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)

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)

 

Submissive Equality

Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that submission in marriage means everything. If a husband is displeased, it’s because his wife isn’t submitting. If the marriage is struggling, it’s because she’s not submitting “in everything.” There a mistaken understanding that, because marriage represents Christ and the Church, the husband (representing Christ) is right and the wife (representing the Church) is at fault. Somewhere along the line we lost the reality that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The example of David and Saul is one of a submissive equal–both were God’s anointed–in which the designated authority was sinfully jealous, capricious, and malicious. (Marriage is also a relationship of submissive equality–if you struggle with that, do some Bible digging.) David was wooed into the relationship by his ability and God’s sovereign hand. Once there, Saul used David, turning on him time and time again.

When given an opportunity to exact vengeance, David responded, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 24:6). He refused to harm Saul. But the fact that Saul was the governing authority did not mean David had to give in to Saul’s sinful whims. David fled to save his life; he sought help from Jonathon, the priests, his family, and those the Lord sent his way. He resisted evil as an example of godliness. God blessed his efforts and preserved his life. Difficult? Yes. Unfair? In human terms. Good? Yes, in as much as David honored and glorified God with his decisions and responses.

David endured manipulation and exploitation, but when it came to physical endangerment and the threat of his life, he fled. His respect for God’s anointed extended to himself as well as Saul. God chose David and appointed him to be king. That was David’s confidence–God had made a promise. David’s commitment to guard what God had entrusted to him included his personal protection and that of his family.

A woman who suffers mistreatment at the hand of her husband must put her confidence in God. This confidence is not in herself, her choices, and actions. It is certainly not in her husband or marriage, but in God alone. Amy Baker says that hope results from trust; not pie-in-the-sky, someday-my-prince-will-come hope. God offers true hope as we trust fully in Him, guarding His gifts and promises, acting in faith to protect one’s physical life, health, children, and spiritual growth. If you belong to God through faith in Jesus Christ, you belong to Him and nothing (nothing!) changes that. Faith is not passive, it is an active commitment to put God first, doing what is right and good, resisting evil, and trusting Him with the results.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:3-23)

Forgiveness without Reconciliation

I was recently asked what marriage to an abusive man would look like if he never changed–if he confessed and asked for forgiveness as manipulation. That’s a hard question. What would it look like to live, willing to forgive, but unreconciled?

Jesus’ said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

That’s hard. Impossible. Supernatural.

And the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. During the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples before His crucifixion, He announced that one of them would betray Him. Each one (including Judas) asked, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22). Jesus didn’t treat Judas any differently than the others, even though Judas had received 30 pieces of silver in exchange for betrayal.

The strained behavior, words, guilt, and shame rest soundly with the one who sinned and refuses to repent. Those forgiven by God in Christ are free; faith-filled, peace-full. They can make decisions, walk, talk, and live with a clear conscience before God and others. Reconciliation affects fellowship with individual who sinned against us, but it does not bear on our own conscience or relationship with God.

Again, the guilt and sin is the responsibility of the one who sins against and uses others to his advantage. The soul who sins will die. (Ezekiel 18:4). That’s each one of us–apart from Jesus. But in Christ, there we can love others independent of their behavior; seeking their best, honoring God with my heart, mind,  body, and soul.

Simply trusting every day;
Trusting through a stormy way;
Even when my faith is small,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Refrain:

Trusting as the moments fly,
Trusting as the days go by,
Trusting Him, whate’er befall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

2 Brightly doth His Spirit shine
Into this poor heart of mine;
While He leads I cannot fall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

3 Singing if my way be clear,
Praying if the path be drear;
If in danger, for Him call,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

4 Trusting Him while life shall last,
Trusting Him till earth is past,
Till His gracious advent call,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

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.