“Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For it flatters him in his own eyes concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it. The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit; He has ceased to be wise and to do good. He plans wickedness upon his bed; He sets himself on a path that is not good; He does not despise evil.” Psalm 36:1-4
During a conversation with a young woman outside a local church, she began to timidly open up about how terrified she was to go home. Try as she might, she simply could not hold herself together. She began to tremble, the tears began to flow, and her voice broke as she shared that she was praying for clarity with regard to her relationship with her admittedly abusive husband. I listened intently and then said as gently as I could, “I think those tears are providing you with all the clarity you need.” And as the truth slowly began to sink in, she wiped her eyes and nodded in solemn agreement.
I have no idea how long she had been carrying that heavy burden, but I found it tragically ironic when I discovered that she was employed at that church. I had to wonder how many people in her circle had been aware of her torment and whether those same people told her all the things she “just” needed to do to minister to her wayward husband and save their marriage.
It seems that most of us have all been fed a sampling of these trite little clichés, a list of vaguely passive assignments that will most assuredly bring about the restoration of our marriages if we will “just” do them. “Just keep praying for your husband,” your pastor might offer. Or a close friend might encourage you to “Just be more kind and submissive.” And on it goes.
It’s simple. “Just” do this or that. We are led to believe that the paralyzing fear that permeates our homes is ever so trivial. Likewise, the solution is so elementary, so obvious. The people who say these things insinuate that we have never considered or employed any of these strategies. Their words are condescending, leaving us perplexed as to why the missing piece to this dreadful marital puzzle continues to elude us.
As abuse victims, it seems we have all been there. Confronted with abuse in marriage, too many pastors, lay counselors and believing friends will visibly squirm and struggle to make eye contact with those of us who dare to share our fearful secrets. These people from whom we seek solace and counsel all too often find themselves seeking a route of escape when the traumatic scenario is presented. In some twisted fashion, these people almost seem to hope that he is slapping us around. Protection from physical harm can be rationalized, but any other form of abuse – well, it seems that the majority of Christians will almost always have a hard time admitting that those forms of abuse actually constitute abuse.
“Has he ever hit you?” some will foolishly inquire. Should you reply in the negative, they will immediately reverse gears, responding out of some moral obligation to diminish or deny the significance of the non-physical offenses committed against you, failing to acknowledge that a verbal assault is just as debilitating as any slap. Instead the ignorant will wave you off with some shallow Christian platitude, insinuating that you must be overreacting or that your expectations of your spouse or of marriage are unrealistic. Your concerns and fears have been deemed unworthy of further discussion.
The ill-informed pour fresh measures of hurt and distrust into the lives of the wounded who have continued to give and forgive, victims who have prayed and waited and searched for a tender spot in their abusers’ hardened hearts. Even while the abuse victim’s voice breaks and the tears fall, these foolish people will say things like, “Just…”
- Commit your marriage to God.
- Be more gentle and submissive.
- Try harder.
- Pray more.
- Look for ways to minister to him and meet his needs.
- Forgive him – seventy times seven.
- Be more sympathetic.
- Be more sensual.
- Be more appreciative.
- Focus on your spouse’s positive attributes.
- Remember why you fell in love with him.
- Ask the Lord to give you strength.
- Learn from this experience.
- Trust that this season will pass.
- Realize that he must be hurting.
- Remember that you’re a sinner just like him.
- Remember that things could always be worse.
Failing to acknowledge that the wicked live among us, what these people are really saying is, “Just…”
- Forget the vows you made to one another.
- Forfeit your God-given value and identity.
- Revolve your life around his moods.
- Sacrifice all of your own needs and desires to his.
- Keep his secrets.
- Expect to live in constant fear.
- Grow accustomed to loneliness, depression and anxiety.
- Watch your physical and mental health deteriorate.
- Don’t tell anyone how quickly he can turn on you, how cruel he can be, how harshly he treats your children, how your stomach churns when you are around him, how emotionally and physically exhausted you are, or how long you have lived this way.
- Try to hold yourself together and don’t let anyone know how desperate you are for help or how close you may be to your breaking point.
- Allow him to continue to abuse you.
- Pretend that your life is normal.
Now it’s my turn. I want you to “just” know that…
- God does not condone abuse.
- You are not crazy, and it is not your fault.
- Other people may not acknowledge the abuse, but that doesn’t mean you are not being abused.
- Every form of abuse, whether it is physical, verbal, emotional, or spiritual is harmful and unacceptable.
- Your instincts are telling you what you need to know, and you need to re-learn to trust them.
- Many people will disagree with you or even condemn you should you leave or divorce your abuser.
- It is not your job to help, fix or change him. He is a grown man, and if he decides he wants to change, he can do it without your involvement.
- You should be able to expect to feel safe, respected, appreciated and loved in your own home.
Whenever someone tells you what you “just” need to do to repair your broken marriage, do not even try to explain yourself, as you may find yourself more confused and frustrated than when you began.
Learn to disregard those who avoid you or smile at you condescendingly, those who offer to pray for the restoration of your marriage, tell you that everything will work out “in God’s perfect timing” and happily walk away. Those people have apparently never lived with an abuser and feel uncomfortable exposing such a one. Their insensitive catch phrases ignore the trauma of abuse and will do nothing but make you feel guilty for hurting and responsible for your abuser’s behavior.
“Just” refuse to accommodate their half-baked understanding of abuse or bow to the pressure to hold this mockery of a marriage together for the sake of public perception. Instead, see the abuse for what it is and then do whatever you must to remove yourself from the situation to keep yourself and your children safe.
Abuse will never be addressed by trying to convince others that you are living in it. Only acknowledging the abuse and removing yourself from it will address it.
“And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’” Job 28:28
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