Recently, a blogger who writes about abusive relationships wrote something along the lines of — “Instead of asking the question, “Why didn’t she just leave?” maybe we should be asking, “Why did he hurt her?” How true! Why is it the most common question often regarding abuse puts the burden of the issue on the victim? Why is the victim the one questioned about why she was abused, instead of questioning the abuser as to why he chose to hurt the one he vowed to love, cherish and protect?
Why is that?
Perhaps the more important question should be — why do churches so often protect the abuser and shun the victim?
Aren’t we as Christians called to love one another and to take a stand against evil? If so, then why do we love the abuser and treat victims as the evil ones? Seems rather backwards.
I believe one of the reasons this happens is simply ignorance. The fact is, many people have no clue about the dynamics of an abusive relationship and while they may truly have good intentions, often their advice will cause more harm than good. While others simply find it easier to ignore or sidestep the issue and not get involved.
In an abusive marriage, a woman hardly ever feels heard or has her feelings validated, and while yearning to feel love and understood, she is often met with a lack of compassion and caring.
As a body of believers, there are a few things which can be done to help give the victim a voice and the courage to take a stand against the abuse — and become free.
First off, an abuse victim needs to be heard. She needs to feel safe in telling her story and part of feeling safe is having the trust that she will be listened to and accepted for what can be very painful and even embarrassing to share. She doesn’t need anyone diminishing her experience by telling her that every marriage is hard work or perhaps she is doing something to provoke the abuser. She often just needs someone to put a hand on her shoulder and ask to hear her story.
Second, the victim needs love and understanding, instead of being judged and condemned. She does not need to be admonished for not trying hard enough, not being respectful enough or not submitting more as if she is the cause of the abuse. She simply needs people who will stand with her in love and offer her help in whatever capacity she needs, even if they may not completely understand her situation. Lend her an ear when she needs to talk and offer her a shoulder to cry on.
And third, a victim needs to know that God loves her and no choice she makes will ever take away His love or salvation from her. She does not need pieces of scripture heaved onto her already heavily-burdened shoulders to make her feel guilty or doubtful about her situation. Most victims who are Christians already believe God will be disappointed with them if they leave their marriage or that they don’t have enough faith because their marriage is in shambles. So instead of perpetuating those lies, remind her that God loves her no matter what path she chooses and that her worth is in the Lord, not in man.
“Being alone may scare you, but abuse will scar you.”
Why didn’t I just leave an abusive marriage? The answer is so very complex — there were so many reasons — and even to this day I’m not sure I have a black and white answer, but fear was certainly a huge factor for me. Fear of the unknown, fear of what others would think — fear of God turning his back on me. But I realize now that my fear was so misplaced and came from a place of ignorance more than anything. While people from my former church admonished me with things like — “God hates divorce”; “We are all sinners”; “You need to forgive and forget”; and “Hurting people hurt others” — I was left feeling hopeless and fearful of losing God’s love. And I let that fear develop until I was keeping myself trapped in an unhealthy and unsafe marriage, becoming a shell of a person — being destroyed from the inside out. I actually find it humorous now how hard I tried to be the good little Christian wife to a man who acted nothing like a godly man who is to love his wife and lay down his life for her — yet it was me who was treated like I didn’t care about my marriage or keeping it together.
The wounds which no one could see, had been festering for decades and destroying my very soul and inner being, until one day, I said no more — Enough! Over the years I’ve had people tell me how strong I am, but honestly, the only time I remember being strong was the day I chose to turn my ears from all those insane words hurled at me and instead turn my focus to God’s Word. And what I found in Him was so opposite of what many were trying to have me believe. I repeatedly discovered that no matter my choices His Love never ends and He would never walk away from me — and He sees me as worthy, even when others made me feel less than. How sad when you think about that — how truly sad that Christians would make a fellow believer feel unworthy and less than for trying to save our own life and that of her children from a destructive situation.
Why didn’t I just leave an abusive marriage? Why did I stay so long? So many reasons but perhaps it’s really clearer than I realize. The judgement and condemnation from a place where I should have received love and support, left me feeling doubtful and even questioning my faith, which in turn made me feel like I needed to stay in an abusive marriage to prove how strong my faith was.
About a year before my ex walked out, a former neighbor who is a pastor said to me with a smile on his face, that one day I would receive a huge crown filled with jewels for staying and enduring, after he had witnessed an incident where my then-husband was being verbally abusive. Another pastor of a former church shared with me many years ago about my then-husband getting nose-to-nose with him at a men’s breakfast and through a clenched jaw angrily telling the pastor he did not have an anger problem, and this same pastor, the year my ex walked out on me, called me to his office to make sure I understood how expensive a divorce would be while trying to convince me how my ex seemed to be changing. As I write of these memories, I can only shake my head in disbelief at what these two men, leaders of churches, and others believed and tried to make me believe.
“Why doesn’t a victim of abuse just leave?” Perhaps because she is truly trying to do the right thing, and hoping and praying that one day her continuing to endure the abuse will cause some miraculous change in her abuser. Perhaps she has come to believe that staying and suffering is somehow pleasing to God because it shows her faith is strong. And perhaps — just perhaps — she stays far too long because those in the very place which should have come alongside of her and helped her out of an abusive situation, chose instead to wrongfully turn the other way after offering bits of judgement and pieces of condemnation.
Why didn’t I just leave?
“Why did he abuse?”