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)

Forgiveness without Reconciliation pt. 2

Forgiveness is costly. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing,” He was not providing a blanket forgiveness. He was petitioning His Father, willing to pay the price for their sin against Him. In the same way, Jesus took the punishment of my sin so I wouldn’t have to. That is love–and it is the kind of love only Jesus can give.

jesus_on_cross

None of us can take another’s punishment for sin. We have our own to worry about. But forgiveness* is a promise to withhold punishment for another’s sin against us. It may seem a petty thing–and in the scope of eternity it is–but in the moment, depending on the offense, it is astronomical. What does it look like to forgive a husband who belittles you in public? Demeans you in front of the children? Withholds finances? Takes joy in making your pain?

When we see the ugliness, waste, and offense of sin, we are tempted to retaliate, make him pay, want him to feel the pain and suffering he’s caused. That’s normal and natural. But Jesus can change that. Examining my own heart and sin against God and others brings me to a point of seeing the pain and suffering I brought on Jesus; on friends, church and family members, co-workers, children. And as I fully embrace the price Jesus paid for my sin, all of it, I am able to give him my pain and suffering as a result of others’ sin against me.

Willingness to forgive does not fix the problem. It does not make the offense go away or stop it from happening.  What a heart of forgiveness does do it to take the Jesus-card out of my back pocket and put it in the sin chip-reader. “Charge it to His account. There’s more than enough to cover the cost.” When I delve into Jesus’ forgiveness and extend it to others, I am free from the need to punish them or get revenge. I trust God to take care of things, and I know He will. As far as my own sin, the punishment was at Jesus’ expense. Paul wrote, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

Apart from God’s forgiveness in Christ, I can never be ready and willing to offer forgiveness. But through faith in Jesus, I can choose a heart of forgiveness. If the offending party has not acknowledged, owned, and dealt with his sin, I am free to bring it up when it is in his best interest. In that case, I determine to use his sin against me for Christ’s glory instead of my own.

I will not smash the mirror of God’s Word over someone else’s head, but I may lovingly, gently hold it up as the Standard in non-combative moments to say, “This is what I’m seeing–do you see it, too?” A willingness to love and forgive may mean removing one’s self and children from a dangerous or sinful situation: “I am not going to embrace or be an audience to your sin against God, against me, and against those who are in your care.”

The key is this: *sin cannot be forgiven (or “sent away) until it is acknowledged and forsaken. Until then, we can be willing and ready, dependent on Jesus Christ, extending His kindness and love to the just and the unjust, doing what is right, and using the resources He has put at our disposal.

But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. (Matthew 12:26)

For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. (Matthew 16:27)

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God… (1 Peter 3:18)

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.

Fuzzy Brain

If you live in an environment of domestic abuse, you can expect to experience “fuzzy brain.” You be confused and forget the most obvious things: appointments, names, places, memories. Your thinking is further inhibited by lack of sleep, hyper-arousal, and unsettled emotions. No matter what your abuser (or your own mind) says, this is normal. Anyone facing the uncertainty and stress of living in a war zone has the same difficulty. These are common symptoms of PTSD. Fuzzy brain is especially frightening when you think about how confusion makes it difficult to protect yourself and/or your children.

How can you overcome fuzzy brain? Pray. Ask God for the ability to think clearly.  It may take practice. It might mean removing yourself from the abuser. It will take hard work and effort to focus your mind on God, especially in the middle of the war. But as you settle your mind and replace scattered thoughts with who God is you will find it easier. Isaiah wrote,  “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You: because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). God is able to deliver, rescue, provide peace and clarity of thought. He is with you. He knows what has happened, what is happening now, and what will happen in the future. And He does not encourage you to stay and fix the problem. Get help. If you are assaulted, press charges. Allow God to use what He has put in place for your protection.

As you do, pray, “God, I don’t know what’s going to happen or when, but You do. Help me remember that You are with me. Please be my strength and my song. Protect me. Give me the ability to think clearly and focus on what needs to be done so I can honor You. Amen.”

Get out paper and pencil, your planner or computer and strategically write down everything you’re trying to remember: appointments, thoughts, children’s activities and schedules, work hours, church events, to do’s, must do’s, want to’s. Get them out of your brain and on paper (or in a document). Continue praying, asking the Lord for direction and guidance as you make plans. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.”

What problems are you trying to solve? Even if you don’t have an answer, write down each burden and pray, asking God to help. If you have a friend, older woman, or counseling advocate, ask for her help. As you’re able, write down specific, practical steps for when, where, and how to accomplish each task.

If you have the book, Sanctuary, you may benefit from completing the Clarifying Responsibility diagram by Paul Tripp (p. 60).

This is what it looks like to cry out for help. God hears and He will answer. The next step is to trust Him by doing what seems reasonable and best, to do what is right, and wait expectantly for His answer.

Fuzzy brain is a natural response to danger, a gift from God for your safety and protection. Don’t fight it, use it, by His grace and for His glory.

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
2 For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.

7 Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
8 Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
9 For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.
10 Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.
11 But the humble will inherit the land
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

12 The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
13 The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.
14 The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow
To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
To slay those who are upright in conduct.
15 Their sword will enter their own heart,
And their bows will be broken.

16 Better is the little of the righteous
Than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked will be broken,
But the Lord sustains the righteous.
18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
And their inheritance will be forever.
19 They will not be ashamed in the time of evil,
And in the days of famine they will have abundance.
20 But the wicked will perish;
And the enemies of the Lord will be like the glory of the pastures,
They vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
21 The wicked borrows and does not pay back,
But the righteous is gracious and gives.
22 For those blessed by Him will inherit the land,
But those cursed by Him will be cut off.

23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
24 When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.
25 I have been young and now I am old,
Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
Or his descendants begging bread.
26 All day long he is gracious and lends,
And his descendants are a blessing.

27 Depart from evil and do good,
So you will abide forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones;
They are preserved forever,
But the descendants of the wicked will be cut off.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
And dwell in it forever.
30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
And his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
His steps do not slip.
32 The wicked spies upon the righteous
And seeks to kill him.
33 The Lord will not leave him in his hand
Or let him be condemned when he is judged.
34 Wait for the Lord and keep His way,
And He will exalt you to inherit the land;
When the wicked are cut off, you will see it.

35 I have seen a wicked, violent man
Spreading himself like a luxuriant tree in its native soil.
36 Then he passed away, and lo, he was no more;
I sought for him, but he could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright;
For the man of peace will have a posterity.
38 But transgressors will be altogether destroyed;
The posterity of the wicked will be cut off.
39 But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
He is their strength in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
He delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
Because they take refuge in Him. (Psalm 37 NASB)