How can the church help? Like I said in Part 1, this is a difficult area. Abuse is ugly in any form and many turn a blind eye because they don’t know what to do, and are just plain clueless about abuse and have very definite, albeit wrong views, on the subject. I do believe there are good people in every church who see other members trapped, suffering, unable to break free, want to help, but do not know how. The one thing we need to remember is that the abused need to make the decision to leave, and they must lead the way out. Any other way often times is dangerous, if not deadly.
I was surprised to find out just how many people suspected there was abuse going on and had never said anything. At one point I was having some health issues and went to our family doctor. I sat in his office describing my symptoms and then he said, “What’s really going on?” Blew me away. I stammered for a bit, then the floodgates opened. For the next 90 min we talked and in the end he said, “if you don’t get away, he will kill you.” Doc said that he had never liked nor trusted my ex, and that he knew the ex was abusive just by the way he acted and talked. He walked me to my car and told me I could come in and use the computer for whatever I needed. He also gave me the names of a couple of good out of town lawyers and his calling card to call when I was ready.
Enter the church. A well-meaning woman from the church visited me at work one day and said a few of them suspected abuse was going on in our home. She talked, I listened. She said that the church was willing to help us get away by providing a place to live, a car, and some money to get us started. I agreed to think about it. Long story short, after several conversations I decided to take them up on their offer. The woman and I talked again; she told me the pastor had commented, “There are lots of men in the church who are controlling”, and “they had decided to help someone else.” First of all, abusive people are more than “controlling” and secondly, excusing other men for being controlling is concerning.
Two different responses. Which was more valuable? Who did I perceive was more in tune with our situation? The answer is obvious, but I don’t blame the church. Abuse is an ugly subject and few people want to involve themselves. I totally get that, but the reality is if someone doesn’t step up to intervene, to support, to encourage those in abusive relationships, people are damaged, stripped of their humanity, and often killed. We have all heard the stories on the news; we shake our heads and many ask why the women stayed. To hear someone make that statement about anyone in an abusive relationship pierces me to the core of my being. Please never say, “if it were me I would have left”. Walk a mile in another’s shoes before hurtful words pass your lips.
Where was my family, one might ask? Most abusers will isolate their victims from family, friends, any support people who might try to help, or in their minds – interfere. My family was hundreds of miles away and did try to keep in touch, send letters, gifts for the kids, contact me at work, and all efforts were thwarted. I wasn’t aware of many of the letters or gifts because they were sent back by the ex before I saw them. Any contacts at work my family made were short conversations with me assuring them I was ok, not to worry, or I was rude to keep them at bay. For us, any interference perceived or otherwise, only served to intensify an already bad situation.
So what can the church do? Committees can be formed, made up of those who have been trained in helping abused families get away from their abusers. Training is essential. Only people who are committed and willing to step outside the comfort zone of the church need apply. Abused families need to know that they are supported, they won’t be judged, there is safety, they need to find hope again.
Supporting the abused involves listening, providing information on Safe Houses and legal services that help women to get out of abusive relationships, and following through on whatever offers have been made. Ensure a code word has been established that she will text to a designated person(s) in the event a situation becomes dangerous and the police need to be called. Help pack an escape bag should it be needed.
It is important the abused lead the way out. They are the experts on their family dynamics, the danger that is involved. Many are not ready to leave when first approached. The crushed of spirit are fearful, believe they are incapable of living without the abuser, and most have no resources available to them whatsoever making it doubly hard as women fear not being able to care for their children. Patient support of others is essential to encourage but not push, understand as much as is possible for those unfamiliar with abuse. Don’t criticize, offer advice or try to play amateur psychologist.
I had begun to think that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, until the church snuffed out the the light. You see, I had prayed for years for the ex to change, begged God to change his heart, open his eyes to what he was doing to his kids, and me. Our relationship had not started like the bad dream we were living; typical in many abusive relationships. Countless nights I cried myself to sleep; it seemed the more I prayed, the worse our situation became. And, as the years went by I died a little bit more inside, I no longer had any self esteem, self worth, and had been convinced that I was worthless, was made to believe that I caused the abuse.
Was I mad at God? Not at first; I believed if I could just be a better wife we wouldn’t be in this situation. The church perpetuates that mindset. The whole submission thing is so often misconstrued and then used by men to justify their abuse. I don’t claim to have the answer to solving that problem, maybe there is no good answer. As time passed I did get angry with God. My kids did not ask to be born, and surely didn’t ask to be saddled with an abusive father. Everyday I struggle with the guilt of what my kids went through. I will die with that guilt.
A word about Protection From Abuse orders and the police: I can only speak from my experience, but they are a piece of paper. I had a PFA; my ex was not to be on the property. One night he came to get some things and it was necessary the police be called. They came, did their interviews and asked him to leave. An officer asked me for the order and told me he was taking it down to the station to “verify” it and would call me to come pick it up as soon as that was done. I really don’t know what there was to “verify”, it was a court document. The encounter with the officer left me cold, and feeling victimized one more time. I was called and told to come pick it up. After I got home the officer came back and wanted to talk to me. He was rude, full of himself, and I broke down. One of my daughters took him outside and confronted him, telling him we were the victims and his treatment of us was unnecessary. She stood her ground and I was very proud of her. I am certain not all officers are like that; what that taught me was ignorance abounds, even in professions supposedly trained in the area of domestic abuse
Abuse changes people. PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is common and its effects are lifelong. We have trust issues, in many cases our hearts have hardened.; and yet I am very sensitive and drawn to the vulnerable, the downtrodden, the hurting among us. It is possible to find happiness again, and I have. God is good. I am grateful for the lessons learned. I have found my voice again.
If you know of someone, a family who is in the throes of abuse, or you suspect abuse in the lives of loved ones, please be sensitive to what you say. Check biases at the door before trying to offer help. Get educated, be supportive and patient. If you are in church leadership consider starting a committee to address domestic abuse in your church. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me by commenting and I will get back with you. If you are in an abusive relationship, there is hope and help out there. God does care, and so do I; there is a robe waiting for you to exchange for the clothes of the victim you are wearing right now……..