Life in FOCUS Blog

Deciphering the Profound Mystery

After 20+ years of being in an unhealthy marriage, I finally realized that I had been abused all that time.  Not physically, but definitely both emotionally and verbally.  But even as I started to wrap my head around the new vocabulary, I was using to describe my relationship with my spouse, I still struggled with how I was expected to respond toward him.  Wasn’t I still supposed to be respectful and submissive since that was God’s clear mandate to wives from the beginning?  How do I practice those qualities when I am on the receiving end of abuse?  Is it assumed that I am supposed to just take it?

            Years later, I continued to ask those questions, not for myself, but for those who are the recipients of a different kind of abuse…neglect.  How is a wife supposed to respond when the husband fails to demonstrate love?  When he withholds affection?  Or just continually allows himself to be distracted with other people and other things?  Or just checks out emotionally?  Neglect comes in a variety of forms, and while it can be much more invisible than most types of abuse, it is equally damaging and hurtful to the neglected wife (or husband, depending on the situation.).

            So is she supposed to just have a stiff upper lip and paste on a smile, showing continued respect and support for her husband, despite his failings?  It’s Biblical, isn’t it? 

            Or is it?

            God is always providing simple analogies to help us think more biblically and deeply.  He takes what we know in order to teach us more about something we do not know as well.  In Ephesians 5: 21-33, there are some specific guidelines about relationships, marriage, and the role of both spouses.  Some of the key phrases encountered are:

  • Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
  • Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord
  • Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
  • Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.
  • The two will become one flesh…a profound mysterybut he is talking about Christ and the church!
  • The wife must respect her husband.

            These commands are often our “go to” directives for instruction as to how we should respond to our spouses.  There is a lot going on here, too much to address each detail, but I remember at one point in my journey, I was at my wit’s end, having failed to fix my marriage through submission, respect, trying to win my husband without a word, etc.  What did God expect of me?  It was at that time that the passage mentioning the “profound mystery” in scripture came to mind, reminding me what marriage is supposed to look like.  God used the simple picture of Christ’s love for the church (sacrificial love) and the church’s devoted obedience to Christ as its head to give us a bigger picture of what marriage is like.  When I think of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of love in order to win back His bride, the humble steps of submitting to crucifixion for our sake, I realize how mind-boggling that is.  But it was because of Christ’s obedience that He was eventually exalted by God and it is said that one day “every tongue (will) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:11)

            When the church has Christ as its head, God is glorified.  When the church demonstrates its love and affection to God by showing love and affection to a lost and dying world, God is glorified.  When God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply”, surely He wasn’t just talking about physical procreation.  There is an assumption that the children that are born to them will be raised in the knowledge of God.  It has always been about relationship with God.  He created us to have relationship with Him.  And our relationship with Him should be reflected in our relationships with others.  When we live that way, more people are won into wanting a relationship with God, too!

            So if the marriage relationship is supposed to reflect the love relationship between Christ and His church, what should that look like?  If I’m going to draw out the previous description and apply it to marriage, then…

  • Marriage should glorify God.
  • Marriage requires a spirit of humility.
  • Marriage’s foundation should be the love and affection of both partners toward God first, then each other.
  • Marriage should show the world the meaning of true sacrificial love.
  • Marriage should be an avenue of winning others to Christ; this would include our own children of course, but it extends beyond our immediate families. (“For God so loved the world…”)
  • Marriage should be an avenue that draws each spouse closer to God.
  • Marriage should reflect the fact that both husband and wife have Jesus as their head.

            As I contemplated this, I realized that we were desperately missing the mark in our marriage.   I hesitated to call what we had a “marriage” at all based on this description.  Then I felt conviction.  I knew all too well that our marriage did not reflect any of these qualities.  We were falling way short.  And yet I had been okay with pretending that all was well and thinking (hoping) that I was pleasing God all these years because we were not divorced, since everyone knows after all, that “God hates divorce.”  Well, of course He does!  Would you expect anything less of Him?  But that’s not the point!  Was I thinking that He loved what He saw in my marriage simply because at that point in time I was not divorced?  Is that the only measure of my marriage?  If that is what I believed about God, I truly did not understand what it means for God to be holy.  A holy God is not pleased with a relationship that is full of deception, pretending, pride, apathy, and hypocrisy.  I suddenly understood that looking the other way from my husband’s sins was as bad as publicly proclaiming that his actions (or inactions) were OK.  Not addressing what was wrong was blessing what was not right.  Not only was my marriage not a true godly marriage by God’s definition, but I had the audacity to pretend that it was and I let others believe the same thing!

            I knew at that point that it was time to come clean.  I had to stop worrying about what everyone else thought of me, my supposed marriage, and my life’s circumstances.  I only needed to be concerned with God’s opinion.  I had to admit that my marriage had completely failed and I had to commit to stopping the lies and trying to believe that we were fine.  It was time to stop enabling the deception, and instead confront it.

            How one confronts the abuse and/or neglect in a marriage is a whole other topic in and of itself, but I had learned that I needed to see the sin for what it was and to see how deeply it had penetrated into my own way of thinking and rationalizations.  Moving forward, I was committed to truth, even if it meant I might be embarrassed at first.  Clearly, Jesus was shamed when He took His steps of obedience toward the cross. My situation pales in comparison, but I realized the battle is for something much bigger than my own personal reputation.

            I believe all scripture should be read in context, but sometimes we get tunnel vision.  For example, a wife reveals that she has been struggling with abuse in her marriage.  Too often, the responsibility to submit and respect is put back onto her in order to change her spouse.  But what many people do not realize is that showing respect and honor to the person committing the abuse only empowers and enables the abuser to continue the same actions.  We need to step back and look at the totality of scripture, not just confining our input to only the verses directed at marriage.  We need to answer the bigger questions:  Is there sin? (If sin is defined as “missing the mark”, then there is definitely sin happening!)  So what are the scriptural mandates when sin needs to be confronted?  Matthew instructs us that if individual confrontation does not work, we are to approach the person with one or two witnesses.  If that does not work, then we bring the matter to the church.  Hmm…how often have we missed the opportunity to follow that directive in matters of marital abuse or neglect?

            Or considering another point of view, it is interesting to see that the Bible describes a fool as someone who thinks he is always right, uses anger to control, and only trusts in his own heart.  Note that this definition sounds exactly like an abuser!  So what does the Bible say about how we are supposed to relate to an abuser (aka “fool”)?  Proverbs has a lot to say on the matter.  We are encouraged to NOT be a companion of fools (Proverbs 13:20), not speak to a fool (Proverbs 23:9), and basically to stay away from fools (Proverbs 14:7).

            This is not an argument for divorce necessarily; but it could definitely be a Biblical blessing for those needing to separate!  Of course, we hope and pray for reconciliation, but my real point is that as Christians, we have a variety of options when we find ourselves in abusive or neglectful situations.  There is no 3-step approach that is mapped out, telling us exactly what to do.  Like any major decision, it must be bathed in prayer.  But don’t limit your options to continuing the same ol’, same ol’.  You know it doesn’t elicit change in the other person!  If you expect a different outcome, you must act differently yourself as well. 

            God wants something better for our marriages.  He is not pleased in a marriage that hides abuse or neglect behind closed doors; it does not glorify Him, and I believe He is insulted when we use the excuse that “God hates divorce” to justify keeping a person with an abusive spouse.  There are options, and the church needs to learn how to be a part of those options to come alongside an unhealthy marriage.  Let’s not taint God’s beautiful institution of marriage by pretending that all is well.  God is never glorified by the lies that we let people believe.

Karolyn Dekker – Guest Post

Is There Any Hope For Me?

A diverse church congregation worshipping together

Ann sat gazing at the stain-glass window as she listened to the worship songs being sung. She noticed the varied colored pieces that had been carefully placed to form the intricate design. Her mind wandered to the hopes and dreams she had once carried inside now stomped on and broken by the person who was supposed to love her. The court system had played havoc on her life adding to the abuse that had weighed her down. Contempt of court was only a laughable phrase that meant nothing to the abuser. Where was the justice?

The church that was supposed to be a safe place for the brokenhearted was ill-equipped to handle her situation and others like hers. Just give grace was all she heard. Truth was not acknowledged and no accountability to the perpetrator was given. Friends disappeared tired from hearing about the mess. Christians judged. The phone sat silent in its holder. No encouraging and supportive messages were left.

Although she had long left the destructive marriage behind, she sat noticing that every movement caused the shattered pieces to move and rewound. Life was a hard struggle financially and loneliness seemed to be her constant companion. Trust still remained an uncertainty.

Her emotional roller coaster kept her encircled in a journey she did not want to repeat. Progress in her personal growth came in baby steps that were sometimes hard to measure. She was free from the relationship but was she really free from what dwelt within, the persistent struggles. Will God transform the shattered pieces of her life into a masterful piece of art?

Like Ann most of us struggle with the effect of hardships life brings that has been buried deep within. We may or may not be aware of the churning inside for our body has become numb to the pain.

Sometimes we cover the struggles with outward addictions to people, food, drugs, alcohol, or things. These self-medicating coping skills keep us from addressing the issues that have permeated our life. The issues associated with the hurt and pain have mounted up like a pile of garbage that is toxic to our souls.

Not only do we hold on to them with every bit of strength we possess, but we remain in situations and relationships that are detrimental to our well-being. We don’t realize that the splinter of hurt caused by the initial pain inflicted by others has penetrated deeper over time. The infection of our thoughts and feelings caused by the puss oozing from the wound spreads rapidly throughout our body.

Do we allow the wound to fester until it makes the whole-body sick or possibly die? Are we willing to endure the pain to remove the splinter, cleanse the wound with antibiotics, and give up our coping mechanisms? Or do we just slap a band aid on and pretend it doesn’t exist as our God given treasures are eaten away?

An important question arises to the surface. Are we being a good steward of the treasures God has created in each one of us, the treasures that make us unique?

Our treasures:

  • Relationship with the Lord
  • Soul and spirit
  • Feelings
  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs
  • Opinions
  • Thoughts
  • Values
  • Talents
  • Abilities
  • Desires
  • Dreams
  • Personality

How we use and protect these treasures is our responsibility. Setting appropriate boundaries is necessary. Being consistent and giving consequences when they are violated is essential. Allowing others to come in and destroy our treasures is not good stewardship.

Ann’s treasures had been shattered. She realized she had been holding on to each little piece trying to figure out how to put them back together. As she looked up, her eyes were drawn to the cross. “Give Me your broken treasures,” she distinctly heard.

Ann glanced back at the stained-glass window. A rainbow of color shone through. A tear rolled down her cheek.  She heard a soft whisper. “Ann, I have collected the pieces. They are in my hand. Be patient for I am creating a unique masterpiece so My glory will shine through the pieces of your life.”

“I have caught every tear. I keep them close to Me. I know every heartache. Nothing is a waste. Hold on to Me. There is a purpose, My purpose, in all of your suffering. There is coming a time of rejoicing when everything will be revealed.”

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:14 NIV

 

Paula Silva©2010 FOCUS Ministries, Inc., www.focusministries1.org

 

What Do You Want Me to Do for You?

bigstockphoto_woman_attending_church_1913667Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said , “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. Mark 10:46-52 NIV

This passage of Scripture denotes elements that correlate with devastating times in our lives. Times when we desperately need Jesus.

Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, did not possess the appropriate social status to be noticed or acknowledged especially in a large crowd, but he had a pressing need that he knew Jesus could meet. His need created a boldness within that was expressed by shouting “have mercy on me.”

When our circumstances become greater than our ability to fix it, we cry out to Jesus hoping that He will supply. As our need increases, our desperation is more boldly expressed.

The crowd’s reaction though to Bartimaeus’s cries was one of rebuke. It was as if they were saying, “You are not worth being heard. Shhhhhh!!!!” But that did not stop Bartimaeus. He shouted louder trying to get Jesus’ attention.

This kind rebuke often happens to those who turn to the Christian community looking for compassion as they tell the secret of domestic violence that is destroying them and their families. They are told to be quiet and to live in peace, but Jesus is calling them to him for He hears their voice just like He did for Bartimaeus. Jesus values each one of us in spite of our circumstances. Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,

What’s in Your Grip?

istock_000006493749xsmallWhen life is chaotic and out of control, we have a tendency to hold on to areas of our life that are detrimental to our well-being. We hold onto:

LABELS

Labels become badges of negativity: ugly, fat, dumb, too sensitive, uncooperative, no talent or abilities, unlovable, reject, etc.

ANXIETY AND WORRY

Racing thoughts compounded by the “what if’s” increases anxiety and worry. We become so accustom to the chaos and trouble that peace and rest are absent.

Scripture reassures us. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:31-34 NIV

ANGER

Holding on to anger leads to bitterness and unforgiveness. This keeps us in bondage to our circumstances and can lead to vengeance. Since anger is a feeling, learning constructive ways to release it is critical.

SHAME

We compare ourselves to others who seem to have it altogether pointing out our failures and judging ourselves harshly. We long to be all that God created us to be and to experience His grace, but we have become stagnant in our perceptions telling ourselves we are not worthy of anything. Read more ›

Tagged with: , , ,

A Time of Testing

pablo (5)When someone has sinned against us, we must choose our response carefully. We may hear various voices from church leadership claiming to know what we should do. Forgive and forget are often the words they choose to say followed by a forceful push toward reconciliation.

This approach places a heavy weight of guilt on the victim of abuse if she does not comply. Shunning occurs and support is lost. In Scripture, we are told to guard our heart, yet the victim is put in a position of vulnerability without seeing evidence of change by the perpetrator. Read more ›

“Pit Living”

Pit LivingThere are days when we seem to be caught in the fog of life. Dreariness shadows our every move. Directional signals telling us which way to turn in our present situations allude us. So we wander aimlessly and fall head first into the darkness of the pit, the pit of despair.

Walls seem to close in on us. We grope around trying to get our bearings. The surface of the walls feels rough and jagged. One false move and we scrape ourselves. Fear and anxiety begin to engulf us. A beam of light shining from above is the only thing visible. The only way out is to make it to the top. But how?

Have you ever been one of those “pit people”. Maybe you have fallen into that pit so many times that now it has become the norm, a familiar place to dwell. We begin decorating the walls with pictures throwing a bit of color here and there. We decide to move in furniture just to make it cozy. We rename our circumstances as “pit living”. Read more ›

How Big is God?… How Big is The Mountain?

IMG_0054We live in an era of uncertainty for the future. A sense of security seems lost and life’s problems loom like dark clouds overhead. Media pictures doom and gloom causing us to sink into despair and fear. Are these times any different than the ones found in Scripture?

  • The Israelites facing the Philistines (giants)
  • Moses facing Pharaoh in Egypt
  • Israelites’ fear after scouting out the Promise Land
  • Captivity of the Israelites in Babylon

The circumstances in each story appeared to be impossible to resolve. The future seemed to be uncertain and unknown. Yet the God of the impossible was there all along showing His glory and faithfulness. He wasn’t vacationing on some tropical island. Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,

Lord, Are You Still There?

iStock_000005459695XSmallWith her dreams in her hand and hope for the future, Pat walked down the long aisle of her church to marry a Christian man who was well liked. As she gazed into his eyes, a moment of doubt flashed before her. Dismissing it as wedding jitters, she spoke her vows with a smile on her face. After all she was older and much wiser now.

She headed for her new life leaving an excellent job, friends, family, and church to move to another state foreign to her. As they drove up the long driveway, she noted the remoteness of the area. The promise of a house on the lake slowly slipped away.

As she moved her things into his house, she realized how damp, cold and dreary it was. She determined to make it a cheery place. She soon learned there were limitations placed on her by her new spouse. The words, “there’s no money” rang in her ears. When she offered to get a job, she was told that a submissive wife does not work outside the home.

Read more ›

Tagged with: , , ,

What Color is Your Elephant?

Hope

Wherever I go, I see evidence of God’s most beautiful and unique design in creation in the women I meet. With just words, each woman was designed by God. Actually if you think about it, God was and still is the first HGTV program (House and Garden TV). HGTV is one of my favorite TV programs. It is amazing to me with just a dash of color and certain arrangements something is created from basically nothing.

I admire people who have the gift of seeing the potential in a room or house. I can view the beautiful results but cannot create it myself. The decorators remove the blemishes, cover up flaws, and add flair from their own design.
Read more ›

Take Heart, Daughter!

20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”
22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. Matthew 9:20-22

This woman was clothed in shame from the illness she suffered for twelve years. Year after year she had been considered unclean. This affected any kind of relationship she would have. This had to have caused immense isolation and loneliness.
Read more ›

Tagged with: , , ,