While researching whether it’s really okay for a Christian to leave an abusive marriage I ran across this post — Leaving Your Spouse Because of Abuse. Excellent! I could not have worded it better even if I tried.
When my ex walked out almost six years ago I struggled daily with knowing what to do — legal separation, reconciliation, divorce? Which direction was the best?
All I knew is that I never, ever wanted to live that life again. He left and now I felt like the ball was in my court. What I would do with it was not an easy decision even though it possibly should have been. Most people would say good, he’s gone, now you can get on with your life. But there were many factors which kept me immobilized and perhaps the biggest one of all was my faith.
You see, I wanted to be doubly sure that I was making the right decision. I needed to know without a doubt that whatever direction I chose would be in alignment with God’s will for my life. And all the wrongful teachings, which are so clear to me now, held me hostage to my doubts and fears.
Most people made sure I fully understood how much God hates divorce and that there are only two biblical reasons for divorce — sexual infidelity and abandonment. (Matt 5:32; I Cor 7:15) And interestingly, even though it was my ex who walked out, it was somehow up to me to reconcile. I alone was supposed to salvage a marriage which lay shattered in a million broken pieces, that even if I had chosen to try and fit them back together, there would still be cracks too large to ever hold back the mess within.
And for those who don’t know — it takes two committed people to make a marriage work.
I was reminded quite often how imperative it was for me as a Christian to do everything possible to save that marriage because divorce was somehow this unpardonable sin and a marriage contract not something to ever be dissolved. And honestly, that is partly what kept me waiting another whole year after he left to finally file for divorce. I didn’t want God to hate me or to make a choice which would forever keep me from being loved by Him. But I just could not go back to what had been — I just couldn’t.
Sadly, the one place where I expected to find support was one of the few places where I did. And those few in my church who did understand were not likely to openly show their support for my decision to end my marriage. Except — this one elderly couple who backed me all the way. They knew it was wrong what had been going on and they stood right beside me, much to my surprise. They offered encouragement when some others only offered condemnation, and they opened their hearts and the door to their house to me when I needed a place to go and cry out in despair.
They did not tell me how I needed to stay and suffer, for that is what a Christian has to do in this life. They did not tell me that they thought he was changing while ignoring the things he continued to do. They did not tell me that this was just my lot in life and one day I would receive the largest crown for staying and suffering (James 1:12) — and yes, I once had a pastor flippantly say that to me.
What they did tell me is that God hates abuse and abandonment in marriage; that divorce is not a sin; and that God loved me and my children so much that no matter what decision I felt needed to be made it would never, ever separate me from Him and His love for me.
What this elderly couple did during a very dark, confusing time of my life was to show God’s love towards me without any hint of condemnation or judgement.
I was not perfect in my first marriage. I said things I regretted and acted in ways that were unloving and selfish. BUT that did not excuse my ex’s behavior. It still was not okay that he talked to me in a demeaning, sarcastic way and hateful way, treating me as if I were a fool, and telling me such, without any remorse, regret or empathy. And it was not my problem — as he would often tell me — that his hate-filled words hurt and made me sad and angry. It was actually his problem which he never would own up to.
When you live with abuse for years you begin to have this warped thinking that what is happening is somehow your fault or at least in your control. If only you spoke softer, prayed harder and responded in a nonchalant way letting every little thing roll off your back it would all be different — it would get better. You often think and sometimes are told, how he would change if only you changed yourself. If only you were different — not so sensitive and had a better sense of humor. If only you would do things the ‘right’ way like normal people do them (and yes, he used to tell me that); if only you knew how to cook better; if only you had a better sense of style and were as pretty as the neighbor.
If only. Those two words can be enough to hold you hostage in a situation so destructive it leaves you a shell of a person.
And that’s where I was, a hostage by my own doing because I could not seem to be enough and yet somehow, someway I was supposed to make it all work.
I knew it was time to make a choice — a hard choice.
And I did. I chose what I felt was the best, perhaps only, direction to take after not seeing any concrete evidence that true change was taking place. (Galatians 5:22-23) And it was amazing how many people constantly tried to convince me of that.
I chose to divorce. Yes, there it is — that scarlet-drenched word. I would be branded with something for the rest of the my life that was not of my own doing if I wanted to have a life at all worth living. And yet that was how it felt and honestly, sometimes still does.
There will always be critics of us no matter what it is we are going through. There will be those who think we are making a bad decision, who criticize every move we make and judge us without walking one step in our shoes. But those voices need to be tuned out for those are usually people that have no real interest in us and our welfare anyway. And many times the loudest voice of them all is from our abuser. We’re told how we are destroying the family or not acting like a Christian or ruining their life. Funny isn’t it how many of the things the abuser criticizes us for is often exactly what they themselves do.
So how do you make those hard choices when so many around you criticize, judge and condemn, often throwing scripture at you to help make their point?
Making hard choices requires us to tune out everything except the one true voice, the only voice which matters.
“Be still and know that I am God…” ~Psalm 46:10a
I firmly believe that if we learn to still ourselves and find quiet in the chaos of life we can hear God speak to us. And the way God speaks to us is not in a loud audible voice booming down through the clouds — but more likely in a hushed little voice whispering affirmation while we pray or through a phone call from a dear friend when we feel hopeless or through the words of our morning devotional which seem to speak directly to our situation. No matter how He does it — God does speak to us if we are willing to hear.
I can now clearly see how God spoke to me many, many times over all those years in an abusive marriage, but like many people I was waiting for some lightening-bolt sign to come shooting down through the clouds. And while waiting and wondering if God truly cared for me and even heard my cries of despair I completely overlooked the fact that He was indeed speaking to me and giving me direction. It was right there all along — He spoke through people that came into my life, books that I read and most importantly through His Word.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” ~Proverbs 3:5-6
This scripture became my lifeline. It’s what I clung to and would meditate on daily. I began to trust that God would never leave me no matter the decision I made and instead of trying to make sense of everything happening in my life, I just let go and knew within my very soul that no matter what choice I made things would work out — God would work through it all.
I once read that God cannot come along side of us and lead us until we finally choose to take a step in some direction. God isn’t just going to try and push us this way or that. It’s up to us to say — “I trust you Lord and although I may not understand what all is happening or why, I trust that You will guide me as I step out in faith.”
Making a hard choice will never be, well, easy. But it will only be made harder when we continue to hold ourselves hostage to doubt, fear and the voices of condemnation and judgement not only from others, but from within ourselves too. The voice of God is loving and throws no stones, and He will guide us in the direction we need to go no matter the choices we make.
I will leave you with this thought from Joyce Meyers Facebook page:
“We need to start seeing ourselves the way God sees us, because it’s such a healing thing to begin to like yourself instead of being against yourself.”
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do firmly believe that no matter what direction we choose in this life God is always with us and guiding us along. We may make a wrong turn in this life and head in the wrong direction, but eventually God makes our paths straight so we can clearly see the right way.
May this Christmas season bring us back to what is truly most important in this life — the salvation of Jesus Christ. And may we open up this gift with a child-like joy and anticipation of only good things to come.