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“Submission” is a word that, when associated with relationships, provokes strong feelings. As a result of my own experiences, the word gives me a surge of nausea and the urge to defend myself. Then my anger comes to the surface because I feel that I am going to be judged or blamed for not doing something. This type of reaction comes from the word itself and what it implies. It usually implies subordination or obedience to someone. You are subordinate, and another person has power over you.

This meaning is evident in society’s view of male/female roles. The male is expected to be in charge. Also, our religious teachings help maintain this idea. It seems that, when submission is discussed, an inference is made that someone is doing something wrong. In most cases, it is the fault of the woman because our religious teachings state that she is called to submit to her husband.

The problem here is, most of the scriptures that are used to defend submission are taken out of context, or that emphasis is placed on a part and not on the whole. I recall listening to numerous sermons on relationships. At first, I was excited because I expected the speaker to describe submission, and that I would hear the word “abuse” and “what submission is not.” But that never happened. Instead, the sermons raised more questions than they answered.

I often used to ask myself, “What is submission?” Does it mean I must stand and do nothing while my husband screams and calls me things no woman should be called?  And that he could physically attack me without fear of being called to account for his actions. Should I keep letting him squander our money and not intervene? Does he have complete power to make all the decisions concerning the household? Am I responsible only for taking care of the children and the house? With no answers to these questions, I could only feel guilt and self-blame, and the belief that I wasn’t submissive enough.

One of the scriptures that are taken out of context, to the detriment of abused women everywhere is Ephesians 5:22-24:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (NIV)

After reading this scripture, my brain would focus on a few words in the passage and miss the overall meaning. I would fix my attention on the statement “wives should submit to their husbands in everything,” which was taken to literally mean I was to let him control all areas of my life.

The concentration on these few sentences in Ephesians 5 is often applied to women who are in abusive marriages. The first sentence in verse 22, “wives submit yourselves to your own husbands,” is usually the primary focus when they seek help for their relationships. It took me a while to redirect my attention and read the passages in their entirety to understand what Paul was saying.

Look closely at this scripture: it has a pretty clear directive of how we should submit. First, it states, “as you do to the Lord.” What does it mean to submit to the Lord? Is our Lord Jesus an abuser? We can all answer with a resounding NO! He was never unkind to anyone, even when he rebuked the Pharisees. He spoke the truth. He wasn’t mean-spirited or manipulative. He was filled with love and compassion, as seen during his interactions with all people, and especially with women.

When we as Christians submit to Christ, we are making him the Lord of our lives and an example to follow. We promise to do what he will do, which means, not concealing the sins of others.

This verse goes on to state that wives should submit as “the church submits to Christ.” How does the church submit to Christ? The church is supposed to reflect Christ and be the beacon of hope for others, and not keep silent when some of its members are suffering unjustly. The church’s role is to help its members follow Christ. As Christians, we shouldn’t let someone who is not following Christ set the example for us to follow.

Besides, submission goes both ways. It says in Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Both husband and wife should submit to one another out of respect for Christ. We have to do what Christ would do, not what we would do. Our love for Christ has to be the motivator as we follow him.

We are also called to submit to the rulers of the land. “Submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every human authority … or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14, NIV). As Christian wives, we receive conflicting messages: we are told to bring charges against a stranger who assaults us, but we must take no action when our husband is the assailant. As a result, we are being asked to break the laws of the land by covering up our partners’ abuses.

When the word submission is not specific as “what is” and “what is not,” it makes it easy to accept abuse. As I look back, I wish I had heard what submission is not. Maybe it might have helped me to gain the insight that my submissive behaviors weren’t Jesus’s expectation of me. Now I know and believe that the purpose of submission was never intended to cover up someone else’s sins. Submission doesn’t mean we submit to verbal abuse, physical assault, or rape. It doesn’t say we should allow our partners to separate us from our family or friends. Nor does it deny us the right to speak our minds or exercise our right to partake in decisions that impact our lives.

Check out this link to read more about what submission is not.

When we speak out against our abuse and when we demand that our partners stop abusing us, then we are truly submitting to Christ. And we are obeying his instructions to submit to the laws of the land when we seek legal recourse against those who refuse to stop hurting us.

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February 2, 2018 0 comment
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1 Peter 2: 21–23 states, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate. When he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

I met a woman who had left her violent husband and was going through divorce proceedings. She was angry at the legal system for allowing her husband to stretch out the process. She felt that, due to his status in the military, the judge was lenient with him and accepted his excuses to constantly reschedule the hearings. Rescheduling was a financial burden for her because she had to pay for her lawyer’s time with each new change. Yet her anger at her husband’s manipulating the courts was nothing compared to her feelings towards God. At any mention of God, her body stiffened and her language was overcome with emotion. “God? Where is God? Why is he allowing me to suffer? How can he let my husband get away with the pain he’s causing?” Her tone of voice was so intense that it made me want to leave the room.

“Where is God?” “Why is he is allowing me to suffer?” “Why has he abandoned me?” These are questions that many Christian women ask when they are experiencing domestic violence. I used to ask myself the same questions. As Christians, we often turn to the scriptures to explain our suffering. They are used to justify the reasons for our suffering. In 1 Peter 2 we are told, “Didn’t Christ suffer unjustly?” He suffered physical pain and false accusations. He was spat on, called names, and made the center of cruel jokes, but he didn’t retaliate. Since he suffered in silence and did not retaliate, we too are expected to do likewise and follow in his footsteps.

But when 1 Peter is used to justify our sufferings, it makes it easy to accept abuse, and it also produces guilt. We feel guilty because our suffering is less than what Jesus experienced on the cross. I felt guilty because I wasn’t suffering as much as Jesus was suffering. Therefore, by this logic, I had no right to complain. When we think this way, we accept abuse and come to believe that we are following Christ’s footsteps.

We are told that our abusive marriage is our “cross to bear,” that it is God’s will for our lives. Our suffering is rationalized with scriptures like Matthew 16:24, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” and Luke 14:27, “You cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross, and follow me” (NLT).

The question here is, what is the cross we have to bear? Is it our “cross” to be beaten until we cannot see through our blackened eyes or speak through swollen lips? Is every vicious act our “cross?” Does bearing our cross mean we must accept insults, physical threats, or separation from our friends and family?

One of the books that helped me decide that my suffering was neither my cross nor God’s will for my life was, No Place for Abuse, by Catherine Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark. They point out that Christ went to the cross voluntarily. His suffering was for a greater good, which is salvation for all. Carrying our cross means surrendering to God and allowing Christ to lead us, and not to be led by the sinful actions of others.

The suffering experienced in an abusive relationship is involuntary and has no benefit to anyone, not even the abuser. Where are the good results from the abuse? Is standing and letting someone inflict pain doing any good or saving anyone? Did you choose to be beaten or verbally insulted? I am pretty sure that no one enters a relationship knowing she is going to be hurt. And surely no one believes that putting up with the violence will stop it. I have yet to meet a woman whose suffering caused her abusive partner to clean up his act.

Covering up someone else’s sins and quietly accepting abuse is not the kind of suffering that leads to good results. It only allows the abuser to dodge the consequences of his cruelty.

Also, surrendering to God’s will does not mean accepting senseless suffering and the abuser’s lack of remorse. Yes, the word senseless is appropriate when we suffer at the hands of someone who professes to love us.

Carrying our cross does not mean accepting every mistreatment by others, especially when God has given us the power to make changes. Abuse destroys the souls of both victim and abuser. When I finally accepted these facts, I was able to set boundaries and seek accountability for my ex-husband’s actions.

What about you? God loves you. And, as his daughter, you have a much higher calling than to be a victim. You don’t need to suffer senselessly. Jesus has freed you from oppression (Luke 4: 18–19) and will bind and heal your broken heart (Isaiah 61: 1–2). That means that he has set you free from abuse and will comfort you when you suffer. Since he has set you free, you need no longer be burdened by the bondage of abuse (Galatians 5: 1).

He wants you to live life to the fullest (John 10: 10), which means a life free of violence for you and your children. When Jesus was crucified, he took upon himself the suffering deserved by all sinners. Therefore, you don’t have to suffer as he did. 1 Peter 2: 24 states, “He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross. So, we can be dead to sins and live for what is right” (NLT). Do what is right by exposing the abuse and seeking accountability which is repentance. Repentance means showing remorse and making amends for the suffering he caused. Making amends at the very least is that he stops abusing you.

Next Blog: The Christian Abused Woman: What Submission is Not

*No Place for Abuse: Biblical & Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence by Catherine Clark Kroeger & Nancy Nason-Clark

Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman by Rose Saad

 

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January 12, 2018 1 comment
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Liz Brody’s article, “Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships,” in http://www.glamour.com, compiled data from an online survey of 2,500 women ages 18-35. According to this survey, the number one reason why these women stayed in their abusive relationships was love. I believe most people marry because of love. Love is the glue that holds a relationship together.

Love allows us to see the good in others, despite their flaws. It gives us faith in them. It enables us to envision their full potential, to look beyond the gloomy present and see the shiny future. Most importantly, love keeps hope alive. Hope for change. Hope for a better tomorrow.

I married out of love. When I met my Xavier, I saw his ability to make his dream come true. I could relate to his dreams and plans. As a team, I believed that we would fulfill those dreams together. I had faith in him even when I saw his flaws. I believed that he could change.

He behaved in ways that looked an awful lot like love. For example, he bought me gifts and flowers, took me to dinner, and attended to my physical needs. All these actions “proved” that he loved me.

Then, when the abuse began to worm its way into the relationship, my view of love became skewed. How could he say he loved me when his actions showed otherwise? How could he whisper sweet words of love to me one moment, and then a few hours later belittle and degrade me? Even though I couldn’t make sense of his behaviors, I still needed to be loved by him. Therefore, I made it my responsibility to make him so happy that he could feel loved enough to love me back.

When that didn’t happen, I internalized that I wasn’t good enough. There was something wrong with me. Or maybe I wasn’t smart enough to know his needs. But to arrive at this kind of thinking, I had to discard my own belief of love and accept his version.

To accept his abuse and still believe that he loved me was incredibly dysfunctional. I wish I knew then what I know now: I had embraced a sick view of love from a person who did not know what healthy love was, let alone how to give it. I wish I also knew that he wasn’t the giver of the love that I needed to nourish my well-being.

My definition of love wasn’t healthy either. I had come to believe that my happiness and self-worth was the result of another person’s actions towards me. When I left my husband, I had to work on re-learning love, especially self-love. I had to go back to the ultimate giver and source of love, which is God. I had to redefine love and embrace that love in order to heal.

To a Christian, God is the wellspring of love. The bible says God is love. It is he who is the giver of love, not out partners. Let’s see how scripture defines love and compare it to the behaviors seen in our abusive relationships. I will paraphrase the definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. (I will be quoting from my book, A Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman.)

What is love and what is not love?

Love is… patient.

Love allows for your faults without criticizing everything you do. It doesn’t harp on your mistakes to belittle you. It guides you patiently through difficulties by teaching you to overcome your challenges.

Love is… kind.

Love is empathic and compassionate. It produces goodness. It doesn’t make you feel “stupid,” “lazy,” “useless,” “like a failure,” or “unwanted.” It does not ridicule you. It always strives to bring comfort and joy, not fear or pain.

Love is not… jealous.

Love is trusting, not suspicious. It does not spy on you or gather information to use against you. It does not stalk you. Nor does it try to separate you from your friends and family. Love always expects the best and gives you the benefit of the doubt.

Love is not… boastful or proud.

Love is humble. It does not need to be superior or make others feel that they are wrong. Love listens and seeks input. It accepts responsibility rather than seeking blame.

Love is not… rude.

Love is respectful and considerate. It is not aggressive. It does not seek to degrade. Love does not ignore your presence. Love respects you and your needs.

Love does not… demand its own way.

Love thrives on freedom. Where there is love, there is freedom. Love does not demand “my way or the highway”. It is not controlling. It respects your right to make choices, even when they are sometimes wrong. Love accepts and rejoices in the individuality and uniqueness of every one of us.

Love is not… irritable.

Love is self-controlled. It is not easily angered, overly emotional, out of control, and does not experience “fits of rage.” Love is calm and accepts others’ weaknesses and differences.

Love does not… keep a record of wrongs.

Love is forgiving. It does not undermine or erode your confidence by keeping a record of your mistakes. It does not hold grudges. Love moves forward, rather than dwelling on the past.

Love does not… rejoice about injustices.

Love embraces justice. It does not take away your moral and legal rights, which include the right to speak your mind or participate in the decision-making processes, as well as the right to privacy. It does not take away your right to socialize or have your own personal friendships. It does not view its own rights and needs as more important than yours. Love recognizes the value and equality of others.

Love rejoices when truth wins.

Love cannot lie. It never deceives. Love does not keep secrets or twist reality. Rather, it celebrates when the truth is spoken. It does not hide abuse but exposes it. Love is honest and open because it has nothing to hide.

Love never… loses faith.

Love is faithful. It has faith in you and your good character. It has faith in your abilities and accomplishments. Love leads you to believe in yourself.

Love is… always hopeful.

Love has high hopes for the future. It expects improvement and growth. Love seeks ultimate joy and peace for others.

Love endures through every circumstance.

Love does not change with the circumstances. It does not use bad circumstances or outside influences as an excuse for doing wrong or hurting someone. Love endures patiently to achieve what is right.

Love will… last forever.

Love never dies. It does not show itself only when things are going well. It does not disappear during disagreements or conflicts. Love lasts forever.

Form the scriptural definition of love, we can all see that we were not loved in our abusive relationships. Our abusers’ actions did not demonstrate love. To move forward, we have to go to the source of love and embrace God’s love so that we can love ourselves and then love others. When we embrace God’s love, we are empowered to break free from the shackles of abuse.

Paul knew that our inner power is established in understanding God’s love, so he prayed for us in Ephesians 3:16-19: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Put your hope and trust in God’s love. Let your roots grow deeper in his marvelous love so that you may receive the power that comes only from God. This power will allow you to discard all of your dysfunctional forms of love and to love yourself and others the way he intended.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9).

Next blog: Understanding Abuse: The Abused Christian Woman

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November 17, 2017 0 comment
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During my ten years of marriage, I wasn’t aware that the abuse I was experiencing was infecting my physical and emotional well-being. It took a while to recognize the symptoms of abuse and its invasion of my psyche. Just like a disease, when you don’t heed the signs early on, it spreads and will take more effort to treat. Anxiety, fear, low self-esteem, and the sense of helplessness all impaired my healing process.

Subtle behaviors exhibited by my husband and the transformation of my thinking made it difficult for me to identify that I was in an abusive relationship. Take the example of his ignoring my presence when he walked into the room. I didn’t know that sort of behavior is emotional abuse.

My culture and religious beliefs also played a role in concealing the fact that his controlling behaviors were abusive. For example, he made all the major decisions without my input. I grew up in a culture where the husband is in charge of the household. Also, my religious beliefs reinforced that I had to submit to the man’s leadership. With these types of beliefs, it was easy to let go of all the decision-making power even when his choices were bad ones.

I would spend nearly all day ruminating about his behaviors to make sense of them. If he said, “You didn’t clean the house, so that’s why I screamed at you,” then I believed him and found myself cleaning the house to please him. But that rarely happened; in most cases, he didn’t even acknowledge the house was clean. Instead, he found something new to complain about.

When I asked him the reasons for his anger, his response was usually, “You didn’t do what I told you to do” or “You don’t listen.” His answers didn’t make sense. How does leaving a dirty spoon in the sink lead to being called a stupid bitch?

My rational mind wanted to understand his actions. I began to create reasons to justify his behaviors. I figured maybe he had a rough day at work or he didn’t mean to do it. My answers made it easy to accept his behaviors.

I often hear people ask, “Why didn’t you guys communicate?” That question assumes that the reason for the abuse was poor communication. The reality is that abusers use the communication process as a tool for control.

For instance, there was the time when I tried to talk about our finances. I needed him to contribute more to the household budget because I wasn’t earning enough to pay for what he had assigned as my portion of the expenses. I went into the communication process for understanding and assistance, but he simply retorted that I was careless with money and didn’t know how to budget.

I left the conversation feeling at fault for spending too much money, which was simply not the case. The truth was, I was spending every penny of my income on childcare and household expenses.

I didn’t know then that his goal during the communication process was to create self-doubt. He twisted my words around to blame me. As a result, I left the conversation questioning my competence. I accepted his reality that my financial difficulty was because I was irresponsible with money.

This type of communication was evident in all areas of the relationship. I got into a conversation with a goal and left feeling that I’d done something wrong. I wish I knew what I know now: these types of behaviors are emotional and financial abuse.

Over time, the abuse had an impact on my rational mind. I was unaware that I was changing. I disregarded my reality and accepted his reality as the truth. It was like brainwashing: you accept and believe your captor’s truth.

This lack of awareness was seen in my reaction when Xavier physically assaulted me. My response was to tell him I hadn’t done anything wrong—as if to say, he had the right to hit me if I did do something he didn’t like. It took the transformation of my thought process to get to where it was easy to accept abuse.

What is domestic violence? Check out this link: http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/  

It is important that we understand the dynamics of abuse and how it affects us so that we can break the cycle. We don’t have to take the abuse. There are resources to help us break the bonds of abuse and find healing.

Check out my website, rosesaad.com for links to resources.

Next blog, Understanding Abuse: Denial

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).”

 

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October 6, 2017 0 comment
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