Am finally caught up on The Walking Dead so that I can start season 7 up to speed. This isn’t another post about the show….really! The reality is though, TWD is about relationships, and I am fascinated by people and relationships. The zombies are quite incidental.
In one of the episodes from season 6, the main characters are living inside the walls of a community; relatively safe, in nice homes with all the amenities, life is seemingly “normal” (whatever that is), and the ugliness of the outside world rages on outside the walls that they have erected.
The church is a lot like that community; at least that has been my experience. One of the characters commented that the life they had inside the walls was not real, that they were burying their heads in the sand. Pretty much. They were ignoring the ugliness outside the walls; choosing not to deal with what lay beyond. Yes, they could make the case for a moment of respite, but at some point they would turn their backs altogether on the life they had known outside the walls; forget where they had come from, thereby forgetting those still outside the walls.
The walls the church has erected keep them safe from the ugliness of the world, and sometimes rightfully so. But if the church is to be a place for the sick to come and get well, as many advertise, or a haven for the tired, the bedraggled, and the abused, the leadership and elders also need to deal with the issues once the hurt are inside the walls, the issues that brought them to the doors of the church in the first place, and not bury their heads in the sand.
Celebrate Recovery is a 12 step program many churches participate in and I applaud their mission and efforts to reach out to those struggling with addictions. Their ministry has helped remove some of the stigma associated with addictions and given a place for many of their participants to find hope, rest, and a chance at a better life. Celebrate Recovery shines the light on the issues holding good people hostage and helps them shed the clothing of victims in exchange for the robes of a survivor.
Domestic Abuse is one such issue I would like to see the church gather around, too. Having come from the shadows of abuse, this issue has special meaning for my family and me. I realize that domestic abuse is a dangerous area for the untrained to venture into, but with education and assistance available, domestic abuse can be brought into the light for its hostages to exchange their clothing of victims for those of survivors.
What many don’t realize is that within the walls of the church there are many silent victims held hostage by their abusers. Even more concerning is that the very people who many look up to in church leadership are the abusers in their families.
I was fortunate enough to finally find my voice and leave with my kids, and it was one of my daughters who gave me the courage. It wasn’t easy, and it rarely is for any survivors of abusive relationships. Since leaving the marriage and beginning the healing process, I have had the opportunity to talk with several women still trapped in abusive relationships, or those new to life on the other side of abuse. Most of those women are members of a church, some quite involved in church life, and still others are wives of pastors or church leadership. Like me, these women and their children live dual lives; the lives lived with the abuser, and their lives in the public eye and within the walls of the church. Families in abusive situations are some of the best actors around, and rightfully so; often their very lives depend upon their ability to keep the abuse secret.
Abuse comes in many forms. Physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, and spiritual. Abusers strip their victims of their self esteem, self worth, instill self doubt, fear, dependency, and crush their spirits. Until you have lived it, please don’t judge those struggling within the nightmare.
I have found that many otherwise highly intelligent, strong, wise and independent women fall victim to abusive partners, and I was no different. You see, abusers find their purpose and strength in destroying the spirits of the abused. Often, these women (and men) stay in the beginning because they are fiercely loyal, want to believe the best of others, have convinced themselves that the abusers don’t want to abuse, and that deep down the abusers are good people struggling with their own demons. As the abuse continues, over time learned helplessness sets in (when people, or animals feel helpless to avoid painful situations and become unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters because previous experience has shown them that they have no control in the situation, even when escape is a possibility). Abusers are adept at turning any situation or argument around to make the victims feel as if the whole thing is their fault. The victims end up apologizing, doing penance, as it were, for “sins” committed.
I have been known to say that I believe abusers are working from a secret handbook as the stories I hear women tell follow a similar pattern. I know women who have been beaten, had guns held to their heads, some shot, nearly choked to death, threatened, have watched their children being beaten and abused in front of them and being helpless to intervene, and forced to do unspeakable things as part of their “punishment”. Part of my story can be found within the words of that last sentence.
All are psychologically and emotionally abused, their spirits so damaged they become little more than a shell of the precious and unique creation they once were. Many abusers tell their victims we are the cause of the abuse, we have pushed them to their acts of violence, convincing us, brainwashing us, into believing if we could just be better people, if we would just “obey”, the abuse would stop. And yet, no matter what victims do, no matter how hard we try we cannot be “good” enough to make them stop. I am here to tell you I believe there is nothing short of a miracle that will make the abusers stop.
How does abuse happen to people who otherwise would not tolerate the treatment they have suffered at the hands of their abusers? Little by little. Abusers begin to chip away at the spirits of their victims; psychological abuse results in their victims questioning their self-worth, diminishing their self-esteem until their victims are convinced they are unable to live without the abusers, will be rejected by everyone else but the abusers, and most are systematically isolated from family, friends, any support system that may suspect what is happening in secret.
Physical abuse is common, but not always the predominant abuse. Many who don’t know much about domestic abuse visualize the battered and bruised woman. All forms of abuse are damaging, and I, for one, would rather be hit and get it over with; the wounds of psychological, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse often times penetrate much deeper, are more devastating, and their effects last a lifetime regardless of any amount of healing. Most, if not all victims, come away with some degree of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
The signs are there; victimization by domestic abusers is not entirely invisible, but many don’t know what to do, how to intervene, and the whole subject so uncomfortable, many choose to look the other way believing they wouldn’t fall victim; believe victims are weak, must like it otherwise they would leave. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I mourn for those who have died at the hands of their abusers; I believe God weeps and holds each thru the horrors they endure, and will hold each one close to His heart throughout eternity. Many of us do get the chance to leave, to reunite with family, to learn to trust again, find our voice, to exchange the clothes of victims for the robes of survivors. What can the church do? Next week we will look at the possibilities……….