Thursday, March 2, 2017

Freedom in Christ Alone

I was raised in an ultra conservative Christian home a long way from Moscow, Idaho. My parents loved the Lord, but secret sin filled our home and warped my parents view of women and their role. I was taught women are inferior to men spiritually.  That a woman needed a man in order to truly have access to God. That all people struggle with at least one major sin, and sin has power over us. Can you see where this is going? The kind of setup this is headed for?  Well, you guessed right. I married a man who was emotionally abusive. Emotional abuse is sneaky. I was so wrapped up in being a good wife, trying to please him, be perfect and sinless that I didn’t see what he was doing as abusive.

I thought it was normal. Hurtful, but normal. This just must be my husband's one “besetting” sin…or two or three. Marriage counseling became a part of our lives. Getting to the heart of the problem took time. I didn’t view the emotional abuse that was happening as abnormal. There were bigger, flashier sins to deal with. And I just needed to keep being a better wife, I kept telling myself. Try harder! Do more! Forgive more! If I was struggling it was because I was sinning and needed to forgive. My husband often reminded me that if I told anyone about his rages I would have to tell them how I sometimes got angry back. I was not sinless. It was as much my fault as it was his. Right? After all if I just kept the house cleaner, never questioned him, never gained weight, did not excel in anything, allowed whatever he wanted in the bedroom, then he’d never be angry. I cried myself to sleep almost every night starting the first month of our marriage. Shame, shame, shame filled my days. I was constantly “repenting," desperately trying to please someone who could not be pleased. I withdrew from the world. Hid away in my shame. "My husband doesn’t love me–I am unlovable" became my theme. And I was too afraid, too ashamed and blind to see the whole truth and tell someone, to just ask for help. I seriously considered suicide multiple times and would have had I not had children. I just could not be that selfish as to leave them in that mess.

Then something happened. I got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to the risk the shame and tell everything. Everything that was hurting me. To stop trying to be strong. To stop pretending our marriage was just difficult and confess that it was unbearable. I started telling our pastor, Douglas Wilson, everything. Everything from seemingly insignificant details to some major ones I was ashamed to talk about. He listened so kindly to me as I poured it all out and said (to my surprise), “That is abuse!” I was shocked. I wasn’t one of those women in an abusive relationship, was I?  He then walked us through what abuse and manipulation was and I could see it clearly for the first time. We went into intense counseling after that. Boundaries and church disciplines were put into place and I was told to take things at my own pace, never do anything I wasn’t comfortable with and report even the slightest anger.  I wrote several emails sharing every detail I thought might be needed. (It was easier writing emails than talking in person sometimes). I was never shamed. There were embarrassing details I had to talk about, but I was never made to feel like I was over sharing or in any way disrespecting my husband for bringing them up. The church leadership came up behind me. Surrounded me with protection and guided us through those very hard waters. My husband was growing in understand and repentance.  And I, for the first time, experiencing freedom and love. In time I was able to see how all these years I had been in a cage that I could have gotten out of. That God loves the individuals in a marriage more than the institution of marriage. I was given the freedom to say that I should never, ever, under any circumstance, be treated that way. It was eye opening! And with that came the understanding that I should never have allowed myself to be treated that way. That all those years of repenting for struggling never brought me peace because I was confessing the wrong thing. So there I was walking in sunlight and seeing for the first time that I had needed to confess not being brave. Not being brave enough to seek help. Yes, my husband manipulated me into silence. So what?! He should not have had that control over me. Yes, I was ashamed. So what?! I let shame keep me in prison. Yes, I was afraid. So what?! We are told over and over again in the scripture to be courageous! I wasn’t. Yes, my husband used his authority in my life to manipulate me and my views of God. So what?! I had my Bible, and if I had cared more about what God had to say about me, I would have seen much sooner that what I was being told by my husband was a lie. When I saw and confessed those things a heavy weight lifted. Peace came. The shame washed away!  Not all of this understanding came at once a lot of healing was needed.  Some of the truth came over time as I drew closer to God. Some from good counsel and encouragement by our Pastor.  And some from dear friends who have been walking with me, holding me up, sometimes speaking hard truths and showing me what love looks like! I have learned that hard truths are so much better than hard lies.

I am so thankful to live in a community where I can bring a weighty accusations to those in authority and they are taken seriously. Carefully examined and tenderly handled. Both mine and the accused actions are examined. Nothing is done rashly, but I was first and foremost made to feel safe! And loved! Most instances I was completely innocent. And I was encouraged to rest in that and not let Satan (or my husband) accuse me otherwise. Other times I bore a portion of responsibility, and I was helped to see that with sincere concern for my peace and happiness. My willingness to  accept this justice system in no way diminished my credibility. Rather the opposite. My willingness to embrace this system strengthened my credibility, strengthened the trust in me of those examining the accusations and was ultimately a great protection. Taking responsibility for my actions or part (if needed), did not diminish the accused in any way! Rather it gave me freedom to move forward without guilt or shame! Freedom to recognize where I sinned/fell prey/believed lies. This gave and continues to give me freedom from repeating those things which got me into that hot mess. The freedom to teach my children how to not make those same mistakes in the first place, not just how to get out of them or how to live with them after the fact. I know the sting of feeling like your words are being questioned. I have realized my words were not examined because my counselors were not loving me, but because people do falsely accuse each other sometime, and we should take serious accusations very seriously. I learned that sting I felt was only pride. When I began seeing and telling Pastor Wilson everything, I was never made to feel like he distrusted me! Only ever made to feel all of these things must be looked at fully and completely. That no detail should be left out and that when I realized the things I had done wrong, or been a part of, I could immediately deal with it and move on.  And I was never treated like any of the abuse was my fault!
I don’t want to live in a world where accusations can be made and believed without examination. I learned this by being falsely accused several times by those closest to me. That same careful system and my willingness to speak truthfully and fully brought swift light to the falsehoods told about me, protecting me from lies. And again, strengthening my credibility. There is tremendous safety in that. Safety and accountability that I am grateful for! Safety and accountability, in community, that I want for  my children. They say the truth will set you free, and in my case, it did! That truth though, it  includes the truth about myself. That freedom includes freedom from myself.  Freedom in Christ alone!