When churches don’t acknowledge abuse – and we have to leave. Paula's Story
Many Christian women who are victims of domestic abuse end up having to leave their church. This happened to me and I still grieve for the fellowship that I was part of for 35 years.
After my first marriage of 20 years ended, I was single for 14 years and very cautious about meeting a potential new partner. During my single years I got to know a Christian man; he joined my church and after many years we married in 2014. Within months I was frightened for my life and daily struggling with how his manipulations were trapping me. I slowly acknowledged that very subtly, during our entire courtship, the tell-tale signs were slowly building up. To cut long story short – my church would not acknowledge the abuse – or understand the danger I was in. I left.
It is all very well finding a new church, but not when one feels ostracised and disbelieved by one’s previous church – at which the abuser still worships. I felt ashamed (of what?), crushingly under-confident, shy – and fearful. But God was and is bigger than this! Here are three points that show how graciously God guided and cared for me during this time.
In what is now my new church, I attended for six months before ever saying a word to anyone. I felt worthless and didn’t know how to open my mouth without crying.
But my new church has a prayer ministry at the end of every service, and one Sunday I tentatively went to the front. My prayer partner met what was an inconsolable weeping on my part with a few facts thrown in. She led me to Joshua 1 and prayed for strength, bravery and protection. I felt so heard, so understood. And I felt God was strengthening me.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
— Joshua 1v9 —
Another time I asked for specific prayer for protection – that as I started a new job, I wouldn’t bump into my still husband as I caught the train to work. The prayer partner prayed Psalm 91 over me; six months later – I have truly been protected.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.
— Psalm 91v4 —
Given that trust is the biggest issue, I prayed that in this new church there might be a woman with whom I could meet to pray and read the Bible. I was introduced to a lovely woman who had had her share of other life disasters; she has cared, upheld and nurtured me. Recently she got me a year’s subscription to some Bible reading notes that are marvellous. Philippians 2 sums up for me our relationship.
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being in one spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others.
— Philippians 2v1-4 —
The two above experiences helped me come out of my shell, but I remained mistrustful about the church’s attitude to domestic abuse. Then one Sunday, the sermon was about reconciliation…and before the preacher started, they said: ‘This sermon is about reconciliation; please note that what is said is not relevant for any of you who are in abusive relationships.’
I could have shouted out with relief! They understood and acknowledged domestic abuse. It was at this time that I started reading out loud Proverbs 3 daily. This also is about acknowledgement – how we acknowledge God’s way for each of us.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.
— Proverbs 3v5-7 —
I still grieve for my old church so much, two of my grown up children worship there and it is a terrible wrench not to worship with them. But they are both so supportive of my new church; a year on, I feel God is healing my brokenness through this new fellowship and leading me to a closer relationship with Him.
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