An open letter to the church from an abused Christian wife

Dearest brothers and sisters in Christ,

It is with a heavy heart, for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, and because of His grace that I sit down to write you. I’m writing for myself and for my sisters in Christ who suffer under the heavy hand of domestic abuse. You might hear that term and immediately think that you don’t know anyone living in an abusive situation so what I’m about to say really doesn’t apply to you. Please don’t think that. You probably do know someone who is being abused; you just don’t know it yet. Domestic abuse, domestic violence or, as it is often referred to today, DV, isn’t just about whether or not a man is physically beating his wife: He may or may not be but still be abusive. Abuse comes in many forms. Sometimes it manifests as physical abuse but not always. When a woman is regularly torn down by an abuser’s words, when she is afraid to speak up, afraid to make decisions for fear of displeasing him, when she is controlled by her husband, when she lives in fear of angry outbursts, when she is dominated physically, sexually, spiritually, financially or emotionally, she is being abused. Domestic abuse lives within our churches–not that our abusers are Christians, I’m not saying that, but abusive men often masquerade as godly men, and within our pews are Christian women, your sisters in Christ, who are married to abusive men.  We are here even if you haven’t yet realized it (and I can understand that since abuse, at its core, is hard to grasp or believe), and the abuse we live under is real. Because our Lord has called His people to care for the oppressed and the poor among the brethren, we’re asking you to care for us. We especially beg you to care about our children.

How do I convey the ache in my heart? Due to my situation, I don’t always get to attend worship services. It is so glorious when I am able to. Meeting with you, worshiping our Lord, reminds me of the glories of heaven when we shall be together with Jesus forever. I long for that glorious Day. When the service has ended, when the last prayer has been said, and it comes time to go home, I walk out of the door with a lump in my throat, an ache in my heart, and unshed tears threatening to flow down my cheeks. The life that awaits me is nothing like the life most of you are going home to. My life is so often stark, lonely, full of pain and stress. When I walk out of that door, I walk into a home filled with heartbreak. I’m married to an abuser–one whose abuse of us has covered much of the abuse spectrum. I, like so many other of your sisters living in abuse, have often been made fun of by my abuser for my faith–frequently in front of my children (even though he, like so many other abusers, masquerades as a Christian). I’m not the only Christian wife whose husband is abusive; I know so many who are. Precious godly women who have been beaten down physically, emotionally, and mentally. God’s daughters who pay a tremendous price just to serve Him in their homes, to teach their children about Him, or to be able to gather together with you to worship our Lord. Women whose home lives are a living nightmare. Women like me. Not all of us will have black and blue bodies from physical assault but all of us have beaten and bruised hearts. All of us live in a man-made war zone.

So I write this letter–from me but also for my beautiful sisters who live in the same pain that I do. Some of these dear ones know the pain of having a man’s hand raised to slap her, to beat her; some quake in fear when he removes his belt to punish her. I write for those who face not love but terror and pain in the bedroom where she is beaten, attacked, or raped for a cruel man’s pleasure. For those who live in poverty because of their husband’s intentional financial abuse or cruel self-centered control of family finances, control which often leaves her and her children to do without the very things needed for survival. For those who are continually lied to, lied about, cursed out, humiliated, gas-lighted, and otherwise verbally and emotionally assaulted. Those who know the fear of wondering what will happen to their children if their men ever carry out their threats. For those who see no way out.

Heartrendingly, many of us also face pain in our churches. We’ve met with pastors, elders, gone to fellow Christians, begging for prayers, for guidance, for counsel, for help for us and for our children, only to be wrongly told that divorce for abuse is a sin, or that “we can’t help you”, or “try harder, pray more, be more submissive”. Do you know how hard it was for us to gather the courage to come to you–knowing that, if we are found out by our abusers, we will pay the price for our “betrayal”? Do you have any idea how hard we’ve tried to be submissive? How often we’ve denied our own needs just to keep peace in our homes? Do you know what it’s like not being able to have an opinion because his is the only one that matters? To live in fear of making a mistake? Of using the wrong tone, saying the wrong word, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time and being punished for it? Of just being wrong no matter what we do? Of giving in, over and over and over again, of burying our own desires for his, of obeying any and all commands no matter how painful because that’s all that we can do, all that we are allowed to do, only to be told by him–and eventually by you–that we’re not being submissive or obedient enough?

God is the only One who has never failed me; I know from speaking with them, from their many letters, from their testimonies, that many of these dear ladies, my abused sisters in Christ, feel the same. When our husbands abuse us and our churches deny the abuse, blame us, or turn away from us, who else can we turn to but God? Thankfully, He, unlike me, unlike anyone else, never fails any of His own. I, like many women (though not all) who marry an abuser was born into abuse. All of my life, Jesus has been the only One I’ve ever been able to fully, completely, trust. He’s so good, this Great God–the beautiful and holy I AM. Abusers change their opinions, their demands, day by day, but God never changes. Abusers put on masks in order to control us and fool others; God is always the same, always good. Abusers deny their abuse of us, blame us for the abuse, go on repeating the same lies, doing the same things, making the same broken promises, again and again and again; God is always a God of truth and love. We’ve been forced by our abusers to do so many humiliating things, endure so much pain, do without so many things we desperately need but God never fails us. He is the only One who has never, ever, failed me–though I, like all of the redeemed, fail Him greatly. When I’ve been afraid, He’s been my Comfort. When I’ve not had a clue how to feed my family or keep a roof over our heads, He’s been my Provider. When my abuser has raged, He’s been my Peace. When I’ve cried long hours into the night, He’s showered His great and merciful Love over me. If not for Him, I’d have no hope. I know that my abused sisters in Christ have similar, heartbreaking, stories of their husband’s cruelties and, sadly, many have similar stories of their churches indifference or, at the very least, failures to understand. Yet their stories are filled with their hope in the Lord–this Great God who loves them and cares for them when no one else will or does.

I know it’s hard to understand where I’m coming from or what abused Christian wives are going through. Maybe you still wonder is there even such a thing as an abusive Christian marriage–how could such a thing be? The answer is, it can’t–not in the way you might be thinking. There can be and are abused Christian wives, yes; but a truly Christian man who abuses his wife? No. A man might have many issues and still be a Christian, but he will be working on those issues, repenting of his sin, always longing to please his Lord and glorify Him better; but no true believer is going to do the things an abuser does, all the while unrepentant. An abuser might masquerade as a Christian but there is no fruit in his life. It’s a mask and a good one at that. Perhaps you might think that you know our husbands and that there’s no way they could be guilty of these things. But you only know them from the outside–we live with them. A bad man might pretend to be good but a good man will never pretend to be bad. The fake face he’s showing, he’s showing to you. God, who knows the heart, sees the truth. And so do we. And so do our children.

Maybe you wonder why we haven’t left, or why we put up with the abuse, or why…, just why, but then you haven’t lived in a war-torn home. It’s not as easy as all of that–not easy for you to understand, not easy for us to know what to do, not easy to leave–especially when we have no one to turn to. Many abused wives have health issues either brought on by the continual stress or exacerbated by the stress of the abuse. Many are poor because of financial abuse, because the abuser can’t or won’t provide, or because he squandered the money on himself. Truthfully, we’re desperate. We’re afraid. And we’re often very much alone. Some of us have no families to turn to, and many of us have been isolated by our husbands so that we have no friends to turn to. Some of us live in fear of speaking up because we fear not being believed or worse, fear what will happen to us if we tell. So, when we come to you, we are coming in fear, out of desperation, hoping against hope, that you will ask the right questions, see through the mask we have been forced by him to wear, try to understand what we’re going through, and that you will pray for us, help us, guide us. Stand up for us. Our stories may be unbelievable to you, you may be so shocked that you don’t want to believe what we’re saying, maybe don’t know even how to believe such horrible things, but please know that we’re coming because we desperately need you. We’re afraid, we’re worn out, and unless you listen to us, unless you, our brothers and sisters in Christ, decide to help us, we’re very much alone. We have no one else to turn to. Our lives may be hard for you to understand but they are still our lives. The abuse may be impossible for you to comprehend but, at the end of the day, unless you help us, we’re still being abused. You can walk away from it; we can’t–at least, not easily and most times not without help.

Abuse isn’t “marital difficulties”. Our abusers aren’t just “angry men” or “men with anger issues” who “really want to do better”. They aren’t men who “aren’t understood by their wives” or who “aren’t being treated with respect” by us. We’re not exaggerating the abuse, or making it up. We’re not nags who aren’t happy that our husbands aren’t doing the things we want him to do. We’re not control freaks trying to make our men fit an image we want them to fit. We take no joy in pulling back the pages on our lives but, if we are to survive, we must. Yes, the world provides shelters, tries to help, but what about the church? Sometimes what the world offers isn’t enough or, where we live, the help simply might not be available. We need our brothers and sisters. We need you. We are your sisters, and we are being systematically abused, belittled, dominated, destroyed, and controlled by the very ones who swore before God and men to love and honor us. So, please, the next time a woman in your church comes to you telling you her husband has been abusive, rather than thinking that she is making up a story because she wants attention, or that she’s just a bad wife who is unhappy with her husband and is using you to get back at him, listen to her and believe her. If she is coming to you, she is coming in fear, and she is terrified both of coming and not of coming–afraid you won’t believe her, and afraid of what will happen if you do believe her but refuse to help her. Coming to you is dangerous. It costs something for an abused wife to step forward. It has cost some women their lives.

Telling the truth about our lives is the most fear inducing things many of us can imagine. What if our abusers found out that we’d told–what then? What if you don’t believe us? When the hope that you will help us is gone, many of us have no hope left. In all honesty, it’s humiliating to look you in the eye and tell you of the things our abusers have said or done, the things we’ve endured, and the horrors we live in. Panic sets in, our mouths dry out, our hearts race, and yet we tell you anyway, hoping, praying, that this time someone might listen. Someone might believe us, maybe even (please, dear God), want to help us–and especially this: want to help our children.

If you will listen, if you will care, more of us just might come forward. But first, we have to know it’s safe. The best way you can do this is by preaching a pure Gospel. Make sure its not watered down–man has already failed us, we don’t need more failures in the form of spiritual malnutrition–nobody does. Then, prepare yourselves to understand abuse. Familiarize yourself with what abuse is–and isn’t. Read some good books on the subjects of abuse, and on biblical divorce in cases of abuse. If you do, you will see that abusers, far from wanting to change, far from not realizing what they are doing, actually rarely change, and do realize what they are doing–and do it anyway. Preach a sermon on the evils of domestic abuse. Announce from the pulpit that it is safe for abused wives to come forward. Let us know that you care about what we are going through. Tell us that you will listen to us and believe us. Let us know that abuse has no place in your church, that abusers will be dealt with, that you will stand up for us and stand with us–no matter what. Let us know that you care about our children, that you love us with godly brotherly love–enough to do what’s right for us. There are so many of us who love the Lord and are trying to be godly women, godly mothers and yes, even godly wives, in the midst of horrific circumstances. Help us to find a way out, help us to get to safety, help us to protect our children.

Please, whatever you do, don’t think, ah, couples counseling is the best way to address domestic abuse. It isn’t. Couples counseling in dangerous to abused wives because abusers use it to further their own agenda. He may seem repentant to you–but when he goes home the abuse almost always increases. Abused wives will be afraid to speak up in couples counseling for fear of this very thing–so please, realize that this isn’t the way to go. Rather, get us alone with a godly woman who will listen to us, perhaps one who has walked this road before us, or sit in there and listen to our stories–along with her, not alone–for yourself. And go on from there.

We need you–we have nobody else. No one but God.

I was flipping through a book the other day trying to decide if I wanted to read it and found where the author quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon on the Good Samaritan. Dr. King suggested that, when confronted with the hurt man, the Samaritan, rather than asking what it would cost him if he took time to stop, might have instead asked, “‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” So as Dr. King asked that question of his audience, I ask you this: What will happen to me, and to my sisters in Christ, if you do not stop to help us?

May the truth, grace, and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts.

Soli Deo gloria!

Anna

Photo credit: Aaron Burden from Unsplash

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6 Replies to “An open letter to the church from an abused Christian wife”

  1. I understand what you are saying. I have been there. My ex-husband was a minister and an abuser. There was no where to go. There are abusive men and sexual predators in the ministry. I have been abused by them as well, believing I was safe and that I finally found help. Instead I found a familiar enemy. There is no church for me to go to. Yes, the church has failed miserably women and children! I am so sorry for all that you have been through!

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