She looked at me with tears in her eyes, as if she was seen for the first time. Between the tissue sopping up her wet face and deep sighs, she said, “I don’t know what I did wrong. I can’t escape his mental and emotional manipulation even though we aren’t even together anymore. I’ve been trapped for so long.”
I looked back at her, trying to balance a look of comfort while holding back my own sense of insecurity at holding her pain with her. What came out of my mouth was something like, “You deserve freedom. You deserve to flourish. Nothing that happened was your fault. God sees you. There is grace and life and hope wherever God is. I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m just… so sorry.”
I don’t know what it is, but I’ve encountered over and over again several of these stories. I keep hearing phrases like, “I’m so embarrassed I let this happen to me,” or “He was even a follower of Christ,” or “I’m just nervous someone from the church will find out.” These stories make me sick to my stomach because I know that we can do better.
I know for so long the message of the Church has been to be “counter-cultural” to bear fruit where there is none; to lead people to tilt their heads wondering what makes us so unique; to draw people to the God who we claim to follow by being different and bearing witness to the Truth to which we devote our lives. A high and good calling, right?
But I think we’re missing something. Of the pastoral care conversations I’ve found myself in over the last several months, the number of women who have come from abuse and been told it’s their fault, forced to leave communities of faith while the abuser stays, is not okay. Yet, we often preach messages from our pulpit that say, “Women, cover up! Don’t be sexually promiscuous. Submit to your husband.” These phrases are just a fraction of the harmful messages we proclaim to our congregations.
In an attempt to be counter-cultural, the messages we preach err on the side of correction, moralism, and shame in order to spur our people to live what many would consider “biblically” (and we don’t even know what we mean by that)—as if the world is too full of mushy gushy love, too much kindness, and too much freedom. We pose grace and truth as opposites as if they are mutually exclusive and one side of the social or political spectrum has a monopoly on one or the other. As a result, abuse becomes normative in marriages. Women are told to believe they did something to deserve being treated like trash. We think the only antidote to sinfulness is throwing away grace and erring on the side of some kind of guilted righteousness.
I’m convinced that the way of the world is actually harsher than we think with its pride, arrogance, selfishness, disrespect, and shame. I’m convinced that a world apart from the Kingdom of God is what contributes to abuse, violence, lovelessness, and misunderstanding how our identities contribute to knowing what God is like.
I’m convinced there is another way. It is the way of grace.
Grace is not fluffy or shallow. The presence of grace does not mean the absence of truth, of correction, of trying to pursue holiness and rid our lives of sin. God gave the law as a means of grace. Grace means living within boundaries so that everyone and everything can flourish. Without grace, systems of evil would’ve run rampant, God’s people would have been driven further into wickedness. Without grace, we wouldn’t be driven to pursue holiness because we have no choice but to seek God’s heart and vision for shalom. Grace is not a lost cause.
With every woman I’ve encountered who holds similar pasts that they are healing from, I pray for grace to restore. I look into her eyes, or make sure my voice is clear over the phone, as I tell her that I firmly believe the way of God is the way of grace. Where there is grace, there is flourishing, holiness, and justice. The way of grace leads to eternal springs of water where there is abundant life here on earth as it is in heaven.
Haley Wiggers is passionate about discovering how the messy, painful, and unexpected gifts that come with being human connect and relate to and offer understanding of how God relates to and cares for us. She’s been married to her husband Tyson for 4.5 years, and together they just welcomed their first little into the world. His name is Theo, and he is the cutest. United by undeserved grace, they’ve created a life centered around table fellowship with others and long walks with their puppy.