Sharon

When Your Abuser is a Christian

Sharon Spiritual Health, Suffering 3 Comments

I wish you could meet my friend, Ingrid.

Ingrid Faro and I first met through Trinity, where she was working on her PhD in Old Testament. Since then she has graduated and is now a professor at the Scandinavian School of Theology in Uppsala, Sweden. She is brilliant, but that’s not what I love most about her. Ingrid has survived a life of incredible violence and heartache, but you would never know it. Her face shines kindness and her soul exudes gentleness. She is a pillar of dignity and strength, a Holy Spirit work.

I asked Ingrid to share just a sliver of her story today. Not only is her testimony powerful, but it’s also urgent. A recent LifeWay study found that 42% of pastors rarely or never address the topic of domestic violence, despite the fact that 1 in 4 women will be victims of violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.

If we want to be salt and light in this world, we need to give more attention to this matter. Especially when the abuser claims the name of Christ. Few things tarnish the church’s witness more than allowing abuse to continue in our midst.

In that spirit, I present to you Ingrid’s story.

***

Nearly thirty years ago, I lay pinned down with the strength of his weight pressed against my throat, my breath cut off, certain that this was the time I would die.

As I looked up into the face of the one who had once said, “I do,” his eyes were now black holes: no one was home. There was no glance of compassion to plead for my life: only shark eyes stared down as my breath drained.

After six years of increasing violence by this man one who had once vowed to love me, the will to struggle was gone. My will to live had long before expired. I don’t remember any pain. The peace and anticipation of finally going “home” to see my Savior swallowed up any suffering of the moment. I had tremendous peace. “Into Your hands I commit my spirit” was my silent prayer.

Suddenly, the deadly silence was broken by the sharp ring of our doorbell. And then again. Abruptly, almost mechanically, he released my neck, straightened up, turned his head, stood up, and went to answer the door. And there I lay. Alive. Confused. A bit disappointed that I was still alive. Uncertain what to do. As I arose, I prayed, “Lord, what do I do now?” The instant response was, “If you stay, you’ll die.”

That moment began my escape to freedom, my long journey to wholeness, and, to my surprise, to the source of joy, a living relationship with Jesus Himself.

Two weeks before I married this man, my first husband, I had prayed and asked God, “Is it Your will that I marry him?” The answer came back as clearly, “No … but I know you’re going to do it anyway.” It was true … I was afraid to back out in spite of a deep uneasiness.

Confrontation was one of my biggest fears. Although this man was in training to be a pastor, had one-third of the New Testament memorized, was leading Bible studies, and evangelistic crusades, when I looked in his eyes I remember thinking that I couldn’t see his soul. There was no light in his eyes, no kindness. I never stopped to ask what drove him. I thought we could learn to love each other.

Never could I have imagined the nightmare I had vowed to enter on the day of our wedding. I was confused as to why I had gone through this hardship. After all, I had thought, I was the nice one! It took some time for me to learn it is neither nice, nor good, to allow evil to run over you. I have wondered how different each of our lives might have been if I knew then, and had the courage, to stand up to evil, instead of silently trying to be “nice.”

Sadly, he died a few years later in a car crash, unable or unwilling to redeem his past. Life was to bring many more tragedies in my process of healing.

Along the way, I discovered it’s ok to learn slowly, as long as I just keep on learning. I have blind spots— like everyone else—and need friends who can help me see what I don’t. Abusers tend to isolate their victims, but God blessed me with bold friends, who give honest, sometimes blunt, but godly insight.

I’ve learned the hard way to seek God before making decisions, instead of asking Him afterward to clean up the mess I made. I’ve learned to trust the usually gentle voice of the Holy Spirit, together with the Bible, to give me words of life, instruction, and wisdom. Above all, I grow deeper in love with God, who knows and loves me best.

Along the way I also remarried and have a wonderful, godly son. In my forties, I went back to school, and completed a Ph.D. in my fifties. My best adventures with God are ahead. I’m bolder than I ever imagined, and happier than I ever thought possible. My heart and my life are full. It’s never too late and never too early to change, or to be a prayerful agent of change.

Jesus said to those who follow Him, “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world,” (Matt 5:13-14), which tells us two things. First, the purpose of salt in Jesus’ day was not to give flavor, but to stop the corruption of meat. This means we have a mission to stand up: to be salt against corruption, and salt to heal wounds.

Second, light exposes what the darkness hides. Those who know Christ the Lord have His Holy Spirit, His light, and His life in our spirit. We are empowered and called upon to boldly enter the darkness in people’s hearts, homes, and in our communities, to be beacons of light bringing God’s love, presence, and the truth of God’s Word.

Love is not a feeling and it is not passive. No matter how dark the circumstances around us, let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. May we receive courage to be salt and light in this world, and never quiver under any oppressive arm of destruction or fear.

If you are in an abusive relationship, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually, with a spouse, friend, pastor, teacher, bully, or co-worker, the first step is to admit to yourself what is going on. Second, you do not deserve it. No one does. Third, you are not trapped—there’s something you can do about it. Four, get help. Don’t try to do this alone.

If you are an abuser, without actively getting help you will get worse, and in the process, you’ll lose yourself and everyone and everything meaningful to you. There is forgiveness and there is recovery.

Let us know if you need help finding help.

May we love boldly in this new year.

***

If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, please get help. Call the police, call your church, call trusted friends who will listen to you. You do have options, and God wants you to be free.

 

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 9.59.09 PMSharon

Sharon

Sharon

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Comments 3

  1. Survivor

    Thanks for sharing this!!! I felt like I was reading my own story except for the fact that I could not see his face because he was suffocating me with a pillow. I, too, felt that peace. I had prayed: “God, I am coming home! Please take care of my son!” (He was 19 months.) My abuser too, stopped suddenly but it wasn’t because of the doorbell. For years, I didn’t know why he stopped. Then, nearly 5 years after the incident, God showed me a picture in which Jesus Himself was pulling my abuser off of me. The rest of my story is not yet written, but I am eager–especially as we enter a new year–to see what He will do with the broken pieces of my heart and life!!!!

  2. Angie

    This speaks to me so deeply. I too was married to an abuser who claimed the name of Christ. I was fortunate enough to realize his abuse early in our marriage and it didn’t go further than a few punches and a couple of forceful sexual interactions. My family and true friends accepted me and helped me regain a lot of self esteem I had lost. I was in the darkest place I have ever been in my life during my first marriage and I don’t wish that experience on anyone. Please get help if you’re suffering! You don’t have to!

  3. Dora

    Abuse is an overlooked evil still in our churches. This article is good and may give hope to someone who can’t find help in church – seek help elsewhere. Sadly, our church leaders often are ill equipped to deal with an abuser, giving poor advice and instruction if any at all.

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