How Abuse Steals Away the Connections We Need for Emotional Health
Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease. Proverbs 22:10
I have written before about how the trauma of abuse robs us of home. Home sweet home is a motto abuse victims cannot relate to. In this post, I would like to expand on this concept with the hope that what I say might help other victims understand more clearly why they feel what they feel.
The church which I have now pastored for nearly 21 years is small, but healthy, after being subjected to many attacks by many abusive people who claimed the name of Christ. We are wounded, but recovering. And we hope that as this healing progresses, we will increasingly experience the unity and community that loving, healthy relationships in Christ produce. So what I have to say here is not meant to reflect at all negatively upon anyone in our church body today.
Consider two churches. The first one that I pastored was in the mountains of Montana. We were there for eight years. After almost three years at a church in Alaska, we came to our present church, as I mentioned, nearly 21 years ago. Two churches. Now, I have been asking myself a question and have been wrestling to understand my feelings lately in regard to these two places. Why is it, I asked, that I can see pictures of that old log community hall in Montana and see old pictures and films of the people there, and immediately feel an emotionally strong “connect” with that place? We had plenty of very difficult times and difficult people to deal with in those years. Yet, in spite of that, we connected with that place. The feelings of that connection still overwhelm me when I go back for a visit or look at old pictures and videos.
And then there is the present community in which we live, and the church building I have preached in for these two decades. I know that the Lord called me here, and that He has sustained us and our people. We have watched a generation of children grow up in this church and now we are watching a second. We have had funerals for friends, weddings, and we have worshipped together for countless Lord’s days now. And yet, I feel virtually no emotional connection to our building or to this community. I love our people who have been so loyal in the face of many hardships. But when it comes to this place, I have remained emotionally flat. And for quite some time I have not understood why.
I now know.
When we arrived at that first church in those Montana mountains, we were greeted warmly. There was a sense of community in that small band of people and it wasn’t long before we connected with them and with the community. I can still go back there and have the memories flood over me and though some of them are unpleasant, most are good. I feel, well, I feel a sense of homesickness. But when we arrived in this present church there was no warm greeting. Almost immediately as our feet hit the ground, the opposition began. And the abuse. People who craved power and control wanted to make sure that they retained it – after all, they were entitled, right? As I think back to those first weeks and that first year, I cannot think of anything but grief, doubt, false guilt, and a desire to quit. Those things continued for many years after.
What does abuse do to us? There are many effects, but the one I am describing to you here can, I suppose, be stated this way: abuse robs us of the ability to emotionally and mentally connect with people and places. We NEED that kind of connection if we are going to be emotionally healthy. You know what I am speaking of. I need to be able to go inside a church building and be flooded with feelings and emotions of good days gone by. I need to be able to walk down the main street of the town in which I live and recall that ten years ago I enjoyed a very good time here. I need to be able to say, “this is my town. This is home.”
And you need these things as well. But abusers rob us of them. They keep us from making the healthy connections of life. They shame us into isolation. They steal our value and lead us into a false notion that every room, every street corner, every social function is enemy territory inhabited by people who wish we would just go away. And if you live with one, if you are married to one, or if you have a church full of abusers, that notion is really not too far wrong. Small towns can be very cruel places.
Do we begin to see then why the Lord so intensely hates the abuser? Why He tells us, as in the Proverbs verse quoted about, that such people are to be driven out from among His people so that strife and abuse will cease and people can begin to heal and to connect? Listen to the Lord again:
Pro 6:16-19 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
In other words, the Lord hates abusers.
What is the opposite of abuse? What is it that produces these “connections” I am trying to describe? Well, it is love, isn’t it? If the evil of abuse (hatred) disconnects and divides, then love does quite the opposite. Is it any wonder then that the Lord has told us that the substance of His law is that we love Him, and that we love one another? We were made to love and to be loved. When that happens, we connect. People and communities cease to be mere objects. They become our loved ones, and our homes.
Jesus came to reconcile us to God, to one another, and to a renewed creation. I look forward to the day when I see that New Earth, walk through it, and find myself saying and feeling that “this is my town. This is where I belong.”