Abuse Doesn’t Happen in Christian Homes … Does It?
By Rosemary Ann Baptiste
I was raised in a stable, Christian family, with parents who set a wonderful example of how a marriage and home should be. I stayed in this loving environment until I left for Bible school.
After graduating Bible school, I stayed on as a staff member for another four years, before attending a candidate school with a mission organization. I wanted to do something with my life and wasn’t going to wait around until I had a marriage partner – in fact, I believed that a romantic relationship would take the focus off my goal.
During this time as a candidate, a fellow I had known at Bible school started writing and sending care packages. Although I kept reminding him that I wanted to keep our relationship platonic, he continued to write, call and send packages.
Before we knew it we were in love, and two years later we were married. I was twenty-seven years old and believed I had waited for God’s partner for my life. I was also sure that I had a good idea of how a marriage should be, thanks to the example set by my parents.
I believed my expectations were realistic, however it wasn’t long before we were experiencing difficulties in our marriage, and my "realistic" expectations were shattered.
My husband would yell, cuss and push me around for reasons I couldn’t understand. The smallest thing would send him into a rage – particularly if I dared to express a difference of opinion or question him in some way.
Keep in mind that he professed to be a believer and alcohol was not involved. Many people think this couldn’t happen in a Christian home and that alcohol is always a contributing factor – but that’s just not so.
He would cut me down as a person – degrading me and blaming me for his anger. He made me feel that if I were a better wife, he wouldn’t have to yell at me. In fact, he said that he had to yell because I was so stubborn and opinionated.
I wondered if he was right.
His behavior didn’t change when I became pregnant. At home he would shove me down on the couch, and if we disagreed in the car, he would drive in a crazy way.
We lived in a basement apartment that first year of marriage and I was mortified when the Christian lady who owned the building told me that we would have to leave if the fighting, yelling and cussing didn’t stop. I apologized and tried harder – but nothing worked.
While pregnant with our second child, I reached the point where I was sick and tired of what was happening. Discouraged and feeling helpless, I finally confided in my mother, who suggested that maybe I was in an abusive relationship.
I was stunned. Could she be right?
I was determined to find out, so went to the library and started reading every book and pamphlet on abuse that I could find. It was definitely an eye opener! In some ways I felt as though I was reading about our marriage and began to understand the dynamics of our abusive relationship.
It was a turning point.
Being careful not to criticize her son, I eventually approached my mother-in-law, hoping to find some clues to his behavior. She shared that my husband had come from a home where alcoholism and abuse were a problem and admitted that she had had to deal with that difficult situation over the years. Her honesty in speaking of this very personal and painful past hurt helped me to understand my own marriage a little more.
I continued to borrow books from the library, including those that dealt with adult children from alcoholic homes. I read the books secretly – hiding them in the bottom dresser drawer before my husband arrived home from work. I knew he would be angry if he ever found out, but every day I continued my search for answers … and every day I was finding them.
In time I came to understand that it was not my fault and that there was nothing I could do to fix things – the anger was his, and not my responsibility.
Although I was never hit to the point where I was left bruised, battered or broken, I was being abused all the same. Each day I lived in fear of my husband’s explosive temper – always wondering how far he would go the next time. In his rage he would throw objects across the room, smashing them against the wall. He punched holes in walls, threw food and kicked the dog across the floor. It was always scary and I was almost always upset.
It was also humiliating. I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone in Christian circles, because I was sure they wouldn’t understand. Several times I tried to "leak" out information, but the reaction was always the same – I needed to work harder at my marriage. Some even said that it took two people to fight, so I must be doing something to initiate or aggravate it, and should pray about it and be more submissive.
I couldn’t witness to my neighbors because I was sure they knew what was going on in our home. Instead, I struggled with why God had allowed this. I wondered if I’d made a mistake in marrying my husband, or whether I was just not being submissive enough. I felt sure that I was missing out on God’s blessing and was left with the question, "Where was He in all this?"
In the early years of our marriage, I would try to avoid the conflict and do what I could to pacify my husband. However as I read more on the subject, I started to find the courage and information in those pages to be able to do something about it. Those books showed me where to find help and made it clear that things would only get worse unless I took action.
And things did get worse!
One night he punched me in the face and, when I fell, demanded that I get up. When I didn’t, he grabbed my hair and pulled. Looking into his anger-distorted face, I was petrified – did he really hate me so much? I had no idea what he was going to do next.
Just then I noticed that our four very young children had crawled out of their beds to see what was happening. As soon as I saw them watching I tried to pacify my husband. I don’t remember what I said or did, but whatever it was, it worked.
He stopped what he was doing, dropped me to the floor, walked to the sofa and turned on the TV – as though nothing had happened. It was so unreal that I felt I must have imagined the whole thing. However a look in the mirror showed me that I wasn’t dreaming.
I walked shakily down the hallway to console our frightened children and settle them back in bed. Then, once they were all asleep, I determined what I had to do.
Not only was I tired of the abuse, but I also knew that it was my responsibility to do something for the sake of my children. Questions and doubts filled my mind, but concern for our children and anger at the abuse motivated me take action.
Even so, fear filled my heart. Could I really leave my husband and get to a safe place? Would I have the courage … and where would I go? What was the first step? Should I call the police, the safe-house, or my Mom? How would I support myself and four young children?
I cleaned up the kitchen as though all was well with my world, but my thoughts were racing. How could I do this and not raise the suspicions of my husband?
Walking over to him, I kissed his forehead and told him I was going to the store to get milk. He accepted the lie and I left the house to call the police. They met me at a convenience store, took my statement and made arrangements for a restraining order the next day. I was physically shaking the whole time.
That night I stayed in bed until my husband was asleep, then crept out to check on the children, before falling into a fitful sleep on the couch. I made sure I was awake before he got up for work.
Once he was gone, I arranged with a friend to take the children, while I watched the house from a distance. My husband would be home for lunch and I had left a note saying that I was out shopping.
Sure enough, he came home as expected, and that was when the police arrived. They ordered him to get a few clothes together and then escorted him out of the house.
Guilt washed over me as I worried about where he would go. Then fear replaced it – would he honor the restraining order, or would anger make him break it?
Thankfully, he chose to honor the order and stayed away.
In those days, anyone on a restraining order had to appear in court ten days after it was served. At that time the victim could decide whether the restraining order was to be permanent or not.
I didn’t know what to do. If I lifted the order my husband could come home and make life even more miserable than it had been before. On the other hand, if I made the order permanent, he may file for divorce and try to gain custody of the children as a way of forcing me to take him back.
In the end I left a note at home for him, before taking the children with me to stay with my mother. My husband went to court, expecting me to be there, and when I wasn’t, came home expecting that all would be forgiven. Instead, he found my note explaining that I had left him and would not come back until he sought help.
Thirteen years later, I still shake physically and emotionally at the memory of that time. I know that I did the right thing, but the trauma of it still haunts me.
During that time of separation, I felt God closer and dearer than almost any other time in my life. For encouragement, He gave me the verse, "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young." (Isaiah 40:11 NIV)
I read this verse over and over during those difficult days, and always felt God’s gentle guidance and presence. With four children under five, I certainly qualified for God’s tender care and for His leading of "those who have young"!
During the seven months that we were separated, I never knew for sure if our marriage would survive. At first I wouldn’t allow him to contact me; but then, little by little, I did. I would call him, but not give my phone number. That provided boundaries of safety for the children and me, allowing time for emotional healing. Then, when I felt I was ready, I gave him my number – on the condition that if he got angry or abusive over the phone, I would change my number, which was something I had to do twice.
People said he would never change and I should get on with my life. However, the separation forced him to get help and to consider the importance of our marriage and children. It also gave me the freedom to find myself again. Through that time of separation I gained perspective and saw our relationship for what it was. I connected with God in a new way, becoming emotionally stronger and knew that I would be able to fight the abuse if it continued. I had to give our marriage one more chance.
After the seven month separation, my husband and I got back together and, in spite of all fears, the abuse stopped. This year we will celebrate our 20th anniversary. We have five wonderful Christian children who don’t seem to carry any repercussions from that abusive time in our marriage. The separation was the best decision I could have made. It was hard, yes, but right.
I know there are other women today who are in abusive relationships – even in Christian homes. I also know that if God had not given me the courage to leave my husband, our relationship would still be abusive today.
If you are in this kind of relationship:
Read books and pamphlets about abuse – get educated. Find out about safe-houses and talk to women who have escaped similar situations. But be warned – you will find some who are very angry and bitter toward their husbands. This is understandable; however don’t allow yourself to become embittered. Anger, on the other hand, will create the motivation to propel you to action. Abuse is wrong – and God hates it. This is a time for righteous anger.
Have a plan. Once you realize your relationship is dysfunctional, you will know you need to leave. Don’t allow your mind to justify your husband’s behavior. After leaving, I couldn’t believe I’d put up with the abuse for so long and felt dumb that I had. I was disgusted at my lack of courage, but knew I’d done the right thing in the end. From the start, realize that the separation may be temporary, or it may be a long time. There’s no way of knowing how your husband will react or how God will work – you are not responsible for that. You are responsible for your own safety and that of your children. So make plans for getting out safely.
Gather around yourself women you can trust, and build a firm relationship with them. You will need their support and prayers during this very emotional time. They may not understand abuse, but they can understand hurt, rejection and pain. They will be able to help and support you in the relationship, and also later if you decide to leave your husband. They can also pray for your husband when you, in your pain, may not be able to do so.
Don’t let fear hold you back. You must take the step of separating from danger and abuse. It may not turn out as well as my separation did, however it must be better than what you are experiencing – no one should live with abuse.
Although it’s difficult for us to understand why, sometimes God allows things in our lives that are hard. Even so, He is still in control and He is still sovereign over those circumstances.
Life here on earth is not perfect and God does not spare His people from difficulties just because they’re His children. But if you are walking with God, and in an abusive relationship, take heart. God loves you and sees what you are dealing with, and with Him you are never really alone. God does not want the abuse to continue – so do what you have to do to get out of the relationship, and He will carry you the rest of the way.
I promise – He did it for me.
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