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A Practical Guide Through the Complexities of Domestic Abuse

All abusive situations are complicated. There is no easy way to navigate through the many complexities of abusive relationships. But God does not leave us alone or without help. There are practical ways to think about and respond to these relational disappointments.

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Over the years, the Lord has seen fit to bring me several women in oppressive marriages who needed my help. Few things in my life have driven me to prayer and intense study more than this has; after all, bad advice can be seriously harmful, either further crushing a suffering woman’s spirits or putting her in physical danger. Who wants a job like that?

If you are the kind of woman I’m talking about, my heart goes out to you. Are you seeking help? My previous articles are an excellent place to start to help you see your situation through God’s eyes and to help you tell your pastor or friend what kind of help you need.

My next question to you is a sober one: will you help them help you? Most pastors and counselors are not well equipped to handle a situation like yours. Some think they are prepared when they aren’t; others are terrified because they know they’re not. Will you do what you can to make this as easy on them as you can?

My appeal is a lot to ask, I know. You already feel afraid, confused, and like you are being held responsible for many things that aren’t yours to bear. You need care and support that you might not get. I’m asking you to do a hard thing, but I’m not asking you to do it alone.

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears (Psalm 18:1-6).

This perspective is not a call for you to trust in the outcome you want, dear friend; I’m asking you to trust the covenant-keeping God of the universe to go with you. For your sake, He did not spare His own Son; will He not freely give you all things? He knows your greatest need is Himself, and He gives Himself freely to those who ask Him to (Romans 8:28-32). I’m asking you to trust the process He’s laid out for you in His Word.

I don’t know what He will do for you, but I know Him. Can you see how the Psalmist praises God in the midst of his intense distress? Are you able to do the same? May I ask you to try?

High Water Mark

The easiest people for imperfect disciple-makers (which is all of us, without exception) to care for are humble, grateful, patient people. Our trials can either harden us, or they can make us like Christ, but they always reveal the constitution of our hearts. What is the heat of your life revealing about you, dear lady? Will you let the God who loves you skim off the dross of your heart and purify you (1 Peter 1:3-9)? Everyone has dross; I’m no different from you in that way. Will you pray this with me, as I pray it for you?

Lord, you have allowed this situation for Your glory and my good. I know that as well as I know my name, but I can’t see what You could possibly be doing right now. Will you help me to trust You? I am weak and frail, but you are my Rock and my Fortress. Protect Your child, God. I know my life and reputation are safe with You, and that You will be my defender.

Thank You that nothing and no one can make me sin against You. That is one thing my husband can never take from me, and how precious that is! Please forgive me for the ways I have chosen to dishonor You, specifically _______. Help me be like Jesus, who refused to sin against the people who were persecuting Him.

Thank you that He trusted You, feared You, and nothing and no one else (1 Peter 2:21-24). These verses are my life; please make me like my Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

I do not have the same tender feelings for my husband that I used to. Love as You define it may or may not be accompanied by feelings, but nothing can stop me from being patient, kind, and slow to anger—all the things you laid out for me in  1 Corinthians 13:1-13. As I am persecuted, may I look more and more like You, the great God who is the archetype of all those blessed attributes.

I know that my love for my husband may look like rebuking him, pursuing church discipline against him, calling the police, leaving and taking my children to a secret and safe place to stop his sin against us, or staying here and humbly trusting You. Please guide me, God, and give me and your precious church wisdom to help me with my decisions.

No matter what You do for me, will You help me love and trust You? Take glory for Yourself through me, dear God, for You alone are worthy of all praise.

Most of the women who come to us are not there yet. That’s ok. This appeal wasn’t meant to shame you, but to give you something to aim for. My plea to you is that you not demand that your husband follow God, while you give yourself permission to sin (Matthew 7:1-5). God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6); I want you to have His favor.

Proud Mary

Some ladies are more challenging to help. If what I am about to say describes you, please don’t lose heart, and please don’t become angry. I want to help you honor the Lord and receive the best care you can. The lady I’m thinking of now is like a wounded animal. She’s been treated horrifically throughout her life, and now she doesn’t know friend from foe. I have a special love for her.

She is very much like someone with the world’s worst sunburn. She needs care and correction, but she will run if I bring too much, too soon. On the other hand, if I defend and advocate for her too strongly, I may influence her to become entrenched in self-righteousness. I feel like I’m walking in a minefield.

I want to tell her that she won’t present well to her pastors, counselors, or a judge in court if she shows a lot of emotion—especially anger—in their office. She should be allowed to agree with God about what happened to her (Psalm 11:5, Proverbs 6:16-19), even though she will need help seeing God’s redemptive purposes in her pain over time, and loving help not to murder her husband in her heart. But angry women are rarely taken seriously. She has to stay calm.

If I tell her this, though, I risk encouraging her to present a falsehood instead of the truth to her would-be helpers. If her demeanor is a façade and not true, Spirit-wrought self-control (John 8:44), I might help her manipulate the people she wants help from.

I could unwittingly help her harden her conscience (Hebrews 3:12-13) when what she needs most is to move toward humility and transparency. I would be helping her trust in her ability to control the situation, rather than the God who controls all things.

If she cares less about honoring God than she does getting the result she wants, she may do whatever is asked of her at the time, anticipating a change in circumstance as a result. In a sense, she makes her helpers into functional gods: she doesn’t love them like she thinks she does, even though she’s sincerely grateful for them until they can’t deliver what she hopes for.

They may be some of the only people in her life who genuinely love her and are for her, but she may feel betrayed by them and lash out in anger, even casting them aside, because her husband didn’t change, or because they offered some desperately needed biblical correction to her.

In the worst of these cases, it’s as if the enemy gets a two-for-one: both the husband and the wife bear his image and become liars (John 8:44), slanderers (1 Timothy 3:11), and accusers (Revelation 12:10), instead of reflecting Christ.

A Thousand Caveats

Most women who come for help are somewhere on the spectrum between the two I’ve described. Will you prayerfully look at both and ask God to show you where you are? Please don’t feel the need to defend yourself against the God who loves you (1 John 1:9). Saying the same thing that He does about your sins, as well as your identity, is your path to freedom (Romans 8:1).

If you’re in physical danger, please don’t wait for permission to leave. If you’re safe for now, will you ask for help, doing your best to be a joy to serve? Meekness is not weakness. Please communicate your needs and wants to the people caring for you. Print out some articles to take along if they will be helpful to you.

If your pastors, friends, and counselors are not familiar with the dynamics of manipulation and oppression, they will need help understanding you and your situation. They can’t know what they don’t know, so please be patient with them, even if they don’t believe you at first. Assume they love the Lord, His Word, and you, and that they would help you if they only knew how to. The Lord can be trusted with your reputation, and He can change hearts and minds.

Living under oppression can make you feel crazy and can confuse your view of reality. You need to be aware that this won’t go away immediately, and that you can’t trust everything you think. I pray that your church is a place that can help you see clearly, and help you heal. There may come a day when you have to leave. I pray you won’t do so lightly.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17–18).

“For Matt. Thank you for your loving leadership, and for helping me see my blind spots.” – Brandi

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