Walking Through It: A Family Violence Survivor’s Reflection

I’ve been encouraged privately to reflect and share on the experience of coming forward in the church

“Those who listened and believed will have my everlasting gratitude and love. The first person I shared with was not a minister, but a friend who by the grace of God had walked this journey before. I didn’t realize that at the time because I didn’t actually know what was happening to me. I just knew my life was suddenly spinning out of control, and I was scared.”

 

I recently wrote a letter to ministers, entitled “Things I wish you understood: An open letter to ministers from a family violence survivor.” The response has been humbling. I’m glad it resonated with the experience of many, because it reminds me that I’m not alone, and that nor am I crazy because sometimes I have to fight with my emotions and body to get control again. Thank you to the sisters and brothers who have said “that’s me, too.” May God bless, comfort and heal you also.

I’m also more glad than I can say for the people who said it would help them to love their flock better. That’s what I was praying for. My experience won’t speak to everyone, and won’t be applicable to everyone, but if starts a conversation or raises awareness, then I thank God for that. If it means that I or someone else might have a better chance of hearing and understanding what the Bible says on some of those more difficult passages, so much the better. That was my heartI want to hear and learn, and sometimes I can’t because of what I’ve been through. I’m not alone in that.

I’ve been encouraged privately to reflect and share on the experience of coming forward in the church.  I am profoundly grateful for the godly men and women who walked through it with me. My experiences were generally positive but there were moments that weren’t so positive as well, and moments which might have gone much, much worse but for the grace of God. I am somewhat unusual, from what I can gather, in that I didn’t meet with anyone (outside of my then-husband) who treated me with harshness or ungraciousness. Even those who weren’t helpful still tried to treat me with love. My heart aches for those who have not been met with grace and love.

Here are some things that I’ve been reflecting on about my own experience:

  1. Listening to me, and believing me were the biggest gifts anyone could give me.
    Those who listened and believed will have my everlasting gratitude and love. The first person I shared with was not a minister, but a friend who by the grace of God had walked this journey before. I didn’t realise that at the time because I didn’t actually know what was happening to me. I just knew my life was suddenly spinning out of control, and I was scared. She knew the value of listening and believing. She’d had experience. She knew what to do on every level: emotional, spiritual, practical. She validated what I told herthe first tentative forays into shattering the illusion I had been so carefully maintaining. I didn’t tell her the whole picture, just the part that was upsetting me the most at the time. She treated me with respect, grace and dignity. That lead me to go further, to bring deeper wounds forward to see if perhapsbreathtakinglythey might meet with tenderness too. She believed me, and she told me she believed me.
  2. It was an incredibly scary thing to bring the leadership of my church into the picture.
    I knew them to be men of gentleness and compassion, but I had seen what I thought was gentleness and compassion turn into harshness and anger before. I was terrified of being dismissed. I was petrified of being told that I was in sin, that I needed to go back. I didn’t know what I would do if they did. The weight of that possibility made it difficult to breathe. I thought I was going to have a heart attack from the mere thought of having to choose between going back or defying the leadership of my church. The choice felt like one between my life and sanity, and my very salvation. My salvation was never actually on the line but, battered and broken as I was, that is what it felt like. It was agony.
  3. Common sense isn’t really enough in these situations.
    The norms of relationships don’t apply. The nature of abuse makes all sorts of things impossible. I couldn’t do counselling with my then-husband. Any attempts to discuss the issues led to an escalation of abuse. When my pastor accidentally broke my confidence in discussion with my then-husband, I was placed in harm’s way, and again received a tirade of abuse that left me trembling and sobbing. Thankfully, my pastor learned from that and was very careful not to inadvertently break my confidence again. He was also willing to listen to the advice of those who had more training in abuse than he did. It is an area which requires knowledge and understanding, and I know that his willingness to listen and learn from his mistakes had positive outcomes for me.
  4. I needed professional help to recover.
    I drew near to God, and dug deep into my Bible, but I am indebted to the Christian counsellor I worked with for many years, and still work with today. Romans 12:2 talks of not being conformed any longer to the world, but renewing our minds, so that we can work out what God’s will is. God used my counsellor mightily in that. So much in my thinking had been warped by abuse that I needed to re-evaluate everything I had ever learned or thought I knew about marriage, submission and headship. The process of sorting through what the Bible actually said and what had been twisted was long and arduous. The process still continues, and probably always will.
  5. I needed, and still need, clear and unambiguous teaching on these points.
    In renewing my mind, I didn’t and don’t want secular views to form the basis of my understanding. I don’t want to abandon biblical teachings on headship, respect, submission or divorce. I want my views and understanding to be rooted in the Bible and nothing else. Marriage is God’s good plan, and His intention and design for it are what I want and need to understand.  Abuse is not part of His plan, and it has warped my understanding. My last letter was a plea for ministers to understand that they can help immensely in this. I want to hear from preachers who’ve thought, prayed and read deeply about abuse and marriage, and can steer me past the rocks and the pitfalls that abuse created, and for which my often faulty prior understanding laid the groundwork. The best help I have in my recovery is understanding what God actually says about me, about the way I was treated and about marriage in general.

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