Christian therapist and author, Leslie Vernick, recently gave me the opportunity to read her latest book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. It was a privilege to do so and I found the book a fascinating read, especially since I serve women who've been victimized at some point in their lives. The author defines emotionally destructive relationships, clarifying the difference between being in a marriage that is destructive and one that is disappointing. She also gives excellent advice on how to confront a destructive relationship and steps that one can do to bring healing to it.
I believe the church has needed this book for a long time. I have seen too many women shamed for seeking counseling about their destructive relationships. They were told to try harder, to submit more, to just forgive and trust God more. I have talked privately to some women who were afraid to get help, for fear that things would get worse, fear that they would lose their kids, or fear things might escalate and promises of personal harm or death would be carried out. I have talked to women who went through divorces, because they could not bring themselves to do the perverted things being required of them by their spouses and they were abandoned by their churches because they were too ashamed to tell anyone. Could it be that the church has at times failed to help women who needed help? Could it be that the church has neglected to confront sin and taken the easy way out by rushing to the forgiveness issues? Leslie does point out the necessity of those being abused of taking responsibility to bring evidence when they seek help. Evidence can include recording angry tirades and name calling, receipts of expenditures on pornography and prostitutes, or pictures of wounds or personal property that has been destroyed.
A chapter that I found especially interesting is "What's Wrong with Me?" This is because women who have been victimized as children or women who've been beaten down in destructive relationships often blame themselves for the behavior of others. Most, if not all, ask the question that is proposed by the title of the chapter. The question may come out of a tendency towards perfectionism that they developed to try to get love and approval or to stay safe. The more they measure themselves by perfectionistic standards, the more their shame grows and the bigger the question becomes. The more love is withheld, the deeper the questions burns. The question may come out of being repeatedly told that they aren't enough or that they are responsible for causing an abuser's maltreatment. The question may have come out of misunderstanding God's Word and Biblical concepts like submission and headship. I remember reading a book early in my marriage that said if a woman had enough faith she could always obey her husband, because God would take her out of situations that would cause her to compromise His word. Just think of the shame evoked when he asks her to do something wrong and she does it in faith, believing God will rescue her out, and He doesn't. She is left believing her faith must not have been strong enough, that God didn't value her enough to rescue her, or she must have some secret sin that kept God from answering. This whole concept enrages me! The person who wrote the book must have been totally naïve about the evil that resides in the hearts of people as well as theologically inept. I loved Leslie's presentation of submission. (I am going to leave you hanging so you will get the book and read it :-)
One thing Vernick makes clear in the book is that very often the victim plays a huge part in the development of a destructive relationship. She points out that one of the big problems for those who struggle as victims is that they often give other people the power to define them. Leslie, points out that Christ Himself did not let others define who He was and if we read the gospels we can find a lot of opinions about who Jesus was and what He was like. In Mark 3:21-22 it says that Jesus' family came to take Him away because they believed He was out of His mind. The religious leaders thought that He was possessed by Satan. Other's thought He was a wonderful teacher, some thought He was a good man, some thought He was the Messiah, and some declared He was the Son of the Living God. The important thing is that Jesus, believed what God said about Him and didn't let man define who He was and He didn't lose joy over what others thought about Him.
As believers, we have got to be sure we are not letting our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends, our church leaders, government leaders, culture, our experiences or our bosses define us. Humans fallible. People are broken and they sometimes lie when it serves them best. Their perceptions are often greatly distorted by their experiences, their own wounds, their own shame, and their own childhood messages. They also have the propensity to change their minds when they experience discomfort or strong emotions like anger and rage. They have the propensity to project blame and shame like their fleshly parents Adam and Eve. Therefore their opinions aren't always reliable and are not always true.
As someone who ministers to survivors of childhood abuse, I also want to suggest that we don't want to let our experiences define us either. How many times I have heard women say that they are unworthy, unlovable, a victim, trash, too much, or too little. So many of the women have assumed a identity of depression and shame because they accepted the blame for another's sin.
There really is only One Person who has the right to define us and that is our creator. His Words are true and they never change with His mood or with what is going on in the world.
To the sister, who believes she is unlovable...Christ died to demonstrate His love to you!
To the young woman who believes she is an accident that shouldn't have been born...Christ created you in your mother's womb. He knew you before you were born and crafted you in love at just the right time.
To the wife who is lonely and believes she isn't worthy of love...Christ proved your worth when He died for you and He loves you with a love that is radically passionate.
To the woman who believes she is dirty and unclean...Christ has made you holy and blameless.
To the dear one who believes she is shrouded in darkness as a result of her past...Christ has already translated you into His Kingdom of light.
To the young lady who was abandoned...you have been adopted into the family of God and given an inheritance with the Saints.
To the woman who was victimized who trembles as the thought of conflict...God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.
To the sister who believes you are nothing more than a victim...you were victimized, but your true identity isn't victim, it includes being the daughter of the King of kings, His ambassador, and His friend!
It is important for us to realize that unbelief is not just not believing what God says about Himself, it is also not believing what He says about us. This battle to believe the truth is life long. We will occasionally bump into people who have negative things to say to us or about us. The enemy will sometimes try to remind us of what we used to be or we will have old tapes in our minds that sometimes begin to replay of their own accord. But we can choose to believe what God says about us instead of accepting the lies and old tapes. I know I am also fortunate to have some Godly women in my life who remind be often what God has said about me! I hope that is true of you.
I hope that you will get Leslie's book. It is a labor of love and it is full of wisdom. Even if you have a healthy marriage, you more than likely know someone in a destructive marriage and the book can teach you to respond in a more compassionate and helpful way.
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!