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)

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

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.