Shame, Abuse Victims, and the Woman at the Well
John 4:7-18 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (8) (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) (9) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) (10) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (11) The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? (12) Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” (13) Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, (14) but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (15) The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (16) Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (17) The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; (18) for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Here is still another encounter between a woman and Jesus. You have these all through the Gospels, and they are very good therapy for abuse victims. Here is a human being. She is a woman. A Samaritan woman. A husband-less woman who had been through five husbands and was now on a sixth, though apparently not married. The way some of those cultures handled divorce back then, she may not have been some kind of loose woman. I don’t know for sure. But those five husbands could have dumped her. David Instone-Brewer tells us a lot about marriage and divorce back then in his books.
But what we do know is that here we have a woman who has been deeply shamed. Despised by Jews. A woman. A woman with no husband. Just some guy hanging with her. And a formula like that adds up to one big ugly pile of shame.
I haven’t studied shame very much yet. I’m just beginning. But I know enough now to see that it is wicked stuff. We aren’t talking about the good kind of shame that a person with a conscience feels when they do wrong. No, this kind of shame – toxic shame – is concerned with our very identity as a person. Our sense of worth. Shame is a voice constantly telling a person that she is worthless. Good-for-nothing. Unwanted. Lucky to have any man at all. Shame degrades. Shame isolates. Shame makes a person – let’s say a woman in this case – go on a constant quest for love, but even if she finds it, her shame will never let her receive it.
We are shamed in many ways – but primarily by other people, and by our own thoughts. Parents shame their children. People in authority like teachers and pastors shame us sometimes. And you all know it – abusers shame their victim. A shamed victim who sees no worth in herself, who just cannot grasp how anyone would want to have a relationship with her – now there is a person who is much easier for the abuser to control. Shame is the abuser’s diabolical friend.
How do abusers shame victims? How do they not! They shame with every word, every look, every action. They shame by withholding money. They shame by mocking her interests, by ridiculing the meal she made, by demeaning her friends until she has none. They shame by joking about how her body looks, or how pathetic she is in bed. They shame her by not talking to her for days. They shame her with all kinds of perverted sexual demands. And they have her. In her shame, she cannot even begin to grasp where else she would go. Often, even her own family has been won over by the abuser until they too are ashamed of her. Even more sad is the fact that her whole church family can be turned against her by the abuser’s scheming methods.
Well, IT’S ALL A LIE! The whole thing. And a huge part of a victim’s recovery is coming to grips with her shame. Understanding it, seeing what it has done to her, and being set free of it. For starters, I would very highly recommend Steven Tracy’s book Mending the Soul [*Affiliate link], AND the accompanying workbook. Do the work! Also, get David Needham’s book Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are? [Affiliate link] Sandra Wilson’s book, Released From Shame [Affiliate link] is also great.
The woman at the well. What happened to her that day? Her life was transformed because she met the One who sat and talked to her. The whole meeting was no accident – did you know that? The Son of God HAD to stop at that well, at that moment, when there came a woman of Samaria to get water. That’s what happens to us when Christ sets out to seek and save all whom the Father has given Him. He stopped at “the place” and looked up in the tree – there was Zaccheaus. “Come down, Zacchaeus! Today I must come to your house.” The whole thing was a divine setup. Here then, at that well, Jesus came and He gave this horribly shamed woman – living water. Man! She got a bucketful like she never imagined. HER THIRST WAS ENDED BECAUSE HER SIN AND SHAME WERE DEALT WITH. The Spirit of Christ came, just as He does to all believers – and she didn’t thirst again. Which means she could quit trying to deal with her shame in ways that would only leave her worse off.
Are you a victim of abuse? Then you have been shamed. Go to the Well. Meet Christ as never before, and plead with Him to quench your thirst. Get those books I recommended and work in them. Work hard and prayerfully. Read and re-read John 4 and put your name in place of the Samaritan woman. As you are set free of shame, as you come to understand that if you belong to Christ then there is no need to be ashamed (He isn’t ashamed of you!), you are going to find that the abuser’s tactics just don’t seem to pack the punch they used to. He will have been stripped of one of his biggest weapons.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.