Not long ago, a friend contacted me because she needed prayer and spiritual counseling. I invited her over and she shared about the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her husband. I was both shocked and saddened for her and her family.
Just a couple of weeks prior, an online friend had asked me for prayer for her family. Her mentally ill husband had threatened suicide and said things that made her fear for herself and her children. She had to flee for their safety.
A few months back, I got to spend time with a friend whom I previously only knew online. She shared with me the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her ex-husband and her heart for those who now suffer abuse.
I have an accountability partner in writing and publishing. Her recently published book is a devotional for women who have been abused, offering Scripture, support, and encouragement. She writes from a place of experience.
All of these women shared these stories with me in about a six-month period, and I realized God was opening my eyes to something. These were all Christian women. They weren’t walking around with a #metoo sign. They were either asking for prayer and spiritual guidance or using their story to help others.
I felt woefully unqualified and unprepared to help those who were seeking counsel.
So, I recently had the opportunity to attend a luncheon bringing awareness to the church about abusive relationships. Today I want to share with you some statistics and shed a little light on the subject of abuse, because it is far more common than I ever knew. We as Christian women need to be aware and know how we can get help or help someone else.
What is abuse?
“Domestic violence (DV) (also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.”The National Domestic Violence Hotline
I think it’s important to remember that the abuse isn’t always physical. Abusers specialize in emotional, mental, and verbal threats, often using manipulation, fear, and intimidation to control and confuse their victims.
One in three women in the United States is estimated to experience domestic abuse in her lifetime (Called to Peace Ministries). I wouldn’t have believed that statistic until I started thinking about it. But in my family, my small group, and among my friends, that number bears out.
I am not a fan of the feminist movement; we have seen all too well in recent years how women have used the claim of abuse for manipulation and control, ruining the careers and families of innocent men.
But, as usual, Satan is really good at taking something real and hijacking it for his own purposes. As the body of Christ, we can’t allow his deception to keep us from responding in support and love to those who are truly victims.
How should the church respond?
The luncheon I attended was designed to educate those in ministry about abusers, their victims, and how best to minister to them. Out of over 200 abused women their ministry had interviewed, most of them had experienced not being believed or being told to go back to their husbands and submit to them.
There are many reasons for this attitude. Some of it is misunderstanding of Scripture; some of it is unbelief because abusers are good at fooling others; and some of it is due to a lack of education and training for church staff.
I can’t address all of these, and I don’t claim to be an expert. What I can do is share the Word with you and some resources that can give you further understanding.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as 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.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.Ephesians 5:21-28, NIV 84
This passage comes in the context of Paul’s teaching on being filled with the Spirit. As we are filled with the Spirit, we come under God’s control and live according to His Word (Ephesians 5:18-20). We should sing, give thanks, and submit to one another as a result.
This submission is mutual (submit to one another) and applies to all relationships, especially to the marriage relationship, as Paul then details. Wives are to submit to their husbands, which means “to yield one’s own rights” (NIV Study Bible).
What does submission look like?
In other words, out of our submission to Christ as our Lord, we also submit to our husbands, yielding our rights. This is so important in a marriage. If Kenneth and I have a disagreement, then as long as he is following God, I will surrender my rights and follow his leadership. And I can do so because I trust the Lord.
But if you will notice, there is much more here about the husband’s responsibility. A man who loves his wife to the point of sacrificing his own needs for hers is displaying a life “filled with the Spirit” and worthy of his wife’s submission. This husband’s loving care of his wife is always for her best.
In other words, our relationship in marriage should be a reflection of our relationship with Christ, who loved us and gave His life for us.
An abuser is selfish, self-centered, and self-serving. He will take these verses out of context in order to control his wife to do his bidding. He is usually jealous, angry, manipulative, and intimidating. Abusers aren’t loving their wives with the love of Christ, therefore they are not reflecting God’s love for the church in their relationship.
“This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”Ephesians 5:32-33
Mutual love and respect. That’s what Paul was talking about. Real love has been outlined for us in 1 Corinthians 13.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Am I saying that only men are abusers? Definitely not. But statistics show that 85% of abusers are men. This blog is for women, so my desire today is to support women in abusive relationships and to inform women in ministry so they can help.
There is hope.
That said, if you are in an abusive relationship, there is hope. The women I know who have been abused have some deep scars. Some of them are in counseling now. Some of them are still in battles with their spouses. Some of them are years removed from the abuse yet still get emotional when they recall the trauma of it.
But all of them are surviving with God’s help. His heart is and always has been for the oppressed, the weak, and the needy. His heart is for you.
If you or someone you know is suffering at the hands of an abuser, please seek help. If you are in ministry of any kind, inform yourself about the reality of abuse and how to respond to those in need.
And to my friends whose stories led to this post, you are loved immensely by the Father. He sees you. He hears you. He believes you. And He is for you.
Called to Peace Ministries is the organization that hosted the luncheon I attended. Their website has a ton of helpful information, including a list of questions to help you identify if your relationship is abusive.