Today's post is written by my friend Evelyn Colon. Evelyn is a facilitator, trainer, and ICDVP with FOCUS ministries. You can learn more about FOCUS ministries at www.focusministries1.org
As she sat down she was noticeably anxious. Her heart was pounding, her breathing was erratic, and she was visibly shaking. Thinking she needed a minute to gather herself, I asked her if she needed a drink. That’s when she tearfully launched into a vivid description of what “he” did to her.
Two days prior her husband had “gone off.” “He grabbed me by the neck and choked me until I couldn’t breathe anymore,” she cried. “I passed out. Just look at me.” The bruises looked like two thumb prints and multiple fingers that had reached around to the back of her throat. “Tim, I couldn’t breathe.”
She wasn’t remembering the incident; she was reliving it in front of me. In the world of counseling, we call this trauma.1
When you hear the cry of the broken and hurting, how do you respond? Are you compelled to turn compassion into action? Or perhaps you’re too busy to get involved in messy situations where you may be asked to trade your comfort for other peoples’ lives – people like Bethany and Bill.
When Bethany married her high school sweetheart, Bill, she trusted him completely, looking to him as the spiritual leader of their home. Bill was charming and likeable. As the son of a missionary pastor, he knew the Bible from cover to cover.
Although Bill and Bethany appeared to be a loving couple at church on Sundays, behind closed doors he was a batterer who controlled and assaulted Bethany with caustic words and closed fists. The man with whom she had chosen to spend the rest of her life threatened her with guns and knives. For thirteen years she endured verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, and physical abuse. Bethany represents 31 % of all married women who will experience physical violence in their marriage.2
By the time Bethany arrives in your office, she has become emotionally numb. She appears to be in suspended animation, convinced by her abuser that she is a total failure needing to be “fixed.” Life seems meaningless and hopeless. Through years of verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual assaults, Bethany has experienced death -- death of her dreams, death of her future, death of herself.
She does not reach out to others for fear of not being believed and to protect the reputation of her husband. She wonders if God really cares, and if the Lord does care, whether he really has the power to change things.
As her pastoral counselor (advocate), how will you breathe life into Bethany’s soul? Your counsel will either keep her in bondage or provide options that lead to spiritual and emotional freedom to become the woman God had in mind when she was created. (Eph. 1:5,6; Eph. 2:1)
Below are three scenarios describing a possible response to Bethany’s initial visit. Which one best describes how you would handle this difficult situation?
Response 1: Get Both Sides.
- Because you have known Bill for many years, you have trouble believing he is capable of doing the things Bethany has described. You call Bill later today to get his side of the story. Thinking Bethany may be overly sensitive or suffering from an emotional breakdown, you feel it is in the best interests of the church to ask her to step down from her teaching position in children’s church. Doing so will allow her to focus on her marriage. You explain and perhaps identify a time when she and Bill can meet with you together?
Response 2: Prioritize the Marriage – Starting with her
- Perhaps you believe your primary goal is to help couples reconcile. You outline a course of action for Bethany – encouraging her to work on her unforgiving attitude and offering tips how to avoid pushing Bill’s buttons. You recommend weekly counseling sessions with the couple and give Bethany a brochure about a weekend marriage retreat where the couple can reconnect. Then you pray with her to heal the marriage and to give her strength to work harder on changing her own behavior.
Response 3: Secure Her Safety First
- After Bethany shares her story, you assume she is telling the truth and ask strategic questions to determine her level of safety. You offer several options and wait for her response. If she is in imminent danger and willing to accept help, you take immediate action to provide shelter by placing her in a safe home, a hotel, or the local women’s domestic violence shelter or a church or agency that will respond immediately to meet her needs. You also offer her your support if she chooses to contact law enforcement or seek legal advice from an attorney.
Which scenario reflects Jesus as he stood and read: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV).
Regardless of the scenario you choose, the first step is to listen without judgment to the victim’s story and then to validate her pain. It is important to clearly communicate that God does not condone abuse, that the Lord wants us to be safe. Even if you wonder about the accuracy of her story, the most important responsibility is to focus on what Bethany is telling you. Stay alert for signs of abuse as her story unfolds.3
What Jesus are you introducing to this victim? Is it the Jesus of compassion that is exhibited throughout Scriptures? “In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness” (Ps. 31:1). “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” (Ps. 10:17).
I would have given anything to hear these words of affirmation that I am loved by the King and as the body of Christ they will surround me with love, hope and assurance to understand my need and more importantly, to validate my pain. But instead, the Elders of the church called me in for three meetings, felt led to give me a five-inch binder of prayers for the next 365 days, with a follow-up call that I was removed as a ministry leader.
In hindsight, I believe they thought in their hearts they were doing the right thing…but instead, it completely re-victimized me.
1.Dr. Tim Clinton, President, American Association of Christian Counselors, Author of Turn Your Life Around; Breaking Free from Your Past to a new and Better You;
2.Katherine Scott Collins, Cathy Schoen, Susan Joseph, et al, Health Concerns Across a Women’s Lifespan; 1998 Survey of Women’s Health, The Commonwealth fund, May 1999.
3.Brenda Branson/Paula Silva, Violence Among Us Ministry to Families in Crisis, 2007