I grew up firmly believing what I had been taught: Divorce is not an option. I chose a man who claimed to be a strong Believer. He wanted to go to seminary and be a missionary! He led worship, was talented and believed in family. Surely, if we both loved Jesus, we could get through anything! On our wedding night, I wept quietly in the bathroom alone, as I had discovered exactly what my husband thought of me: That I was created to be used by him. And, oh . . . did I feel it. For the first 11 years of our horrific marriage, I held on to (what I believed) were promises God made about marriage. Most of those “promises” were twisty half-truths other Christians told me:
1. If I showed him unconditional respect, he would become respectable.
2. If I “suffered for Christ”, God would fix this mess.
3. If I were more lovely, I would be easier to love.
4. God was using my husband to sanctify me.
5. If I were more submissive, my husband would love me.
6. If I gave up more of myself, I would be pleasing God.
7. I would be more like Christ if I sacrificed myself on the altar of marriage.
8. If I could somehow manufacture a “quiet and gentle spirit”, in the midst of chaos, I could actually be responsible for my husband’s salvation.
Then came the day when I realized that my children were going to be destroyed. And none of the above requirements mattered, anymore. Then, another day when I realized that my husband was not going to change because he liked the way things were. Then came the day when I realized that he enjoyed seeing me strive, as he withheld the love I so desperately needed. He felt he had control over me as he watched me try to “respond appropriately” to his attacks (when I did not fall apart, in which case he pointed his finger at me in derision). Those 8 “commandments” gave him even more power over me. So, on a day when he did the unthinkable to my oldest child, I decided to leave. I went against everything that I had ever known or ever been taught in order to protect us. Half of me was saying, “God wants you all to be free.” The other half was saying, “God wants you to stick it out.” I was experiencing cognitive dissonance. My mind was warring against itself. It was so confusing that I had thoughts such as, “Well, God is no longer with me but He is pleased that I am giving my children a chance to have a healthy life.” What?! How could those two separate thoughts come together?
It took a year of unraveling and study about what God really says about me, about His children and about marriage to finally find some relief from the dissonance. The lies I had been told had to be undone, one at a time and (not only that), truth had to be accepted. Slowly, the fragments of my mind began to be pieced back together in all the right ways. And I found peace with Jesus (and joy) and calm, cognitively.
For many of “our” mamas, that cognitive dissonance can cause extreme anxiety, sleeplessness, panic, uncertainty and can shake one’s faith down to its very core. Do you know how many of the mamas to whom we minister believe that they will never be in a right relationship with God again? Or, when things are hard, that God is punishing them because they could no longer stand the abuse and had to get out? Part of our service here, at Give Her Wings, is to help untangle these lies with biblical truth. Not only have these mamas been reduced to almost nothing (in their minds) by their ex husbands, but they have been reduced by church people, as well, because these precious ladies could not keep their marriage together. (Of course, all of this stems from our strange idolization of marriage over the gift of life, but that is another blog post.)
One of the ways we counter-act these lies is by constantly reminding these precious ladies of whom they are. Our emails, letters to them, gifts, etc., all include their names, followed by, “Beautiful child of God.” We also explain that none of us is responsible for another person’s salvation. No way. We tell them that they do not have to die for their husbands to come to Christ — that Jesus already did that . . . and it was enough. We tell them that their lives matter more to Jesus than their marriage (this is often shocking to them). And we tell them that God was not pleased by the abuse they endured (also shocking).
Have we, as a Church, really swung this far over in our thinking about marriage that these precious ladies believe that they are going to hell because they left an abuser? Or that they will barely eek into Heaven? As hard as it is to admit . . . yes. And I say this as a woman who is joyfully married to an amazing man and who now has a healthy marriage and family life. I have a very high view of marriage . . . but not idol-high. There are things that the Bride of Christ needs to go back and fix. We have some undoing to do. Right now, we are doing the best we can, in our little ministry, to do just that.
If you are one of the women who has been so deeply hurt by the same lies I once also believed, please know this . . . He will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6). You are written on His hand (Isa. 49:16) and there is no place you could ever go to escape His presence (Psalm 139:8). You are deeply and infinitely loved by the One who died for you. Did you hear that? He died for you . . . so you would not have to die.