Why Your Church Needs a Domestic Abuse Policy

Today's post is by my friend, and skilled Biblical counselor, Greg Wilson. Greg has been working to develop and implement policies and procedures for domestic violence prevention in the local church. 

Most churches have a child protection policy in place. If not, your church definitely should implement such a policy for the protection of your most vulnerable attenders and members – the children of your church. But there is another type of wickedness that afflicts many vulnerable children (as well as spouses and intimate partners) within the church, and far fewer churches have policies in place to protect them from it. This evil is known as domestic abuse, domestic violence, intimate partner abuse, or intimate partner violence, and it is rampant in our society. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience it in their lifetime, and 1 in 15 children are exposed to it each year (90% of those are eyewitnesses). While child and student ministry resource organizations have labored tirelessly to help churches understand the need to make child protection policies and procedures like volunteer applications and screenings, check-in systems, two-volunteer rules, and visibility guidelines standard practice, there are very few who are arguing for similar policies and protocols for responding to the disclosure or discovery of emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, psychological, or physical abuse between spouses or intimate partners. Yet this type of abuse is prevalent within society and within the church and is often also bolstered by systemic factors unique to and highly valued by Christian churches, such as our high view of marriage, our theology of suffering, and the belief held by many that God has designed men and women to function differently in the home and the church. To fully protect the families in your church from oppression, your church needs a domestic abuse policy as well as a child protection policy. A domestic abuse policy is going to help your leaders protect families in your church by answering two questions: “What is domestic abuse?” and “How do I respond to a disclosure or discovery of domestic abuse?”.

Recognizing Abuse. The reason that many churches do not respond well to domestic abuse is because most church leaders don’t know what it is. Your church’s domestic abuse policy must define domestic abuse in such a way that your volunteer and staff church leaders know how to recognize it. While it isn’t always easy to spot initially, Chris Moles, Leslie Vernick, John Henderson, Steven Tracy, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, and Diane Langberg, among others, have offered up definitions and characteristics to help church leaders discern when abuse is taking place in a relationship. There are very consistent elements to each of these definitions: a pattern of behavior, selfish intent, the misuse of power and control, and a wide variety of manifestations: economic, emotional, psychological, spiritual, sexual, physical, and verbal. Your policy needs to clearly spell out what abuse is, and also what abuse isn’t (a marriage problem, an anger problem, a legal problem, the other spouses’ problem, etc.). You want those who read your policy – members, lay leaders, elders, deacons, staff – to know clearly what meets the requirements for domestic abuse and to be able to recognize perpetrators and victims in their midst.

Responding to Abuse. It’s not enough that your church be able to spot domestic abuse. They must also know how to respond appropriately. Your members and leaders must know, for example, that the safety of the victim takes precedence in the immediate wake of a disclosure or discovery of abuse. Who should be notified? Are there confidential means for victims to notify church leaders that they need help? Whose responsibility is it to come alongside and care for identified victims of abuse? What resources in your church and community are available to assist victims? What is a safety plan and how can one be developed and implemented? Your policy must also spell out when and how abusers are to be confronted. The general rule of thumb here is that a perpetrator should only be confronted after the safety of the victim has been assessed and reasonably secured, and only with the victim’s advice and consent. Whose responsibility is it to confront an abusive man? How would such a confrontation take place. (This is one of the most dangerous times for victims.) What church and community resources exist for perpetrators of abuse? How is the church discipline policy engaged? How is repentance discerned? Finally, your policy will need to address marriage reconciliation. You will want your members to understand that a perpetrator’s reconciliation to the Lord must precede their reconciliation to their spouse. Your policy should clearly state that individual counseling for both the victim and the perpetrator is advisable initially, and that couples counseling should only be attempted when both counselors and both partners are in agreement that the time is right. Your policy will also want to be clear about how the church will minister to both partners (assuming that both are members and both remain under the care of the church) in the event of a prolonged separation, and you will also want to be clear about your church’s policy on divorce in the event of unrepentant domestic abuse.

Caring for the Oppressed, Correcting Oppressors. “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Prov 31:8-9) A well-written, well-executed domestic abuse policy and protocol tells your community and your members that your church is serious about the mandate God gives us to care for the oppressed and to lovingly and humbly confront and correct oppressors. It can make your church a safer place for the vulnerable, and a place where abusive people will not be allowed to continue their abuse.

 

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Greg Wilson (MA, LPC-S) is currently completing his Doctor of educational ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

Greg has a full-time clinical practice, specializing in working with families, couples, adolescents and men. His experience working with families includes pre-marital and marital counseling for couples, as well as work with parents and teens. His practice includes work with male perpetrators of abuse/domestic violence, sexual addictions, adolescent life-stage issues, marital conflict, anxiety disorders and mood disorders. Greg also serves as a deacon of care at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, and is a certification curriculum facilitator for the Association of Biblical Counselors, where he is also a member of the advisory board for their Center for Professional Soul Care. Greg also is a trained mediator, and he has met all the state requirements to perform mediation services in Texas. He trains lay counselors in the church and through the Association for Biblical Counselors and consults with church leaders on matters relating to biblical soul care.

Don't Confess Your Sins?

HOW COUNSELING VICTIMS TO CONFESS THEIR SIN EMBOLDENS ABUSERS

Last week in our support group for survivors of domestic abuse, one of the participants approached me after class to tell me about a counseling session she had with a biblical counselor at her church a few days earlier. This dear lady is living with a very harsh husband who constantly berates her. He tells her how worthless he thinks she is regularly, so she went to counseling in hopes of finding a way to have peace in the midst of a very destructive marriage. Her counselor rightly told her that the only person she can change is herself, and then began to help her uncover her sins and shortcomings as a wife. The focus was on the marriage, and in the end, my friend left with a popular book on how to be a godly wife. As she relayed the story tears came to her eyes. She explained how she had spent years trying to be a better wife, and looking at her own sin, but that only seemed to worsen her husband’s sense of entitlement.

My friend also told me about the many counseling sessions she and her husband had attended together over the years, and how the counsel in those sessions was nearly always the same. Somehow she was made to feel responsible for her husband’s sin. If she would just be more submissive, more “quiet and gentle,” and more loving maybe her husband would be won without a word. She was always encouraged to look at her own sin, and never to keep a record of the wrongs done to her. For over 2 decades that is what she has done, but things have only gotten worse.

In joint counseling sessions, her husband usually listened very intently to all the instructions the given to her, as well as her confessions of missing the mark in their relationship. It actually seemed those counseling sessions gave him ammunition when they got back home. The counselors had merely confirmed his beliefs about her incompetence as a wife, and proven that he needed to take a stronger hand in leadership. The truth is that their counselors had probably confronted his sin as well, but he simply chose to ignore those parts of the sessions. Besides, he was able to get his wife to freely admit to more than her fair share of the blame, so it was easy to turn the main focus of most sessions to that.

Abusive people are skilled at diverting the focus of counseling to less important issues. They also love to find counselors who will focus on marital roles rather than heart issues. Counselors who encourage wives to submit and yield to their husbands’ leadership can cause great harm. In all my years of working as an advocate, I’ve never seen a situation where submitting to sinful mistreatment saved a marriage. Usually, it has the opposite effect. It only serves to empower and embolden hearts that are filled with pride, while victims are left taking on the burden for the entire relationship.

No matter if the counseling is balanced, and equally focused on both spouses’ sin, an abusive person will only hear instructions aimed at his or her spouse. As a result, even the best marital counselors will find themselves doing more harm than good. They may not see it in a session where the offending spouse is nodding his head in approval, and acting extremely motivated for change. However, things change once the couple gets back home, and the abuser begins to taunt his spouse using the advice of the counselor. When it comes to abusive and destructive relationships, marital counseling just doesn’t work. Instead, it usually makes matters worse– particularly counsel that focuses on the victim’s sin in front of an oppressive spouse.* If you’re living in an abusive relationship (read more here if you’re not sure), I encourage you to steer clear of joint martial counseling, or any counseling that puts the burden of the relationship and the abuse on you.

Let me just say that I am a biblical counselor! I believe in the sufficiency of scripture, and acknowledge that sin is the root cause of the overwhelming majority of problems we see in counseling. However, as an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse, I’ve seen a very troubling trend when it comes to our counseling strategies in cases of abuse. We’ve been taught that we need to get to the root sin issues with our clients, and rightly so. The problem occurs when we fail to recognize clear patterns of oppression that are nearly always present in cases of abuse. When we put couples in the same room for marital counseling and ask victims to confess their sins to their oppressors, we are arming their abusers. God’s heart is for the weak and afflicted, and he opposes proud oppressors (Zec. 7:10, Ps. 72:4, Ps. 82:3-4). May he give us wisdom to do the same.

“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Ps. 82:2-4

*Of course, victims are not without sin, but when we encourage confession of sin in front of an abuser we merely feed both spouses’ faulty assumptions that the victim’s sin caused the abuse. In my years of counseling, I’d have to say the victims’ sin is rarely what counselors assume– it’s not provoking the abuse! More likely, it is being ruled by “fear of man.” Counsel that puts the burden for the abuse on the victim is not only ineffective, but extremely harmful.

 

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Joy Forrest has been an advocate for victims of domestic violence since 1997. She holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and held the position of Community Educator for Safe Space Domestic Violence Services in Louisburg, NC from 2000-2001. She has served as a biblical counselor in church settings since 2004. Her own experiences as a former victim of domestic abuse, along with her involvement with Safe Space and church counseling, caused her to see a major need for churches to become better equipped to help families affected by DV. In January 2015, she helped establish Called to Peace Ministries to promote domestic violence awareness, particularly within the faith community. Joy is also a Certified Advocate with the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the author of the book "Called to Peace." Learn more about Joy at www.calledtopeace.org

Jonah, Judgement, and a call to Nineveh

Last year I had the privilege of presenting at the International Association of Biblical Counselors annual conference in Denver, Colorado and as an added bonus, my wife and I drove down to Colorado Springs to visit some friends, see some sites, enjoy some Ethiopian food, and visit the headquarters of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (our church denomination). During our visit to Colorado Springs we worshiped with The Clay House, a C&MA church in town and I was struck by how timely the pastor's message was. The sermon was from Jonah chapter four, now I must admit I haven't spent a lot of time in Jonah, at least in my adulthood, but one thought from that message struck me as it pertains to the work we do. 

* Jonah Wanted Wrath Not Repentance

“He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”                                                                               Jonah 4:2-3

I appreciate Jonah’s anger here and I can relate to his frustration with the attributes of God. Grace, compassion, patience, and love are inconvenient virtues when, like Jonah, we want judgment on our enemies. A few years ago I was attending an event for domestic violence awareness month and a friend of mine introduced me to some folks around the table and when one individual gathered what my role on the team was their words and demeanor became less than kind. You see, this individual had strong thoughts regarding ‘appropriate’ responses to perpetrators, all of which were unrealistic and most were cruel. I listened though and didn’t offer much push back to them. I believed that this person was speaking out of great hurt and nothing I could say would soften the thought that our psycho-educational classes were somehow, “letting men of the hook.” Believe it not I encounter similar thoughts and attitudes from within the Christian world. In fact, many of the challenges and quite frankly attacks I have received for the work I do rushed through my head as the pastor said, “Jonah is content, in so much as he can dispense the judgment of God, but furious at the thought of God’s mercy, but you rarely have one without the other.”

We Preach Repentance - This is what we do. I can make no apologies for teaching and calling folks to repentance. Repentance does not, and I have been clear about this, negate consequences for sin, guarantee restoration of relationships, remove accountability, or demand immediate trust. If we are called to Nineveh then I’m suggesting we must preach repentance, and in doing so let’s be clear regarding the severity of God’s judgment without despising the availability of His mercy.

Note: I know for a fact that many folks who deserve justice have not, as of this post, received it. I am aware that churches and ministries have sinfully punished victims and rewarded perpetrators. We must guard against the temptation to demand only judgment as a means of satisfying the sins of the past. Repentance, mercy, and hope should remain in our vocabulary.

Was it Jonah’s poor view of God that led him to disobedience and despair? Actually, it seems he has a clear picture of God and it was in fact God’s character and the potential for mercy that angered Jonah.

Have you ever been there? Have you wanted fire from heaven so badly that when it didn’t come you’ve settled for fire in your own spirit in the form of hate, anger, or despair?  

 

“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh,in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” Jonah 4:11

How a Pastor’s Wife Came to Care about Domestic Abuse

This week we continue in our PeaceWorks University member submission series. Many in our membership are already actively engaging the topic of domestic abuse through their own writing and we would like to give them the opportunity for additional exposure as well as thoughtful feedback from our readership. Please be aware that the views presented in this series do not represent the views of Chris Moles or PeaceWorks University.

This week’s post was submitted by a PeaceWorks University member who would like to remain anonymous and was originally published in August of 2018.

Tunnel vision is real. In a culture that encourages its people to prioritize the pleasure and progress of self, it is no surprise people are unlikely to care deeply about injustice unless they must. Until injustice affects them directly, marking them with a personal experience of pain or loss, most individuals tend to focus exclusively on their own lives and have little capacity to be concerned with the difficulties of others.

Growing up, I had been aware of domestic abuse in a very narrow yet nebulous sense. I knew it existed, but assumed it was rare. As a teenager I remember seeing various TV programs in which a series regular would happen upon a bruised and battered woman or child and rescue them through some selfless good deed, all within the span of a thirty-minute episode. These stories, while successfully pulling at my heartstrings, portrayed abuse simplistically: perpetrators were ugly, raging monsters quickly brought to justice and victims were people helplessly broken but easily healed. Watching these scenarios play out on my TV screen, I often thought, "How sad. I'm so glad my home is not like that."

Years later, as a recent Christian university graduate, I married my husband, who at the time was freshly entering vocational ministry. In the early days of our marriage, as my life naturally separated from my parents’, I began to recognize tactics of abuse in my upbringing. As I started living married life with a man who loved and served me, imitating the Christ he worshipped, I became cognizant of how warped my view of marital love and care actually was. Often noting the differences between my husband’s responses to conflicts, inconveniences, or mistakes I would make and the responses I had been accustomed to, I finally saw that much of my distorted thinking was a result of the abuse I had experienced. Realizing this, we sought out counsel and support from individuals well-equipped to address domestic abuse and its effects with the hope and help of the gospel. It took time as we slowly untangled my deeply ingrained ways of thinking and feeling. In Scripture I learned to see God's good plan for love and marriage. By his grace, I began to better understand the abuse I had experienced and began to heal. After two or three years of this much needed but tedious process, my husband and I were healthier and more whole. Through the care of God’s people and the truth of His Word, I had found healing for my wounds. As a couple we were that much stronger having worked through my painful experiences together. I will forever be thankful for my husband's patience, grace, care, and understanding during that time. Having gone through such an emotionally exhausting season of life, it seemed that we could now focus on living our happily ever as pastor and wife, ready to move on to a life of ministry with my pain and the ugliness of abuse behind us.

Unsurprisingly, this was not God's intention for our life or ministry. As I healed, though at first timid and hesitant, I began to share my story. Over time, as I became more comfortable and confident speaking about my experience of abuse and healing in everyday conversation, women responded by sharing stories of their own. As a pastor's wife, still relatively new to marriage and ministry, I began to hear story  

after story of abusive husbands and fathers who had used their power and position to hurt, humiliate, and harass these women. It seemed the more I talked, the more I was talked to. The more I was willing to be vulnerable, the more vulnerable women would become. It quickly became apparent I could not avoid the topic of abuse. It was part of me and because it was part of me, it was now a part of my ministry.

For many pastors and pastors’ wives though, abuse is not a part of your story, so you struggle to see why it should be a part of your ministry. The reality is, more than likely, you have already been directly affected by this issue. Statistically*, you already know [not a few, but many] women or children in your church community who have endured some form of abuse in their lifetime. Personally, you have many reasons to be concerned.

What is more, as a Christian, you have every reason to be concerned. Scripture is littered with themes of God’s active justice, care, and concern for the oppressed. These [primarily] women and children are image bearers of their Creator and as such they deserve the compassionate care and protection of their Shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4).

While tunnel vision may be the norm in our culture, it should never be a phrase used to describe God’s people, especially those in church leadership. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, as those who intimately know the “Father of mercies” and the “God of all comfort” we are “able to comfort those who are in any affliction” regardless of whether we have been marked by that particular affliction. In the case of abuse, you don’t have to have experienced this injustice to care deeply about it. Care deeply because these are your people. Care deeply because this is your God.

*https://ncadv.org/statistics

 

A Biblical First Response to Domestic Abuse by James Maxwell

This week we continue in our PeaceWorks University member submission series. Many in our membership are already actively engaging the topic of domestic abuse through their own writing and we would like to give them the opportunity for additional exposure as well as thoughtful feedback from our readership. Please be aware that the views presented in this series do not represent the views of Chris Moles or PeaceWorks University.

Abuse. It’s an ugly word for an ugly category of sin, but it is not a word used frequently in the King James Bible. In fact, the noun spelled “abuse” is not there at all. The verb “abuse” is found three times, twice relating to how King Saul feared the Philistines might treat his body, and once relating to the wrong way for a pastor to execute the duties of his office.

English is a nuanced language, and word use changes over time. In 1611 the words “knew his wife” were generally followed by the word “conceived.” What a difference 400 years can make! If I met a man today who told me he knew my wife in high school, I would be pleased to meet him. Word usage does change over time.

A biblical word that is close to what counselors see in domestic “abuse” is the word “oppress.” For example, Psalm 103:6 says, “The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.” God sees oppression as an evil act requiring intervention by someone more powerful than the oppressor.

Certainly we are to “Recompense no man evil for evil” (Romans 12:17), but what shall we do? God also expects His people to submit to the authorities He ordains in their lives. What, then, is a biblical response for a Christian to respond to oppression by those to whom God has entrusted some level of authority? (Certainly, the Lord entrusts husbands with some level of authority in marriage.) Can we find examples in the Bible?

Perhaps we would do well to start with the Master. What did Jesus do when the Jews of His day sought to oppress or abuse Him?

Mark 3 opens with Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath.

Mark 3:6-7a

“And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him. But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea.

Jesus went where his abusers were not.

In Luke 4 Jesus presented Himself and His ministry to the leaders in Nazareth.

Luke 4:28-31

And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way, and came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days.”  

Jesus went where his abusers were not.

Jesus plainly made Himself equal with the Father, and once again the Jews wanted to kill Him.

John 10:30-41

I and my Father are one.

Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.

Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand, and went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode.

When the Father called Him to the cross, Jesus obeyed, but until that time He went where his abusers were not.

Of course, Jesus IS God, and the Jews had no authority over Him. He chose when to lay His life down and when to take it up again, but what of the early church? Did Christians under Caesar, and the Jews with his authority simply submit to authority and suffer well? There was a persecution after the death of Stephen.

Acts 8:1

“And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judæa and Samaria, except the apostles.

There was no prayer meeting or discussion. The followers of Christ went where their abusers were not.

Saul became Paul. What of Paul? He, through the Holy Spirit instructed us to submit to the higher powers and warned us that in failing to do so we could be subject to condemnation (the Bible word is “damnation”) of God. He fled at least twice.

Acts 9:23-25

“But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.  And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: but their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.

Acts 14:5-7

And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them, they were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about: and there they preached the gospel.”

Until the Holy Ghost made Paul’s direction to Jerusalem plain, it was his habit to go where his abusers were not. Paul, by all accounts was a diminutive man with ailments. II Corinthians 10 indicates that his bodily presence was “weak.” What of the sword swinging giant of a fisherman we know as the Apostle Peter? The Lord would use him to instruct us about submitting to authority.

I Peter 2:13-15

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Would Herod fall in that category above? The Lord led Peter to go where his God ordained authority, and abuser was not.

Acts 12:7-11

And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.  When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

An angel took Peter where his abuser was not, and Peter sought safety in the church. Can the oppressed find safety in your church?

There may be no better example of a follower fleeing the power of abuser than David fleeing Saul. I Samuel 18-20 gives the account of how the king, “God’s anointed”, as David called him, proved himself to be danger to David. The crowned prince, Jonathan, helped David know Saul’s intentions, and then risked his own life to help David flee. For the rest of Saul’s life, David went where his abuser, the King of Israel, was not. The man after God’s own heart did not sweetly submit to his abuser; he fled.

God did ordain authority. Malachi 2 discusses His judgement for violence in marriage and for abuse of the position men had in Jewish courts. In Romans 13 He ordained government as His servants to protect the person of individuals.

Common sense had already given us the conclusion. We knew it before we began, but because those who believe God’s Word hold marriage in such high esteem, it is fitting that we examine the Scriptures. Having done so, we must conclude that wives have the right to safety from oppression. Mathew 18 and I Corinthians 6 are among passages that would put at least part of the burden of enforcing such safety upon the church.

What to do after a wife has gone where her abuser is not is an excellent topic for another day. For now, let it suffice to say that we serve a God who wants judgment for all that are oppressed.”

THE BEAUTY OF CONFRONTATION

Today's post is by my friend Beverly Moore. 

Many people cringe when they hear the word “confrontation.” Some say they prefer surgery to having to confront someone. You also have the other end of the spectrum—someone always ready to sniff out sin and get in someone’s face about it. As Christians, it’s very important to have a biblical view of confrontation.

A Biblical Definition of Confrontation

A biblical definition of confrontation is having a face-to-face encounter with someone in order to bring biblical truth to bear on an area of concern. This is to be done with humility and motivated by love for God and love for the person confronted. We are to speak the truth in love to glorify God and benefit the person.

Why Should We Confront?

We all fall short of the glory of God, and many times we don’t even see the sin that has us trapped (1 John 1:8). The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

These verses make it clear that rebuking and correcting are to be taken seriously, practiced regularly, and to be done for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom.

When we confront, we’re demonstrating love for God and obedience to Him. We’re also demonstrating love for the person. We’re more concerned about honoring God and the spiritual well-being of the other person than we are about our own comfort. When we’re reluctant to confront we sometimes rationalize and justify with thoughts like: What if she gets mad? What if I hurt his feelings? What if she doesn’t like me anymore? This reveals what we’re truly worshiping—the love and acceptance of others. When we confront, we have to be willing to risk the person’s rejection or anger for the sake of God’s honor.

How We Should We Confront

Our goal should not be to inflict pain or seek revenge. Our goal is to honor God in everything we say and do, including confronting someone. Start by praying diligently for your own heart as well as the other person’s heart before confronting, and pray diligently after. Trust God to help you, knowing He will give you the grace you need to obey Him. Trust also that He will work in the heart of the other person.

Galatians 6:1 says that if we see a brother or sister who is caught in a sin, we should restore him or her gently. Restoration starts with loving confrontation. We need to be willing to go to this person and show him his fault (Matthew 18:15). I’m not advocating becoming this person’s personal conscience or play the junior Holy Spirit. But sin that is damaging the person’s testimony as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and is clearly in violation of God’s Word, should be confronted firmly but with gentleness and respect.

Start by asking questions rather than assuming you know exactly what’s going on. Proverbs 18:13 tells us to listen first, then answer. If you’re concerned about something you see in a person’s life, explain what you see and ask for help to understand what’s happening. Do this with humility, not with a self-righteous, judgmental attitude. When we go with a humble attitude, we’re demonstrating we’re fully aware we don’t have it all together either and we need help just as much as them. We’re just one unworthy servant trying to help another unworthy servant glorify God.

Confronting an unbeliever of sin affords this person an opportunity to seek God’s forgiveness. In the case of child sexual abuse, confronting the perpetrator can bring reconciliation—with God and the one sinned against. (If this is the situation, please seek wise counsel on confronting a perpetrator.) View this as a golden opportunity to share the gospel with them. Explain how you’ve experienced God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and how you desire that for them too. We can’t personally rescue people from hell, but we can point them to One who makes forgiveness and salvation possible.

Points to Consider When Confronting

If we haven’t made it a habit to speak truthfully and lovingly to the people in our lives, practicing transparency and approachability, confrontation could seem very fearful. It’s important to focus on pleasing God rather than our feelings of fear. We have to set our hearts and minds on the things above rather than on the things of this earth (like our own comfort or ease).

The goal is to obey God by following His commands. Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love, and Ephesians 4:29 instructs us to speak words that build up, not tear down. Our words should benefit the one listening. This doesn’t mean we should skirt around the issue to be confronted, avoiding calling sin sin. But it does mean that we speak the truth without compromise while at the same time not attacking the person.

Responses

Be prepared for unexpected responses. We have to keep our expectations in check. How we hope the person will respond can’t be the goal. We should be prepared for a response of anger or denial. We have to leave the results up to God. A person’s initial response may be one of anger or hurt, but allow time for the Holy Spirit to work in his or her heart.

Confronting others is not always easy and can seem unkind. Yet in reality it’s a loving thing to do. We can follow Jesus’ example as He demonstrated honor for His Father when He confronted while on earth. Lovingly confronting, rebuking, and correcting demonstrates we are living for the King and the Kingdom. In all things, may God be glorified!

 

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Bev Moore (M.A.B.C.) is on the counseling staff at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN. She is married to George and they have two grown sons. She co-authored In the Aftermath: Past the Pain of Childhood Sexual Abuse. 

Free Indeed: A Survivor Story

This week we continue in our PeaceWorks University member submission series. Many in our membership are already actively engaging the topic of domestic abuse through their own writing and we would like to give them the opportunity for additional exposure as well as thoughtful feedback from our readership. Please be aware that the views presented in this series do not represent the views of Chris Moles or PeaceWorks University.

This week’s post was submitted by a PeaceWorks University member who would like to remain anonymous.

What a difference a year can make. Last New Year’s Eve, my husband physically assaulted me in our new home. This wasn’t the first time of course. I’d been involved in this sick dance for several years at this point. But, something inside my head and heart clicked into place during this (final) New Year’s Eve assault. One, I thought, “you will never touch me again after this night.” Two, “if my daughter and granddaughter were assaulted this way and I knew about it, I would physically remove them from the situation; no matter what it cost. Why then, did I think that I was worth less than that?”

New Year’s Day 2018 started the toughest journey of my life. After fasting (intermittently) and praying for 4 days, I decided to file for divorce. (This was after 2 years of intense counseling trying to save the marriage). I prayed, “Lord, if this is the wrong decision, please close the doors. I don’t know what else to do. He keeps saying he’s changing, but his actions speak louder than his words.”

And the doors stayed wide open the entire year. My husband (now ex) never apologized or took responsibility for his actions. Not once did he admit to what he had been doing to me; physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. Not once did he show remorse or shame or brokenness.  All he wanted was money and what I could do for him.

Talk about seeing things clearly. There is still a part of my heart that loves him and because of that love and the vows I took before God, I desperately fought for him (and me) to get well. My dream was that we could heal and mentor other couples in the same situation we were in. But, that was not to be. See, I know that God’s love can change anyone (I’ve seen it over and over again). I know that the love of a good woman can change a man. But, what I forgot about, was “free will.” He chose to break his marital vows by his actions. He chose himself over me and my children. He chose “stuff” instead of relationship. And he didn’t love me even though he said he did. Love doesn’t stab you in the back. Love doesn’t lie about you to others. Love doesn’t physically assault you. Love isn’t cruel and controlling, manipulative and violent. Love is the opposite of these things.

I chose to walk away from an abusive relationship. It has been the toughest choice I’ve ever made, but also the best. I am free from bondage. I am free to love again. I am free to rebuild my life into something that I’m proud of. I am not only a survivor, but am thriving. I am an overcomer! Being abused by my intimate partner was a lesson I never wanted to learn. But, I’m grateful for the Gift I’ve been given. My eyes are open in ways I’ve never imagined. And I will never be the same. And for this, I am eternally grateful!

“I love you, God—

you make me strong.

God is bedrock under my feet,

the castle in which I live,

my rescuing knight.

My God—the high crag

where I run for dear life,

hiding behind the boulders,

safe in the granite hideout.

I sing to God, the Praise-Lofty,

and find myself safe and saved.

The hangman’s noose was tight at my throat;

devil waters rushed over me.

Hell’s ropes cinched me tight;

death traps barred every exit.

A hostile world! I call to God,

I cry to God to help me.

From his palace he hears my call;

my cry brings me right into his presence—

a private audience!”

Psalm 18:1-6 MSG


“But me he caught—reached all the way

from sky to sea; he pulled me out

Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,

the void in which I was drowning.

They hit me when I was down,

but God stuck by me.

He stood me up on a wide-open field;

I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!

God made my life complete

when I placed all the pieces before him.

When I got my act together,

he gave me a fresh start.

Now I’m alert to God’s ways;

I don’t take God for granted.

Every day I review the ways he works;

I try not to miss a trick.

I feel put back together,

and I’m watching my step.

God rewrote the text of my life

when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.”

Psalm 18:16-24 MSG


Telling the Truth to Yourself

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Proverbs 28:13

So often when I ask men to share with me how they came to be in a batterer intervention group I find they are eager to “set the record straight.” Generally speaking, most of the men I have worked with put forth a great deal of effort to convince me that they are in fact victims. Some will vacillate back and forth between excuses ranging from unfortunate circumstances to a feminist agenda bent on destroying families. Regardless of the rationale one truth remains consistent, they are being treated unfairly. The temptation for these men is to deny their own responsibility, usually by highlighting their partner’s problems. Many will insist she needs the class far more than they. Sometimes it may seem like I’m out to get them or that I’m unwilling to listen to their side of the story. The reality is that change will not happen in our own hearts as long as we continue to defend our own pride with lies or half-truths.

Put off Denial

Our pride convinces us that wicked behavior is sometimes necessary to maintain control or that malicious intent is justified when we feel wronged. This attitude may have led you to physically harm your partner or to call her ugly names. Perhaps you’ve thrown things across the room or punched holes in the walls to communicate you’re not pleased with her choices. If any of this is true than you may also find it necessary to hide certain details, bend certain truths to minimize your behavior while emphasizing the ways in which you’ve been wronged. This tendency toward denial is not going to help produce the change you really need. It’s a trap so devastating that it will not only destroy your relationship but will also ensnare your heart. I’m pleading with you to accept responsibility for your actions. Acknowledge the abusive behavior and the impact it has had on your partner.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”  James 4:8-10

Change is a difficult and often times a lengthy process that requires, among other things, taking responsibility. You must acknowledge the truth about yourself and put off the denial. Would you be willing to speak truth to yourself today?

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”  Ephesians 4:25

Final Thought

If I were to ask you about your abusive behavior what would say? Would your story include statements like these?

“I’ve done nothing wrong!”

“She knows how to push my buttons.”

“This is all blown out of proportion.”

Let me encourage you to recount the story again, but this time only focus on your actions. Fight the temptation to justify them, excuse them away or gloss over them. Make a list of the ways in which you harmed your partner. Have you physically harmed her? Have you called her ugly names? Have you damaged her reputation with lies? Telling the truth will not fix everything that seems wrong in your life right now, but it is a far better choice than lying to yourself and others.

How Giving Impacts Dignity of God’s Children By Megan Cox

Today’s post is by Megan Cox, Founder and executive director of Give Her Wings. We are so thankful for Megan’s willingness to share her story with us and pray that God will use her words and ministry to bless you.

When I came home to our small home with the children, it was the middle of the Little-House On-The-Prairie-icy-cold winter of Nebraska. I had just picked up my two littles from afterschool care and my two tinies from after-preschool care. The wind was cutting as I watched through watery eyes . . . my children tottering in their snowsuits up the patio to the front door. On the steps was a black garbage bag. I lugged a handful of school backpacks in, made sure all of the kids were safely inside and looked around. Back then, I felt afraid all of the time. Deep, irrational fear that one of the kids would wander off or be taken. It is hard to be afraid all the time and be the only parent-eyes on four little ones. I looked up and down the street, wondering who had left the pile on our doorstep. I examined the bag and finally, I dragged it in and closed and locked the door. The kids gathered round as I opened it and began pulling out used clothes. Faded clothes. Ripped clothes. Jeans with holes. Worn out shoes (not our sizes). And I wept. I was thankful to whomever thought of us. At the same time, this would mean (yet another) trip to Goodwill for me because most of the things given us were not the right sizes and they would not hold up. I did not want my children looking poor, even though we were poor and I felt poor. I was already having to stand up for them at the elementary school because of a rough PE teacher who knew they were fatherless. I tried to keep their hair looking nice. I kept them clean and fed. I wanted others to know that these were loved children, even though we had almost nothing. This gift was not a blessing to me, somehow, even though I knew that the motivation was well-intentioned.

One of our mamas tells a story about how, years ago, her son needed clothes. When we asked how we could serve her, that was what she told us. We would pay her bills but we were also determined that her boy would be dressed in what he needed and in the perfect size. When she received her package, she was deeply touched. She said to me:

When GHW asked what my kids needed, I had said it was something nice to wear for church like khakis and a collared shirt . . . We usually wore hand me downs from friends. When I opened the package and saw new beautiful dress pants and a new shirt for church, I cried. Because it took strangers, who never even met us, to say we were worth more than the man who is their husband/father had treated us. I never thought I would receive a NEW pair of pants for him. I thought you all would send me something used. It had been so long since we received something new.

This amazing woman is now serving abuse victims but she has never forgotten that God loves to give His children good gifts.

At Give Her Wings, we have two statements: a mission statement and a giving statement. Our giving statement is thus:

Give Her Wings gives with dignity, generously and elegantly, showing each mama that she is worth the extra added effort and nice touches. When we give, we stress the honor we have that we have this opportunity to serve one of God’s princesses.

We focus on how we give for several reasons:

1. Our mamas have dignity, created in the image of God and beloved by Him. They are His daughters. We recognize that we are serving the daughters of a King and we care, very much, about how we give to daughters of kings.

2. Receiving a gift or a card reminds them of who they are. Our mamas have been told they are nothing by many for years (sometimes decades). Being reminded of their identity in Christ is a gift, in and of itself.

One of our first mamas recounts how she received a card from my husband, five years ago:

“When I got home, there was an envelope waiting for me in the mailbox that wasn’t a bill. I dreaded checking the mail, every day, because it was all bills I couldn’t afford to pay. Or debt collectors. Seeing a hand-written card sparked a little bit of joy, in my heart, and took away my dread. But, what really drove me into tears was reading, ‘For ________, beautiful child of God.’ I had forgotten who I was. For 27 years, I had not heard anything positive spoken about me.”

Twenty-seven years. Nothing but name-calling and ugliness and blame for twenty-seven years.

Since that day, we have addressed all of our mamas that way — reminding them that they are beloved, beautiful children of God. Adored by Him. Loved by Him. Redeemed by Him. I could not begin to describe how powerful this is. If all we did was embark on a ministry of reminding these amazing women of God’s love for them, that would be profoundly life-changing, standing alone. I know this. But, we do more. We give to them. We are a mercy ministry who helps pay their bills so they will be completely free from abuse and able to discover, on their own and with God, their worth in Christ.

We have the opportunity to help our mamas get on their feet financially, but we are also able to remind them of their preciousness, and nothing brings us more joy. If only they knew how we see them. If only they could grasp how honored we all feel to serve them — from the board to the staff to the ministry team. If only they could see themselves as God does . . . it is part of our mission. We consider that our mission — to remind them of their redemption. And, by doing so, to reveal the arms of Christ, just waiting for His daughter to run to them.

“I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10 NLT

Love,

Megan

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Megan Cox is Founder and Executive Director of Give Her Wings, Inc., a non profit that helps single mothers who have left abusive relationships. She is author of Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse and has an MAR in Pastoral Counseling. She is certified in crisis response with the AACC.

Learn more about Give Her wings at giveherwings.com


Sexual Abuse in Marriage Part Three with Darby Strickland

When God places women in our care who have been sexually abused in marriage, he is entrusting us with a tender and clear mission. These women face tremendous suffering and need us to care for them with gentle wisdom. They also need us to be strong—calling evil acts what they are—evil. This is not a comfortable calling, but it is a critical calling, one after Jesus’ own heart (Luke 4:18-19). Often it means we, ourselves, need to acquire additional wisdom and learn what it means to embody Jesus to these dear sufferers. The last thing we want to do is to inadvertently hurt them when we try to help. So, let’s start with the basics. We know we are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), especially when someone is facing evil (Rom. 12:9-12). We are to be compassionate, gentle, and patient in our care (Eph. 4:21 Pet. 3:8). In addition to these basics, here are some practical ways to walk alongside and minister to these women.

1. Ask. Sexual abuse in marriage is frightening to reveal. Sadly, a large percentage of my counselees who experience physical and verbal cruelty are also experiencing sexual abuse. It is not something that women usually disclose because shame, stigma, and confusion contribute to silence. But speaking about it and receiving support is crucial to safety and healing. One way to help victims is to bring up the topic. I usually say something like: “More than half of the women I see in oppressive marriages experience hard and difficult things in their sexual relationship. Are there ways that you struggle with physical intimacy? Things that make you uncomfortable? Do you experience any unwanted sexual activity? Do you ever feel pressured?”

Sometimes victims are only ready to say “yes” to these questions but are not comfortable discussing the violations themselves. Do not press, just periodically check in asking them if they are ready to talk or have questions.

Consider, especially in a church setting, inviting a woman to bring a female friend and supporter with her to counseling. It can be overwhelming to discuss such abuses with a pastor or other church leader and the tangible comfort provided by such a person will reduce her sense of isolation and vulnerability.

2. Listen. Abuse is not something you can solve with words; there are complexities and evils that our words are inadequate for. Do not feel that you need to say something to make it better—you can’t. Sit with the suffering. Your presence alone is powerful, lifting shame. Keep in mind it is good and right for the victimized to feel hurt, fearful, and angry. Do not sanitize their speech but trust that, in time, God will shape their lament. Right now, the important thing is for them to tell their story. No matter what it sounds like, they are bringing the terrible secrets of their life into the light which is a beautiful act of trust and faith.  Continue reading at CCEF

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Darby Stickland joined Pastor Chris for a PeaceWorks University MasterClass discussion on sexual abuse in marriage. PeaceWorks University is our online community dedicated to practical, professional, ministry training designed to help you grow in your response to domestic violence in the Christian home.  Learn more about PeaceWorks University hereand here

 

 

Sexual Abuse in Marriage Part Two with Darby Strickland

Over the years, I have had hundreds of conversations with women who are being sexually abused by their husbands but do not realize it. They know something is wrong but do not know what it is. In fact, most of these women come to me seeking help for something else, usually anxiety, depression, or even a desire to foster a richer marital relationship. As I sit with them and learn more about their marriage, it’s often plain to me that they are being grossly mistreated. But they are confused, and often struggle to call the things they endure abusive or sinful—let alone evil. They worry they are exaggerating, believe they are responsible for what is happening, and doubt their own memory when recounting an abusive episode.

These women need us to help them understand the reality of their situation, but the fact that they do not perceive or portray it accurately can be a barrier to that. If you follow their lead, you will miss the larger abuses that might be taking place and focus on the personal problems they present. It is important that we work to cut through their confusion and see what lies behind it. If you suspect that abuse is occurring, continue to ask questions. If you discover sexual abuse, then great care must be taken to explain how these violations go against God’s design for marriage. Continue reading at CCEF

Darby Stickland joined Pastor Chris for a PeaceWorks University MasterClass discussion on sexual abuse in marriage. PeaceWorks University is our online community dedicated to practical, professional, ministry training designed to help you grow in your response to domestic violence in the Christian home.  Learn more about PeaceWorks University here and consider attending our Facebook live Q and A on February 6th at 2:00 pm ET

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Sexual Abuse in Marriage Part One with Darby Strickland

This is the first in a series of three blogs by counselor Darby Strickland on the sexual abuse of women in marriage. This post first appeared on the blog of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.  CCEF's mission is to equip the church to be this kind of transforming community. We see ourselves as an extension of the local church, and we want to serve and promote its ministry. The good news of the gospel is meant to be preached, taught, and counseled with relevance to individual people. Equipping Christians to live, love, and counsel is our goal. You can learn more about CCEF here. 

God created marriage to be something beautiful and sacrificial in which the hearts and bodies of a man and woman are united as one. Sex is supposed to be a culmination of this emotional and spiritual relationship expressing unity, peace, and love (Gen. 2:24; Prov. 5:18-19; Song. 7:6-12). Given this foundation, the possibility that marriage could be a place where sexual abuse or violence occurs is almost unthinkable. But sadly, it does happen—and with surprising frequency.

Though the recent #metoo movement has revealed the prevalence with which people are violated sexually, my heart remains heavy for wives who are victims of marital sexual abuse. Their stories remain untold, and I am concerned that many pastors and counselors are unaware of its occurrence. I hear many stories (too many stories) of women being abused, violated or even raped by their husbands. It is a frightening reality for these women—one that they usually endure in isolation. The Lord is not silent on such horrors, nor should we be. My goal, therefore, is to identify what sexual abuse in marriage looks like so it can be recognized more readily and these women can get the help they need.

Sexual abuse in marriage occurs when husbands make demands on their wives that are not based on love. These demands for sex are not sanctioned by 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, though the passage is often used as a goad to require a wife’s compliance. To be clear, the men who do this are troubled themselves. They usually have deep-seated problems including a weak or non-existent relationship with God and an inflated sense of entitlement. They believe that other people (including their wives) exist for them—for their comfort and to meet their needs, including sexual ones. When their wives fail to respond as desired, it often results in a pattern of coercive and punishing behaviors designed to force their compliance.

Sexual desire perverted by entitlement damages a couple’s sexual relationship in many ways. Here are a few examples of what it looks like:

Continue reading at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation blog.

 

When My Isolation Bubble Popped and I Watched It Happen — By Megan Cox

Today’s post is by Megan Cox, Founder and executive director of Give Her Wings. We are so thankful for Megan’s willingness to share her story with us and pray that God will use her words and ministry to bless you.

Since undergoing EMDR therapy (highly recommended for those who have experienced trauma), I would say that my triggers are about 75% relieved. This percentage was, most definitely, put to the test when I went to visit my two closest friends in the city where I had been abused. This city is my old stomping ground. It was there where I was more secluded than any time, in my life. It was there where I had all four of my babies, home schooled and had very little outside influence welcomed into my home, besides our church, because there is so much “evil in the world”. It was there where I learned that women were (basically) created to please men, have babies and have a “quiet and gentle spirit”. It was there where I lived in the isolated bubble of a miserable existence. . . . where I used to cry, literally cry in the closet, believing that I was worthless . . . where I used to yell out to God with tear-soaked questions like, “Is this all I was created for? To be used? Do you even like women, God??”

And even though my theology was not working, at the time, (and for so long), I still managed to believe that I had a corner on God and that I was living amongst the people who had it right.

We were arrogant. We knew things. We knew and no one else did. And part of what we knew was that it is OK for a woman to be abused in every way, and the church would practically endorse that.

You can imagine how I felt being all over the places where I had had been so crushed.

But, it wasn’t the place that crushed me. It wasn’t the doctrine (skewed though some of it is — let’s be honest — we are all NEVER ALL OF THE TIME RIGHT ABOUT DOCTRINE). It was the bubble in which I lived.

And, when you are being abused or neglected at home, I think you kind of believe that it is normal and that other people think you should be abused and neglected, as well. And we cannot look people in the eye. But, this is one of the greatest lies in the world of abuse — the lie that says, “I must deserve it. And he says everyone else thinks I deserve it. So, I cannot get close to anyone. Not really. It will only reinforce what I deserve. And I cannot manage that right now.”

We walked into a church in that city and that same, old sickening feeling came over me . . . the mild nausea associated with my old life. I started sweating. The preacher was a young man I had never seen. He was too young to know stuff. It goes without saying that I had a slightly bad attitude. I wondered, “Would this church have responded to me the same way my church did when I took my children and fled an abusive man? Would they insist that I stay in the marriage? Would they have made me feel smaller, telling me that God wanted me to be abused for the rest of my life?” But, I love my friends and this church is important to them so, there I was.

The young man preaching, decked out in super-cool clothes and an even superercooler beard started talking about Joseph from Genesis. And, all of a sudden, it was all I could do to hold back tears. It was good. It was not oppressive. This young man spoke about being stripped of everything you thought you were . . . a son, a brother, a young man full of hope (a daughter, a sister, a young mother full of hope). He spoke about being stripped of dignity . . . and then being given a new name and being given all of the dignity back and more. He said things like, “The brothers weren’t the ones who sent Joseph away . . . God was. And He did so for a purpose.”

Ya’ll.

How could I have given certain people, in my life, so much power as to think they were responsible for my banishment? Whoa. They didn’t do it. God did this. Why? I don’t know all of the reasons.

But, I DO know that, if I hadn’t left my abusive marriage and if my family of origin did not judge me so harshly and if the church I had been attending hadn’t been so gossipy and hurtful, I would not be here, directing Give Her Wings, which impacts thousands of hurting mothers and provides for so many of them to be able to pay bills and get on their feet. That’s why.

My isolation bubble has popped and I could see outside of my painful situation, more than ever. This may have been a final stage of my healing and I am so grateful for it! So, come on . . . come at me with your bad theology. I’m not crippled by it, anymore. I am here to tell you that there is a better way, a freer way, the way in which Jesus said He wanted to pave to show us how to love and forgive our sins and make us these awesome, funky, original creations that He just adores. I won’t shy away. I hear stuff and it hurts my heart . . . but it no longer affects me. And that is huge.

I may never “fit in” to that culture again, but that is OK. Jesus didn’t fit in, either. Maybe someday I will, who knows? But, for now, God has me right where He wants me.

I was recently asked what to do when one finds oneself isolated — stuck in that weird place between being a Christian but no longer looking like the culture might and feeling unaccepted. This is what I told her: You are in good company. Jesus started out in the temple, where everyone marveled over Him. By the end, those same temple leaders were plotting His death. He looked for people on the fringes . . . the marginalized and outcasts. He fully believed in God -- He fully WAS God. But, His own did not accept Him. My greatest advice to you is only that -- advice -- because I am sure there are wiser, more capable people out there who know better than I. But, I can tell you what I did. I started following Jesus. I mean, actually following Him. Doing what He did -- reaching out to those "kicked out of the temple", marginalized, outcasts. And thus . . . Give Her Wings. I believe, after reading all you have faced and all you have been through that you could possibly serve in the same ways. If it were me, I would start praying about where God would have you serve . . . maybe it is a blog; maybe a book; maybe a ministry; maybe writing; maybe serving; maybe a different education. Maybe victim advocacy. I don't know. Only you and God know. But, from your letter, I see a woman who is just waiting to start a firestorm (in all the right ways), right where she is, creating her own community for those who are just like her. It sounds as though your bubble is popping on its own. Again -- a severe mercy. It might be time for you to expand your horizons -- give yourself some more space to explore. Maybe a different denomination of Christianity! Maybe a support group. Maybe you START one -- or a book club. One thing I DO know -- you don't have to have a lot to help a lot of people. And in helping, you can also heal. I hope this helps. I wish I had better answers for you, precious child of God. Just know that God has brought you this far -- He is still working in every moment of your life. And I care. You are beautiful and brave.

Much Love, Megan

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Megan Cox is Founder and Executive Director of Give Her Wings, Inc., a non profit that helps single mothers who have left abusive relationships. She is author of Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse and has an MAR in Pastoral Counseling. She is certified in crisis response with the AACC.

Learn more about Give Her wings at giveherwings.com


What I Wish My Pastor Had Known When I Was Looking For Help.

 

What I wish Pastors had known when I was looking for help.

  1. What domestic violence IS – “A pattern of coercive, controlling behavior, exercised by one intimate partner over the other”; a belief in the right to absolute power and control; not just physical abuse, hitting, etc. Anyone can be a victim. Usually women are the victims, but men can be victims, too.

  2. What domestic violence IS NOT – not a “marriage problem” or “communication problem”, it’s not caused by anger, stress, alcohol/drugs or sickness (mental illness)

  3. How to screen/assess for DV signs – in pre-marital counseling, marriage counseling, family counseling, all interactions with couples. Possible signs: He won’t let her talk in counseling; he tries to control where she goes and what she does, he always wants to be with her; she may cancel counseling appointments if he can’t come too; He may “bash”/badmouth her to you, try to convince you she is the one with the problems, he may threaten to take the children from her; she may have bruises or unexplained injuries; she may seem depressed; she may use drugs or alcohol to cope.

  4. To assume that victims are telling the truth - because usually they don’t talk, and when they do, they minimize (not exaggerate). There is usually no value in lying, because she is usually blamed when she does tell the truth; Even if she is the one that’s been arrested, don’t assume she’s not the victim!

  5. To NAME the abuse - to call it what it is, educate her and not minimize.

  6. To maintain her confidentiality - to not confront or involve the abuser without her        clear permission or without warning her

  7. To maintain safety as the highest priority – to make sure she has a safety plan in place and knows about all of the local resources for abuse victims; to put her in touch with other victims and survivors who can provide support; to encourage the use of safe shelters vs. family homes if the danger is escalating.

  8. To avoid marriage counseling if abuse is occurring – marriage counseling assumes equality & safety; it assumes that this is a mutual “relationship problem” which can be fixed by both persons working on it, rather than one person’s abuse/violence problem; victims may be beaten for telling the truth; marriage counseling may keep the couple stuck in the tension–building phase of the “cycle of violence” for longer, but will not prevent the next (worse) episode. 

  9. To not assume that because there has been no overt physical violence yet, that it is not likely – the worse abuse & most murders occur at or after a separation. 

  10. To validate her feelings, respect her wishes & support her decisions – even if you don’t agree with her; she will come back to you later for help if you are non-blaming.

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Julie Owens is a survivor of domestic violence who has worked in the field of violence against women and women's empowerment since 1989. She has founded a hospital DV crisis response team, a transitional shelter, advocacy groups and training programs. She has worked with trauma survivors and addicted survivors, and was a research co-investigator, project director and trauma therapist on studies at the National Center for PTSD. Learn more about Julie at www.domesticviolenceexpert.org

 

Early on Sunday Morning

Today I'm sharing a past experience as it appears in my book, "The Heart of Domestic Abuse."

Early one Sunday morning I arrived at our newly formed church plant’s location to find an acquaintance of ours obviously troubled and waiting nervously at the door for someone, perhaps anyone, to arrive. Once inside she collapsed in my arms sobbing and speaking incoherently. After some time I was able to calm her down and she told me her story. After several months of heated encounters with her husband, the morning had erupted into violence. She described an altercation that included yelling, screaming, pushing, shoving, and threats ending with a shotgun in her face. I was shocked by what I was hearing, and even more shocked now as I recount my advice to her and the attitude under which I was operating at the time. Most disturbing was what my heart attitude revealed:  “I can’t deal with this right now,” I thought to myself, “I’m just not qualified to handle this. I’m trying to plant a church and this is not the kind of trouble we need.” To my great shame, I told this hurting woman that I had no expertise in this area, which at the time was accurate, and advised her to contact the police. We calmly talked about something or other for the next ten minutes while she composed herself. I made her promise me she would call the authorities and then showed her to the door. After all, I had a church service to perform and a young church plant to grow.

That morning, I preached to a small group of people about the power of the gospel to heal the brokenhearted, but nothing I could say would speak with greater authority or conviction than the hypocrisy I had just committed hours before.  As I spoke of being the hands and feet of Jesus to our community, a broken, battered person filled out paperwork against the man she loved, alone in a police station. 

I mention this story not to emphasize the ways in which I poorly responded to this woman’s needs, and they are numerous, but rather to illustrate how ill-prepared I was to address the problem. They do not cover this in most Bible colleges. Prior to my education in domestic violence intervention and prevention, I rarely thought of this incident. I believed I handled the situation as well as I could, and it never occurred to me how pervasive this problem really was in our community and churches. Domestic violence and the church has since become a common conversation I have with Christians and pastors across the country, and I find that many of the ways we have viewed and responded to domestic violence fall short.

"Domestic violence is a very complex, destructive reality in many Christian homes. Clergy have not always responded in helpful ways to domestic violence in the past, but this can change. Clergy have tremendous influence for healing and protection. If they educate themselves, have the courage to condemn domestic violence from the pulpit, and develop ministries for abuse victims and even for perpetrators, then the cycle of violence can be broken and the body of Christ can be a place of safety and divine healing."[1]

[1] Steven Tracy, Clergy Responses to Domestic Violence; Priscilla Papers Vol.21,No.2, Spring 2007

Taken from, "The Heart of Domestic Abuse; Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Violence and Control in the Home." 

God Redeemed my Pain

Today’s post is by Megan Cox, Founder and executive director of Give Her Wings. We are so thankful for Megan’s willingness to share her story with us and pray that God will use her words and ministry to bless you.

That fear . . . that fear that we would not find a place to live was overwhelming.

When I left my European National abusive husband with my children, I did not know what I would be facing. Four suitcases, four favorite toys, four small children, five bibles and 100 Euros in my pocket was all we had. All of our memories, all my former beliefs about marriage, all my future hopes, all of my dashed dreams . . . all of it left behind as we traversed that lengthy flight back to the US and toward the unknown. We had a place to live for three weeks. I was prepared for that. I was prepared for the reverse-culture-shock. I was prepared for the fact that this would all be hard. I was prepared to nurse the children through the time-change. What I was not prepared for was just how agonizingly difficult it would be.

For the next year, my littles and I would bounce around. The places we thought we would find help and comfort brought us the opposite — judgment and pain. For an entire year, I suffered from post-separation abuse, harassment and shock. The PTSD I already had from losing my parents in a car accident took on a life of its own. Stifled all-day tears turned into muffled wails into my pillow at night. Quiet times with Jesus in our tiny 700 square foot home erupted into cries of, “What do I do, Jesus? What DO I DO?” Friends had abandoned me; family had forsaken me. Any “love” that I felt was what seemed to be the hidden desire that I be “loved” back into my abusive marriage. I had sinned by leaving my husband, in their eyes. The fact that they insisted I go back to him told me that my own people believed I deserved the abuse. Everything felt dangerous. And the financial strain was terrifying. Further, our hardship was “proof” to very righteous people that I had sinned in leaving. Christians seemed to love that. And it hurt. Still, seven years later, I fight. I fight the thoughts that creep up . . . This home, this life . . . it could all go away. In the blink of an eye. Here I am, safe now. And yet I wonder how long it will last. Who will turn on me? Who will abandon me?

The fight is a good fight because it thrusts me directly into the arms of Jesus every time.

The pain of my church family gossiping and name-calling and judging was, perhaps, the greatest pain of all. I had loved and served these people. I had watched their babies, brought them meals, worked at the church for several years. And yet I was called a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No one called to ask how we were. No one wanted to hear what had happened. It was as though I was outside the walls of the church . . . outside the temple . . . outside the camp. I was not acceptable, anymore. To them . . . and to myself. My faith was having an intense crisis because I could not find love. And, again, on top of this mind-crackling, numbing, dark pain was the fear that I could not provide for my children. There was no money for an attorney, no money for counseling, no advocate. There was no help . . . yet. It was seven years ago and I still feel the pain acutely. Years of healing and training and counseling and I still remember the betrayal. The aloneness. The suffering. The deep longing to care for my hurting babies and protect them and take the bullets. I was raw with pain from the pain my children were suffering and raw with pain from the arrows I would take so they wouldn’t have to.

This should not be. Not in God’s Church.

When I started writing blogs for other women who were going through the same marked struggles, I realized I was not the only person who had suffered in this way. That there were so many women out there whose faith was also hanging by a thread. Yet I did not see any organizations that were created to help us. And definitely no Christian ones. And I wanted to help.

On my knees, one night, during a torrent of tears, God spoke clearly to me. Megan, I want you to obey Me, no matter your circumstances. On the floor of that tiny kitchen, I decided to raise money for a hurting single mother I knew. She had many children, some sleeping on their floor in a rat-infested home. An educated woman who had fallen on very difficult circumstances. She was trying to teach her children about Jesus. I respected her. I raised money for her. $2000 to be exact. I could not believe God’s pouring out in love for His daughter and her little lambs!

Give Her Wings was born, a non-profit to help single mothers who have left abusive relationships and have been rejected by friends, family, church and have little to no recourse by way of child support or finances. This was the beginning of an incredible journey. For over six years now, Give Her Wings has been able to help hundreds of women (financially and emotionally) feel supported again . . . have a financial buffer and financial relief . . . and, most importantly, find a place where they are loved. The Church. Us. Give Her Wings loving them and showing them that God has not rejected them but Whose love is so big that He would send a group of men and women who will love them like Jesus does.

My deep, life-altering pain has been a high price to pay to become God’s ambassador to these women. And our team is one of tremendous love, grace and mercy. And here we are . . . pressing toward goals, helping more and more women, bring awareness to the fact that God may wreck our lives — WRECK our lives — so we can find Him. The real Him. The deep, loving, well-springing, never-thirsting-again-life in Him. And that is what we do. Bekah, David, Chuck, Audrey, Naomi, Lori, Ruth, Michelle and I . . . it is what we do. We love ridiculously. We give generously. We serve radically. We audaciously ask people to donate. We want to love more and more and more. We want to love like He does. Give Her Wings is a non profit organization that works on behalf of King Jesus. These are our sisters . . . let’s bring them back into the fold. Protect them. Repent of what we have done to them. Heal them.

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Megan Cox is Founder and Executive Director of Give Her Wings, Inc., a non profit that helps single mothers who have left abusive relationships. She is author of Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse and has an MAR in Pastoral Counseling. She is certified in crisis response with the AACC.

Learn more about Give Her wings at giveherwings.com

Herod, Jesus, and the Power of Christmas

Today's post is by my friend Greg Wilson. 

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the Roman-appointed monarch over Judea was Herod the Great, an abusive tyrant who ruled with an iron fist. Though he was an Edomite, not a Jew, and his loyalty was to Rome rather than his subjects, he valued the title “king of the Jews”. And Herod had been ruthless in procuring that title and ensuring that he kept it. He seized power in 37 B.C. by leading an army of 36,000 into Jerusalem and taking the city by force for Rome. He took captive many Jewish leaders, including over half of the Sanhedrin (the equivalent of their supreme court), whom the Romans promptly executed. Herod’s thirst for power eventually led to the execution of his wife and two of his sons.

Enter Jesus in Matthew 2: Eastern astrologers show up in Jerusalem inquiring about the One who has been “born king of the Jews.” (v. 2) The wording is important. The wise men are not asserting that this child was born "to be the king", but that he was “born king”. They believe a new king has been born and they are going to worship him. Herod is troubled (v. 3), because he is entitled. And all Jerusalem is troubled with him because when an abusive man is troubled, everyone else is troubled too! Herod manipulatively seeks to get the wise men to do his bidding by lying to them, saying that he wants to worship him too. (v. 8) And when his malicious scheme is foiled, Herod goes on a murderous rampage in Bethlehem, intent on extinguishing any possible threat to his power. (v. 16-18) Ironically, Herod’s “power” was ultimately illegitimate. He was not able to hold onto what he never truly possessed in the first place. Concerned more for saving his throne than saving his soul, he ultimately lost both.

How different is Jesus! Our Prince of Peace (Is 9:6) came “not to be served but to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45) Rather than seizing power, Christ gave it up. He did not consider his position as equal with God something to be held on to, but rather emptied himself by becoming a slave, by “being born in the likeness of men”, and by becoming obedient, even to death on a cross for us. (Phil 2:6-8) While Herod refused to let go of a throne he never truly possessed, Jesus left a throne he could never lose to grant full and free salvation to all who would believe in him. That is the power of Christmas.

What do you want so badly that you are willing to hurt others and sin against God to obtain? How does a thirst for what you want drive you to abuse power and control? What does strength in weakness and serving instead of being served look like for you this Christmas?

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Greg Wilson (MA, LPC-S) is currently completing his Doctor of educational ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

Greg has a full-time clinical practice, specializing in working with families, couples, adolescents and men. His experience working with families includes pre-marital and marital counseling for couples, as well as work with parents and teens. His practice includes work with male perpetrators of abuse/domestic violence, sexual addictions, adolescent life-stage issues, marital conflict, anxiety disorders and mood disorders. Greg also serves as a deacon of care at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, and is a certification curriculum facilitator for the Association of Biblical Counselors, where he is also a member of the advisory board for their Center for Professional Soul Care. Greg also is a trained mediator, and he has met all the state requirements to perform mediation services in Texas. He trains lay counselors in the church and through the Association for Biblical Counselors and consults with church leaders on matters relating to biblical soul care.

 

The Blame Game

“Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both.”   Proverbs 17:15

Working with abusive men has taught me a great deal including, there is always something or someone to blame. Many men will go to great lengths to show how innocent they are at the expense of others, circumstances, or substances. Most commonly men blame their partners.

“She pushed my buttons.”

“She attacked me first.”

“She made all this up.”

Often times they may also blame their circumstances or substances.

“I’d lost my job.”

“Our kids are out of control!”

“I was drunk/high at the time.”

The excuses vary but the motive is the same, I am not responsible for my actions. If an abusive person can effectively shift the blame then he removes the potential source of accountability that will confront his wrongdoing. That’s the goal isn’t it? If we choose not to accept responsibility for our actions, and the consequences our actions produce there is little hope for change.

The Power to Change

One former client once told me, “I was miserable trying to control everyone and everything. It was a trap, and I couldn’t get out until I recognized that I was the problem.” Freedom can only be found when we acknowledge that our actions, attitudes, desires, and beliefs are harming others. You must accept responsibility for your actions and stop the blame game. You see it’s not your partner’s fault that you hurt her, manipulated her, used her, or neglected her. Those were your choices. It also wasn’t alcohol, some other substance, or a poor circumstance that led you to your abuse. It was you. Oh I know you experience pressure and are tempted to explode but you can choose not to.

1 Cointhinas 10:13 has a powerful reminder for you.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Notice there is no promise you won’t be tempted by your pride to control, demean, or hurt. There is also no promise that life will go your way and you won’t feel pressure. The promise is that you can endure the pressure, stand against the temptation. In other words, if you claim to be a Christian you have no excuse, no right, and no permission to harm another person because you are uncomfortable, and if continue to do so perhaps you are not a Christian after all. You are responsible for your actions. If you want to experience growth and change the time for blame is over, and the time for ownership is here.

 

Putting Off and Putting On

Abusive behavior can often be so damaging and graphic that people helpers who genuinely seek to intervene focus so much on seeing the abusive behavior end that they fail to champion the need for new, behaviors to take their place. The Bible offers us clear instruction regarding the process of change through the means of putting off and putting on.

Simply put, when we are striving to change we must not only cease the destructive behavior but replace it with more God-honoring behavior.

Let’s say we have a man who consistently yells at his wife, and as we question him we uncover additional practices of intimidation such as body language, pounding his fist on the table, and threatening gestures such as clinching his fist. We establish that he wants his wife to conform, give in, so badly that he is willing to scare her to do it. His pride has led him to value getting his way over treating his wife properly. Certainly we want him to put off the intimidating behavior, but what can we ask him to put on for the glory of God? We realize the need to confront him with passages such as Ephesians 5:25-33 to address his lack of Christ-like love, and Colossians 3:19 dealing with the harsh treatment of his wife. Instead of causing his wife fear in order to control her we call the intimidating man to love his wife in such a way that she is not only no longer fearful, but safe, sane, and secure.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18.

Passages of scripture such as this remind us that love opposes fear and instead love seeks the well-being of the other, and pursues such with patience and kindness, not intimidation and fear. As such we should expect the man who once intimidated to now be intentional in regards to expressing love and safety.

Note: This takes time.

I’m not suggesting that a single blog post, counseling session, or confrontation will suddenly produce Christ-like love. Moving from intimidation to Christ-like love will require hard work, accountability, and concrete goals designed to measure movement.

More specifically we can highlight an abusive man’s behavior and through the process call him to alternatives. While there are a multiplicity of passages we could reference, here are a few example from my book The Heart of Domestic Abuse.

From Violence to Gentleness:

We can encourage men who use violence to participate in a variety of God-honoring alternatives, but one area we can highlight is gentleness. I have encountered many a man who cringe at the thought of engaging in gentle responses to challenging circumstances, and yet that encouragement is offered consistently as an alternative to violence.

  • As a matter of following Jesus

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29.

  • As a result of the Spirit’s work

“But the fruit of the Spirit is… gentleness.” Galatians 5:22-23.

  • As a requirement for leadership

“not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” 1Timothy 3:3.

“to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” Titus 3:3.

From Ridicule to Encouragement: 

Words are powerful and the venom of verbal abuse seeps into the spirit of its victim. This behavior is not consistent with the person of Christ, or the people he has called us to be. Scripture admonishes us to speak words of truth, and life into those we communicate with.

  • As a means of building others up

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:29-30.

  • As evidence of holiness

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” Matthew 15:18-20.

  • As a means of practicing wisdom

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:5-6.

From Minimization, Denial, and Blame to Truth:

Truth and a willingness to speak honestly are key components within the Christian life. Deception and misleading behavior are valuable tools to the abusive man who consistently deceives himself, lies to his spouse, and attempts to misled everyone else. He is a master of manipulation and that must stop, and truth must come forth.

  • As a means of accountability

“ Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15.

  • As a means of sanctification

“ Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17.

  • As a matter of obedience

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “ Ephesians 4:25.

From Economic Abuse to Stewardship:

All that we have is God’s and as such he has entrusted us as stewards to manage our possessions wisely. Unfortunately withholding resources is a tremendously useful tool for an abusive man. He must understand the evil nature of such actions and embrace a God-honoring approach to resources in which he attempts to honor God through provision, and generosity.

  • As evidence of his salvation

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”1Timothy 5:8.

  • As a means of acknowledging God’s sovereignty

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16.

  • As a means of care and provision for his family

“ In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” Ephesians 5:28-29.

It has been said that the greatest indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Change is therefore a difficult, some would say impossible, unless we use the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Without intervention, it is rare to see the kind of significant heart, desire, and behavior changes we are calling for. It is all the more imperative that we as leaders and people helpers engaged in confrontational ministry that holds abusive men accountable and calls them to repentance.

 

When Anger Takes Over by Joy Forrest

Today’s post is by my friend Joy Forrest and first appeared on her blog at Called to Peace

Anger

In my years of counseling victims of domestic violence, I have met some pretty angry people, and in many cases, their stories have angered me as well. Domestic violence can be unimaginably cruel, and it is difficult to hear the accounts without feeling upset about the injustice of it all. Quite often, victims are not only injured by their spouses, but they find very little support when they reach out for help. The judicial system frequently favors perpetrators, who tend to have greater financial resources, and often seem much more composed in court. Even churches can make matters worse for victims when they don’t understand the dynamics of abuse or interpret scriptures on marital roles harshly. For victims, insult is added to injury on a regular basis.

Living with abuse gives us plenty of reason to be angry, but sometimes our anger becomes sinful and destructive. Unfortunately, when that happens we often find ourselves living with negative consequences. Proverbs 22:24-25 warns, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” We can easily find ourselves compounding the pain and misery of an already bad situation by allowing anger to rule our hearts. It is easy to find yourself responding with anger when you’ve lived with it day in and day out but letting yourself to be consumed by it will merely worsen the situation.

Becoming upset over violence and injustice is not only understandable, but it is also normal. Ephesians 4:26-27 seems to imply that anger is common but warns “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” The problem isn’t becoming angry as much as it is failing deal with it quickly. When we stay angry and allow it to control us, we are headed for trouble. It seems that unresolved anger opens our lives to Satan’s destructive schemes (Eph. 4:26-27).

There was a time when I became so angry, I began to suffer physical symptoms. Even worse, I found myself snapping at my children for the littlest things. Rather than being able to offer them the love and support they needed to get through the devastating events they were experiencing, I found myself so consumed with anger that I had nothing left to give. The problem with maintaining anger is that you can’t simply contain it to one area of your life. It spills out onto others and “defiles many” (Heb. 12:15). It is like a poison that damages every relationship in your life, including the most important one of all—your relationship with God. During this period, I found myself feeling as if my prayers were hitting the ceiling. Although I continued to reach out to God, resentment controlled me rather than his Spirit, which left me very isolated from my Helper. I needed to learn how to handle my anger biblically.

Divine vs. Human Anger

Scripture clearly tells us there are things that anger God, and we are created in His image as emotional beings. God’s wrath is provoked by sin, and He hates violence. In Genesis, God told Noah “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” (6:13). It was enough to cause God to want to destroy His own creation, so it is certainly understandable when we get upset about it. Even the second part of Malachi 2:16, “God hates divorce” indicates He also hates it when a husband deals violently and unfaithfully with his spouse. The Bible is filled with passages proclaiming our Creator’s hatred of injustice and unfaithfulness. As His children, we should naturally hate the evil that he hates. Our problem is that we usually carry it a little too far. Rather than turning the situation over to God, and leaving justice in His hands, we try to control it.

In reality, much human anger reveals a lack of trust in God. We may be questioning why He has allowed bad things to happen in our lives, and if He really cares. In our minds, we profess that He is good, but in our hearts, we doubt it. We know that His Word commands us to forgive, but we believe that forgiving is like giving a stamp of approval to the abuse. Thoughts like this unconsciously charge God with injustice. When we see our offenders “getting away” with sin, we want to take matters into our own hands, because it seems as though God is sitting back doing nothing. I know that’s how I felt, and I became so miserable that life was not worth living. Over time, God graciously intervened, but it was not an overnight event. It was a process that required me to take some very specific steps.

Face the Truth

People who live with abuse live with lies, and I was certainly no exception. I told myself that my husband couldn’t help it when he blew up, and that he was simply a product of his environment growing up. I tried to hide our violent episodes from everyone to the point that I almost seemed to hide them from myself. For over two decades I went to great lengths to avoid the truth; until one day I could avoid it no longer and found myself angrier than I had ever been. I was worn down by months of constant offenses. Doug had been calling and threatening me 15-20 times a day. I was afraid not to answer, because I felt if he didn’t get me on the phone, he would come out and make good on the threats. Normally, I would just hold the phone away from my ear and let him rant, because I learned that saying anything just made matters worse. On one particular call I heard the screaming stop and put my ear up to the phone just in time to hear him quietly threaten suicide. He slammed down the phone, and that was that. He had made similar threats in the past, but had never followed through, and usually started harassing me again within hours. However, this time I heard nothing for two whole days, and became concerned about him. I drove past his house both days and noticed that his car had not moved. On the third day I decided to take my key to our former home and go check on him. I was scared to death to go in but was so worried that I did it anyway. He was not downstairs, so I tiptoed upstairs and saw him lying deathly still on his bed. He looked extra pale, so I went up and nudged him. As soon as I did he woke up cursing at me, and I ran out as quickly as I could.

Within a few hours I got a call from the county sheriff’s department saying that Doug had come in— and charged me with criminal trespassing. They had a warrant for my arrest, and he urged me to come turn myself in. I was released on my own recognizance, but I was furious! How dare he have me charged as a criminal when I was merely concerned for his well-being? Foolishly, I decided to call and let him know just how awful his action had been, but the conversation only left me more upset. I told him he was the one who needed to be arrested for violence against me, but he said he had only hit me one time in the entire history of our relationship. He basically denied being abusive, and I couldn’t believe his nerve! My response was pure rage. By this point I was learning to turn my strong emotions over to God, so I started writing in my journal, telling Him about all the horrendous things Doug had done over the years.

As I was banging out complaints on my computer keyboard, my friend Karen happened to call to check on me. I told her about my earlier conversation with Doug, and the already lengthy list of offenses I was compiling. Much to my surprise, Karen said “Don’t forget the time he tore up the house, because he was mad at the cat.” I was confused, because I didn’t remember it at all. After she reminded me that they had provided housing, and how it had been resolved, I remembered. The odd thing was that it had only happened 12 months earlier! I was amazed that I could forget it so soon, but I believe that I had gone to such great lengths to hide it I had almost convinced myself it didn’t happen. For the most part, those of us who have been abused remember the abuse. I surely remembered the most traumatic incidents, but sometimes we lie about it so much that we begin to believe our own lies. I’ve met women who have casually told me that they had no problem forgiving their abusive spouses, but they could barely talk about what happened. Some who did open up were still making excuses or denying the severity of the abuse. That is burying anger, not dealing with it.

Entrust it to Him

After admitting the truth, we must put it in His hands. A great deal of healing happened in me the day I finally faced the truth and conceded just how horrible things had been. Let me clarify. I do not think I was healed simply because I finally told myself the truth. That was only part of it. The reason I found healing was that I was pouring out my hurts to God and committing them to Him. The truth was too overwhelming for me to handle on my own, but I knew my heart was safe with Him. Psalm 62:8 encourages us to pour out our hearts to God, and that is what I did on that day. When you face constant offenses, it will often require you to surrender your anger again and again, but it will guard your soul. Commit the offenses you have suffered to Him. It is the only way to avoid carrying them yourself, and He is far better equipped to handle them. Each night when you lay your head on your pillow, drop those heavy burdens at His feet and trust Him to fight your battles.

Choose to Forgive

For many of us, forgiving our abusers can be the toughest battle we face in the recovery process, but it is a necessary step in overcoming the anger that comes from abuse. Although it may seem that facing the truth about the hurts I had experienced would have made it harder to forgive, it actually helped, because I realized it was too big for me to handle alone. I knew I could not face the pain without God’s help. I also knew His Word commanded me to forgive, but I needed a lot of help in working through it. At the height of my anger, our ladies’ Bible study decided to work through Kay Arthur’s Lord, Heal My Hurts. When I picked up the book, I noticed a chapter in the Table of Contents entitled “How Can I Forgive?” It was the very question I had been asking myself, and this wonderful Bible study helped me figure it out. When I was able to forgive, it was as if a thousand-pound burden had been taken off my shoulders.

There were a few common misconceptions I had to overcome in order to truly forgive, and I’ve seen many other survivors struggle with them as well. As a child, I was taught to forgive and forget. When my siblings and I asked for forgiveness, we were taught to respond with, “That’s ok. I forgive you.” Then, we were expected to hug and make up. Basically, that formed my view of how the process should look, but it was a very flawed perspective, because it caused me to believe that forgiveness would always lead to reconciliation. I also thought forgiving meant I simply had to minimize or dismiss the offenses as though they had never happened. Thankfully, I was wrong on both counts. Biblical forgiveness is placing the offender in God’s hands and leaving justice to Him. It is letting go of our own need for vengeance; but it definitely is not dismissing the hurt as though it wasn’t that bad or that it never happened. Romans 12:17-21 gives us instructions on dealing with those who harm us. Romans 12: 17-19 instructs us not to repay evil with evil and not to take revenge, but to leave room for God’s wrath.

We must trust that He will handle the situation in His time and with perfect justice. Also, we need to refuse to stoop to our abusers’ level by taking revenge. Usually when we refuse to let go of our anger and desire for retaliation, it is because we don’t trust that His way of dealing with it is better than ours. We will never find peace until we realize He always has our best interest at heart, and He is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28-29). Regardless of how things may look in the present, there will come a day when your abuser will have to bow before Him, perhaps in great fear and trembling, and confess that He is Lord (Ph. 2:10-11). We need to trust Him to make all things right in due time.

Resolve to Believe Him

Letting go of anger and believing God is definitely a choice, and not a simple process. For me it was hard work! It meant learning how to choose His truth over my feelings, and trust that He cared deeply for me— even when it didn’t feel that way. One day a phrase from Isaiah 50:7 spoke to me. This prophecy about Jesus predicted that he would set his face “like flint” to accomplish the Father’s plan.  There was something about His determination in this verse that resonated in me because I knew that my outcome would be tied to my decision to believe Him. I decided that I would resolve to believe, no matter what happened or how I felt. I pray that as you read this, you will decide to do the same. To overcome anger, and its damaging consequences in your life, you must determine to do it God’s way rather than your own.

The Process

Dealing with anger His way requires taking several steps. It means being honest with yourself, and no longer minimizing or making excuses for the abuse. In order to truly heal, you must face and give the full weight of the burden to God. Commit your anger to God quickly, and do not let it fester. Let Him fight your battles. Sure, there may be actions you will need to take to protect yourself and your children, but you won’t have to try and control things or force your version of justice anymore. Choose to forgive your abuser, recognizing that it will set you free, and leave justice in God’s hands. Correct any thinking that is contrary to God’s truth and believe that God will redeem your sorrows. Remember that He is for you, and that even though He will not violate the free will of your abuser, He is sovereign, and He wants to use your trials for good. Finally, seek scriptures that provide instructions on wisely dealing with anger, and choose to apply them. Please see Appendix A at the end of this book for a list.

 

*Note: I do believe there comes a time in the healing process when staying angry can actually help us move forward. We have to become justifiably angry at the sin we’ve endured so that we will no longer make excuses for it or continue to subject ourselves to it. The problem comes when we allow the anger to control us rather than giving God control.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of Joy’s book, Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace and Healing After Domestic Abuse.

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