New Beginnings in Dead Ends

I’ve been thinking a lot about church culture lately, as I do periodically. I think it’s fair to say the dynamics of what is normal and acceptable within the context of churches and religious communities is changing. The Southern Baptist Commission is voting this week for a new President, subsequent to the departure of the former president under the cloud of protest… protest stemming from the resurfacing of an old video of him discussing his thoughts and counsel for women who have been victims of domestic violence.

I’m sure this is connected to and a response to the Me Too movement, and the larger cultural transition that is questioning rape culture and narratives of gender and power.
Church, we are late to the table here. We have neglected and shushed and avoided this conversation for too long! And we’re at risk of losing our voice, failing to be the hands, heart, face, feet and voice of Jesus in this place where I’m sure God has something to say!

We need to acknowledge that we failed our people. We failed your mother, when we told her God would want her to stay with that man who doesn’t know the Lord, in the hope that she will lead him to Christ.

We need to tell you we were wrong when we suggested you watch the movie “The War Room,” and take heed.

We need to acknowledge that prayer is powerful and humble and trusts that God is aware of our struggles and our needs, and willing to intervene. While those things are true about prayer, it cannot be the sole call to action in response to narratives of harm, domestic violence, and spousal abuse. We perpetuate and are complicit in the abuse, if this is our only response. Yes, Church, intercede on her and/or his behalf! You can do that! But tell her to get out. Make a way for her to get out. Put together a plan, and quit hiding from these conversations.

Ask questions.
“Are you scared?”
“What are you afraid of?”
“What would make you feel safe?”
“How can I/we support you?”
“Does this change or make you question your understanding of God?”
“What parts of you need healing?”

Church, these things are tricky. These are tough conversations and hard topics to engage. But we have failed. We have failed to acknowledge that even in a very small church, it is likely that several households are contexts where abuse is very present and very hidden.

We have spent too long refusing to publish the complicated stories that leave us with questions or let us wrestle with the assumptions we’ve taken for gospel.

We must pivot. We must repent. We must listen and learn from the social supports that are decades ahead of us in this. Pastors, invite a director of a women’s shelter to share your pulpit, and to teach your people.

We must acknowledge we don’t have all the answers. We don’t. If you balked at the last 2 sentences, you are part of the problem. We must realign ourselves and our communities with the love of Christ. The LOVE of God.

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner presents a threat to the life of another? Because intimate partners are the #1 perpetrators of homicide among female victims.

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner physically harms or beats another?

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner holds the other captive?

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner causes the other to become depressed to the point of suicide?

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner withholds food from the other causing starvation?

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner leaves the other’s body bruised, cut, tattered?
What if the body part is the soul/mind/heart/spirit?
Why do some of us hesitate there? Why would these invisible but often equally devastating and pernicious wounds be tolerated in God’s household?

This should not be.

I was that wife. I was that wife 7 years ago. And I named the abuse. In one-on-one conversations, I named the hurt, the emotional neglect, the deprivation of love. Well meaning Christians counseled me to pray more, to “respect him more.” And I believe that they did not intend or even know that these responses subtly placed the blame for my hurt back on me. Is it possible that I’m not praying enough or in the right way? Is there something about my view of gender and equity and partnership that is not aligned with God’s love and God’s desires? Am I corrupting this relationship because I expect to be treated as an equal?

Two years ago, I told my therapist that I didn’t think I’d need to be taking a daily antidepressant, if not for the continued presence of a spouse who questioned me, second guessed me, contradicted me, lied to me, and neglected my heart. I was suffocating in loneliness.

And over the last year, I have learned just how deeply I had lost sight of love. The experience of being loved was so foreign to me that for a short season, I confused simple human kindness, professional partnership, and platonic mutual respect for love. Oh how devastatingly small my portion of love had become, that kindness felt like a feast. I hadn’t even noticed. I was living, just barely, on the crumbs that fell through the cracks of the narcissist’s table above me.

Divorce didn’t feel like an option, and I can’t clearly explain why even now. I considered having an affair, just to sabotage my marriage, but what if he wanted to work through it? Also, I just couldn’t. In my despair and in my hopelessness, suicide seemed a better option that either affair or divorce. Seriously. And as I thought through the plan that came to me gently and softly, I had sudden clarity. What power I had given to the church! What power had I placed in what others might think of me! What power I had placed in my dogged determination not to follow the path of generations of my family before me! And how warped my view of God! God is LIFE, and this marriage had driven me to the door of death.

I did not kill myself. I got help. I let the blinders fall. I let those who had loved me and known me through the years of abuse name their grief, their fears, and what they’ve witnessed. I filed for divorce. And I have found support in such lovely ways with lovely folks.

There have also been criticisms and cautions and rumors leaking out of my church. Ugh! A church leader vented about me to a friend, “these people think they can just start over with a new family, and don’t realize their problems will just follow them into that new family.” This is not loving kindness. This is wrong and harmful on so many levels.

No, I’m not having an affair. I just decided after years of consideration that I’d be better off if I were single for the rest of my life than if I continue in this way.
No! I haven’t turned from the Way.
Yes, I’ve considered how it will impact my kids, and what is best for them. Having a living and whole mother is what’s best for them.

Church, we must learn better ways of responding. We are missing an opportunity to be a force of healing and relevance in these broken places.

And over the months and weeks, I’ve come to understand (remember) God is loving and life giving. And in the ways that my marriage depleted my heart, God grieved, and grieves, and witnesses… and I believe He intends to bring those bent and broken places to light and redress with love and healing.

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Ambivalence: the Unfinished Story

I do not know whether my marriage will survive, thrive, or end. I struggle with disappointment.

I have been married for long enough to be comfortable in marriage. Today is not a conflict day. We have not argued or fought. We have actually partnered well. It has been comfortable. But not all days are like this. Some are downright painful. Some feel hopeless.

Within the last year, my husband has finally acknowledged something I have known for years. He is abusive. Even though he has not been physically violent, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, and neglect have plagued my years of marriage. This year I have committed to not allowing it to live in hidden spaces.

I stay because I meant it when I said ‘I do.’ I think he did too, but had no idea what it would call him to. I stay because I have a long family history of rampant divorce, and I want to be the one to break that generational curse. I stay because I don’t want our kids to be parented by him without my watchful eyes, and voice to name where his behavior/words/tone, etc. are not okay. I stay because, for some reason, I still have just enough hope that things will get better for good.

But I am missed so often. I am so frequently mis-heard, mis-understood, mis-represented.

After more than a decade of marriage, I feel like my husband does not even know me. He doesn’t treat me as if he recognizes my insight or intuitive gifts. He demonstrates almost no curiosity about me or my thoughts. I wonder who he sees when he looks at me.  I wonder how we got to this point.

Last night, I yielded to my muse. My story is not known because I have chosen not to tell it. No longer will I hold my story alone. Here, I bring the truth of my not-known story to the light of day. I am not alone in this experience.

If you choose to join me in this journey, I will be honest about the ups and downs of marriage. I will engage the ambiguity of this not-yet-finished story. I do not yet know how it ends, but I welcome you on the journey.