Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Are the Shepherds Safeguarding

0 comments Posted by Hannah at 10:19 PM

Are the Shepherds Safeguarding
the Lives of the Sheep?
Catherine Clark Kroeger
Reprinted with permission from “Catalyst”

Only yesterday I was told of a Christian woman who escaped a viciously cruel marriage and went to consult her pastor. The man of God, wishing to restore domestic peace and harmony, sent the fearful congregant back to her home along with his well meant prayers and good advice. Two days later the woman was dead, slain by the hand of her husband. Only weeks before a similar tragedy had been played out in a neighboring parish. Although the pastor had intended to reestablish the marital union, his guidance had led to its permanent destruction.

His first obligation was to do all in his power to safeguard the life of the
parishioner. Are our evangelical shepherds endangering the lives of the sheep? Ezekiel speaks of the watchman appointed by God who is responsible for the safety of the lives entrusted to him. "If the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of ...I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood." (Ezek. 33:6)

But most of our pastors are unaware of the danger. C. S. Lewis observed that one of the devil's cleverest tricks is to convince folk that he does not exist. Unencumbered by Christian wariness, he is far more free to wreak his mischief in our lives. Similarly there is a belief among evangelicals that domestic violence does not exist within our ranks, that the horrifying statistics are only feminist fabrications. Yet the government computes the body count with data gathered from hospitals, police stations, and morgues. In America at least two thousand women a year are killed by their intimate partners, and the toll for children is even higher. The facts tell a grisly tale that we have chosen to ignore.

Throughout the world, the death rate is equally high and sometimes far higher. Most abused women and children do not die, but they often carry the wounds for life - in terms of both physical and emotional injuries. We must also note that five percent of abusers are women, although their lack of physical strength makes them less likely to inflict serious injury.

Tragically, our longing to see the family made whole has blinded us to the dangers that lurk in family life. We must first admit that the danger is real and that we have been slow to recognize it. Isaiah lamented"Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge…They are shepherds who lack understanding." (56:10,11) We are ignoring the danger to thousands of women and children within our churches.

No type of faith community is immune from the scourge. Sociologist Nancy Nason Clark has researched the prevalence of abuse in evangelical families, and finds the rate about the same as in the general population. In North America, a pastor preaches on Sunday morning to a congregation in which, on average, there is abuse in one quarter of the families. Other studies, such as that done at Calvin College, confirm the findings. We are not facing this reality, nor are we prepared to deal with the terrible reality that engulfs us.

Few pastors have been given adequate preparation to deal with domestic violence. Our seminaries seldom offer instruction on the issue, although pastors report that they spend more of their counseling time on this subject than on any other. A Canadian study revealed that the more training pastors had been given on the subject, the more they were to refer the problem to a highly qualified professional. The less training pastors receive, the more likely they are to feel that they can handle the challenge themselves.

Studies show that when a Christian woman seeks help in an abusive marriage, she ordinarily consults either her pastor or a Christian woman in the congregation. The first lesson that we must teach pastors is that the danger is real and that it takes great courage for a woman to disclose the humiliating truth that she is a victim. She is well aware that many a woman is sent home by the pastor along with the rebuke that if she had been a better wife there would have been no problem. Thus she must struggle not only with shame but also with fear - fear that she will not be believed and fear that it may go worse for her at home once she has made the disclosure. "They have healed the also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying 'peace, peace' when there is no peace." (Jer. 6:14)

The Pastor’s Dilemma

Some pastors suspect that the women are fabricating stories of their abuse, and they are very reluctant to hear of such behavior on the part of their fine church members. Occasionally a woman does indeed make up the charge, but most of the time the fears that she expresses are based in reality. It is far better to err on the side of safety and to make sure that the woman is placed in a secure location even when she may be too distraught to give a rational account of the problem. Pastors must understand that even the most astute of mental health experts have been misled by putative perpetrators. Abusers may seem very pious, very self-controlled or even very repentant, but they may be very dangerous. Even the most convincing of statements may not guarantee safe behavior behind closed doors. Those who work most extensively with endangered women maintain that the victim herself usually has the most accurate understanding of the level of risk to herself and her children. We must not ignore or minimize her appeal for help in the face of her perceived peril. The woman can be helped to make a safety plan to be utilized if there is need. Often those best equipped to help with the plan are ready at the other end of a hot line. The victim can also be told of the resources that are available to her in the community.

The Pastor’s Resources

The first and mightiest tool that the pastor has is prayer, but he (or she) must add other weapons to this arsenal. There must be both basic information and essential ontacts. Many different kinds of resources will be needed in a crisis. In dealing with a life-threatening situation, it is imperative to move cautiously. A pastor should not enter a house where there is active violence until he is accompanied by police or other members of the church. Bear in mind that many a police officer has lost his life in responding to domestic violence calls.

Frequently the safest place for an endangered woman is the community shelter. The experienced staff has in place many safety features that might not occur to a congregation, no matter how well intentioned they might be. It is important that the location be unknown to the perpetrator and that it is an unlikely one for the perpetrator to discover. Remember that stalking and lying in wait frequently accompany other kinds of abusive behavior. More than one church member has been slain because they offered housing to an abused family. Many pastors are fearful of sending a member of their congregation to a shelter that is operated by persons with another life philosophy. This is sometimes a necessity, the best immediate solution for a terrifying problem, one that provides far more security than a local church can offer. The path of safety runs ”from the steeple to the shelter.”

As is so often the case, the church has lagged behind other elements in our society when it comes to addressing an evil that cries out for redress. Feminists have led the way in developing a methodology and an expertise in saving the lives of endangered women and children. Much of the operation depends upon dedicated volunteers who are trained to answer hot lines, transport endangered victims, staff shelters, locate safe houses when all the beds at the shelter are full.

Some are skilled in filling out applications for restraining orders and will accompany the victim to court. Others provide care for bewildered children, locate food, clothing, toys. How much this mission should be shared by the church!

Churches may well partner with a local shelter, supplying basic necessities, painting a room, providing special treats for a holiday. Better yet, church members could take the basic training for rescue workers. They may not care for some of the sentiments expressed or the language in which it is voiced, but this is true in many aspects of contemporary society. Nevertheless there is much that dedicated members of a congregation might learn to help their own members in time of trouble - and much to help others.

If it is necessary for a woman to flee from a dangerous situation, trained workers can help make the transition safer. Seventy-five percent of all domestic murders take place before, during, or shortly after the woman leaves. The preparatory arrangements must be disclosed to as few people as possible, and judicious guidance is indispensable in the planning. Various precautions and strategies of secrecy can make the process more orderly, safe and effective, with necessary funds, documents, and medicines in hand. Where are the Christians in our congregations who stand ready to give this kind of care?

There are many other issues that arise in long-term care for abusive families. Often the victim is flooded with advice, but no one addresses the perpetrator. Some maintain that it is not right to interfere with the way a man conducts the life of the family in his own home, but this is not what the Bible says. “:If a brother be overtaken in a fault, ye that are spiritual, restore such a one.” (Galatians 6:1)ometimes pastors have been slow to refer offenders to batterer intervention programs because there has been a very low rate of success. In God's providence there are now a few Christian intervention programs with excellent rates of transformed conduct. The best rates ensue when the offender is referred by the pastor, the family or the church. We evangelicals must insist that these programs be studied carefully and that qualified therapists be trained in these techniques. There are answers to be had, but we as the people of God must work together to find them.

We must establish as well a network of Christian hot lines, Christian shelters, Christian rehabilitation centers - for both victims and perpetrators. Our lack of caring has made us a reproach in many circles. It is time that we take action, but first we have a need for pastoral leadership. We need to be challenged to offer prayer and practical support to victim and offender alike. We can be there to listen and to care, to set up accountability groups within an atmosphere of zero tolerance for the offense; but we must be led.

The Pastor’s Mission

The first obligation of the pastor remains that of proclamation. It is the duty of a prophet to observe evil in our society and to speak out against it by applying the Word of God to the need. The scriptures contain over one hundred condemnations of violence, stalking, lying in wait, word twisting, as well as mental and emotional abuse. Very seldom do we hear these issues addressed from the pulpit. The Bible says that it is the obligation of the righteous to deliver the oppressed from the hand of the violent. Few sitting in the pews have ever heard an exposition of this biblical mandate. Fewer yet have been called to committed and constructive action.

All too often we have failed to view the totality of biblical teaching on God’s patterns for the home. In the Bible, one of the features most strongly emphasized for godly homes is that of safety.

My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” (Isa. 32:18)

Within their own homes, God’s people should be able not only to lie down in safety(Lev. 26:6; Ps. 3:6; Is. 14:30; Jer. 23:6; 32:37; 33:16; Hos. 2:18) but also to live in safety (Jer. 23:6; 32:37; 33:16; 343:24-28; Ez. 28:26; 34:24-28; 38:8) “You shall know that your tent is safe” (Job 5:24). As heavenly husband, Yahweh vows to his repentant wife Israel a home life free of fear and abuse:

“your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be the prosperity of your children. In righteousness you shall be established. You shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fail because of you. . . No weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, says the Lord.. .this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication with me, says the Lord” (Isa. 54:13-14, 17)

If this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, then we must help them to claim it. How often does this promise enter our discussions of the Christian family?

Faithful teaching on the Christian family must include at least as much proclamation of these aspects as is accorded in Scripture.

Who rises up for me against the wicked?

Who stands up for me against evildoers? (Ps. 94:16)

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene. (Isa 59:15b-16a).

Where are the pastors who will bring pastoral care and biblical perspectives to abusive situations?

Suggested resources:

James and Phyllis Aldsdurf, “Wife abuse and Scripture” in Abuse and Religion:
when Praying Isn’t Enough. Ed. A Horton and J. Williamson Heath Publisher,
1988 pp 221-28.

Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark, No Place for Abuse: Biblical
and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence InterVarsity Press,

Al Miles, Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Should Know. Augsburg
Fortress, 2000

Nancy Nason-Clark, The Battered Wife: How Christians Confront Family
Violence. Westminster John Knox, 1997,

Christian Intervention Programs:

Northwest Family Life, Seattle , WA
Christians Addressing Family Abuse, Eugene OR
Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (www.peaceandsafety.com)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

When Words Hurt - Part II

0 comments Posted by Hannah at 8:53 PM

The Damage Of Extreme Verbal Abuse

Verbally abusive words can hurt at any level. But we are left with damage that is more extensive when the abuse becomes extreme. You can’t see the bruises, as you can with physical abuse, but the injury is there and is just as great. In fact, most extremely abused spouses say they would prefer physical abuse over another torrent of guilt-trips, put-downs, and angry words. The misery they experience is seen in the details of the mental, emotional, and physical harm they incur.

Mental Damage. The long-term effect of living with an irrational, belittling spouse is that those who are being abused feel as if they’re going crazy. They feel as if they’re going to explode inside because they know something is seriously wrong but their partners continue to deny it. Their partners insist that nothing is wrong, and that if there is a problem it’s not with them.

One abused wife said that she would get so frustrated and confused that she felt like pulling the hair out of her head. She never knew what to expect. What wasn’t a big deal one day to her husband would upset him the next. And no matter how hard she tried to explain herself, her husband wouldn’t even consider her point of view. She knew what the truth was, but her husband was so clever and persuasive at making her think that everything was her fault or that he didn’t say what he said, that she felt compelled to believe him. But she always suspected she was betraying her own sense of good judgment.

Spouses who are married to mates who regularly abuse them with their words also struggle with extreme self-doubt. They doubt their own feelings, judgments, abilities, and perceptions. When their point of view is constantly discounted, they begin to second-guess themselves. After being so disparaged and demeaned, they lack confidence in themselves and in their ability to stand up for what they believe.

Perhaps the worst damage caused by severe verbal abuse in marriage is a loss of selfhood. This is when a spouse begins to believe that he or she has no value or voice. No one can ever truly take away an individual’s sense of being a person of unique value, but a verbally oppressive spouse can come very close. To have one’s opinions, feelings, accomplishments, and dreams regularly mocked and discounted can lead a person into thinking that he or she is nothing as an individual. Such cruel mistreatment smothers the glory and honor God has given each of us as creatures made in His image (Ps. 8:4-5).

Emotional Damage. Extreme verbal abuse makes its victims feel small and powerless. They feel weak and helpless as individuals to change their circumstances. After living in a situation where nothing changes no matter what they do, they slowly give up. They begin to stop caring and start to lose heart.

Many of us who know someone who has been verbally abused notice this shift in the person’s countenance. The person who used to be happy, outgoing, and full of energy and hope is now unhappy, withdrawn, lethargic, and depressed.

Spouses who experience extreme verbal abuse also feel the penetrating knife of betrayal. Before marriage, their partners led them to believe they were kind, thoughtful, reasonable, and flexible. Some put on quite an elaborate show of kindness and respect. Shortly after marriage, however, the dark side began to show itself. When marriage partners turn out to be completely different from what they pretended to be, feelings of betrayal can become overwhelming.

The sense of betrayal and abandonment deepens for many because they also feel let down by their church. Many women who have been victimized by extreme verbal abuse haven’t found their churches to be a place of help. Many church leaders don’t believe the Scriptures give them a basis for considering verbal and emotional abuse as serious as physical and sexual abuse. Some believe the problem will go away if the “offended” partner goes home and tries to be more submissive and loving.

The Scriptures, however, teach that while words may seem insignificant, they can do great damage. Words can degrade. Words are like fire (Jas. 3:5-6). Words can be hellish in their destructive effect (v.6). Words can be a deadly poison (v.8). Words can cripple. Words can kill. The sinful use of words can put us in danger of eternal punishment (Mt. 5:22).

Sadly, the truthfulness of these Scriptures is borne out in the lives of many who have found that the pain of demeaning words can be worse and more lasting than a physical assault. Having their marriage partner call them ugly, stupid, or good-for-nothing is a worse betrayal of companionship than a slap in the face.

Physical Damage. Eventually, what affects the soul will take its toll on the body. It’s not uncommon for spouses who have experienced extreme verbal abuse to suffer with a host of stress-related symptoms such as migraine headaches, nervous twitches, or severe stomachaches. Victims also suffer from exhaustion, TMJ disorders, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Such physical afflictions can cause needless suffering and disrupt a person’s capacity to serve and to enjoy life.

Responding To Abusive Words

Some might think that verbal abuse in marriage isn’t really all that serious. But those who have been on the receiving end of it know how frustrating and devastating it can be.

The sort of control and unkindness that shows up in every marriage may not require the kind of serious intervention needed in more severe cases of verbal abuse, but it does deserve more of our attention as individuals and within the church.

Whether verbal offenses merely touch or completely cover the landscape of our marriages, we need to base our response to them on some central relationship principles. Before turning our attention more specifically toward some of the particulars of how to respond to verbal abuse in marriage, let’s take a brief look at what it means to love a spouse who wounds us with words.

What Does It Mean To Love? Most of us find it difficult to love those who hurt us. To be sure, love is not simply making our spouses feel better. It is not merely appeasing our husbands or wives. It is not avoiding conflict just to get along. Put simply, to love is to seek the best interests of our spouses. This means at least two things: First, love means we care deeply for our spouses even though they have lost our trust. Second, love confronts and addresses sinful patterns in the lives of our partners, even if that upsets them or makes them uncomfortable.

Jesus, who loved perfectly, was at times confrontational. He aggressively confronted and chased the money lenders out of the temple who were cheating people with their inflated prices (Mt. 21:12-13). There were moments when He made sharp remarks to others (Mt. 23:13-36; Lk. 11:39-54).

Jesus, however, confronted not to get even with His enemies but to wake up those who didn’t realize the damage they were doing. He confronted to give offenders the opportunity to acknowledge their sin, to repent, and to find the forgiveness of God. In the same way, husbands and wives should lovingly confront each other out of a desire to see their mates come to their senses and be reconciled to God and themselves.

What Can A Wounded Spouse Do? Whatever degree of verbal harm spouses are struggling with, their response needs to include a greater awareness of the problem, thorough self-examination, a carefully planned confrontation, and a willingness to give their spouses time to change. As they look and wait for a sincere change of heart and behavior, they should be open to developing a desire to forgive.

Recognize The Problem. Verbally assaulted spouses help themselves and their mates by learning to recognize how and when their partners are using words to control and attack them. They can’t lovingly confront a problem they neither see nor understand.

One way for wounded spouses to better recognize the problem is to listen more to their own perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. They need to give their own perspectives as much weight as they are giving their spouses.

If you are in an extremely verbally abusive relationship, you aren’t as dumb or selfish or oversensitive or at fault as your spouse has led you to believe. Your opinions and perceptions are legitimate. So turn up the volume on your own thoughts and feelings. Allow yourself to hear what they are telling you. Awaken your deadened emotions and feel the anger you’ve been suppressing for so long. Feelings aren’t reliable alone as a guide to our thinking, but like one gauge among many on the dash of a car, feelings are an indicator that something is wrong.

Keeping a journal of how and when your spouse verbally dominates or assaults you can also help you understand the patterns of control and manipulation you are up against. Please understand, however, that the purpose of such a journal is for your understanding, not revenge. Record-keeping should never become a list of wrongs that you later throw back in your spouse’s face (1 Cor. 13:5).

As you keep this account, you will begin to notice patterns. These will allow you to predict how and when your spouse tries to control and punish you. Once you realize this, you are less likely to be caught off guard when it occurs. You will be better prepared to confront the problem when it happens again.

Another part of recognizing the problem is knowing when you need help. Addressing serious cases of verbal abuse often requires strong corrective measures. You may not be confident enough to do it alone. You may be facing financial or child-care issues that you don’t have the resources to handle on your own. That is why it may be important for you to seek help from those who have the experience and the resources. At the very least, you may need to talk with a trustworthy friend or enlist the help of a pastor or Christian counselor who understands the dynamics of serious verbal abuse. In some severe cases, an abused wife may need to seek help from a women’s shelter.

Conduct A Careful Self-examination. Without minimizing the pain you are experiencing as a result of your spouse’s unjustified behavior, you need to take time to look within yourself. It is appropriate for you to be angry and concerned about your spouse’s sin against you, but only after you’ve first looked to see if there is a “log” in your own eye. Jesus taught that we should focus on our own faults first before we attempt to correct someone else. Then we will be in a better position to address the faults of others (Mt. 7:3-5).

An important part of examining yourself is owning your response to the abuse. If you’ve been in an extremely verbally abusive relationship, you will find it especially difficult to take responsibility for your response because you’ve been through so much.

You are, of course, in no way responsible for your spouse’s verbal mistreatment. Despite your mate’s attempts to saddle you with blame, you haven’t in any way caused your spouse to be disrespectful, manipulative, or oppressive toward you. You may, however, need to accept responsibility for permitting your spouse to demean you and boss you around. Owning your response helps to keep powerlessness and bitterness from taking root in your heart.

Another crucial aspect of examining yourself is taking a thoughtful look at why you may have allowed your marriage partner to verbally mistreat and control you. Countless stories of extreme verbal abuse bear out the fact that a compliant, permissive response is partly due to a strong fear of abandonment, either emotional or physical. This fearful response is often rooted in a history of anxious and unsettled relationships where there was no assurance of acceptance and support.

Fearfulness often reveals a hesitancy on our part to entrust our well-being to God. Painful events in our lives may have caused us to doubt the heart of God. Does He care? Will He protect us? These questions eat away at our faith when there is reason to wonder if He will be there for us when we need Him. So it’s a struggle to trust Him with what matters most.

Although we may have doubts, God does hear our cries for help (Ps. 10:17-18). Gideon, who struggled with doubt in the midst of oppression, showed us by example that wrestling through our doubts in prayer may be a part of what convinces us that God is for us. We may not find satisfactory answers to all of our questions, but our honest struggle prepares us to see God in a way that restores an undeniable faith in Him, even though we still have doubts (Jud. 6:1-17).

If you are in an extremely abusive relationship, your fear of being left alone and your struggle to trust God make it difficult for you to respond in the right manner. If you continue to act out in fear of what your spouse might do, it will trap you in more self-protective responses that will only add to your trouble (Prov. 29:25). As you struggle with doubts, you can deal with these matters of fear and mistrust by honestly facing the truth that may be causing you to live so fearfully. You may discover a connection between your painful past and the present way you are interacting in your marriage. You may learn that you have been complying and trying to please your abusive mate out of fear. If this is true, you will need to carefully consider the effect that being controlled by fear has had on you and others. And you may need to recognize that you have tolerated abuse because you have been trying to save a relationship that has long since died.

While all of us find it painful to face our losses realistically and acknowledge the harm others have done to us, our honesty allows us to accept what we’ve lost and motivates us to turn to God to mend our wounded hearts (Ps. 147:3). At the same time, honestly facing how we’ve mishandled sinful treatment by others allows us to grieve over our own wrong responses and to know the thrill of seeing that our heavenly Father eagerly waits for us to return and put our trust in Him (Lk. 15:20-24). It is here that we can truly learn the meaning of Proverbs 29:25, which says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Even though we might have to endure harm from others, we can know that by contrast to other relationships, our relationship with God is absolutely safe and secure, no matter how much we fail Him. In the assurance of His forgiveness, we can find the courage and desire to respond properly to a verbally controlling spouse—less out of fear and more out of love (Lk. 7:47; 1 Jn. 4:18).

Confront The Verbal Offenses. The Scriptures teach us to try to live at peace with everyone “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you” (Rom. 12:18). You may, however, be in a marriage where your spouse has made it impossible to live in peace and harmony. Your mate is either blind to his or her offensive ways, or doesn’t care. In such a case, confronting a pattern of verbal offense is necessary.

There are two options for you to consider: You can confront at the moment your spouse verbally abuses you, or you can choose a time to discuss your concern at a less emotionally charged moment. In severe cases, though, it may not be safe to confront an abusive spouse alone. You may feel legitimately afraid of a physically violent reaction. If this is the case, it is best for you to confront your spouse in the presence of a pastor or a counselor.

Regardless of when you decide to confront, the confrontation involves naming the abuse, setting limits, and following through with consequences.

First, describe the verbal offense. This involves simply putting words to how you see your spouse trying to control, punish, or invalidate you. For instance, one wife said to her husband, “You may not be aware of it, but I’ve noticed that you try to intimidate me by yelling. And you are doing it right now.” Another husband said to his wife, “Honey, I want to have a conversation with you, but it seems to me that you are trying to manipulate me to get your own way.”

In severe cases, abusive spouses will deny what they do and will often attempt to back their partners down with more verbal intimidation. It’s important to expect such efforts to control and not to get sidetracked. Stick to describing how he or she talks to you, and not necessarily the content of what has been said. Don’t try to reason or explain at this point—because your mate really does not want to be reasonable. As kindly and firmly as possible, point out that even in denial your mate is still trying to control.

Second, set limits. Naming the abuse needs immediately to be followed by setting limits. While love covers a multitude of sins, it also knows when to set appropriate constraints and limits. Telling your mate what you will no longer accept is one way to set a limit. Setting constraints may involve saying to your spouse that criticizing what you do in a degrading way, calling you a derogatory name, bossing you around, or yelling at you is wrong, and that you are not going to ignore or accept it any longer.

Third, follow through with consequences. Setting limits mean little without consequences. A consequence is something that you (not your spouse) will do if your limits are not recognized and honored. For example, one wife said to her husband, “Right now you’re being sarcastic and you’re belittling me. I’ve let you know that I’m not going to accept that kind of talk anymore. We need to resolve this issue, but if you will not give me the same respect you expect me to give you, I’m ending this conversation. When you can treat me with more respect, then we can talk again.”

Another spouse whose wife regularly yelled at him over the phone told his wife, “You are screaming at me, and I’ve asked you to stop. If you continue, I’m going to hang up the phone. When you can be more civil, I’ll be glad to talk.”

The consequences should fit the situation. The more serious the verbal offenses, the more serious the consequences. Options can range from leaving the room and ending a conversation to a temporary legal separation and the suspension of sexual relations. In severe cases, a more permanent separation is not out of the question if there is no significant repentance and change in a reasonable length of time.

Divorce is an extreme consequence that has far-reaching implications for all parties involved. There is an indication in Scripture that divorce would be allowed in an abusive marriage, but without the right of remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11; see RBC booklets Divorce & Remarriage [Q0806] and When Violence Comes Home [CB951]). Certainly if a verbally abusive situation reaches such an impasse, the offended party must obtain wise spiritual and personal guidance from a loving and understanding pastor or Christian counselor.

Allow Time For Change. Those who’ve been hurt by a pattern of verbal offense need to give their mates ample time to change their behavior. Just as it may have taken a long time to recognize the seriousness of the abuse, abusive spouses usually need time to understand how much damage they have done. In many cases, offenders are so self-centered that they have no clue about the destruction they are causing with their words. Many feel that as long as they haven’t laid a hand on their mates, they haven’t crossed the line into serious abuse. Often, they must be compelled to listen as their partners describe the pain they’ve suffered. Only then can they start to understand and express meaningful words of sorrow and repentance.

It’s important that your abusive partner is not let off the hook prematurely. Because of habit, self-deception, and self-centeredness, verbally abusive mates will often need time to suffer and bear the weight of the harm they have caused over a period of time before their hearts will begin to soften and change. Don’t put too much stock in quick apologies. Don’t rescue your spouse from feeling the pain of his or her sin. Proverbs 19:19 says, “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.” Give your spouse time to contemplate the harm he or she caused you, because that’s what it takes for your spouse to begin to feel the need for genuine change (Ps. 51:17).

Look For A Real Change Of Heart. It’s important that those who have been severely hurt by verbal abuse know what kind of repentance to look for. Tough love won’t give in to a mate who tries to make a quick apology and then follows it with a demand for forgiveness. A person who has had an honest change of heart does not say, “I said I was sorry, and now you need to forgive and forget.”

Truly repentant people don’t focus on their desire for forgiveness. That’s a continuation of self-centeredness. Instead, they express a genuine willingness to bear and focus on the pain they’ve caused. They seek help in their effort to understand how they try to control and punish. They are willing to hear what their words have done to their mates. They don’t try to blame their partner. They don’t try to make an apologetic excuse like, “I’m sorry I hurt you so badly, but . . .” Genuine repentance contains no “buts”!

Truly repentant persons recognize and take responsibility for their unacceptable behavior. They are willing to own up to the fear and mistrust they have created for their spouses. They realize that it is wrong to expect the one they have hurt to act as if nothing has happened. Instead, they give their husband or wife time to work through issues of forgiveness and trust. Even if a wounded person is able to extend forgiveness quickly, it is important to understand that such forgiveness may not mean a quick restoration of the relationship. Restoration is a process, not an event.

Learn To Forgive As God Has Forgiven You. Few subjects are more misunderstood than forgiveness. Yet few actions are more needed than that of an offended person saying, “I forgive you.” The necessary things are so often the hardest things to do.

Jesus said, “If your brother sins [against you], rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). Implied in this simple statement is the need for words of rebuke, words of repentance, and words of forgiveness that truly express the love of God.

God forgives those who honestly confess their sin and entrust themselves to His mercy. He does not promise to remove all natural consequences of the wrong. Instead, He releases the offender from the guilt and the offended from the anger that would otherwise make mutual love impossible.

Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Lk. 6:27-36), but He doesn’t demand that we forget or ignore the consequences of oppressive wrongs. He teaches us to love others even though they may have harmed us, and to be willing to forgive those who have sincerely repented (17:3).

Loving those who hurt us doesn’t come easy. We all need time to get to the place where we want to show love to those who have hurt us so much. But to continue to withhold love is to become like the one who has harmed us. To harden our hearts and deny forgiveness to someone who has had a change of heart is to return evil for evil. We don’t have the right to do this. The New Testament tells us that God alone has the right of vengeance (Rom. 12:19-21).

Releasing the right of vengeance to God is what gets the bitterness out of our hearts. Letting go of the debt that a repentant offender could never repay is showing love in a godly way. Canceling the unpayable debt of a repentant mate is what distinguishes us as a people who have been forgiven by God (Mt. 6:14-15).

If we do not have any desire to forgive our repentant husband or wife, we need to do some real soul-searching. Vindictiveness indicates that we are not experiencing the mercy and forgiveness of God for our own sins. A vengeful, hateful attitude toward others shows us that our own self-righteous hearts need to be broken by the countless wrongs that we too have committed against God and others.

Certainly, such an awareness of our own wrongs doesn’t excuse the evil others have done against us. But it does remind us that we are all on common ground at the foot of the cross of Christ. It makes us aware that if we are not willing to love others as God loves us, we ourselves are in desperate need of the mercy and love of God in our lives. Let’s be thankful that His offer of mercy is still available to us (Jn. 3:16-18).

Thursday, January 05, 2006

When Words Hurt Part I

1 comments Posted by Hannah at 8:49 PM

Marsha’s stomach tightened. She had innocently asked her husband Dan what he had planned for the afternoon. She wanted to make sure he wasn’t depending on her to be at home. She was still shaken from the anger Dan had expressed the day before when he found out she had gone shopping without telling him. For several long minutes in the middle of last night’s dinner he had glared and shouted, and threatened to take away the checkbook and the car if she didn’t start checking with him first. So now, the next morning, Marsha was cautiously asking him about his plans for the day. Typically, Dan misread her motives: “Why do I always have to tell you what I’m going to do?” he snapped.

Marsha could feel her body beginning to tense more. “You don’t,” she said timidly. “I was just wondering if you might like to do something this afternoon.”

“Well, I just don’t know why you expect me to tell you everything I’m doing,” Dan said, even more angrily.

“Why are you getting so upset? I never said you had to tell me everything,” Marsha replied.

“I’m not upset. You always make such a big deal out of nothing!” Dan snarled.

“I wasn’t trying to make a big deal out of anything,” Marsha reasoned. “All I did was simply ask—” Before she could finish explaining herself, Dan cut her off and in a loud voice shouted, “Don’t try to deny it. You always do that!” After a few seconds of awkward silence, Dan slammed his fist on the table and continued, “Why don’t you just shut your big mouth and drop it! You don’t have a clue what it means to be a submissive wife, and you’re probably too stupid to ever get it!”

“Okay, Dan, I’ll drop it,” Marsha conceded.

“You’re not going to get off that easy,” Dan shouted. “You always try to get in the last word!”

Exasperated, Marsha exclaimed, “But I thought you wanted me to drop it!

Marsha continued trying to explain herself, but there was no reasoning with Dan. He persisted to twist what she was saying and to call her more derogatory names. A phone call mercifully ended the episode. But Marsha left that conversation, as she had left many others, feeling belittled, confused, and guilty. She wondered what she had said to make Dan so mad and why she couldn’t get him to understand her.

Conversations like Marsha and Dan’s illustrate how spouses can hurt their partners by what they say. No punches were thrown. There was no slapping or shoving (although there could have been). Instead, Dan used his words to beat up his wife.

Using words as weapons is a practice that is as old as human language, but we still don’t give it the attention it deserves. While we have come a long way in understanding the damage that physical and sexual abuse can do, many of us have still not realized that we can injure others with our words perhaps even more than with our fists.

The purpose of this booklet is to call our attention to the power of words to help or to hurt. While we’ll deal primarily with the misuse of words in the marriage relationship, the principles covered can be applied to other relationships. Our chief concern is for the countless husbands and wives who need help in understanding and reacting in a proper manner to varying degrees of verbal control and harm. Together we need to think carefully about words that violate the spirit and promise of the marriage covenant.

The author, Jeff Olson, is a licensed counselor in Michigan and works for the RBC Ministries biblical correspondence department.

e cannot afford to underestimate the importance and power of our words. The New Testament writer James said that even though the human tongue is a small part of the body, it has the power to make a tremendous impact (Jas. 3:1-12). The book of Proverbs reminds us that “the tongue has the power of life and death” (18:21). The language we use to communicate with one another is like a knife. In the hands of a careful and skilled surgeon, a knife can work to do good. But in the hands of a careless or ignorant person, it can cause great harm. So it is with words.

The Power To Do Good. The Bible teaches that a kind word can uplift, nourish, and mend a broken heart. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” A well-considered word can help to restore confidence, hope, and purpose to a spouse who feels dejected, lost, and confused. For example, a husband could lift the spirits of his wife by saying, “Honey, I appreciate your patience with me lately. I know I’ve been absorbed in my work. I’ve taken you for granted. You’ve been hurting, and I’ve been too preoccupied to realize it.”

The Power To Harm. Remember the schoolyard comeback, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It’s a lie. Unkind words do injure—sometimes deeply. Being yelled at or called a name like “stupid” or “idiot,” especially by a spouse, can inflict a wound that will fester for years.

We often don’t take seriously the power of the tongue to assault and its ability to devastate. A few inconsiderate words can kill the spirit of a spouse or a friend. Proverbs 12:18 states that “reckless words pierce like a sword.” James described the tongue as being “full of deadly poison” (3:8). Psalm 52:2 speaks of the tongue as a “sharpened razor” that works to bring about the destruction of another.

Does this mean that we should never cause pain with our words? No. There is a time for “verbal surgery.” Some situations require the compassionate and skillful use of incisive words that may cause pain (Prov. 27:6). All of us need admonition, correction, and constructive criticism at times. Even though they are necessary, such words still hurt. But this is not the kind of pain that harms (2 Cor. 7:8-10). It is pain intended to help us grow.

Far too often, however, a loving motive is missing in the pain we cause with our words. It is more likely that we will use hurtful words in the process of attacking one another. Unfortunately, such instances of verbal warfare are all too common in most of our marriages. As regrettable as it is, almost all marriages experience the conflict and discord that occurs when both partners use their words to control and hurt each other.

Marital Conflict

Conflict is unavoidable in marriage. Because each partner brings his or her own perspective into the relationship, which is influenced by gender, family background, and life experiences, most marriages encounter frequent disagreements and profound differences of opinions.

In healthy relationships, most of these disagreements are resolved in a nondestructive manner. Although married couples may strongly disagree, many learn to work through their conflicts in a way that allows them to disagree with each other in a controlled and respectful manner.

It is just as true, however, that most couples go through periodic moments or seasons when they misuse their words in the midst of conflict. Occasionally, communication breaks down and turns ugly even in the best of relationships. All of us have been guilty to some extent of fighting unfairly and not trying to resolve differences as much as we are trying to manipulate, win, or at least “even the score.”

How Are Words Used To Control And Attack? Knowingly or unknowingly, all of us who are married have used our words to control and hurt our mates. Although the ways we do this can vary in intensity from one relationship to the next, the following is a brief description of the most common tactics couples use to control and attack each other.

1. Guilt trips are an effective means of controlling people or punishing people. When spouses are able to make their partners feel guilty for disagreeing with them or challenging them, they gain power over their mates. The guilt-trip vocabulary can be as straightforward as “I hope you’re happy now” or “What took you so long?” Or it can be more subtle: “It’s always my fault.” For instance, one wife got this response from her husband whenever she pointed out one of his mistakes. He was experienced at making her feel guilty for mentioning anything negative about him.

2. Faultfinding puts spouses under a barrage of criticism. From how they take care of their things, to how they manage money, to how they look, to how they drive the car, spouses can pick apart and lecture their mates. Whether it’s occasional or ongoing, faultfinding allows spouses who are dishing it out to feel superior and makes their partners feel inferior.

3. Name-calling is applying a negative word or phrase to a spouse’s deficiency. Derogatory names like stupid, lazy, idiot, jerk, dumb, or cry baby are used to make a partner feel small and worthless. Spouses may also resort to character assassinations like “You’ve never been much of a wife” or “You’ll never amount to anything.”

4. Yelling occasionally occurs in many marriages. Shouting or blowing up and screaming statements like “What’s your problem!” or “Just shut up and leave me alone!” intimidates a partner. It allows the spouse who is yelling to feel strong and makes the other feel weak, defeated, and terrified of doing or saying anything that might provoke another attack.

5. Sarcasm is another method of control, and it is often a thinly veiled attack. Sarcastic responses such as “whatever” or “sure” (especially accompanied by rolled eyes) discounts and condemns a partner’s point of view. Sarcasm obviously doesn’t set the mood for honest discussion. Instead, it frustrates partners and sabotages the conversation in a way that leaves the offending spouse in charge and on top.

6. Blaming allows one spouse to be exonerated and imposes guilt on the other. When something goes wrong, it’s the other partner’s fault. For example, one wife asked her husband to make a phone call for her and then later scolded him for doing it when the phone call created a problem with another family member. One husband blew up at his wife but then blamed her for causing his outburst. Blame-shifting leaves the innocent partner feeling confused and punished.

7. Put-downs, whether subtle or overt, are also used by some spouses to gain power over their mates. In a very calm yet condescending tone, one husband would talk down to his wife by telling her not to worry about the finances because they were over her head. Other spouses may mock their partners in public for something they did or said. In a public display of power they might say, “Why did you wear that outfit?” or “That wasn’t too bright!” to make their spouses feel foolish and small.

Why Are Words Used To Control And Attack? In one way or another, most husbands and wives have resorted to at least some of the above verbal tactics. And the problem is not just about words. It’s about personal selfishness, anger, or insecurity, compelling us to use words for any of the following purposes:

1. To Get Our Own Way. There’s a selfish streak in all of us. To some degree, we all struggle with wanting to get our own way. One of the things that made Jesus’ life here on earth so remarkable is that He wasn’t selfish. He always put the best interests of others and the purposes of God the Father before His own, even though it caused Him to suffer more than anyone else in history. As the people of Christ, we are called to follow His example of unselfishness wherever that may lead (Phil. 2:3-5). But all of us fall short. At a point of marital disagreement, even mature spouses can act childish and demand to have their own way. Controlling our mates through intimidation or guilt is an effective way to get what we selfishly want and to avoid personal loss.

2. To Get Even. Retaliation is a major reason many spouses turn to tactics such as name-calling or sarcasm. Right or wrong, some spouses feel personally attacked or let down, so they seek to punish their mates. They forget or ignore that vengeance is God’s business (Rom. 12:19). They react out of anger with the intention of “getting even.” Other spouses simply take out personal frustrations on their partners. They’re angry about certain circumstances or at other people, and they want someone—anyone—to suffer for the fact that things aren’t going their way.

3. To Hide. Openness and personal responsibility are fundamental to a marriage. Without them there can be no maturing of the relationship. It may be difficult for us to admit, but sometimes we use words to hide and protect ourselves. Like the first married couple, Adam and Eve, we get scared and try to conceal our failures from our mates and from God (Gen. 3:7-13).

When confronted with the truth of our harmful behavior toward others, we don’t want to own up. We’re often too angry over being hurt ourselves. We’re afraid that if we do own up, we will be attacked or abandoned. Like an accused criminal, we vigorously declare our innocence (Prov. 16:2). Following in the footsteps of Adam, we often become defensive and blame our spouses, and even God, for our self-centered behavior (Gen. 3:12). For example, rather than taking responsibility for how his anger had made it difficult for his wife to speak up in their relationship, one husband responded, “How can you say that about me after all I’ve done for you!”

To some degree, all of us have spoken manipulative and intimidating words to get our own way. All of us have used unkind words to “punish” our spouses. And we all have blamed our spouses to protect ourselves. When we see this in ourselves, we need to be more willing to own up to it and feel sorrow over the specific harm we do to our spouses and the problems we’ve created.

It is our ownership and brokenness that begin to repair the damage we’ve caused. Words of open and honest confession and remorse can begin to rebuild trust, and in time may lead to reconciliation and a return to intimacy.

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