Friday, September 12, 2008

To Stay or to Go?

As an abused child I remember standing in my bedroom at around six years old planning my escape. I was ready to run away. My Dad wanted to do things with me that hurt and weren't right. Even at that age I knew it was wrong. But I couldn't figure out a practical plan for running away that would keep me safe. I had no money and no where to go. I was stuck.

Many years later in my thirties, I prayed urgently for God's guidance as I struggled to stay awake one night. I could feel crisis coming. Each time my eyes slid closed I could sense the danger. My husband had been escalating, the next round of abuse was hovering, it wouldn't be long. I knew the children and I were in danger but I didn't know what to do. Fears clawed at me. I felt trapped by my fears about what he'd do if we stayed and frightened by what might happen to us if I took the children and left. I was a stay-at-home wife with three small children. I had no money and no where to go. No one knew about the abuse; I doubted anyone would believe me. I was stuck.

In the middle of the night there was another confrontation when my eyes snapped open to find him towering over me in the dark, his eyes full of anger in the light coming through a window. The tension was like sparking electricity--ominous and dangerous. The explosion was inevitable. It would happen soon.

I cried out to God again. What should I do? And then God's quiet voice let me know that I needed to get my children to safety in the morning after he left for work. I numbly did just that the next day. Once we were out of explosion range, I was able to hear more from God. He was inviting me to consider a new question. He didn't urge me to continue thinking about my fears that pushed and pulled at me. He asked my heart to think about what would be the most loving things to do. Should I return in a day and pick up where we left off or should I go report to a shelter and refuse to return until the abuse problem was directly faced and dealt with? what was the most loving thing to do for my spouse? Should I let him continue abusing without any consequences? I felt the God of love urging me to make these life changing decisions based not on my many valid fears and the huge unknowns that terrified me, but to act based on love.

I didn't feel in love anymore but I was very aware that I loved my husband and extremely committed to making my marriage work. I wanted to be loving. I wanted to be a God-honoring wife. These very things had motivated me on a daily basis to hang tough through lots of crisis.

But suddenly, once I was out of the home, God was shaking my soul with questions about my willingness to love. Did I love my spouse enough to challenge his sinful behavior that had become our way of life? Did I love my children enough to protect them even though it might cost me my marriage? Did I love God enough to let him lead me into a future I had never envisioned?

Over the next week, I wrestled with God, with all my old ideas of love, and with my broken heart. At the end of the week I knew the answers. Staying with my abusive husband was what I most wanted--I wanted things to magically get better, I wanted God to make my husband see what he was doing and make him get the help he desperately needed, and I wanted my marriage to be beautifully redeemed to be a glowing testimony of God's power to heal the broken. But, the most loving thing I could do for my husband of fourteen years was to refuse to return to our abusive home-- so he could understand that the abuse was unacceptable. The most loving thing I could do for my children was to protect them from further abuse, no matter what it took. The best chance our family had for health required that I let go of trying to force the marriage to work and allow my husband the opportunity to turn to God for help. And if none of my marriage mess worked out as I wanted, I could best love God by trusting Him anyway and following Him wherever He was leading me.

Fear can sound so practical, but it does not enable change--it actually feeds abuse. Love has the power to transform lives.

My husband did not choose healing or restoration. I ended up a divorced woman with three children to raise. I didn't get the happy ending I unrealistically kept demanding in my fear. But I did get deep and wonderful redemption. God was with me every step of the way--my trust in God became stronger than I could ever have imagined. The broken marriage was a tragedy--but one that had already been forged by years of abuse, not by my courageous act of love. Love in action is never futile; it bears eternal fruit that far exceeds the pain of laying our will and our plans aside. God has been incredibly faithful and has built for me a life that is far better (more joyful, peaceful, and rewarding) than the abusive marriage I tried for so long to hold on to.

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Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
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  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft