As I made my way to the lobby having just finished my Sunday sermon at my church I young woman I had never met came up to me.
She had come with her friend to visit our church that day.
“Thank you for what you said today in your sermon. I have never heard a pastor state clearly that people can and should leave and get safe when they are experiencing an abusive relationship.”
Her eyes were brimming with tears as she told me about the dating relationship she was in a while ago that took her years to leave. She explained that people in spiritual authority had led her to believe that she was supposed to stay with this man because of the tone of “self sacrifice” she had often heard in sermons and spiritual devotions.
“Maybe he’ll change”
“I can be a good influence on him”
“He doesn’t WANT to hurt me”
The lies would flood her mind for months.
It’s not that anyone had ever actually told her to stay with him. In fact, some had said she should get out – and fast!
It was just the perception that God loves people more if they do the hard thing that she had begun to pick up from her surroundings.
Staying with him was the hard thing, she thought.
But in the end, the hardest thing was to leave.
Many spiritual leaders have helped women and men leave abusive relationships.
I have heard stories from wives, girlfriends, daughters, sons, grandsons and even husbands who have been abused by family members emotionally, but also physically.
But many who have the opportunity to help victims become survivors don’t respond or notice.
And on occasion, spiritual leaders, pastors or mentors encourage people to stay in situations where they are being hurt.
Domestic violence is such a pervasive issue and most, nearly all, of the pain goes unseen.
More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
One of the roles we can all take is helping to identify when this abuse may be happening and inviting the victim to seek help.
See this wheel that shares signs that domestic violence may be happening in a relationship:
If you, or someone you know is experiencing any of the above, they should seek help. There are anonymous shelters and hotlines that can help victims to a safe place.
Pastors, may we be trustworthy enough that we would be people who someone could reach out to for help.
May we already have resources at our finger tips and have researched how survivors can get help immediately.
If you look at this wheel, and as the young woman shared with me that Sunday, you can see these tendencies in your partner, family member, clergy member or any other relationship to you, please be open to seeking help.
God’s never… NEVER asks us to stay in abusive situations.
I’m deeply sorry if anyone in authority led you to believe that about God.
Often we wonder how we can support a friend or loved one in an abusive relationship. One of my friends is a social worker who works with domestic violence survivors. Here is her list of ways to be supportive:
- Be a non-judgmental presence; you can state that you are concerned for their safety or wellbeing but telling her/him to leave before they are ready might cause strain on your relationship
- Most abusers attempt to isolate victims from friends and family. Be patient with your loved one and be available when they attempt to connect with you.
- There can be numerous barriers to getting out of a violent relationship. Find out about services available to assist victims in navigating that complicated (and sometimes dangerous) process.
Being able to process pain, begin to heal and even come to a place of forgiveness – these are things God can lead us through.
But it starts by getting safe and out of a situation of abuse before it’s too late and before the damage takes any more toll on the victim.
Jesus said he came to offer freedom for the oppressed. No matter how hopeless a situation may seem, God can restore the broken.
Let’s not let the pain go unnoticed.