Domestic abuse and my family
I was born into an abusive home. My father was a serial adulterer and a drunk and when drunk, he was violent. In the aftermath of our successfully escaping him, my mother, unable to deal with all she’d been through, herself eventually became a verbal abuser. I married into a family where emotional abuse and manipulation was the norm. My husband abused me just about every way a man can abuse his wife and he abused our children emotionally, financially, verbally, and spiritually. I know abuse firsthand. I can testify as to the depths of its pain. Even now, removed from it, I am still dealing with the fallout.
I love the church. I find there my truest family outside of some of my children. The church, as the body of Christ, is to function as a family. But when I tried to find help for me and my children–over a number of years and in many different congregations, some Reformed, some not–by reaching out to elders and pastors, I didn’t find it.
I reached out to the church because I had no family and no one else to reach out to. I needed guidance, to know how to help my children, what to say to them, how to make wise decisions. What do you say to your child when their father, whom they love, screams at them and calls them names? When he lets family members terrorize them? How do you explain the poverty, the pain, the fear and confusion to a child? I needed spiritual guidance and I couldn’t find it.
Matthew 22: 37-39, “Jesus said … Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”
Abusers aren’t Christians
Domestic violence is a terrifying and unnerving thing both for the family involved and those aware of the problem. What makes a man (or a woman) treat their family with such cruelty? We can call it narcissism, explain that the abuser grew up in abuse, or offer a thousand different explanations but the truth remains the same: Domestic abuse is sin and the abuser is living outside of God’s laws. We can all mess up and sin against others but when cruelty defines your actions you are an abuser. Abusers live in a continual sinful state and are not saved. Being an abuser and being saved simply aren’t compatible. True abusers, no matter how much they pretend to be, aren’t true children of God. They can’t be.
The Pure Gospel
The church long ago got away from the pure gospel. We water it down, mix it up and serve it with a side of fun. No wonder it doesn’t save. It can’t save. It’s poison. Abuse victims, like everyone else, need pastors who are dedicated to the truth of God’s Word and who are willing to preach that truth without changing it one iota. We don’t need Christianity that has been influenced by feminism. Most domestic abuse advocates, even within the church, are liberals and feminists. When we give over ministering to abuse victims to those who claim to love God but don’t, we are failing to obey God and we’re failing to bring Him glory.
Someone to listen
Most of us are uncomfortable when it comes to hearing the details of domestic abuse but listening is actually the first step towards helping abuse victims. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stand up and say, “I’m being abused.” If someone tells you that, know that they are doing so in fear. Yes, some people lie about being abused and you have to be aware that that can happen but remember that women often lie about not being abused because they are afraid of their abusers.
Do you know what keeps a lot of abused women and children with their abusers, even when it’s dangerous to stay? The lack of money to leave. If they are physically in danger, they need a way to escape. This can take the form of offering a room or a hotel room, co-signing a lease, letting them move into the mission house for a while, or numerous other options.
Just because a family isn’t physically abused doesn’t mean they aren’t being abused. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, financial, or spiritual. These are crushing to hearts, destructive to families, and sin. Many abusers are porn users or adulterers. Perhaps–and only perhaps–the abuser will repent. Most abusers, however, are so firmly entrenched in their sin that their hearts are hardened not only against their family but against the Lord. Few ever truly repent. Remember this when trying to understand what is needed should you ever confront this situation.
Abuse victims need someone to help them navigate the options before them. Many, caught up as they are in the dangerous day to day realities of being married to an abuser, don’t know what their options even are.
With all that said, it’s also important to let the victim learn to make their own decisions. She must move from victim to survivor and learn to discern truth from lie. She has to learn to trust again and that includes trusting in herself. She’s been lied to by her abuser, told she was worthless, that her opinions didn’t matter. You know what? After hearing it over and over, she started to believe it. She’s been told she can’t do anything and she feels helpless. Help her learn to discern truth from lie. Help her to find the information she desperately needs and offer your guidance when asked for it but, through it all, help her see the importance of making decisions about her life herself.
If a woman’s husband died, she’s going to need you to check on her, not just immediately, but as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and so forth come and go. Her pain and loneliness continues as do her needs. Perhaps financial, certainly emotional, her needs will be great and continue to be so for some time. A family whose house burned down needs more than a few towels, some used clothing, and odd pieces of furniture. They need friends walking beside them, a plan, help to start over, and the love of the saints as they do so. It’s the same with those who have been abused.
The pain of healing
My children and I lived in abject poverty due to my husband’s financial abuse, our needs were discounted, our voices unheard. Starting over after abuse is hard as is healing from having been married to a pornographer. I lived with it so long, I was numb. Most times these days, I’m better. Deep inside, vestiges of the pain lingers and can be triggered. Certain memories come rushing back and I can’t breathe. The shame rises, the pain is intense, the fear palatable.
My children still jump at loud noises. So many years of being screamed at, lied to, threatened, hurt, neglected, and so much more leaves the strongest people struggling. We’ve made progress but we still hurt, I’m still lonely, some of my children are still withdrawn, there’s still things we do without, things we need to buy and to take care of that I still cannot afford to. Few people understand that. After all, it’s been a while.
Why haven’t you…?
“Why haven’t you made more progress?,” we’ve been asked. “Why haven’t you done (fill in the blank)?” “If you are struggling, why aren’t you doing…?” I appreciate the questions but few can understand the answers that I give. We’re genuinely trying. My children and I might be out from the abuse but we aren’t healed yet, we’re still having to deal with the ones who abused us, we’re still trying to right so many years of being wronged. It is hard, it is on-going, it is painful, and yes, it is very, very expensive. Not only have we–and, like us, so many other victims of abuse–had to furnish a home from the ground up, but we’ve had to handle the needs–from medical to clothes and more–of six people. We’ve made progress but there’s still more progress to be made.
Tell them of the goodness of the Lord
Through all our pain, the Lord has been faithful and no doubt will continue to be so. He is good, even as we struggle. The faithfulness of the Lord never ceases to amaze me. Because I have been betrayed and abused so much by so many whom I ought to have been able to trust, I have an extremely hard time trusting anyone. The Lord, however, I trust completely. I learned to trust Him by reading His Word. He is the same God who delivered the Israelites, cared for David when he was fleeing Saul, took care of the spies, and because of who He is, I know He can and will take care of us.
My children and I still suffer at times, we’ll still struggle. This is life. But He loves, protects, and provides for His own. Sometimes, in His sovereignty, this means we struggle and suffer setbacks. We must remember that trials are one of the Lord’s best tools in growing us in godliness. I had to learn this alone. I don’t want others who have been abused to have to do the same.
No longer a victim
It’s true I was a victim of domestic abuse but that doesn’t make me a victim forever. By God’s grace, victims can heal, grow, and become those who help other victims to heal. Christians must help survivors to heal and prepare them to eventually come alongside of other victims and help them heal. The Lord says that He comforts us to make us comforters to others. The church is uniquely able to help abuse victims who are Christians to understand this.
Soli Deo Gloria!