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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

Knowing When to Leave

Women want to know. When do I leave? How do I know?

leaving

The book, Sanctuary, walks through heart responses to abuse because it’s not only important to understand abuse and its effects; it’s just as important to learn to how to respond to your abuser and see past the abuse to your self: how you think, what you want, how you work. An abuser may not change–the facts are the facts–but you can.

If you are living in an oppressive, sinful marriage or relationship, God is on your side. The church that serves God is on your side. The people of God are on your side. It may not feel like it. It may not look like it. But you can believe God when He says:

Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Trusting and believing God does not mean remaining in an abusive situation or relationship. One woman said, “There were times I couldn’t move or think fast enough. When that happened, I learned to ride the wave. ‘Just ride the wave,’ I would tell myself, ‘and get away as soon as you can.'”

The wisest man in the world wrote,

“If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen? No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it.  All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.

…man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them.” (Ecclesiastes 8:7-8, 9:12)

Evil is real. Evil is unexpected. Evil cannot be predicted or controlled by human inventions. For that reason, leaving an abusive relationship is an act of God. There are things you can do: evaluate the situation, be smart, reach out to others, make arrangements in advance, use legal, practical, and relational resources, be careful (!). But everything you put your hand to is dependent on God. Trust Him. Ask. Look. Test the circumstances.

In the midst of it all, examine your own heart and responses. What would it look like to trust God and do what is right, even if it’s humanly impossible? In what ways do you need to see your abuser’s humanity, cruelty, and insecurity as his own (not yours)?

As you see the reality of your abuser, repeated episodes of sin, your inability to fix or change your marriage, and the severity of your situation (isolation, coercion, bondage), you–you–can change. You can cry out for help by praying to God and repeating the words of Scripture (start with Psalm 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10… see p. 88 in Sanctuary for more). You can ask God to send help. Look for someone who will hear, listen, and believe your story. Trust God by doing what is right and good. Protect yourself and your children.

When David’s life was threatened by King Saul, David had the assurance that God  anointed him (David) to be the next king. Not only did he refuse to harm Saul–knowing God had chosen and put him in a place of authority–David also refused to put himself in harms’ way. He protected himself because he valued what God did–his own life! David was a man after God’s own heart because he loved what God loves and hated what God hates. You can do the same. Be a woman after God’s own heart. Value your life, dignity, future, and being because God does.

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I have given Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your place.
Since you are precious in My sight,
Since you are honored and I love you,
I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
And gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring My sons from afar
And My daughters from the ends of the earth,
Everyone who is called by My name,
And whom I have created for My glory,
Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”

Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes,
And the deaf, even though they have ears.
All the nations have gathered together
So that the peoples may be assembled.
Who among them can declare this
And proclaim to us the former things?
Let them present their witnesses that they may be justified,
Or let them hear and say, “It is true.”
“You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
So that you may know and believe Me
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
And there will be none after Me.
I, even I, am the Lord,
And there is no savior besides Me.
It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed,
And there was no strange god among you;
So you are My witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“And I am God.
Even from eternity I am He,
And there is none who can deliver out of My hand;
I act and who can reverse it?”

Thus says the Lord your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,

“For your sake I have sent to Babylon,
And will bring them all down as fugitives,
Even the Chaldeans, into the ships in which they rejoice.
I am the Lord, your Holy One,
The Creator of Israel, your King.”

Thus says the Lord,

Who makes a way through the sea
And a path through the mighty waters,
Who brings forth the chariot and the horse,
The army and the mighty man
(They will lie down together and not rise again;
They have been quenched and extinguished like a wick):
“Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
The beasts of the field will glorify Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.
The people whom I formed for Myself
Will declare My praise…” (Psalm 43:1-21)

When You’re Not the Problem

What if your abuse isn’t about you? It’s a farce. You’re not at fault. You’ve done nothing wrong. You’re not trying to be difficult, but the rules keep changing. Your whole sense of balance is off-kilter? What if? How would you know?

alone-woman-by-the-sea-4272x2848_80012
photo credit

This is how abusive relationships work. It’s not a marriage issue. It’s not a marriage problem. It’s a person-out-of-control-large-and-in-charge versus a normal, everyday, wanting-to-get-on-with-life person. It’s not two sinners seeking to glorify God through companionship and unity.

If you are the individual who is constantly “wrong,” under pressure, experiencing ridicule, correction, and/or physical threats and punishment, let me say it here: it’s. not. you. Someone in your life is creating a smokescreen; a blame-shifting game in which you’re manipulated to fuel someone else’s pleasure or pet sin.

The book of James says, “For where envy and self-seeking exist,confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16).

When life is full of confusion and evil, someone is in it for himself. Someone wants what he wants and will suffer no expense–your sanity, your health, your well-being, or that of the children–to get it.

Stop. Look. Listen. Document or record conversations, take photos of damage and destruction, scratches, bruises, bites, lacerations. Get help. Pray and ask God to provide people who will listen. Be careful–he has allies–but keep praying and looking. Local law enforcement and domestic violence advocates will believe you. Churches are changing. Pastors and leaders are starting to listen. 

Next: be smart. Study safety plans. Create space to think, make lists, and consider your options. It is not good or right to remain in a sinful, oppressive environment. We are called to expose sin, not feed it (John 3:19-20, Ephesians 5:11). Once you have confronted your abuse and asked for help, whether the church is willing or unwilling, it’s time to step out of the way (Matthew 18:15-18). Allow God full access to reveal and deal with exposed sin. If you have been a buffer and cover, for safety’s sake, and for their soul’s sake, it’s time for change.

Above all, you are not alone. The Lord your God stands ready to help. He is a refuge and deliverer. He is a place of safety and comfort for the weary and oppressed.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

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).

Reality

The reality of violent domestic abuse–which happens to one in three women* (did you read that right?)–the reality is captivity. Women are captives, not only in their homes, but in their lives, choices, and heads. They are coerced and manipulated to another’s agenda, wishes, demands, and and preferences. Women are threatened, belittled, bullied, and treated like trash in the walls of their homes, bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms. They can’t and don’t “just leave” for a variety of reasonable reasons** (which we need to understand if we’re going to truly help).

The reality is, a woman in an abusive relationship is in an extremely difficult, dangerous situation.

God knows how to handle the difficult; the dangerous.

Think: ancient Egypt. Powerful. Affluent. Ritualistic. The power dynamic between Egypt and the small group of immigrants who owned and managed livestock, who lived on the outskirts of society is palpable. Heavyweight versus loserweight. Is it any wonder Egypt swallowed and made them slaves? For years they endured hardship, beatings, death, and, finally, the threat of extinction.  But God.

God did not change Egypt. God brought forth His will and plan in spite of, and through, the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart (Romans 9:17).

God did not do away with the Red Sea. He brought His people through it.

God did not destroy the rock. He brought forth water–life itself–in and through it, though the rock remained (Psalm 114; 1 Corinthians 10).

God is able. He can and will use all things for His purpose, plan and glory. He hears the cry of the oppressed, weary, and heavy-laden. He desires to show Himself mighty, powerful to save. He is God, and there is no other. He delights in the impossible. He is there for the one who cries out. That is the reality we live in. That is the reality we cling to. That…is hope.

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

 

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
    our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

 

For you have delivered my soul from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.

 

I believed, even when I spoke:
    “I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my alarm,
    “All mankind are liars.”

 

What shall I render to the Lord
    for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.

 

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his saints.
Lord, I am your servant;
    I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
    You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
    and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
    in your midst, O Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord! (Psalm 116)

 

 

*https://ncadv.org/statistics

**https://www.focusministries1.org/articles/HowtoHelpanAbusedWife.pdf

Repentance

Those who use power and control as weapons use them well. Think of hand-to-hand combatants in the movies: Matt Damon, Keanu Reeves, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee. That’s an abuser in a nutshell. It’s what you’re up against–what victims of abuse experience–only it isn’t one scene and it’s not a movie. It’s real life. Over. And over. And over.

In an abusive relationship, the oppressed individual just can’t win. Sometimes life feels  normal. Then pressure builds. The rug gets pulled out from under her unexpectedly. Hard. If only she’d seen it coming. If only… If only….

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If you’re a church leader and this isn’t your personal bent, you need to be mentally and spiritually prepared. Sure, there’s trouble in the relationship. Who doesn’t have trouble now and then? But in the case of an abusive relationship, it’s not a boxing match, it’s a street fight. You think you know. You want to think you know. But you don’t. There are no rules. When an abusive individual doesn’t get what he wants, he keeps pressing (or taking. There’s no time to strategize, take a break, regroup, or size up your opponent.

After hearing her side, you may expect opposition. Instead, you often find false humility; a walk to the altar; a promise to tow the line. You think the problem’s solved and you’ve successfully intervened. In some cases, perhaps. But in the case of an oppressive marriage, you’ve been played.

While you were giving him the benefit of the doubt, quick to listen, slow to speak, loving, and playing nice, he manipulated you into giving him more rope and leeway. You told his wife she needs to change, give it another go, hang on a little longer, do what it takes to preserve the marriage. What you don’t know is that He hasn’t changed; He simply flipped the coin and used the other side to get the same outcome: power and control. Now that his sin has been revealed to people who matter, people who could call him to change and surrender, people who have the ability to limit his power, desires, and control–he will make every effort to look the part, convincing them he’s doing his part; she’s not doing hers.

Tears do not equal repentance. “I’m sorry” is not repentance. “I won’t do it again,” is not repentance. “How can I fix this?” is not repentance. “Help me, please,” is not repentance.

Sound familiar?  If you’re still trying to figure out what just happened, please, please check out Chris Mole’s resources at http://www.chrismoles.org/ . Chris helps pastors and church leaders see behind the masquerade of power and control to repentance and true heart change, all while protecting and defending women and children–especially those in our churches.

Repentance equals change. And, as Kevin Carson says, “Change does not take place until change takes place.” Repentance begins with identifying sin. There is no way to begin the put off, put on process of sanctification if you refuse or fail to identify the specifics of what to take off. Where is the sin? No minimizing, justifying, excusing, blame-shifting. True repentance is broken over one’s own sin against God and others, not sorrowful over consequences.

Determine how you, as church leaders, or his wife, know he has put off a behavior. What will stop? How often? To what degree? How will you measure effort and sincerity? Paul wrote this in 2 Corinthians 7:11:

..see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”

Is he making efforts to keep up appearances, to get what he wants (his life and wife)?This is not true repentance. True repentance means submitting (yes, you read that right–“submitting”) himself to the power and control of others, even when he doesn’t agree. He will tow the line longer than required. He will be harder on himself than you are–and you should expect him to be.

His wife is the one who knows. Listen. to. her. Let her be raw and real. Allow her to share his infractions, outbursts, and demands. This is one of the few true barometers of change in an abusive relationship.

And that’s just a start.

Don’t be the fool. Identify him, love him well, draw him to the Savior. “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)

Love your women and children. Protect and defend them. Go to the mat. Be filled with the Spirit, doing the Lord’s work, with His Word, as His Body:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God (Isaiah 61:1-2)

 

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)