it except Jesus,  and that requires absolute surrender and repentance. That obviously hasn’t happened. He has a choice. You have a choice.

On your own, you will struggle to call him out, risk his displeasure, and resist evil. One man who spent years running for his life, hiding and enduring persecution wrote, “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). God can give you the strength you need to do what’s right. He is trustworthy. He will deliver and rescue your life from the pit (Job 33:24). Not only that, God has provided a group of individuals, the Church, who are His hands, feet, and body here on earth.

Ask God for help. Look to Jesus. You need His forgiveness for your own sin–and He promises to provide all you need (Philippians 4:19, 2 Peter 1:3-4). Look for a church that teaches from the Bible, whose people love one another. They will love you. They will listen. They will help.

Your abuser will not change. Your circumstances will not change. You must change.

For practical help and information on personal change in an abusive relationship, read Sanctuary: Help and Hope for Victims of Domestic Abuse.