Today’s post tells the story of heartache and pain, but new life after forgiveness. In the light of all of the current news about abusers and the women who suffer from them, it feels timely. The writer, who asked not to be named, suffered not only at the hands of her husband but by those who believed the lies spread about her. Yet she found freedom in forgiveness.
When I wanted to be baptised by full immersion, the minister – the most gentle, patient man I had ever come across – touched my back to show me how I would be dipped under the water. I nearly screamed because it involved trusting him completely. I was most upset but he got the ladies of the church to lay on hands and pray for me. I also went back to my Bible and my God and read that He is the greatest Counsellor of them all. I understood that I had to forgive my abusive husband, who had caused so much fear and pain, but initially I was unable to recall the incident that had affected me so much.
I was baptised in the summer of 1988 and testified that “Perfect Loves drives out fear.” However, by the next summer, my husband threw me out for bringing God home. As I was unable to see my son much and was concerned for his welfare, I started custody proceedings. One evening my husband picked up my son, told him to stay in the car and came into the place where I was staying and nearly strangled me. The year before I had used the name of Jesus to protect me from violence but now I could barely scream.
Someone heard and interrupted him – he claimed to have stepped on my toe! As the accommodation I had was not secure, I ran across the field to friends. He went directly to the Manse and said “I haven’t done anything!” I was in shock but had a cup of tea and as soon as the memory came back, I prayed, for I wanted to forgive him.
Over time, I was able with God’s help recall the experiences and feel God walk with me through them, as He reassured me that He was there and in control. I received forgiveness for my own guilt and to forgive in the sense that if my abuser asked God for forgiveness he would be forgiven.
I learned that the trauma of violence and menacing threats can have a deep effect on the unconscious as well as conscious mind. Fear is a normal human reaction when memories are triggered. Some think that there are two reactions to fear – fight or flight. But there is a third reaction – freeze, like a rabbit caught in car headlights. It means that a person cannot stop the abuse and can be made to feel guilty (e.g. you asked for it). To freeze is to submit to some pain in fear of something worse, which is how I reacted.
I grew up in a family where my mum was unfaithful all her married life, despising my dad and me as his daughter. After my abusive husband threw me out and I was granted a divorce, I was fourteen years single and celibate. I did not realise that my mum behind my back accused me of some awful things, such as sleeping with every man I spoke to being the least unpleasant. Perhaps it was harder, though, to have to leave the church where I had found faith, for people were nice to my face but later told others I should be thrown out – and I never knew why. Apparently I did not need to be told as I knew what I had done!
So I left my church and started going to a small country chapel. But I felt rejected for “being divorced”, even though I would not have been divorced if I had not found God. I might have been one of the stats, killed by my husband as he threatened it often and long.
I continued to go there, and fourteen years after the trauma of leaving my abusive husband, Andrew asked me out. I told him that I was “damaged goods”, but he said that I was a new creation in Christ. I prayed, heard God and said yes to him.
Three weeks after Andrew had said he wanted to marry me, and the day he bought my engagement ring, he was told by another couple in the chapel that they would not take communion with him because he was marrying a divorced woman (even though the man himself was divorced and remarried). Andrew’s parents too had heard much gossip and told him that he was wrong to marry me. In the face of this opposition, he had to choose to do what he thought God was telling him to do. He chose to obey God and pursue me, even though he would lose the friendship of the only Christian friends he had and the respect of his family. But after three years, we were reconciled to those who had opposed our union, and when Andrew’s father died, his mother said that he was fond of me.
My church have a policy of not marrying divorced people, so we married in the registry office and the vicar sat in the front row to witness it! We each had to cling to our Lord and our faith, not each other. Later Andrew said he felt like Joseph (in the New Testament) as he doubted when the people he respected all told him he was wrong to marry me. He also felt like Joseph (in the Old Testament) as he felt thrown out and sent away by his family. But in all of this, forgiveness has been the key as we trusted God and found freedom from bitterness.
I had known for years that I did not like anything around my neck. But I found Andrew had the most gentle touch I ever came across. He works with his hands but they are soft – his touch felt like a feather. He wanted to touch my neck, and involuntarily I jumped like I had a shock. It was an unconscious reaction, but he put his strong arms around me and starting talking to God in the same way he spoke to me.
I had been healed of much but had thought that complete healing would only be in heaven where there is no more sorrow, crying or pain. But Andrew has a deep profound faith and asked our Father God, believing that He wanted me healed now. Not that I didn’t think God was not big enough to deal with this, but I felt somehow I didn’t deserve it. Andrew’s attitude of faith encouraged me to ask Father God also to heal if it was his will for Andrew’s sake as much as my own – it seemed so unfair to him and my reactions made me feel very guilty.
When he prayed for me, it was not a warm fuzzy feeling but then you must remember this is healing of emotions and teaching the brain to react in a different way. Over about ten days I realised there was a difference as Andrew continued to pray whenever I needed it. Now I like my neck being touched; it gives me pleasure. After all, Satan comes to take the best; to steal and destroy, but God restores and makes all things new! Father God honoured Andrew’s faith and increased my own.
I have been forgiven much, and I forgave. Forgiveness means leaving the justice issue with God rather than wanting vengeance. By doing this, it made a painful memory into plain history and enabled me to move on.
My book The Living Cross looks at the theme of forgiveness through daily readings based in the Old Testament and the New. Find out more here.