I am a victor over domestic violence. I do not define myself by my experience. I rarely talk about it unless I’m sitting across the table or room from someone who is weeping as they tell the horrific stories of abuse that have occurred in their life.
Yet our televisions and magazines are full of 48 Hours and Dateline stories about women and men who were stalked, abused or murdered by their spouse or significant other over the years. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that in the United States a woman is assaulted or beaten EVERY NINE SECONDS, and one in three women has been a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. For men, the statistics are not much better: One in four have suffered some sort of physical abuse while one in seven report having suffered severe physical abuse. One in 18 men have reported being seriously injured by an intimate partner or spouse.
“One in seven women and one in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.” (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
I am ONE.
Perhaps you, on the other side of this screen, are ONE. And this begs the question, how many ONES are there? How many sit silently in our churches each weekend, hiding their bruises afraid to tell anyone for fear of being rejected, told to submit or worse, asked what they did to provoke such a response?
I’ve worked on staff and as a volunteer in ministries within the church for the better part of the last decade. I cannot remember a time when the issue of domestic violence was openly addressed from the platform of these churches in a weekend service. There is always a focus on marriage, relationship with Christ and building strong families. Yet the issue of domestic violence is not addressed. I personally have not heard the message from male leaders of these churches on one of the things that God, Himself, says He hates – an unloved wife. And that begs the question: Why?
I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question. It is an issue that is hard to address because it’s often hard to gauge God’s response to these complex matters. When something necessary seems to fly in the face of a standard or rule God has set, we just don’t like to talk about it. And so we forget that God is slow to anger, abounding in love and mercy toward His children. And we overlook those among us who need that love and mercy the most.
In my recent experience, I’ve had the opportunity to sit across from a woman in her 50s and provide ministry to her broken heart over this very issue. We will call her Susan. When she met her husband nearly 20 years ago, she was a strong, independent woman, working as an electrician alongside men in a field dominated by men. She admitted she had issues with submission, respecting her husband as the authority in her home and she came to me after he had abandoned her and her children.
At first, Susan wanted me to agree that she needed to file for divorce from the beginning, but I wouldn’t. You see, I believe that God can redeem anything and anyone. It’s not a lost cause because it has been broken or damaged. But, I never advocate anyone to remain in a place where they are being emotionally abused or physically assaulted. I encourage separation for safety and work toward reconciliation if the other party is willing.
We sat for weeks on end. She confessed the painful reality of her circumstances. She told me of going for counseling over the years where he would not tell the truth about his part in their issues, only blame her and pretend to be the victim in their marriage. She told me of the pastor who counseled them and how he had told her the problem was she didn’t submit to her husband and if she would just submit, things would get better.
And after the counseling ended, she told me that her husband then used that submit card to beat her down and subject her to both his jealousy and his physical abuse. All the while blaming her for not being a godly wife. So the abuse went from emotional, physical and then to spiritual. She said no one ever told her husband he was wrong for hurting her. Just that she was out of line.
Through the course of our time in ministry I helped her to see that in spite of the great wrongs she had suffered at the hands of her husband and even those she sought help from in the church, that she needed to take responsibility, repent and forgive those who had hurt her. I affirmed her experience was real and unjust, but I pointed her to a God who loved her and wanted to redeem her pain. Over time, She realized she was not to blame for how her husband treated her and she chose to forgive – not only her husband – but also, the church and its leaders who had failed to advocate for her, protect her as the injured spouse and help her keep her and their children safe from domestic abuse.
A few months after our first meeting – after months of him manipulating her with money, refusing to meet their physical needs, she came in and said she hired a lawyer and filed for divorce.
Today, my friend continues to listen to the Lord and ask Him how he wants to use her story. She is now divorced and working through negotiating life after marriage for her kids and with her ex-spouse. She remains resolute in one thing: allowing God to make her whole in spite of what she has suffered.
As the church, we need to place a high value on what God places a high value on – but God does not value marriage over the people in them.
I believe God hates divorce because it violently destroys what He created to be ONE and reflect His image. God doesn’t despise the divorced – He hates the act and unloving nature of divorce. But, He permitted it because He knew the hearts of mankind were hard and cruel – that hatred would subject spouses in marriage to unbearable circumstances.
From my experience, I believe as the Body of Christ we must first seek individually to reframe the way we see and hear from the heart of God’s perspective not just for us, but also for the people who have hurt us along life’s way. As the Body, we must learn to love well those who are hurt among us and bring them up to a place of redeeming hope in any and every circumstance.
If you are or have been a victim of domestic violence, I encourage you to seek healing from the Lord for these places you’ve been hurt in your life. Healing usually begins with finding a safe place to tell your story. If you are currently in an abusive situation, seek safety and shelter as you learn to walk a day at a time trusting in the Lord with all your heart and leaning not to your own understanding, for it is when we acknowledge Him in all our ways that He truly makes our paths straight.
If you find yourself in immediate need of assistance please contact the Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1.800.799.7233 or by dialing 911.