Accessing Strength and Power

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what prevents victims of abuse from crying out–and there are a lot of factors. I’ll be part of a Master Class with Chris Moles in the near future and will make it available as I’m able. But something incredible has fallen into my lap in the way of experience and truth.

Because I am not only a biblical counselor but an Advocate Volunteer for our social services, I interact with a lot of different people. When victims need help–when they know they need help–and they want help, God offers Himself as the  Rock, the  Fortress, the Hiding Place.

To come to the place of admitting there’s nothing I can do and this other person is acting contrary to my hopes and dreams–that I am caught in a web of deception–that is when I fall on my knees and beg for mercy. My dreams are gone. My hope, dashed. My future, uncertain. My present, a nightmare. My relationships, tenuous. As the old hymn writer said, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Unfortunately, many would rather live the lie, hope for change, and wrestle the known than let go and embrace God with both hands. (Statistics say that a woman will return to an abusive relationship an average of seven times.) When a victim lets go of present circumstances and takes God at His Word, a miracle takes place. Eyes are open, reality is accepted, dreams are released, and hope takes root.

If you haven’t, look around. Ask God to reveal your true need and cry out to Him. He is your only Hope. If you are clinging to Him, you’ve found the answer to your past, present and future. God will provide–has provided in Jesus Christ–and will continue to use and bless you for His glory and eternal purpose.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Knowing When to Leave

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

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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?

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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)

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)

 

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.

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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.

When You’re Up Against Power and Control

I started my morning reading about King Saul and David in the book of 1 Samuel and ended up studying the power and control wheel.

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If you haven’t seen this before, it was developed by a group of individuals to describe the crippling effects of unseen abuse in relationships. Just because someone on the outside can’t see the puppet-strings doesn’t mean they’re not there. An individual may use intimidation, coercion, male privilege, economic pressure, children, possessions, minimizing or blaming to get what he wants. When, or if, that is threatened, he will resort to a different or stronger tack. He has many to choose from. Another word for this is bullying.

Biblically, this is referred to as pride, foolishness, loving self, unrighteousness, wickedness, and evil. These individuals are described as wolves, worthless shepherds, hidden reefs, clouds without water, autumn trees without fruit, wild waves of the sea casting up their own shame like foam (see the book of Jude). The list goes on. Although some of these labels are applied to false teachers in the church, these men, in their homes, mislead and destroy those in their care. They say one thing–appear to be upstanding, righteous, thoughtful in one setting–but are very different at home, depending on what best meets their desires. Some are pastors and leaders in their churches. When that is the case, this description applies in every context.

King Saul was this kind of man. Because of his pride, rebellion, and disobedience, God withdrew His Spirit and the promise of the kingdom. Saul knew David was his competition. Not only that, David had everything Saul wanted. In desperation and envy, Saul sought to destroy David. He threw a spear intending to kill him (numerous times), chastised, punished, and belittled those who helped David, withheld safety and support, hunted and threatened his life. For as many as 16 years David lived under the threat of Saul’s violent attacks.

But God had other plans. David respected Saul’s title and position. He was God’s anointed. God put him in power and God would remove him. For that reason, David refused to fight back. He trusted God no matter how difficult. He refused to harm Saul. He refused to listen to slander or threats on Saul’s life. He would take whatever came his way, trusting God to see him through–because there was more.

David also realized that he was God’s anointed. For that reason, David took precautions to protect himself. He, as the upcoming king and leader of Israel, kept himself out of harm’s way, escaping out of windows, hiding in caves, spying from meadows, and fleeing across mountains. He fled. Made alliances. Sought help. Received assistance. Pursued God’s best. Believing God would see him through, David did what it took to live according to God’s promise and purpose. That is where David found strength.

My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
2 He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.

3 How long will you assail a man,
That you may murder him, all of you,
Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence?
4 They have counseled only to thrust him down from his high position;
They delight in falsehood;
They bless with their mouth,
But inwardly they curse. Selah.

5 My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God my salvation and my glory rest;
The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.
8 Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah.

9 Men of low degree are only vanity and men of rank are a lie;
In the balances they go up;
They are together lighter than breath.
10 Do not trust in oppression
And do not vainly hope in robbery;
If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them.

11 Once God has spoken;
Twice I have heard this:
That power belongs to God;
12 And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord,
For You recompense a man according to his work. (Psalm 62)

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 addresses 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, help 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)