God Answers Prayer in Abusive Marriages

Spending 20 years in an abusive marriage had a profound affect on my theology.  I believe I learned things I would never have learned were it not for that crucible.  The things I believed, based on years in church, Bible college, academic Bible study, etc. were tested in real life.  This is where theology matters.  Many people spend entire careers becoming experts on theology and stand as “voices of truth,” proclaiming dogmatically their theology is Biblically accurate.  But if it doesn’t stand the test of life, it is worthless.

One thing I believed for many years was that God would answer my prayers for my marriage, my husband and my children.  I believe in God’s sovereignty, I believe He is all-powerful, and I know the abuse in my marriage was not His will since it was totally unrighteous and utterly antithetical to His nature.  Since God answers prayer, and I believe He does, and abuse is a violation of His nature, He would certainly answer my prayers to change my husband’s heart, right?

Wrong.  Actually, right answer, wrong question.  God does answer prayer.  But many times He does so after changing the question.  I have learned He is more interested in turning our erroneous paradigms inside out so we learn the right prayer to pray.  Then He is able to answer our prayers. 

After years on my face with God I realized He would not force my husband to change against his will, no matter how much I prayed for this to happen for the sake of my children and me.  He created man with a free will.  His is able to force man to change his mind, but He limits Himself to the perameters He gave man as a unique creation.  It would not be free will if man could not tell God ‘no.’  (A first strike against my Calvinist theology.)  Rather, God shows His amazing sovereignty and creativity by accomplishing His purposes in, through, and around the choices man makes.

When in a prolonged impossible situation like I was in, I finally got to the point of being willing to ask God to change my understanding, even if it meant completely changing my paradigm of reality.  Because I was willing to get to this point, I am where I am now.  And I hope other people can be helped as a result.  Over the course of the years there were several times when God completely overturned my understanding of reality, with its attendant theology.

Various erroneous theological points have a domino affect on others once they are toppled.  When I understood that God would not violate Gary’s free will and force him to change, then I had to ask the question, “So does God abandon wives and children in abusive homes?”  This one took a LONG time for me to understand. 

There are church leaders who hold so rigidly to the point of not separating marriages they literally teach it must be God’s will for wives and children in abusive homes to stay there and “suffer for righteousness sake.”  This is easy theology for someone who doesn’t have to live in it every day.  But eventually I came to accept this theology cannot be correct because it is a fundamental violation of God’s nature and of Jesus’ stated purpose in coming to earth.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. — Luke 4:18,19

In fact, this is what the Word says is the gospel (the definition of the word “gospel” is a sacred cow I’ll tip another day). It cannot be God’s will to abandon wives and children in abusive homes.

So once I understood it was not God’s will to abandon my children and I in our abusive home and He would not force Gary to change, I was left with the question, “how does God intend to save us from this situation?”

The next understanding was when I realized that legally I would be considered liable if Gary were accused of child abuse and I knew about it and had done nothing. The Word tells us to submit to civil authorities. You can’t pick one part of the Word to obey to the exclusion, or direction violation, of another. The sanctity of marriage is not more important than obedience to civil authorities. Since abuse is a criminal action and we are required to comply with the authorities and not protect, hide or aid abusers. The church has a responsibility to obey the law. When the church tells women and children to remain in an abusive home, they violate both God’s law and the laws of our country.

As a woman in an abusive marriage I had a responsibility to stand against that abuse. But I still wasn’t completely confident that stand went so far as divorce. At the two times I felt there was an imminent chance the children could be taken by DFCS because of the abuse (and the first time I was also afraid for our lives) I took the kids and left him. But I didn’t want to give up on our marriage or on Gary if there was any hope. While I realized his behavior was abusive, I didn’t understand the nature of abuse well enough to grasp its pervasive nature or the significance of non-physical violence. My eyes were completely on the physical violence until I left him for the final time. I tried to remonstrate with him about the verbal abuse and reason with him. I always thought if I could only get him to listen to reason I could get him to see what he was doing because it was so obvious.

Ultimately, I came to understand I had two choices – and the choice was up to me. I could stay in my marriage, allow my daughter to grow up in an abusive home and accept the fact I would physically die. The consequences of violence is murder and death. That’s in the Word.  The Word also says death and life are in the power of the tongue.  It means that literally.  My immune system had shut down due to the constant stress and I got cancer. My body would take no more. 

While I was recovering from chemo I realized every time Gary started yelling or started into one of his tirades I had an automatic, uncontrollable “fight-or-flight” reaction.  God made our bodies that way.  Our bodies release adrenalin in preparation to either fight or run.  When that happens excessively or constantly it will destroy the human immune system, leading to any auto-immune or stress-related disease there is.  These diseases can kill.  God won’t get in the way of the consequences we choose when we fail to obey the rest of His Word.

So, I could leave my daughter with an abusive father and die.  Or I could dare to trust God outside the box. God’s Word says I have a responsibility to obey civil authorities, I have a responsibility to stand up for the afflicted in my own home, including myself. God’s Word even says we are to separate ourselves from people who act the way Gary did – I dared to believe that meant me too. God says more about divorce than “I hate divorce” (subject for another day).

Bottom line, God wanted to answer my prayer to save me and my children from abuse. I merely had to trust Him enough to be proactive in my obedience, instead of passively waiting for a rescue boat when He gave me two feet to walk away. It was the hardest thing I have ever done but the fruit has shown it was the right choice.

So yes, God does answer prayer in abusive marriages. But perhaps not the way you are expecting. His answer may be to turn your theology upside down and ask you to step up to the plate and take active responsibility to save yourself and your children.

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17 Responses

  1. There will come a time that we all have to stand face to face with God. The only one who would be present is you and God. Just like Jesus stood alone with the Samaritan woman, so will we. Therefore, it does not matter what others will say. They will not be present at this meeting. When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan women who went all against religion and tradition. He completely threw the theologian perspective out the window. Even when he was conducting a healing service, there were Pharisees and Sadducess who were totally againt Jesus. Why? Because Jesus healed on Sabbath day and for them that was a big “No, No”. Regardless, how they felt, Jesus came to bring the Kingdom to the earth. Unfortunately, they are still people today, who only see the scripture and not the revelation of the Kingdom. Yes, God hates divorces, but he never said he hates the divorcee. God sent Jesus to free us from abuse, so why would he order a man or woman to abuse another. Answer this…Do you truly believe God’s sits on the throne and say “I so proud of you for staying in a marriage where you lost or child or was beat today.” Please show me this in the bible. Even in the old testament if someone was unfaithful to a wife, they were stone to deat. Before we comment, I suggest we become sound in the Word, not only see scripture, but pray for revelation of God’s word. I thank God for your courage and I support you 100%.

  2. Dear Sister Danni,
    thank-you so much for letting the Lord use you to shine a powerful light on abuse in Christian homes. I. like you, felt trapped in a marriage for 15 years to a man I deeply loved and shared a ministry with. However, he was verbally & PHYSICALLY abusive mostly to the childtren but also to me. Many women in nhe church are bound by the ignorance of those who do not fully understand the hebrew, greek & aramaic words of scripture. They are closed minided & will always be, unless they find themselves, or someone they can truly empathisize with (ex: 1 of their offspring, or a close sibling) in this situation. I was raised in the Holiness/Pentecostal Church. They are very traditional & believe you MUST stay married to your spouse at any cost. They teach you to “pray that man through!” “Don’t let the adversary break up your or family!” “If he’s hitting & punching, there must be a reason for it clean the house real good, stay & pray!” and I must say, it’s a beautiful way to help marriages & families without abuse in the home stay strong & together. However, when abuse is involved, it’s better to pray for wisdom , help & strength to leave that situation.
    I do believe in Christian crisis family / couples counseling sessions along with anger management classes for the abuser. If the abusetr is willing to sincerely attend those sessions, I would try to “yet hold on” to the marriage. (although in a separated state until the abuser is delievered & shows forth the fruit thereof) However, my husband was NOT wiling to go. Although he himself had done MUCH counseling in our ministry.
    He refused to acknowledge the punches, severe 15- 20 minute beatings, (which left terrible scars on our children to this very day.) his threats & intimidating yells (“you are going to die because you’re JUST like your Mother!!! You will die!) He gave this behavior to our children through the years in our home along with showing our children (when I was not around) illegal weapons he kept in a bag to further instill quiet fear in them. He kept them locked in rooms or held them down on beds not allowing tem to get up or away from his 200 pound arms & chest. If I tried to intervene or get him to stop his actions, he then would turn his wrath on me.
    He was the sole provider of our homeschooling family.
    He would withhold finances whenever I’d tell him his harsh discipline is not right & beg him to go to our pastors, a conselor or spiritual overseer.

    Those who believe you shd never divorce will be proud of me because I took all of that while praying for my husband G.C.N. to change.
    You se, he told me all the time if I ever told anyone, they would NEVER believe me so I felt very, very powerless. He is such a “nice guy” in public. He’s a corporae man, owns a sucessful business ^ really knoiws how to make entecostal folks shout! However, at home he was a controlling monster, but not ALL the time. This is another reason women like me, get “caught up” in the cycle of abuse & sadl, the church at large has NO true help for us, just JUDGEMENT so we stay.
    Thanks be to God, our abuse story rceived the beginning of it’s end d with the help of a 76er’s
    game. MY husband drove our 1 yr. old daughter to perform at half time with the 76ers jr. dance team. She sat in the back purposely she said to try to shield her self from any physical abuse he might just “click” into.
    Well, something happened & he backfisted her-hard!
    He punched her in the mouth, loosened her teeth, busted her lip, bruised her mouth area badly. He refusd to stop the car so she could obtain ice, tissues etc. to try to clean up her mouth. So, when she arrived at the entrance for the dancers, a team Mom saw her bloody mouth, swollen lips etc. & asked what happened to her. She told her. (after years of silence by ALL of us, my baby girl was touched by God to tell! )
    The team MOm took her back stage & a medic was alerted to come & help them take care of my babygirl.
    Well, reports were made. And, I will ALWAYS tahk God for the day He used the youngest to begin our road to freedom.
    That was the only the beginning of the end. With state authorities being alerted, somethng woul have to be explained. Our total deliverance = court issued PFA took another 2 years & to obtain. During the 2 years, I suffered a sprained arm, broken L hand . My 2 youngest children suffered 10 X that. My oldest daughter could barely walk, witnesses much & was intimidated by him on a regular basis. He stopped ALL financial fatherly-husbandly providence, began an adulterous affair with a wealthy woman from our ministry & obtained an apartmentin the next state all while still living in & out of our home, beating threatening & punching us! He was nice AT TIMES but we never knew when the monster man would surface.

    So, we are finally “free” of his presence for 3 years. The judge asked me if I wanted to extend it for 6 years & I said no because he promised to attend the anger management classes & cried ghe missed the children so much & loves them. (It was a big mistake, I was a fool)
    God is our protector. We can’t stay any where too long because he stalks us. He has his family, friends & associates harrass us with threatening letters, emails, taunts, surprise hostile visits & drive bys. Yes, he is still abusesing us! He stalks & uses other people.
    Am I afriad? No. I have the peace of God. However, I do walk in wisdom & have taught my children to keep their eyes & ears open.

    It seems I have gone into great detail. But, I purposelyleft ut the most horroble acts of abuse he committed on our children for they are far too painful to write about. I was married to a so called “CHRISTIAN” man. A minister! A man who is still preaching, living in adultery & telling people his mstress is his wife. A man who was proven to be an abusive individual who left physical scars on his son and more.

    I hope Christians stop judging those who must leave their marriage situations due to abuse. We have no refuge in the church. Shamefully, worldly based systems even people in bars give more support & encouragement to Christian women who are in distress over abuse!

    I am strong in the Lord & my decision. “I shall NOT be moved!” God did NOT call me or my children to a crazy life of abuse!!! Jdge me if you will, but:
    I will not stay married to that psychopath no matter how many people judge me! My children must be safe.
    The Bible says: “JUDGE NOT, THAT YE BE NOT JUDGED” (Matt. 7:1)

    Thank-you again Sis. Danni for lettin God use you.
    PS: please forgive any type O’s. Reiterating my story is very stressful & emotional for me. It’s hard to type while crying.

  3. Bren,

    ((Hugs)) for you! Random thoughts first, then the more serious ones…

    I understand about the typo’s. 😉 And about trying to type through tears.

    One of my personal private amusements is the strong similarity between fundamentalist Baptists and Pentacostal/Holiness folks. Apart from some very distinctive distinctives – like speaking in tongues, or not – under the covers they are extremely the same in theology and mindset – even to KJV-only in many cases. My current associate pastor is from a Pentacostal/Holiness background (and, no, if anyone wonders, I’m not in a Pentecostal/Holiness church) and he and my father (hardcore fundamentalist Baptist) are so much alike they could have been twins separated at birth. It’s spooky. Yet the two denominations each feel the other is diametrically opposite and antithetical. I think that is funny. Yes, I’m easily amused!

    I also agree with you that we should try everything possible to save our marriages before abandoning them. I have had some people ask me if I think they should get a divorce, and I knew they thought they would get my immediate sympathy vote. But I believe there is almost no situation where it is an automatic answer. There is a process – a Biblical process even – before divorce is a consideration. Sometimes the process may be really fast because of an unrepentant partner’s responses and choices, but still, there is a process. Sometimes that process may take many years. God is the one in control and His timing is both His business and perfect. And there are also times when divorce isn’t God’s answer, and neither is reconciliation, but long-term separation. God is way more creative than we want to give Him credit for.

    One of the things you said that just jumped out at me was, “Those who believe you should never divorce will be proud of me because I took all of that while praying for my husband G.C.N. to change.” The single greatest thing I struggled with was other people’s expectations and beliefs. I even struggled with it before starting this blog – I still have to slay that demon.

    I grew up in the church as a pastor’s kid, I accepted Christ as a child, I never rebelled, I wanted nothing other than to be involved in full-time ministry, went to Bible college, married another preacher’s kid from Bible college — did it all right, obeyed all the rules.

    I realized several years into the process of my marriage problems that fear of man was a HUGE issue for me. In fact, during our second separation, I reconciled with him entirely because our counselor told me “God said” it was time for us to get back together – even though nothing God had told me had been resolved.

    That was my sin, and the penalty was 5 more years of abuse (though I did get the blessing of our daughter in there, so God does some really amazing things in strange places). I also think that getting cancer was part of that penalty. My health failed at the time of that separation due to the stress from all those years of abuse and internalizing the struggle. Instead of staying out of it and healing, I went back into it. I had a baby, which causes a natural estrogen spike, and got breast cancer within a couple years of that separation. These events – the health breakdown, going back into the stress, and getting cancer – are absolutely connected.

    That counselor told me she was proud of me for obeying without delay or question. But what was the cost? Was I obeying God or obeying man? Was this obedience or was it idolatry? Was her pride in me worth the cost? Absolutely not!!! I committed idolatry and paid a very high price.

    Eventually God showed me my fear of man wasn’t just a HUGE issue for me, it was probably my greatest issue, and was, in fact, idolatry for me. Ultimately, He made it clear I had to get a divorce without seeking anyone’s approval (in the form of “confirmation” ) — because of this issue. If I got approval that would have been idolatry – putting any human’s opinion above God’s direction to me. I hoped my pastors would approve anyway since they were aware of what was happening. I’m glad God didn’t let me ask for their approval, though, because they didn’t give it.

    Like you, God intervened to bring the authorities into our situation. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I doubted myself so severely, and of course, I had his threats in my head – he would accuse me of abuse, he would take the kids out of state and divorce me, etc., etc. But God walked us blindly into a situation where a counselor found out about physical violence against our oldest son and she was required to report it. It was the only time “Gary” ever admitted abuse, until court at the end when he admitted it happened “way back then” but insisted he was a changed man since being reported to the authorities (which was a complete lie).

    If there were one thing I wish I could communicate to women it would be to USE THE CIVIL AUTHORITIES that God has given for our protection. The Word says God has ordained them for this purpose. They are not our enemy. At the same time we need to pray for God’s protection because a persuasive man with the right demeanor can manipulate a social worker and a judge (mine did) but I still believe it is better to use the system God has put in place for our protection than not to. For the most part, the church cannot and will not stand for the abused, at this time. But God has given us another protection. We MUST use it and use it fully as we have need, without feeling guilty or demeaned.

    You keep standing strong, girl! You are on the right path.

    — Danni

  4. Les McFall has an interesting way to deal with the exception clause in Matthew 19:9. He has written a 43 page paper that reviews the changes in the Greek made by Erasmus that effect the way Matthew 19:9 has been translated. I reviewed McFall’s paper at Except For Fornication Clause of Matthew 19:9. I would love to hear some feedback on this position.

  5. It might be earth-shatteringly interesting if it weren’t for the entire rest of the Scripture and God’s own example. Why would God hold humans to a more strict requirement than He holds Himself?

    I know a lot of people who hold this belief, however.

    — Danni

  6. I just read your story while doing a search on abuse. I have a physical disability, and have been in an emotionally abusive manipulating and controlling Christian marriage for 13 years, where my husband has ridiculed me, neglected and abandoned me (when I was 9 months pregnant he physically left me laying in pain on the floor and left for work when I required emergency medical intervention – I ended up passing a kidney stone with no pain killers or medical attention), cut down and criticized anything good that happened to me or that I accomplished, or took over and controlled it, and said that he was jealous of me. He treated me like property he owned and censored me in public and at family gatherings by physically kicking me or pushing me or audibly shushing me. I do not know what it is to be encouraged, to feel safe in my own home, or to feel loved and supported, or to even feel valuable or beautiful, but I know what it is to be criticized constantly. Whenever he has apologized about something, it sounds business-like and there’s no sincerety.

    I have endured this for 13 years, and it over the last two years, my throid has malfunctioned, I have a 2 inch cyst on each ovary that grows 1/2 inch every six months, I have abnormal cervical tissue that requires a biopsy every six months, thickened uterus, cysts on my breasts, and adrenal issues.

    I started going to college in the fall, and it was a safe, supportive place for me where I could be free to be myself, and was loved and accepted that way. It was only then that I realized just how bad it was at home, and then I realized that what I was experiencing was, in fact, verbal and emotional abuse.

    As many times as I have confronted him on it over the years, he refuses to change, and gives no concern to my boundaries or our son’s boundaries. He treats our possessions and projects as if he is free to do what he wants with them without checking with us first, and then gives excuses for why he felt he was justified in doing so. It breaks my heart everytime he treats our son like that and I feel so helpless, like I want to protect him from being devalued but can’t.

    Over the years, I have instinctively wanted to leave so many times, and have wanted to kill myself many times as well, just to escape this hell, but I couldn’t do it because my son needs me. I didn’t realize until I started going to school, just how much my spirit had been crushed.

    One church I went to teaches to pray and speak over it and believe, and have faith, then things will get better. Another church I started going to, I talked to the pastor and he said that he would only offer to help me if I was going to reconcile. I told him that reconciliation involved trust, and I had none, so I couldn’t made any commitment to reconciliation. He wouldn’t get off my back and kept pressuring me for an answer to reconcile.

    I recently found a good christian counsellor and I finally understand that what he is doing is in fact, abuse. I am in the process of leaving him, but need to get certain things into place such as finding a job while I go to school, and saving up for start-up costs of living on my own with my son.

    He wants to claim me on our income taxes as his dependent and other deductions he gets from claiming me, and is upset that he will lose those deductions and the monthly income if I get a job, and told me that my income from my job needs to make up the difference, which would be half of my paycheck.

    It takes so much strength to be in an abusive relationship, but it takes even more courage to leave it. I am seeing God put things into place for me to be able to leave, specific things I have asked Him for. I can’t imagine what it would be like to feel safe and free to be myself without fear 24-7, and to not have to be on high alert all the time.

    At this point, I can’t see myself ever going back to him. I don’t trust him. Even if he does change, or says he’s changed, as he has so often in our marriage, but the change is always short-lived and it goes back to how it was, I can’t be with him anymore. And my son has become disrespectful to me, just like his dad. I can’t stay and teach him that it’s OK for a woman to be treated that way.

    I don’t want to go back to him after I leave, no matter what. I have zero trust, and I don’t ever want to have to take the chance with him that I’ll have to go through this hell all over again.

    • What you are describing is very, very familiar. You are on the right path! When you are free of it you are going to be amazed at just how incredible the feeling of freedom is to be yourself without fear 24-7 and not having to be on high alert all the time. This is, without a doubt, the cause of your physical problems. I am still pinching myself about how different my days are. It is truly incredible. It is so dramatic I almost wonder that the entire world can’t see it visibly.

      You don’t ever have to go back to him. Think about it this way. Even if God were to ever reconcile your marriage, you would not be going back to that person. You will never go back to that person – period. God does not ask or expect that of you. You are free of that.

      That was what I clung to. I knew my abuser and I knew God. I knew God could change his heart and really didn’t want to go back even if God did change him. But I left all that in God’s hands and trusted that 1) I was free from abuse, 2) I could trust God — and that’s all I needed to look at right now. I also knew my abuser had steadfastly refused to turn his heart to God throughout 20 years of opportunities, so it was extraordinarily unlikely he was going to change at this juncture.

      Sure enough, my abuser took himself out of the picture just as quickly as he got free of me. And that’s what I have seen the others do with other victims. When their doormat rises up and walks away it is easier to go find another than to try to re-flatten that one. Besides, on the grass-is-greener principle, they get a newer model. 😉

      So let that part go and walk out into freedom.

      God bless you on your journey! You are well on your way. I promise it will not be easy, but it will be blessed.

      — Danni

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