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From Edith:

LORD, I FIND IT DIFFICULT to tell my story. Sometimes I forget the details. I forget the conflict. I forget the emotions because you have helped me to overcome. If it is your will, help me to recall as if it was yesterday.

 I remember searching for you because I felt lonely and needed your peace. I needed your peace in my time of storm. My life was a storm then. My marriage had fallen apart and the abuse had intensified. In my mind, I felt like I was locked in prison. Instead of loving me, my husband made me fear him. Yet you made me feel like I was in the eye of the storm— all around me was chaos, but you kept me in a place of peace and calmness.

 You, Lord, were like the light that brightens the ground after a storm. The peace and beauty you showed me motivated me to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to worship you. I was eager to meditate on your Word because I knew that in you alone I would find my strength and peace. 

Although I had your peace, I still found myself wanting answers from you. I remember struggling and wrestling with you. I remember asking the “why” questions. I remember questioning my faith. If I had faith, then why wasn’t my husband changing?

 I remember being told that my relationship with my husband is the same as my relationship with God. WOW! Will I ever have a good relationship with you since my relationship with my husband is cool and distant?

 I remember asking the questions about forgiveness. Does it mean I haven’t forgiven my husband because I react to his behaviors? If I have forgiven, why does he provoke the same emotions as before?

 What about suffering? We are supposed to persevere in our sufferings. I remember someone using 1 Peter 2 to demonstrate that I must persevere in my sufferings. Is my relationship with my husband the same as a slave to his master? I am commanded to respect my husband, but am I a slave? Am I a slave to be beaten by my master? Sarah called her husband “master,” but Abraham loved his wife and always protected her. If he is my master, as Abraham was Sarah’s, he should protect and not hurt me.

 What about the instructions to submit? Was I submissive enough? Does submission mean that I do not have any input in the decision-making process and must do everything he tells me to do? Does it mean I stand still while he screams at me with degrading and belittling names in the presence of my children? Doesn’t that tell him and my children that it is OK for someone to call someone else stupid or degrading names?

 What a dilemma! I constantly felt guilty, fearful, anxious, angry, shameful, hopeless, and helpless. I felt guilty because I thought about giving up on my marriage. Does it mean that I am impatient to wait for change? Did that mean I didn’t trust you to change my situation?

 But during my times of confusion, you were there. You showed me that the solution was to separate and escape the abuse. I struggled with this solution because I did not want to break my marriage covenant and my understanding of your scriptures. I wanted my reasons to leave to be based on biblical convictions.

 I examined scriptures that dealt with marriage and divorce and found that adultery was a reason for divorce (Matthew 19:9). My husband committed adultery, but I forgave him for that. I thought about leaving after a bad beating, and had him arrested, but ended up taking him back.

 Ultimately, I developed a personal conviction and left my marriage because of the psychological and physical abuse. No one deserves to be beaten down physically and emotionally, especially by a person who professes to love her. In Malachi 2:16, you said you hate divorce but you also “hate a man’s covering himself with violence.”

 When I accepted Christ as my Lord, you gave me the same inheritance as every other Christian. You love me same as everyone else in your family. You love me and don’t want me to be abused.

 Edith’s story is from my book, A Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman. Her story is my story and the stories of most abused Christian women. Her interaction with God encapsulates the spiritual conflict or dilemma that is experienced by any Christian woman.

The term “spiritual dilemma” was taken from When Violence Begins at Home by K. J. Wilson. Spiritual dilemmas relate to the feeling of abandonment by God, the reason for suffering, the benefit of submission, and the justification for separation or divorce.1

I like this term because it exemplifies the inner struggles that the Christian woman is faced with as she experiences domestic abuse. Whatever she does to resolve her situation will have unpleasant outcomes or result in a double whammy.

I remember searching for a deeper understanding of the attributes of God during my abusive relationship. I dug into the scriptures to gain wisdom and to find meaning in my experience of my abuse. During this quest, I struggled with God just like Edith. Why was he allowing me to suffer? Why wasn’t God changing my husband? Was it because I had hidden sins? Didn’t I have faith? Wasn’t I submissive enough?  Did thinking about divorce mean that I was impatient and didn’t trust God to change my situation? Those were the types of questions I was asking God.

I believed then that my struggle with God was unique and that my emotional reactions were also unique. I wish I knew what I know now that other Christian women were having the same feelings. This knowledge might have saved me from suffering alone.

Later in the relationship, the book that helped me recognized that I wasn’t alone was Marie Fortune’s Keeping the Faith. She brought to light the questions that I was asking myself about my relationship, about God, and my reaction to what others were telling me about my relationship.

Most Christian women endure these conflicting emotions towards God alone. And when the abuse is exposed the well-meaning advice of others makes her situation worse. When the woman tells about her conflicts, the response she gets is often one of judgment and blame. As a result, she learns to internalized her suffering.

It is essential that we identify and address the woman’s spiritual conflicts and help her to resolve them. When we do, she will develop her convictions and feel empowered to break free from the bonds of domestic abuse. Her power is the choice she makes to stop the violence.

In my next series of blogs, I will address the spiritual dilemmas from the perspective of the abused Christian woman. I will use my experience, along with those experiences of other abused Christian women that I have met. I believe that when the woman understands her dilemma, she can then change her misconceptions about God and receive the strength she needs to resolve her situation.

God gives his wisdom freely to anyone who seeks him. James 1:5 states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” When we gain wisdom from the scriptures, it has the power to set us free. When we break free, then through God can help others do the same.

Next Blog: The Abused Christin Woman: Why Am I Suffering?

1K.J. Wilson, When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse (Alameda: Hunter House, 1997), 181.

 

 

 

 

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I never thought that I would find myself in an abusive relationship. My parents never raised an unkind hand against me. My mother died when I was nine years old. Even though my father was seldom involved in my upbringing, my memories of our interactions are pleasant. I was sent to religious school from kindergarten to high school. The Bible stories taught during those years helped me to develop a moral conscience, which enabled me to see the good in others. I believe that good has the power to overcome evil.

As I reflect, I ask myself how I could have ever become entangled in an abusive relationship. Many factors played a role. For starters, there was fear of judgment and rejection by others, a sense of failure, and the hope that he could change. The important factors, though, were denial, fear, and love. I will discuss fear and love in future blogs. For now, I want to talk about denial.

It is amazing what denial can do. As an emergency room nurse, I took care of women who had been brutally beaten by their partners. These women excused their partners’ actions. I imaged I would never act this way, even as I was making excuses for my husband’s behaviors. I remember watching the movie The Color Purple. All the belittling and degrading exhibited by Celie’s husband, and her reactions to it, were similar to what I was experiencing in my relationship. And yet I could not emotionally connect to it.

Denial keeps you from dealing with the reality of what is happening. It unconsciously protects you from emotions that you are unable to tolerate, and so you suppress them. It makes it easy to tell yourself and to persuade others that the abuse is not happening. Denial says the truth is not real.

When the truth cannot be ignored, then denial is ready with excuses. It says your partner called you hurtful names and hit you because he was under stress. It says you are overreacting.

Even though he hit you and might have injured you, you believe he won’t kill you. Denial allows you to accept that type of thinking. Consequently, it puts you in danger. We hear stories of women who denied that their abusers would kill them, and yet they lost their lives.

Denial helps you cope with the violence. You come to believe that everything is OK. You desperately cling to the hope that things can change. “Be patient,” you tell yourself, “he will change.” And you look for behaviors that feed this hope. For example, when he makes small gestures of kindness, like taking you to dinner or buying you flowers, it props up the hope that he will change.

However, using denial over time stops the inner alarm that warns us of the danger. Our alarms activate our “fight or flight” response to make us aware that what we are facing is not good for us. When denial is overused in a situation of repeated harm, it turns off that alarm. When your body’s signal is turned off, it loses its fighting ability, leading to hopelessness and helplessness.

I wish I knew then what I know now: Denial hindered my ability to see how I was emotionally and physically exposing myself to danger.

Denial also stops you from relating to others. When others are talking about their experiences, you hold to minor differences to prove that your experience is different. “My partner doesn’t do that, or say that.” Therefore, your situation is different from mine. Denial allows you to believe that since he is not behaving like everyone else he is not abusive.

In reality, the minor differences mean nothing. Each abuser might use different tactics. Yet, the end goal of the abusive behavior is the same: control. The motive behind the actions is to control the one being abused. Understanding that fact was empowering for me.

Even among people who are highly educated, denial is common. Women who have authority at their jobs and the resources to protect themselves use denial a lot. It is shameful, embarrassing, and humiliating for a strong woman to admit that her partner is abusive. This denial might even stop the woman from being open about the abuse when she leaves the relationship, resulting in adverse effects on her healing process. I have encountered many educated women who left their abusers and have moved on with their lives without addressing the violence but are still showing the emotional scar of the abuse.

Unless we are open about what is going on in the relationship, we cannot break the walls of denial. Breaking the walls of denial requires being honest and exposing the truth. We have to expose the abuse, whether past or present, for what it is and ask for help.

It was hard to admit that I was in an abusive relationship. The shame and humiliation that it produced were overwhelming. Even to this day, I have some of those emotions. What do others think of me? Will they believe my story, or will they think that I am out to smear the good name of my ex-husband? Will they see me as being weak? But you, like me, must recognize that we can’t break the bonds of abuse if we don’t acknowledge the truth about what has happened to us. As John 8:32 tells us, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Just as important as knowing the truth is speaking it. Validating our stories is the first step toward empowerment. If you are in an abusive relationship or have left one, find a safe place, like a domestic violence center in your community, or an empathic listener to tell your story to. You no longer have to wear the mask of denial.

When you tell your story to an empathic listener, you change your brain’s neural pathways, thereby allowing you to change your story. When you change your story, you change your life. When you integrate your story with God’s story, life-sustaining changes occur! -Curt Thompson M.D., Anatomy of the Soul

 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).”

Next Blog: Understanding Abuse: Fear

Purchase my book on Amazon: A Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman

Please check out my website: rosesaad.com

 

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