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 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.

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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.

 

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.

Unjust Suffering

We are all familiar with suffering the consequences of making a poor decision. Children refuse to wear the clothing their parents tell them to and suffer as a result. We like to think that those who cheat, lie, steal, and hurt others will suffer the consequences of their behavior, but we don’t always see it. Is it really true? On the other hand, when women experience domestic violence, abusers tell them, “If only you’d _________, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s your own fault!” What a twisted reality!

That’s why the Bible is so vital to sorting out domestic abuse. It is the only source of absolute truth and God lays it out clearly:

The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:20)

Violence is wrong. Manipulation, deceit, coercion, justification, and posturing are wrong. Using someone to get what you want–power, influence, control–is wrong. The person who lives this way will be held eternally accountable.

The key word is, “eternally.” We may or may not see the consequences now. Asaph saw the injustice of evil men: they were rich, sleek and fat, boasting in themselves and committing acts of violence. Life seemed easy and, somehow, they got away with it. But, Asaph, lamented, his life was uncertain, hard, and he struggled to do what was right. “Why?” he asks. “Why am I trying so hard? What’s the point?”

Then Asaph looked to God and gained a different perspective. This is not the final chapter. From where God sits, unquenchable, eternal judgement is on its way. We may or may not see it in this life, but it will come. In a moment the violent and arrogant will be cast down, tormented by fear and terror. Judgment will come swiftly, inescapably. It is an absolute certainty.

What does God have to say to those who suffer injustice? Asaph wrote these words of encouragement and hope for himself–and for us:

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works. (Psalm 73:23-28)

You can belong to God through faith in Jesus Christ,. When you cry out, He hears you. He sees your need and will see you through. Continue to cry out, trust and obey: tell others, ask for help from friends, the local church,  law enforcement and social services. Keep doing what is right, with your eyes on the long-term goal and your faith in the only One who is with you, in you, and empowering you to press on. Run to your Refuge and Sanctuary. He is steadfast, sure, and able.

Want to know more? Order your copy of Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse. It’s here to help women and their churches see beyond the immediate and obvious to what’s behind and beyond.

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.