Editor's Note: This is one of the Top 15 CBE Writing Contest winners.
[Domestic violence and spiritual abuse trigger warning]
“I want you to come into the church and have a meeting with me and the elders, so we can tell you God’s plan for your marriage,” said the pastor as we spoke on the phone.
Did I hear him right? He was going to tell me God’s plan? God and I had already discussed it. I knew what I had to do.
Let me go back.
I suffered over eighteen years in a marriage to an abusive man. I had experienced every form of abuse there was: psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, and more. The abuse started even before we were married, but I didn’t recognize it for what it was. Constantly wanting to know where I was and who I was with was not controlling, it was caring. Twisting what I said to make everything my fault wasn’t gaslighting, it was my fault.
When we married, I was seventeen and fresh out of high school. On our wedding night, he grilled me on my past relationships and sexual encounters. He tried to trip me up, saying that my answers were different than what I said previously. They weren’t. Abuse escalated from that point on, as did his drinking. I accepted the blame and kept trying to be a better wife to stop the abuse, but nothing worked. Other people would blame me, too. “What did you do to make him mad?” “Why did you question him?” “Be a good wife and things will get better.” I believed them.
Fast forward eighteen years. We had three sons and attended a PCA church regularly. He was a deacon; I was the children’s Sunday school superintendent. He continued to drink and be abusive; I continued to try my hardest. I was also attending a Christian college trying to earn my bachelor’s degree and learning about God’s unconditional love for me. That’s when it hit me—I didn’t deserve to be treated this way.
Knowing something in my marriage needed to change or I was going to disintegrate, I began to earnestly seek help.
I went to a professor who was also a pastor and told him what was happening in my marriage. I asked for guidance. He told me to go home and tell my husband I hadn’t been the kind of wife he needed, and ask what I could do to make things better. “No man can resist that.” I did it. What did I know? He knew the Bible, I didn’t. It was the worst weekend of my life. My husband had been given the proof he needed. I had admitted his abuse was my fault.
His abuse escalated. I was miserable. I went to our pastor. I told him about the abuse, the drinking, and the rapes I endured. Looking back, my first clue that the outcome of this visit wasn’t going to be good should have been his first question: “Are you having an affair?” I answered, “No.” He said God hates divorce. He said I needed to try harder. We came in for marriage counseling (which I now know is inadvisable in abusive relationships) and I remember saying to the pastor in front of my husband, “He even asks me why I am washing my hair, and if I’m going to be screwing around!” I expected the pastor to point out how crazy that was. Instead, he said to my husband, “Why don’t you try a different approach, like making the statement: ‘Oh, you’re washing your hair today.’ Now, there’s no saying she won’t take that the wrong way, but you could try.”
Do you understand the enormity of what he said? He never told my husband his behavior was wrong or that it was not biblical. No. He said that he needed to find a different way so I wouldn’t take it the wrong way. My fault. Not his. My issue. Not his. The message was clear. God would be angry at divorce, but not at abuse.
Somewhere in my soul the Holy Spirit was speaking to me. What I had been told didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like the loving God I had finally come to believe existed. Surely a caring God wouldn’t want me to live this way.
That day it struck me—spiritual abuse is real and imprisons you. It had imprisoned me for over eighteen years.
So I turned to God for help. “Please God, show me what to do! My soul aches beyond words.” Psalm 6 expresses my pain eloquently,
Please, God, no more yelling, no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change; I’m so starved for affection.
Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue, beat up badly in bones and soul?
God, how long will it take for you to let up?
Break in, God, and break up this fight; if you love me at all, get me out of here.
I’m no good to you dead, am I? I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb!
I’m tired of all this—so tired.
My bed has been floating forty days and nights on the flood of my tears.
My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.
The sockets of my eyes are black holes; nearly blind, I squint and grope. (Ps. 6:1–7, MSG)
“Break in, God!” was my constant prayer. And God did. God showed me that I was loved and cared for and that it was okay for me to leave—no, more than okay. It was necessary. My life and soul depended on it.
I made plans to leave with my three sons, ages seven, nine, and eleven. I had to be careful because I feared my husband would kill me if he found out. I didn’t tell my friends as they might tell my husband. It took three months of planning, sneaking around, using a neighbor’s car (because he kept track of my car mileage), and borrowing against my life insurance policy to escape to a small apartment in Homestead, FL.
Shortly before leaving, I told my husband I was going and taking the kids with me. I told my “friends” too, as I would need support. Some of these women knew everything I had been through. I had confided to them. They had seemed to care. But now they cared more about the marriage staying intact. They asked if I had prayed about this. (Until my knees were raw!) They said that as Christians, they could not support me in what I was doing and tried to talk me out of it. I tried explaining to them that the marriage covenant had been broken long ago when the first smothering attempt, punch, and rape occurred. My leaving just made the break legal.
This was so confusing. They were my friends! But they were also his friends with a skewed view of scriptural teachings. Men were the head of the households and as women, we submitted, even if that meant to abuse.
Last, I called our pastor to let him know I was leaving. He was stunned. How could I go against God’s word like that? And then he said those fateful words.
“I want you to come into the church and have a meeting with me and the elders so we can tell you God’s plan for your marriage.”
I told him no, thank you, God and I had already discussed it and I had received permission to leave. The pastor said I must be mistaken, not hearing correctly. I told him I heard clearly and my relationship with God was very good.
The spiritual abuse continued when the pastor said I would have to leave the church and my Sunday school position if I left the marriage. What about my husband and his deacon position? He could remain in his position as long as he did not file for divorce. It didn’t matter that he was an alcoholic who abused his wife, he just couldn’t initiate the divorce.
Five weeks after moving to the apartment in Homestead, Hurricane Andrew hit, and we lost just about everything. My pastor called to see if I was okay. I told him we were looking for a place to live. He said they were helping my husband find a place to live (that home had been destroyed as well) and offered to do the same for us if—and only if—I would move back in with my husband. I said no.
My sons and I moved six times in the year following Hurricane Andrew, receiving food stamps and finally getting into Section 8 housing. I had no support from any church or Christian friends. When other Christians found out I was on food stamps and in government housing, they scolded me for depending on the government and not on God. But through it all my sustainer was God. God gave me strength and helped me when I cried and struggled. God strengthened my spirit. Yes, I made bad decisions along the way, but I did my best. And I filed for divorce.
Looking back, I see even more clearly the spiritual abuse I suffered over and over. People often ask me how in the world I still believe in God with everything I have been through. It’s easy, I say. It was the people, not God, who abused me and twisted Scripture.
I still believe in God, but now I read for myself what my Creator says about me.