By David C.
A reprint from A Cry for Justice
I reckon I will never forget how I found Megan (now my lovely wife) and her children (now my sweet children, too) about a year ago when I went to Nebraska to fetch them. The year prior, Megan had fled an abusive husband who managed to suck all the hope, health, esteem, life and peace out of her life and the lives of the four little children she led in tow.
Some of what I would discover about their lives I think I truly understood. But I was clueless regarding most of it. Though I had pastored for 25 years and had counseled hundreds of troubled couples, single mothers, and broken kids, I didn’t have — and don’t think I could have had — a real idea of what she had experienced.
Megan had lived with an abuser for more than a decade, and the kids had grown up with a father who had abused and manipulated them in a multitude of ways. Though hers (and theirs) is only one story, it seems like the themes and experiences of thousands of others are exceedingly similar. Here are just three of the many life-lessons that I have learned in the past year regarding women and children from abused marriages/homes.
They often have few or no anchors in their lives. They are vulnerable and, in many ways, helpless. Scared. Unsure. Uncertain. What will happen to us tomorrow? Where will we get the money for food to sustain us? Where will we be living next month at this time? What’s going to happen to us? Megan and her kids were asking themselves these questions daily. They loved the Lord, of course. And it was obvious to me that their faith was very much intact. But there just wasn’t anything visible, guaranteed, rock-solid-for-sure to cling to except that they knew God loved them. Us church folks may say, “Well, that’s all they need.”
Get real. When you don’t have money for food tomorrow, and the heat bill in that tiny, freezing house is almost 30 days overdue, and the gas tank in the old and very unreliable car is running on E, sometimes God doesn’t seem near. They need people . . . people sent by God to help them. People to anchor their faith, steady their hearts, and reassure them that they are not alone and that they are going to “make it” through this frozen winter season in their hearts. What they don’t need is religious people condemning them for breaking a covenant marriage and “disappointing God”. (Tell that to a little child whose father beats and bruises him on a regular basis and see what his concept of God is when he is fifteen.) No, women and children who have found themselves in this life-and-emotional-death predicament need others to anchor them, not judge them for doing the only thing they had left to do.
They have little-to-no resources. Megan’s story is not unlike many others. The wife spends her time homemaking and taking care of the children. Though she is highly educated, she had spent her life investing in the children. Now, as a means to survive and give her kids a chance to be healthy and safe, she is on her own…with almost nothing to live on. Little money. Little food. Inadequate clothing. When I arrived to pick up Megan and the kids in the tiny, run-down house (though grateful she was for it), all four kids were sleeping on mattresses crammed into one room. No beds. I am aware of a formerly abused wife and mother who tonight is sleeping on the floor of a home-with her children- fighting off the rats with whom they share their house. It sounds unthinkable. But when you have so little resources, sometimes it is the only way to survive. It’s better than sleeping under a bridge, but it just shouldn’t be this way.
What abused women and children (who have fled their abuser and have little or no income) need is practical help. Coats if it is winter. Gas if there is a car. Blankets if they are cold. Food that is edible. And dignity in it all. So many are reduced to near-beggars, never having imagined that their lives could have ever gotten out of hand like this, but also having never imagined they would have to go to such extremes to just save themselves and their children.
They have little or no boundaries around them to protect them. Like a medieval city with broken down walls, a woman-turned-refugee is exposed to many dangers . . . most of them people. Many assume she is easy and open prey. She may be hit-on by men hoping for an easy target. She is haunted by the ex-husband who won’t leave her alone. He calls her, texts her, and tells her how horrid her heart is for “breaking the convenant marriage” and that God cannot be with her any longer. This is manipulation, of course, but it confuses her momentarily and potentially drives her into deeper despair. She is often guilted by friends who have no concept of abuse. Even some in her original family blame her for leaving her “Christian” husband. Worse, they say she made up the whole idea of being abused. In short, she is unprotected.
Megan had no parents as both are deceased. She did have some friends who did what they could to pitch in from afar. Most didn’t realize what she had been living through for 11 years, nor did they know the height of the daily challenges she was facing once she left.
In many cases, she is even blamed by the church and treated as unfaithful. She is blamed by the church…because her husband abused her.
I used to preach on all the false, bad religion in our world today. Turns out that not all religion is bad, afterall. Though the word religion is scoffed in the circles which I ran for 30 years, there is such a thing as real religion . . . In fact, the Bible explains what this not-at-all-fake and unpolluted religion is: “Pure and undefiled religion is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)
I have come to understand in this latest season of my life that many women abused by their husband (or young children abused by their father) are spiritual widows and spiritual orphans in a very real sense of the word. They are on their own. Not all of them are, of course. Some of them have parents, pastors, siblings, friends, or others who rescue them right away and help them. But this isn’t the case all the time.
What is your religion? There is so much to be done in the Kingdom of God. This . . . THIS is real religion. With eyes to see and ears to hear, I would challenge you to lift up your head . . . and refuse to be clueless.