In honor of October Domestic Violence Month
Stopping the cycle of abuse is one challenge, but a bigger challenge is knowing how to raise a son when the men in your life have been abusers.
This is an honest and raw post that is very difficult for me to share, but my hope is, it will speak to someone’s heart. That after much prayer, there is someone who needs to hear this, it’s my story.
This has been an interesting and exciting week for me, getting ready for my son’s wedding which has made me both emotional and also reflective on my life.
I have often wondered and worried about what kind of husband my son will be, since his male role models were emotionally unavailable and abusive. With his step-father, I would watch him bend over backwards trying to please him and gain his approval, but always came up disappointed. He was young and always felt that he never measured up. Leaving me with guilt and regret, and causing me to question, how would he love his wife, if he only knew emotionally unavailable and abusive role models?
In the two years I have witnessed my son and his fiance’s relationship, it has at times brought me to tears of joy. He is a sweet loving gentle giant, who praise the Lord, treats her like a princess. I have talked to his fiance at length and she always talks about how kind, loving and patient he is. I asked him one day why this is and he answered “Mom, I witnessed you being hurt too many times, the look in your eyes, made me as a child promise that if I ever married, I would never want my wife to ever feel that kind of pain, fear or sadness.” and “Plus, I want to model Christ in my home and love my wife as Christ loved the church.” Blessed and humbled mom. To be fair my daughters have also successfully found healthy loving relationships. With the Lord there is hope to break this awful cycle.
In my marriage, I had denied the truth for so long I was unable to recognize what was really happening. The abuse had started subtly and grown insidiously. My husband and I claimed to be Christians, so how could our marriage be abusive? He was my best friend for years how could this happen?
I met my ex-husband at a Christian church we both attended. He was handsome, intelligent, charming and interesting—always looking for adventure and fun. He could make me laugh like no one else. He often discussed the gospel and he cared genuinely about people’s salvation. He loved telling me and everyone else who would listen, how he was alone in the bible college chapel and the Lord spoke to him “Cheryl will be your wife,” something he now denies. Our wedding was a God-centered event, shared with many of the students from bible college. I envisioned and hoped our marriage to be a shared life of service and impact for God’s kingdom. I was so in love. I truly believed that if I was a good wife, my marriage would go well and we’d have a loving life together. I was so blessed to marry a man of God.
Though, looking back now, I realize he was somewhat self-centered before we were married, but, I did not see any red flags about the abuse that was to come. But very early in our marriage I saw signs that life was going to be very different from what I’d envisioned. If I didn’t comply with his expectations, he’d become angry and yell for hours at a time.
As I began to internalize his accusations and criticisms, both my confidence and my self-worth began to crumble. I couldn’t even confidently discard old food from our refrigerator without fearing a blow up may occur because I’d mistakenly tossed out something he wanted to eat. As my self-worth eroded, I questioned my ability to be a loving wife and mother, and whether I was truly a woman of faith. Was this somehow my fault.
On the outside we looked like a loving couple, especially in our Christian circles. He appeared spiritually mature. He prayed eloquent prayers, participated in deep theological discussions, and often referenced Scripture to support his insights. I did everything I could to establish the appearance of the godly partnership I so desperately desired.
But behind closed doors, things were far from normal. Unable to predict when the switch would flip on his anger, I walked on eggshells. Without warning, I’d suddenly become the object of his uncontrolled, frightening rage. There was no escaping his anger.
Because our situation was so intense, I was in constant prayer with the Lord. I pored through Scripture to find direction and answers from my Savior. I took to heart his accusations that I was ungodly, unsubmissive, and prideful, and constantly confessed my sin to the Lord. I also took seriously the scriptural reference to forgive 70 times 7, so as his rages continued, I focused on forgiveness and mercy. He repeatedly told me what was “true” about me: I was disrespectful, unsubmissive, and wanted to take the lead. I lost confidence in my ability to identify reality. “Truth” had been verbally twisted and used against me. The fear and constant threat of attack rendered me an emotional weakling.
All attempts to stop the abuse were unsuccessful and now with pornography added, he began to criticize me for what he called my lack of trust in him, resulting in him yelling so loudly everyone in the house heard and lasted for hours into the early morning. This would occur more frequently than I would admit. I made the decision after seeking counsel to separate. I wanted restoration, and I thought that if we separated, it would be a huge wake up call, that he would miss me, repent and change his heart. I did not think divorce was possible. But, after a couple failed reconciliation attempts, he stopped counseling and wanted a divorce, citing I never wanted reconciliation and I had abandoned him. Which was not true. There would be more hurtful reasons he would tell friends and pastors on why we divorced. Always with me the villain and would further strip me of any dignity and worth.
The grief I experienced over the failure of my marriage was overwhelming, and the recovery process has been grueling. But God never abandoned me. Rather, he’s drawn me closer to him. I learned God’s grace is completely reliable, and he can handle the messy truths in our lives. And the most awesome realization is that God wants to use me. As God now regularly opens doors of ministry to me, I’m charged with telling my story and sharing his message of grace.
One of my ministries is, I led a support group and counsel women who have been abused. One question that often comes up as I talk to christian women is the relationship between domestic abuse and the Christian teaching that wives must submit. Specifically, people want to know if abuse occurs more often in homes where they are taught that husbands are the head of the household. Since, my ex husband once locked me in a room to try to teach me submission. I looked into the research, but, I don’t believe it to be true. It is something that should be beautiful and good. What I found was abuse happens across the board, with people in every belief and non-belief, it is not the teaching of the church, but the heart of the person. In regards to submission to our husbands that are abusive, Christian husbands are not Christ. They are fallible, forgiven sinners. They do not stand in the place of Christ. Their wives relate directly to Christ (Hebrews 4:16; 11:6), not merely through their husbands. Husbands do not have the wisdom or the power or the rights of Christ. Their likeness to Christ in leading their wives is limited and focused by these words: He gave himself up for her . . . nourishing and cherishing . . . not be harsh and hurt them.
Therefore, an abusive husband is ALWAYS breaking God’s law. He is directly disobeying Christ and he is in sin. He is not to be indulged but disciplined by the church. The wife has every right to ask the church for help. A Christian woman should not feel that the only help available to her is the police. That would be a biblical failure of her church. So, again, it is NEVER your fault, please do not fall into this trap.
Encouragement – Plea To Women Touched By Abuse
What I want to say to you today, is this, I know that many of you – because of your experiences with or watching a parent – have been hurt by men in some way. I know this hurt is very, very deep and raw. While I cannot speak on behalf of men, I first want to tell you how sorry I am for what you have been through. I want you to know that no woman EVER deserves to be hurt by a man, and there is nothing you have or could have ever done to deserve the pain you have experienced. No action or inaction you have ever taken warrants the hurt that has been done to you. It doesn’t matter what excuse he may give, if he wanted to marry you or not, felt pressure, was stressed, he fell out of love for you. You did not deserve to be treated this way.
I know how easy it is in the midst of this kind of hurt and abuse to submit to the trap of believing that all men are unkind – that all men may be hurtful, manipulative, or abusive. I know you have been conditioned to believe that this is all there is, that these are the only kind of men that exist. If you have given into this belief, I want you to know something…It is not true, it is a lie the enemy wants you to believe.
There are men in this world who are good, kind, gentle and have love running through the core of who they are. There are men in the world who are committed to and surrendered to Jesus Christ and His example. There are men in the world who are willing to sacrifice and love you deeply, the way YOU deserve..
I promise you this – the good men in the world may be difficult to find, but there are many. Like my son.
I want you to know this, too, in your head and your heart – Jesus Christ wants to place His healing hand on your broken heart, and make it whole again. He wants to restore your faith that men can be kind and loving. He wants to restore your belief in your worth, your wholeness, your beauty, and all that you have to offer the world.
Christ loves to meet us in the depths of our brokenness, He brings wonderful restoration. Today I pray that if these truths speak to your life, if you like me have experienced this pain – that God would bring good men into your life – to restore your faith that men can be kind, and good, and true.
for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13