Domestic abuse: when war is waged at home

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For Kenneth Bailey, my former pastor, my friend…

I guess my perspective is different from that of many Christians. I have lived among abusive people my whole life. The good Lord saw fit to not just dip my feet in the water of abuse but to plunge me into its depths. Because He graciously has allowed me to live in the midst of abusers (though many times, I must confess, I’d have much preferred He hadn’t), I have an understanding of what abusers do and what the abused go through at their hand.

In the end, the pain God has allowed me to deal with has been a blessing because it’s opened my eyes in a way some folk’s eyes are never opened and I’ve been able to help others who struggle with this pain. I can relate because I know first hand the pain of abuse.

But God…God can redeem anything. He’s redeemed me when I was so unworthy of His grace and mercy. He’s redeeming the abuse I and my children lived in, too.

If you will, allow me to walk you through abuse just a little bit. We’ll talk about it. We’ll discuss pastors who have to deal with it. We’ll discuss the pain of it all. Just so you get a glimpse, a taste of understanding. So that when you meet someone who is where I once one you can say, “Sister, let me help you for I understand.”

If you’ve not walked in the shoes of Christians who have been abused by those they’ve loved, I guess it’s easy to look away. After all, you don’t understand what’s going on. Anyway, some of the people being accused of abuse are “just the nicest people” or “the best Christian man I know.”

Or it’s easier to say “Just leave” and leave it up to her to figure out how. I was told that I don’t know how many times. “Just leave him, Anna.” “I would never allow a man to treat me that way.” Elders said this. Their wives did. My pastors. An older woman one pastor sent to talk to me. It’s not that I shared it with many; I didn’t. We moved around, a lot and I tried several times to get the help we needed. Multiple pastors in two different states.

“Are you sure he’s really abusive?” “Maybe it’s just anger issues.” “If you treated him better, were more submissive, showed him more respect–etc. and so on–maybe he wouldn’t treat you the way he does.” (This one was my favorite.) “If you really wanted to leave him, you would.” “Call the police if you need to go somewhere. They can probably drive you.” (I must say, I never understood that one.) These were some of the questions I was asked, some statements that were made, by pastors who perhaps tried to understand but didn’t understand.

Only one pastor ever cared for us in a way that truly showed God’s heart. That’s not to say the others were cruel but they simply didn’t understand. Perhaps they didn’t listen long enough or well enough or ask the right questions to understand enough to seek to help us. I needed guidance. I would ask pastors what should I tell my children? How should I react? How could I protect their hearts and minds? I got no answers.

Except for one. An Anglican priest, a conservative one. His name is Kenneth Bailey. He’s not only a former pastor of ours, he’s a friend. He not only listened. Even though he’d moved to Florida by that time, he offered to open up his home to us while we found a place to live. He wanted to help us, protect us, and get his church involved in doing the same. I couldn’t move to Florida because I couldn’t take my children out of state but that in no way stopped his kindness towards us. He wrote me emails, messaged me. Called us. Sent us cards. He watched over us from afar. He prayed for us, helped us financially, checked in on us, and let us know he cared. He apologized for not having spoken up when he first realized we were being abused and then he did all he could to help us. All during the long night hours, the night we escaped, he kept watch over us, checking in again and again. “Let me know when you are safe,” he said. Finally, we told him we were and he celebrated with us. He in Florida, us in Alabama. He is an example of how a pastor can listen, of how to care. He showed God’s grace to us in ways so very few did.

We need more pastors who will listen like this. But we don’t need to attack those pastors who have never faced domestic abuse in their church, or those who don’t understand it. Or those who have somehow failed to address it correctly. The thing is, even if a pastor doesn’t handle an abuse case correctly, if he is a true pastor, we don’t need to denigrate him. We don’t need to come down hard on our pastors, not for this. We should pray for our pastors–not just in this but also in this; they need our prayers in so many ways. Perhaps we can ask to share our experiences with them. Help them to understand so that the next victim of abuse who walks into their office, maybe they can respond like Kenneth Bailey did. But never should they be attacked for not understanding. They are the Shepherds of our souls.

There are godly women out there who love the Lord and who feel like the world is closing in on them. They are prisoners in their own homes. They don’t have a clue as to what they should do because they have no one to turn to. And often, even if they turn to their elders or their pastor, they don’t have an understanding of abuse. So the abuse goes on.

These women’s lives are just so hard. My mother was burned with cigarettes by my father. He broke her nose. My husband–well, you don’t really need to know specifics–but it was hard. Beyond hard. When your husband, the one who swore before God and man to love and honor you, won’t stop abusing you, when he continuously neglects his duties, when he is unfaithful, when he won’t provide properly and your children have needs….

If you haven’t lived it, you don’t understand.

Somewhere in your city, maybe in your church, maybe another church, there is a woman who loves God. She’s seeking to obey Him, and every single day is a struggle. She prays for food. For protection. Some days she doesn’t eat so her children can. Her whole life is one of deprivation.

Perhaps you have wondered about her faithfulness to the Lord because she isn’t always in church. Maybe she’s rarely in church. You don’t realize that she has no car, or he takes the car, or the car is unreliable, or she isn’t allowed to purchase gas for it.

You don’t see her tears when the landlord shows up and tells her that her family is about to be evicted because her husband failed to pay the rent–and this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Or when the power, the water, the gas is turned off. Or the struggle when her family does without garbage service for months on end.

You don’t hear her husband lie to their children about her. You haven’t heard him yell at them, telling them they are stupid, lazy, selfish. You haven’t seen him trying to get his own sons to fight him–to physically fight him. You haven’t heard the cursing and the anger. Or seen how he is cruel to one child, while favoring another. How he treats his family as his own personal servants. You haven’t heard the words meant to control and destroy. You haven’t lived with the destruction left behind.

Yet you wonder. You know something is different. Perhaps, wrong. But…what? Maybe it’s just her. It probably is her. If only she would do something.

You wonder because, when she does come to church she isn’t dressed very well. Doesn’t she care enough to put on a dress without stains? Or that actually fits? Maybe if she just put on some makeup. Or did her hair. Or wear clothes that matched.

None of which she has. None of which is possible.

Because of the stress they live in, those who are married to domestic abusers tend to have more health issues than their sisters who aren’t abused and they are often not allowed to have access to health care. I remember a time when I went without my thyroid medicine for months on end until I started swelling. And swelling. Even then, he didn’t want me to spend “his money” to get go to a doctor and get a prescription. We weren’t allowed dental care… glasses… so much more. Neither was my mother by my father. Neither are many abuse victims.

Abuse victims eat more poorly, sometimes because of stress and often because of lack of resources. Sometimes they hardly eat at all. My first Christmas, I was nearly a year old. We had escaped from my father and were in a run down hotel. We had no money. No Christmas. No toys. No nothing. The entire day my mother and I had only one sandwich and one pint of milk to share between us. All because of my abusive father.

Many times he beat my mother. Stole from her, lied about her, and berated her. He abandoned her once in a tiny run down shack in the woods with only plain oatmeal to eat. She had no way to leave, no idea when he would come back. Or if he would. She didn’t even know where she was. Daddy threw me across a room, slamming me into a wall. Withheld medical care from both of us. So many, many things he did….

Those who live in abuse tend to be quiet and subdued because they are embarrassed over the fact that they are being abused. Who wants to explain that? She can’t explain it, even if she wanted to. She fears what will happen if her abuser finds out someone knows what he’s been doing. She fears being blamed for not leaving the abuser, or maybe even being blamed for causing the abuse.

Folks say a lot of things about things they know little about.

Maybe because she’s been abused so often, in so many ways, for so long, she doesn’t have the strength to pretend anymore that all is well and she can’t bear to be around anyone.

She feels like a child with her nose perpetually pasted against the candy shop window. Except she’s looking outward to freedom from within the prison she lives in.

Abusers often keep their money for themselves. Some even demand that the abused turn over their earnings to them–if they have any, then they do what they want to with it.

Frequently abusers provide for themselves but not for their family. They have the nice clothes, the nice shoes, enough, while their family has…nothing.

Sometimes the abuser wastes his money through gambling, through drinking, by doing drugs, going out to eat, entertaining themselves, through other selfish spending, or by carelessness. 

Some abusers are so careless in their own lives that they keeps losing their job so they lose everything–over and over again.

Some sell everything his family has that is of any worth. Mine even sold my wedding ring.

Many who are abused live in roach-infested, mold-ridden, run-down houses. Or in out of the way houses where no one can see, no one can hear. They might own shabby second-hand furniture if they are allowed to have furniture. Frequently they do without many important furnishings. No one is allowed over, after all, so what does it matter? Certainly the abuser doesn’t care what she wants. Or needs.

She may drive a barely working car (if she is allowed one). Her clothes are often those that most of us would throw away. Too large, too stained, too small, quite ugly.

Victims of abuse are alienated from others because their abuser makes them be–so no one finds out his secret. The abuser pushes away everybody. Her family. Her friends. The church. No one to see. No one to know.

Abuse victims often have no money. Her credit might been ruined by her abuser. She feels she has no way out.

Some who are abused live picture perfect lives–from the outside. The abusers, for their own purposes, want things to look great. So they buy nice houses, they entertain, they dress well, drive nice cars, and everything looks just perfect. Her friends might even envy her. At home when no one else is around, in private where no one can see, things unravel. These picture perfect lives then resemble a war zone.

The abused Christian woman who gets up each morning and prays for the strength to get through the day and does all that she can to protect her children, to raise them, to love them, and provide for them. She laughs so her children will laugh. She pretends all is well so they won’t understand. But at night, when she is alone, she cries. She begs God, the only One who sees, the only One who hears, for grace, for help, for protection, and provision, for one more day. And she pleads for a way for it to end.

A woman who is being abused is fighting a war. It is a war she didn’t start. A war she can’t control. And she lives in constant fear. It is a war that sometimes ends in her death, sometimes with escape, and sometimes its a war that never ends. And very often, she is fighting it alone.

It’s also a war that most of you will never have to fight, one of which you probably have little understanding.

I do understand. I was an abused wife. And to this day, I’m still dealing with the fallout.

I haven’t told you these things to complain; God is good and He is sovereign. He orchestrated the days of my life. I trust in His purposes. I don’t see myself as a victim. I didn’t tell you to depress you but that so you might know, that you might have understanding, so that when you meet up with a woman who hesitatingly reaches out for help, who wants to honor her vows and help her children, you might be able to help her and treat her with the grace and dignity she so deserves.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

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