Today I am going to share a glimpse of how my life was, as I struggled to decide whether to leave the emotional abuse in my former home.
My departure would mean the end of a dream.
It would mean the disintegration of my intact family, which I had poured my heart into for 22 years. I faced the uncertainty of not knowing if by leaving, I was stepping out of God’s will. I knew divorce would lead to the inevitable demotion from any church leadership with which I was involved.
I needed to flee the cruelty in my marriage, but the lack of support, the unknown, and the impending judgment from much of the evangelical community was daunting.
One of the common traits people develop in abusive situations is the inability to rely on their own decision making.
This is primarily a result of repeatedly facing criticism about most decisions made. With a barrage of criticism and lack of encouragement, people develop little-to-no faith in their own judgment. This low self-esteem can leave you vulnerable to someone else’s selfish or misconstrued choices; especially people you consider to be in authority, such as a Christian husband or church leadership. Being in a place where you don’t trust and honor your gut-instinct, is dangerous. If that is you, steps to recovery and emotional safety should begin immediately.
This issue is not black and white; there is a lot of gray area. I do not believe anyone who gave their time and heartfelt prayer, to fight for my marriage, had any idea what I was actually dealing with. I wrote the following journal entry fifteen days before I made my final move. My situation is all too common, and I trust by sharing, this will resonate with those who need someone, who also longs to be in the will of God, to ‘get’ their reality and feel their truth.
The Ants go Marching In
April 4, 2015
Many times, when a Christian mentions divorce, for anything other than infidelity or black-eye-broken-bone abuse, church leaders spring into action. They come marching to the rescue like ants to a drop of honey. “Code Red you know what to do.” (-Toy Story 1995)
Often, the leaders of particular churches see their job as keeping marriages and families together. After all, the Bible, clearly states “God hates divorce,” so how could divorce possibly ever be in His will?
“For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. Malachi 2:16
The belief that the church stands to save the marriage come hell or high water, results too often in church leaders not even hearing your truth before they begin formulating ideas of how you can make the marriage work. Perhaps they start comparing what you call ‘impossible’, to rough patches they’ve faced in their own marriages. They might liken how you describe your pain, as similar to things they’ve experienced; instead of hearing what you are saying and understanding your truth. They might recall how they ultimately made things work in their own marriage, and assume you can do the same. Perhaps they have heard stories of other people who overcame the impending doom of divorce and desperately want you to be another success story. Furthermore, much abuse is passive aggressive and very hard to explain.
I have found it to be more likely than not, that many Christians who haven’t walked in my shoes, corporately are not apt to act like Christ. Rarely, as I have sought support from the church leaders have I heard, “How can I best support you?” Rather, they have assumed I was not in my right mind; after all, on the surface things did not appear to be as I stated, and part of the abuse included him making me look foolish in the eyes of others. My painful reality has turned into evaluations, formal meetings, which ultimately invalidate my truth and keep legalism as the structure for me to face the devastating crisis.
In response to the emotional abuse that I am desperate to be free from, I hear things like: “Charlotte, make sure you have someone holding you accountable,” “What are you doing to change?” “Are you looking at your own sin?” “Don’t focus on what he’s doing or not doing.” “You are called to submit and show him respect, spend your energy on that instead of nit-picking what he is or is not doing.” Meanwhile, he beats me emotionally, models abuse to our sons and I am not safe.
I have given it my very all. I have followed my leader’s advice, while he has continued to profusely get his needs met, with the support of the church. I have not only been abused by my husband who claims I am not a “Christian” wife because I do not submit, but also by many of the church leaders, elders, Christian role models, Christian counselors, and even some family members…just to add a little salt to the wound. They stand right behind my husband, supporting him, while I flail my spirit, like a child drowning in a riptide on a crowded beach, invisible to the lifeguards.
The abuse I face is not solely from one man but from a team of people who need to get this right for other people in the church. My experience is not unique to me or any specific church, though it is rampant. Nor is this need to uphold the institution over the care of the individual true to every church.
Only my closest friends have a vague idea of the degrees to which I have sunk to save my marriage. I have methodically dug myself into a hole, thinking if only I submit more, God would provide the husband I long for, by changing the man I am with. I have lost myself in the process and on more than one occasion almost took my life just to escape the toxicity.
Someone who has no idea what it’s like to stand in my shoes considers my circumstances through their own filter, and I am left feeling nonexistent in the name of Christ.
So what do I do? The Bible is my guide and nowhere does it say pursue better things. It says pursue Godliness, turn the other cheek, love your enemy.
With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
Ephesians 4:2 ESV
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Galatians 5:22 ESV
It does not say anywhere ‘if you are abused leave’. I know in my heart, I can’t take it anymore, it’s killing me. What kind of a mother am I to my four sons, allowing them to believe ‘its ok to treat your wife the way your dad treats me. Watch how I illustrate that by doing nothing to care for myself.’
I know stepping out of my life-long vow will never take me from God’s hand or His provision, but what if I am stepping out of His will? I really don’t want to do that. I have no Biblical indication that He desires me to leave the abuse. It’s not broken bone abuse, in fact, it’s not even verbal, it is passive aggressive.
Passive aggression is very subtle, like slipping off a wedding ring, not responding to texts. It is withholding tenderness, not celebrating successes, and for me it meant not being kissed, or held, never hearing ‘I love you’, ‘you are pretty’, ‘thank you’ or ‘good job’. Passive aggression appears when someone responds to your best efforts with, “You are not what I envisioned as a wife.” When you try to flee the pain, they show up as everything you’ve ever wanted and maintain that impeccably designed facade until your defenses are down once again and the passive aggression resumes.
There are the voices of those who watch you step up to be smashed down like a whack-a-mole, over and over, “Tisk, tisk, you fool, when will you learn?”
What about my children? They will always be both of ours. They will marry and multiply, Lord willing. How much easier it would be to stay intact? Could I just be thankful for all I do have? Do I have to have someone who treats me like a partner rather than a burden?
For me, I have a lot. I am financially set, I have a good rhythm in my daily life. Is God really calling me to pursue a relationship that feels good? I am not convinced, but when I lay it on the table, I see it’s time to get out. I’ve been coming back around since before I even said, “I do”. We broke up many times before we finally married. Who’s to say I won’t step back into the ring again and again. I’m so, confused.
I left, about two weeks later. I began to heal. On my own, I could breathe, in breaths of new life. I began to prosper. I saw God provide for me in ways I could never have dreamed. Among all the things He began to do, when the time was right he presented me with the man who would one day be my husband. The man who values me, sees Christ in me, cherishes and adores me. He showers me with words of affirmation, kisses me all the time and considers himself blessed to have me by his side in life. The Lord has begun to restore the years the locusts have eaten.
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten Joel 2:25
Abuse is not exclusive to women. When a Christian man shares his abuse, he is likely to hear, “What are you doing to make her behave that way?” “You’re the leader, go lead your family.” Meanwhile, the more he serves his abusive wife, the worse the abuse becomes, often with the backing of the church. Men too are called out of leadership, and the trueness of their walk with God becomes scrupled. People don’t believe men can be physically or emotionally abused. They can, even very strong powerful men can be abused by women.
My new husband also faced inappropriate care and counsel from some members of his church when he was forced to flee his abusive marriage. We are teaming up to expose this darkness that exists in many but not all churches, where the legalism of marriage prevails. Rather than caring for the members as individuals, people get put into the “God hates divorce” box and they are forced to live inauthentic lives.