This is the third in a series of blogs on the sexual abuse of women in marriage. My goal is to help counselors and pastors to recognize when a wife is being sexual abused by her husband and then offer appropriate help. In the first two blogs, I described what marital sexual abuse is and discussed why women might not realize what is happening to them. In this third installment, I offer some thoughts on how to help women in this situation.
When God places women in our care who have been sexually abused in marriage, he is entrusting us with a tender and clear mission. These women face tremendous suffering and need us to care for them with gentle wisdom. They also need us to be strong—calling evil acts what they are—evil. This is not a comfortable calling, but it is a critical calling, one after Jesus’ own heart (Luke 4:18-19). Often it means we, ourselves, need to acquire additional wisdom and learn what it means to embody Jesus to these dear sufferers. The last thing we want to do is to inadvertently hurt them when we try to help. So, let’s start with the basics. We know we are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), especially when someone is facing evil (Rom. 12:9-12). We are to be compassionate, gentle, and patient in our care (Eph. 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:8). In addition to these basics, here are some practical ways to walk alongside and minister to these women.
1. Ask. Sexual abuse in marriage is frightening to reveal. Sadly, a large percentage of my counselees who experience physical and verbal cruelty are also experiencing sexual abuse. It is not something that women usually disclose because shame, stigma, and confusion contribute to silence. But speaking about it and receiving support is crucial to safety and healing. One way to help victims is to bring up the topic. I usually say something like: “More than half of the women I see in oppressive marriages experience hard and difficult things in their sexual relationship. Are there ways that you struggle with physical intimacy? Things that make you uncomfortable? Do you experience any unwanted sexual activity? Do you ever feel pressured?”
Sometimes victims are only ready to say “yes” to these questions but are not comfortable discussing the violations themselves. Do not press, just periodically check in asking them if they are ready to talk or have questions.
Consider, especially in a church setting, inviting a woman to bring a female friend and supporter with her to counseling. It can be overwhelming to discuss such abuses with a pastor or other church leader and the tangible comfort provided by such a person will reduce her sense of isolation and vulnerability.
2. Listen. Abuse is not something you can solve with words; there are complexities and evils that our words are inadequate for. Do not feel that you need to say something to make it better—you can’t. Sit with the suffering. Your presence alone is powerful, lifting shame. Keep in mind it is good and right for the victimized to feel hurt, fearful, and angry. Do not sanitize their speech but trust that, in time, God will shape their lament. Right now, the important thing is for them to tell their story. No matter what it sounds like, they are bringing the terrible secrets of their life into the light which is a beautiful act of trust and faith.
3. Listen for ways they wrongly feel responsible. Husbands who abuse their wives in this way are master blame-shifters and convince their victims that everything is their fault. With sexual abuse this is particularly damaging, so it is important to be consistent in reminding them that they are never responsible for another person’s sin (Mark 7:20-23). Oftentimes, bad teaching from Scripture sets them up to believe their husbands’ lies. Be alert for ways that the misuse of passages like 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 (sex is their “wifely duty”), has compounded their guilt and suffering.¹ Clarify that marriage does not equal consent to unlimited sex or unlimited types of sexual acts.
4. Let victims know repeatedly that the abuse is not their fault. Once you discover the ways they feel responsible, work to lift shame and guilt. Never tire of making these declarations and affirming this truth.
5. Protect their story. Do not to ask too many questions about the details. Questions can cause further exposure and shame. Go at the woman’s pace by asking broader questions, taking her cue as to what and when she is comfortable sharing. Consider your role. What will it be like for her if you know details? This is especially important if you are a pastor or elder. Sometimes in a church context, it is necessary to share information, so be clear about who you will tell and what you will say. To the extent possible, do not expose the tender details of her story. Ask her who she is most comfortable with knowing. To honor her story, ask those whom you tell to make an effort to connect with her. Even if it’s via a note, they should acknowledge the woman’s suffering. I have heard from too many victims that silence from those in church leadership who know their story is excruciating; it feels like rejection and disgust.
6. Share how their story affects you. Sexual abuse is isolating, and it can feel like no one, not even God, sees or cares about what is happening. Horrible things have happened and we need to embody God’s heart for them. God hates what is occurring and is grieved by it. Your heartfelt responses and tears can be healing for them.
7. Provide needed resources. They need to know that they are not alone. Offer to connect them with an advocate, pastor, counselor, medical care, legal support, another victim, or a trusted friend.
8. Speak beautiful truths. Being sexually abused comes with a special sense of shame. It can penetrate so deeply that the victim begins to believe horrible lies. The woman might come to believe she is repulsive, unlovable, dirty, permanently disgraced or even worse that her story will contaminate you. Remind her that she is a treasured possession (Deut. 7:6), chosen, holy (Col. 3:12), beloved (Deut. 33:3), God’s child (1 John 3:1), Jesus’ friend (John 15:15), holy, blameless (Eph. 1:4), and redeemed (Eph. 1:7).
9. Be patient. Sexual abuse in marriage is devastating trauma. Research has shown that it is harder to reveal and experience sexual abuse by an intimate partner than by a stranger. Worse, many women go on living with the husbands who violated them.² We do not expect sexual assault victims to have contact with their rapist let alone share a home and bed. It is quite unimaginable what they are going through, so be patient.
Trauma victims also tell repetitive and circular stories, and it can be hard for them to make decisions, or even consistently believe that they are victims of abuse. Keep in mind it is not always possible for them to face the trauma while they are living in it. Oftentimes, we have a greater sense of urgency about their situation than they do. To care for them well, we must live with this tension and proceed at their pace. This can be hard on us when we see the amount of pain and suffering they are enduring, but it is vital for them that we do this. God has never-ending patience with us, and never tires of communicating to us life-giving truths. Imitate him.
10. Do not tell them what to do or make decisions for them. Due to the power and control dynamics fueling abuse, these women often do not have the freedom to make choices at home. Hence, they do not need one more person telling them what to do. It is important and redemptive that they make their own choices, especially considering that they are the ones who must live with the after-effects. Whether they stay, leave, confront, or remain quiet, their choices will lead to more pain. Help them by providing wise options. Pray through the choices and process potential outcomes. Encourage them with the knowledge that God will supply the wisdom they need and let them know that they have your support.
11. Involve the necessary authorities. It is not always easy to discern how and when we should interact with the legal system so here are some guidelines. Rape within a marriage is a crime, but few women wish to report it and ultimately that is their choice. While this might leave us feeling fearful for them, we should remember that they have to endure the fall-out and be ready to take self-protective measures. Police know this so they usually require the victim to make the complaint (not the counselor) unless life-threatening violence is present. We do not have a legal obligation to report domestic violence, but we should be communicating the value and potential protection of involving the police. When a victim is ready to make a police report, help her through the process—it will be an extremely difficult experience.
A notable exception to women making their own decisions concerns children. Anytime children witness sexual abuse (or they themselves are physically or sexually abused), it is considered child abuse and we do need to make a report. Keep in mind that this will create a dangerous situation for the mother and child. The woman needs to know that you are reporting the abuse, and a safety plan should be implemented.
12. Lament with them. When unspeakable things happen, it is hard to even find the words to describe what has happened. For these women to pray, they need words—words to connect their hearts to God and others. Telling their story and sharing their heart is essential to healing. Help these women find the words. Help them speak to God and others (wise helpers) about their suffering. Locate passages of Scripture like Psalm 22, 27, 55, 109 and 140 that give words to their experience. Pray with them. Pray for them. Give them words they can bring to God—words that expose the darkness with light (Eph. 5:13) and that bring redemption and healing.
It is my prayer and hope that this list equips you. But more than that, I want it to encourage you to move towards women who have been violated by their spouses. You might already know who these women are, but it is far more likely that there are many unknown sufferers living in your midst. They need wise and gentle helpers who are ready with the compassion of Christ and words of God to guide them.
²While it might be best for a separation to occur, there are many reasons victims do not leave, which means, at least for a time, continuing to live with their abuser.
This is part 2 of a 2 part series: Part 1
Alasdair Groves sits down with Julie and Greg Lowe and talk about adoption.
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Alasdair Groves, Julie Lowe, and Greg Lowe
AG: Today’s episode is part two of a two-part series on adoption. You don’t have to have listened to part one for this to make sense, but you’ll definitely want to go back and listen to it if you haven’t heard it yet. And if the issue of adoption is at all interesting to you, part one was Julie and Greg telling the personal story of their adventures in adoption, and this one is going to focus on adoption in general. How can we think about doing it well and supporting those around us who do it as well?
Intro: You’re listening to CCEF-On-The-Go, a podcast of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. Here at CCEF, we are committed to restoring Christ to counseling, and counseling to the church. You can find our podcasts, books, articles, videos, and more resources for Christ-centered pastoral care at our website, ccef.org.
AG: Hi. Welcome to CCEF-On-The-Go. I’m your host, Alasdair Groves, faculty member here at CCEF. And today I am talking with Julie Lowe, my fellow faculty member at CCEF, and her husband, Greg Lowe, who is a counselor here as well. We did an earlier conversation on their story personally about adoption. So I wanted to follow up and do sort of a part 2 here, thinking a bit more broadly and generally about adoption, about how it works, how to think about it.
And I’d kind of like to ask you just three questions today. First will be, how would you talk to, encourage, give advice to parents who are considering adoption? Secondly, what would you say to parents who have adopted and are sort of getting their start in that in a fairly early on the road? And thirdly, I’d love if we have time to say a little bit to those around those families who haven’t adopted themselves but have people in their lives who have adopted or are considering adoption. What would you say to those families? How can you bless, support, and care for those who are going through or have been through the process of adoption? So to start out with: Okay you’re sitting in front of a couple or a single person who is saying, “I/We would like to adopt, we’re thinking about it, we know you guys have done this.” What would you begin to say to orient that person?
JL: This is in no particular order because there are all kinds of things that would be really helpful. But one comes to mind is, the best adoption agencies train and train and train. They put you through a lot of training, and some people don’t like that. But I’m so encouraged when I hear they’ve gone through it because what it means is they’ve been prepared for every avenue: for the process and what can be difficult about the process, for the potential risk, for the needs of children, for just thinking well about adoption and its impact on children and how to process that with them. So whether it’s domestic or international in dealing with potential institutionalization or attachment issues or sibling groups or birth families, there’s a wealth of things you don’t have to think about until you’re all of a sudden thrown into it. So I would highly encourage anybody that a really good adoption agency is going to train you well, and be willing to go through what seems like a long process of training because it will be so fruitful to them.
AG: So do your homework, embrace the process, go through the training.
JL: Don’t take the easy way out, don’t go with programs that will say, “All you have to do is these three steps.” Good training will make you read books, it will get you thinking about hard stuff. They’ll almost scare you out of it in order to prepare you to do it.
GL: For me, as we were considering moving from having the girls, our first two daughters, to adopting another sibling pair of boys, we were thinking about that and I was considering that. I had to examine my motivation. What good reason did I have to say “No”? And I couldn’t really come up with any reason. I mean, Julie wanted that, so I had to consider it. And I had expressed that I wanted our family to grow, too. All of my answers were: “Just take more time. Just take more money. I can’t do this, or I can’t do that.” Those just didn’t seem to be good enough answers for me. So I think, you have to examine your heart and your agenda for really seeking to love the Lord and love other people, examine what you want your life to look like. And are those things — how do they weigh against one another?
AG: What about a family — they’ve just adopted internationally, domestically, perhaps a teenager, perhaps a one-year-old? What kinds of things do you begin to say as people are starting down this road?
JL: It probably varies so much depending on their unique situation. So even from country to country, experiences differ to whether they come from orphanages or some countries actually do foster care – they don’t have orphanages, so kids are growing up in the home before they’re adopted. So the needs, the particularities can change. And if they’ve had really good training, then part of that means, “What are you going to do when they come home? How are you going to help if you already have children? How are you going to help them to adapt to a new child in the home? How are you going to establish training for a child whose never been in your home before, doesn’t know the rules, doesn’t understand even culturally what’s going on at times?”
AG: Or perhaps even English.
JL: Right, language barriers. Any of those things. Or just how do you facilitate a comfortable, safe environment for this child to thrive and know they’re embraced and they’re not going to be leaving again? So some of it depends on – people adopt sibling groups and there are all kinds of complications to that as well. So having a really good support system in place is really helpful. Sometimes having counseling in place is really helpful, too. It’s not always necessary if you have good resources, if you have a church that’s highly supportive and engaged. So probably the biggest thing is saying: have the support around you — family, friends, people to talk through the changes.
GL: Yeah. “How can I help?” That’s what I would say to them. “How can I help? Are you finding the help you need? Are you supported, are you cared for?” Kind of exactly what Julie said.
AG: Talk to me about you guys’ first year. I know you told us in the first part of the podcast aired earlier that you had four kids in the first year of your marriage. You got married with two as your flower girls, and within the next year, you had two brothers come, and all young kids. What did you learn that first year? What are things you look back and go: “I’m so glad we did this.” Or, “Wow, if we had to do it over again…”
JL: I’ll jump in and say one thing. One was – this was the advice of someone wiser than us about having a date night, a regular date night for us. So we went into marriage with kids and they multiplied in the first year of marriage and we both worked full-time. So I think one of the life-saving things was being able to go out just even an evening every other week. Or we aimed for twice a month, that didn’t often happen, and it was complicated especially as foster parents because we couldn’t leave our kids…
AG: I was going to say, how do you do that?
JL: Well, and that goes to: how can the church or relationships help? It would’ve been life-giving to us if somebody had volunteered to take the kids one evening once a month, or twice a month. I mean, I would’ve been bowing down and kissing their feet. Those things were so beneficial. Or after-school care for those who work. You know, some people are stay-at-home parents, or their situations are different, they have family close by. We didn’t have family close by. We both worked full-time. So what would’ve been a blessing to us would’ve been that hands-on people that know the kids, understand their issues that we can trust, that have their criminal background checks in. So any babysitter we would get, we’d always have to take them through getting criminal checks and abuse checks and then the lay of the land as a parent and all these things. So just looking back for us, I think one of the things that was really beneficial is, we did take time for just us.
And it became a running joke because we would have a date night and all of a sudden get a call from the foster care agency: “Are you willing to take an emergency respite tonight?” And our date night would turn into an emergency respite situation. Several of our kids came to us on date nights. But I would think that was really helpful our first year of marriage. And we were surrounded by a community of wonderful people, too — here at CCEF, people that have adopted, a church that thought that way.
GL: I don’t know. I mean, I guess my advice would be no different than to any other parent. As you have four little kids watching your emotional reaction that’s coming out of you and knowing what it means about your desires and what you believe — kind of your agenda for what you want to have happening. You know, because that’s a lot of chaos, that’s a lot of noise, it’s very easy – maybe you want to have some comfort, have some quiet, you know, escape a little bit, and those things are not the Lord’s agenda. Those are your agenda and they can lead to unloving reactions, distancing, all kinds of bad things. So as any parent, examining the fruit of your emotions and your behaviors, and what do they say about what’s really important to you? Consciously walking in that role: a parent, serving the Lord to work myself out of a job of raising these children as self-aware little worshipers.
AG: One thing I’m thinking, as I thought often from the first conversation we had as well, is just how much you guys are just normalizing the process of being a parent to adopted kids. I think most people —I think this is true — I think most people have this sort of sense that this is this mysterious, scary, different, super-out-there kind of thing — that if you do it, man, you’re like the green berets of parents and you better be ready because there’s going to be all these issues and you don’t know anything about the process. And in some ways, you’re highlighting the importance of: get the training and understand there are going to be different issues. There is a complexity here. But what’s the first thing off the tip of your tongue? It’s… you know, have a date night and watch your heart.
GL: Go to your room. <Laughter, other comments>
AG: I’m thinking about how much I learned about my own heart from when our daughter was born, (she’s 8 now). And two younger siblings and the lessons have held very true… where waking me up in the middle of the night to go take care of a crying child was so hard. I was so frustrated. I just wanted to be asleep. And it’s like, I could be relatively patient until 7:31pm. And then after that, it’s like I knew I was entitled to my night and the Lord had no right to ask anything of me through a child. And it was amazingly good at revealing some of where my heart could go off the rails. And I feel like you’re pointing to, “Look, take care of your marriage. The Lord has given you that. Take care of your heart and your emotions and be aware that you’re going to want things that are in contrast with the good of these children the Lord has given you. So be ready for that.” I’m really appreciating how you’re highlighting, “Yeah, the biggest things we’re going to say off the bat are actually things we would say to any parents, to any people in any kind of relationships.” That’s very encouraging and helpful to me.
AG: You guys already started to go here, at least implicitly in things you’ve said, but in terms of how can churches, how can friends, how can communities support adoptive families? I’m hearing loud and clear: “Give adopted parents a break. Get involved. Roll up your sleeves. Get your background check. Babysit once a month. You have no idea how big a gift that could be.” What else, if anything else, would you say to communities?
GL: Yeah, to extend that line of thinking just a little bit farther: become a foster parent, a certified foster parent. You can do respite. Instead of being able to take them for a night, take them for a week. Let the parents go out of town for a vacation or something. That’s just an extension of what you were saying.
JL: And again, it’s going to vary from person to person. So there are people who adopt special needs kids, and the kind of help they need is to get to medical appointments, or have their children babysat while they take kids to medical appointments. Things like that might vary, but it’s just the very practical extension of help and aid.
And you know, a lot of families have 9 months to prepare for a new child coming to their lives, and then there are families where they just show up right then and there. And those who are intentionally adopted domestically or internationally have a prep time as well. Our experience was a little different, where literally we could get a call today after talking to you asking would we consider taking a child. So those practical resources of just clothes… Or we have nothing. We took a baby, all of our kids were 2 and above when we’ve taken them, and all of a sudden we had a newborn baby. We had no crib, we had nothing. What are we going to do with this baby? So those kind of practical aids for those who know the family well around them. And then the emotional support of processing what this has been like for you. And some people find they have a hard time bonding with their kids. Sometimes they’re caught off guard by behaviors they weren’t prepared for. And so the ability to talk that through and know they’re not in it alone is going to be crucial for them.
Another thing we’re not bringing up is the idea of birth families and how — that topic alone could probably take an hour to talk about – how to help your children think about them, how as adoptive parents we feel sometimes threatened that our children will grow up to love their birth parents more than us. And how do you talk about that? How do you, again, say, “Lord, these are your kids. Of course they’re going to love their birth parents. Of course that’s normal.” And so even just being really thoughtful about, how do you engage with birth family, even if you never meet them. But for many of us, there is the opportunity to meet birth family, and what does that mean for your family?
GL: I’m thinking of: be willing to embrace the whole family. So we had four little children and then a fifth, and now a sixth. And it can be hard to find friends and families and home groups that would willingly embrace you. Just when we had the girls, we were looking for a home group and couldn’t find one that was very well-suited for having kids, amazingly. So we started our own. And then we got two more, and then one more family came that had 5 children – or 4 children – well, it grew as we were together. And we had a very diverse home group with 14-15 children. It was crazy. It was really crazy. But I would just say, you know, we had some friends who had four adopted children. They went from 1 to 4 almost overnight. And they were part of our home group. So just be willing to embrace the whole family. You’re willing to embrace chaos, noise, and trouble.
AG: So interesting, Greg. You’re making me think of something I haven’t thought about in a long time. We had friends a while back who, I don’t remember how many kids they had — this was before we had kids, so at the time, whatever seemed like a lot. And I remember them saying, “You know, we’ve been here in the area for six months or a year, and no one has ever invited us over to their home.” And I remember the husband saying, “And I get it. I know why they don’t. We have kids, and there are a lot of us. I know we’re intimidating and overwhelming because there’s just a lot of us to handle.” But I was so struck by that as a young married couple with no kids of my own being like, “Oh yeah, I haven’t invited you over. It would never occur to me to invite this whole family over.” But just that phrase: embrace the whole family. That’s really… that’s a helpful word. And again, not just for adoptive families. For any large family. And just being reminded you don’t have to have kids with all matching ages and sweaters to have a good time together as families. We’ve experienced the blessing of that actually a number of times in our own community of late. We have some friends with kids who are older than our kids, and they’ve done such a wonderful job of playing with our younger kids, and you would never think, “Oh yeah, this is the most natural play date in the world.” We’ve been on the receiving end of that. It has been a great blessing.
Anything else you guys would say? I can’t imagine there’s much more to say about adoption than what we’ve already said in 15 minutes. But anything else you want to say: a parting comment from each of you or either of you?
JL: I’ll just end with: there are so many ways people can get involved. I think for those who do feel not called or that it’s too daunting or they already have enough struggles and needs in their own home, to think outside the box of ways they can support the idea of the ministry of adoption. It can be broader than adopting themselves.
AG: Last thought that I feel like, if we don’t put this on the table as well, would be the financial impact — how expensive it is to adopt. And like any young family, you have expenses that you didn’t have before you had kids. So even just at the level of financially giving, I know that can be a blessing. That’s another practical aid. So Julie, will you pray for the adoptive parents and their communities who are listening to this?
JL: Sure, yeah. Lord, thank you for the heart you’ve given those who do adopt and foster, and those who take in the vulnerable. You know there are so many, and so many needs. So would you give wisdom to the people who are considering this and to what degree you’re calling them to participate, would you give them a creativity and an openness to consider things they might not have considered before. And we do pray that your Word would go out, that people would be encouraged, and that they would feel maybe a boldness even to try something they’ve never tried before. And we pray this in your precious name. Amen.
Outro: The subject of adoption is a scary one, isn’t it? But if it is something the Lord is laying on your heart to think more about, as it has been for me personally today, you might want to listen to a talk by Julie called, “Adoption: From Brokenness to Relationships,” which we’ve posted on our website, ccef.org/podcast. As always, it will be free until the next episode goes up. And if you have any suggestions for the podcast, don’t hesitate to send an email to [email protected]. ‘Til next time, blessings.
This is the second in a series of blogs on the sexual abuse of women in marriage. My goal is to help counselors and pastors to recognize when a wife is being sexually abused by her husband and then offer appropriate help. In the first blog, I described what marital sexual abuse is. In this blog, we will talk about why women might not realize what is happening to them. And in the third installment, I will offer some thoughts on how to help women in this situation.
Over the years, I have had hundreds of conversations with women who are being sexually abused by their husbands but do not realize it. They know something is wrong but do not know what it is. In fact, most of these women come to me seeking help for something else, usually anxiety, depression, or even a desire to foster a richer marital relationship. As I sit with them and learn more about their marriage, it’s often plain to me that they are being grossly mistreated. But they are confused, and often struggle to call the things they endure abusive or sinful—let alone evil. They worry they are exaggerating, believe they are responsible for what is happening, and doubt their own memory when recounting an abusive episode.
These women need us to help them understand the reality of their situation, but the fact that they do not perceive or portray it accurately can be a barrier to that. If you follow their lead, you will miss the larger abuses that might be taking place and focus on the personal problems they present. It is important that we work to cut through their confusion and see what lies behind it. If you suspect that abuse is occurring, continue to ask questions. If you discover sexual abuse, then great care must be taken to explain how these violations go against God’s design for marriage.
This task is challenging but important. Proverbs 25:26 cautions us, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” We need to speak clearly about the things the Lord hates, lest we, too, muddy the waters leaving room for abuses to perpetuate and the wicked to prosper. Our goal needs to be bringing victims the pure and refreshing living water from Scripture—lifting misplaced guilt and bringing clarity. God’s healing words will tend to their wounds.
To help you see past the confusion in these situations, let’s turn now to a discussion of the pressures that bring it about. There are two main sources to the confusion experienced by women who are victims of marital sexual abuse. Together, they create a powerful dynamic that can make it difficult for them to understand what is happening in their marriage.
The first is the pervasiveness of bad and unbiblical teaching about sex in marriage. These teachings have placed the responsibility for a man’s purity on his wife’s ability to provide unlimited sex. But it is not a wife’s job to keep her husband from sin—each person is responsible for his or her own sin (Luke 6:45). Yet, women have been told:
Imagine how these teachings play out in the mind of a wife who is sexually abused by her husband. God’s call to a healthy, willing mutuality is ignored and sex-on-demand is made to sound like God’s will. This produces false guilt, and wrongly portrays a God who is not just indifferent to her suffering but sanctions it. This creates a wedge in a wife’s relationship with God when she needs him the most.
Sex is not simply an act or a need; God created sex to be an expression of relational and spiritual intimacy. When abuse pollutes that relationship, the physical expression of intimacy is also corrupted. We, as counselors, need to be clear on God’s design for sex so we do not add to the chaos that is already occurring in a victim’s heart and mind.
The second contributor to a wife’s confusion is the manipulative tactics employed by her husband. These men want their wives to be off balance and disoriented. If wives believe they are responsible for the distress in the marriage and feel sorry for their husbands, they are easier to dominate. We need to be on the look-out for these tactics and be ready to intervene with counsel and care to counteract them.
Here are four common ways sexually abusive husbands manipulate their spouses.
First, after an abusive incident, there is often a period where an abuser appears calm or even expresses remorse. He might use gifts or affection in an attempt to repair the relationship. It is important to understand that these seemingly remorse-filled actions are usually not true acts of lasting repentance grounded in godly sorrow.¹ Instead, they are attempts to reset the power and control dynamic. The abuser’s focus remains on what he wants—his world back to the way it was with him in control. If an abuser was truly horrified at his actions, he would seek help to stop being oppressive. The counselor’s goal here should be to help victims discern the difference between godly sorrow and manipulative apologies and actions. Teach them how to refuse these counterfeits.
Second, abuse is not always constant. On quieter days, an oppressor will be helpful and even kind. This is very confusing and disorienting. In these lighter moments, the wife often feels badly for not having loving thoughts towards her husband. She may wonder if she is exaggerating things and making a big deal out of nothing. In periods of peace, a wife might have a hard time recalling the darker memories and not understand why she now feels cold towards her husband. During these times, she might even desire physical intimacy or enjoy sex with him. She may wonder, “How can I be abused if I desire or enjoy sex?” Though it is natural that she will still feel hurt by what happened in the past, her newer, more positive memories make the situation even harder to understand. To help a woman combat this, have her keep a journal of abusive incidents. This can help her overcome these disorientations, lifting guilt and confusion.
A third way that an abuser generates confusion is by using coercion to get his wife to consent to his demands.² For example, if a husband asks for sex repeatedly and his wife knows that if she does not comply that he will lecture her for hours and be frighteningly harsh with her children, she might give in to the demand so as to avoid an escalating punishment. What is confusing about coercion is that if she acquiesces, she believes: “I agreed to it.” It is then very difficult to have clarity about what happened prior. So, she might feel defiled but thinks that it is unreasonable to feel this way. We need to combat this by helping these women to identify coercive tactics and by making sense of the emotions that they are feeling.
The fourth way that an abuser generates confusion is to make his wife feel sorry for him. Abusers are master blame-shifters and are adept at finding excuses to avoid taking responsibility for their demandingness. They blame alcohol, a stressful job, the temptation of pornography, their jealousy—but especially their spouse. Wives report being told things such as:
By claiming to be a tortured sufferer, a sexually abusive husband preys upon his wife’s kind heart, hoping she will feel sorry for him and then do what he wants. If that does not work, he may use threats of adultery, porn use, and even self-harm to gain sympathy. These men are very convincing.
Keep in mind that they will also work on you, the counselor, pleading their victimhood in an effort to distract you from the ways that they are sexually domineering. Be wary of this and do not shift your focus off the effect that an abusive husband’s behavior is having on a victim. Untangling his excuses and threats will help free up his wife from believing it is her job to meet all of his sexual demands.
Is it any wonder then that these wives are vulnerable to confusion about their situation? As their helpers, our goal should be to carefully dispel and dismantle the myths that ensnare them. To do this, we refute the bad teaching, expose the manipulation, and reconnect them to a rescuing God who grieves with them and desires their protection.
¹ Godly regret is focused on how sin offends God and produces true repentance (2 Cor 7:10).
² I discussed coercion in the first blog as well. I repeat it here because it is a key source of confusion for abused wives.
We know that all Scripture is meant to shape us for good (2 Tim. 3:16-17) but what happens when we encounter passages that defy connection to our daily lives? Numbers 5:11-31 is one such passage–if you’ve never read it, now would be a good time! Briefly, it records the procedure to follow when a husband suspects his wife of being unfaithful in the absence of witnesses. The jealous husband brings his wife to the priest who mixes “bitter water” for her to drink. She takes an oath—and if she is guilty, the water brings a curse—pain and inability to conceive children. If she’s innocent, no harm will befall her. If you’re like me, your first reaction may be, “Huh?!” Or “I think I’ll skip ahead to chapter 6” (Oops, no good, that chapter is about taking Nazirite vows, also not something that I plan on doing anytime soon.) Numbers 11 perhaps? Ah, there’s something I can identify with–the Israelites are grumbling and complaining to God. Now that’s applicable!
But God doesn’t intend for us to cherry-pick passages and verses that seem to connect easily with our lives while ignoring other passages, which on first glance, have nothing to say to us. Remember that God addressed Numbers 5 and Numbers 11 to his people at the same point in history. If Numbers 11 is “applicable” and Numbers 5 is not, what are we saying?! Are parts of God’s Word more valuable than others? No, we should always expect God to speak meaningfully into our lives wherever we are in Scripture. His revelation is meant to inform and transform his people, both when it was originally given—and now.
So, where do we start when reading Numbers 5 or some other very challenging passage? I would encourage you to engage by asking three questions: (1) What was the pastoral importance of this revelation to God’s people then? (2) How does this story connect with the life of Jesus? (3) How should it impact my life now? An even simpler way to remember this approach is to consider a text’s meaning with respect to “three pronouns”—them (God’s people in antiquity), him (Jesus), and us.
Them: It’s easy to get caught up in the “bizarre” factor in this passage—it’s a highly stylized legal ritual. Or to react strongly to the woman’s “guilty until proven innocent” status (although many commentators point out that this procedure actually allows protection and vindication for a woman who is unjustly accused, an unusual statute compared to other ancient near eastern societies). We quickly (and rightly) recognize the huge historical and cultural chasm that exists between the original receivers of this revelation and modern believers. But as you linger in the passage certain themes emerge: God cares about what is done in secret. What is done in secret can ultimately defile a marriage and even the community of faith. Purity matters. God is just. Innocence is pardoned and guilt is punished. Rather than furrow our brows and move on to something more palatable, we begin to realize these themes have impact right now for our lives.
Him: Prayerfully consider how this “test for an unfaithful wife” connects with the story of redemption culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Scripture portrays Israel as a wayward, adulterous wife and Yahweh as a jealous husband (Hos. 1-3; Jer. 3:6-10). She is guilty and her sin awaits full and final punishment. And then something remarkable happens. Her jilted husband steps in and seizes the cup before it touches her lips. Jesus Christ drinks the cup of God’s wrath to its dregs. The punishment due his bride for her unfaithfulness—our unfaithfulness!—he willingly bears (1 Pet 2:24). We instead receive the cup of God’s blessing (1 Cor. 10:16). Living water flows (John 4:13-14), not bitter water that brings a curse.
Us: We live in the post-resurrection age. We rightly exclaim with Paul, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). True, but God still cares about things done in secret that dishonor him. Purity for God’s people still matters (Eph. 5:3-15; 1 Cor. 5-6). In that sense, the relevance of this passage remains, although we never lose sight of the glorious and gracious way this word from God finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. As people united with him, this passage prompts us to ask, “Am I harboring secret sin that dishonors my husband Jesus? Am I drifting from the constancy of his love in my thoughts and attitudes? Is there something I need to bring out into the open before God and others?” If the answer is “yes” remember that the final word for you is one of forgiveness, restoration, and love renewed. Benediction, rather than malediction. Jesus drank the cup for you. So, confess your sin and turn from it, knowing that “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
See what you would have missed if you had skipped to Numbers 11? Take the time to prayerfully ponder difficult passages as you encounter them. Expect God to speak to you through his Word by his Spirit. In light of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, gospel treasures await you in the most unlikely places.
These and similar questions about bringing life to Scripture and Scripture to life will be addressed further at the 2018 National Conference. Click here for more information and to register.
This is part 1 of a 2 part series: Part 2
Alasdair Groves sits down with Julie and Greg Lowe and tell their adoption story.
Alasdair Groves, Julie Lowe, and Greg Lowe
AG: Today’s episode is a little different from our normal podcast. It’s actually part one of a two-part series on adoption I recorded with Julie Lowe and her husband, Greg. In this first part, we focused on Greg and Julie’s story, how they chose to adopt, what it has been like, and so on. And even though Greg will be upset with me for saying this (you’ll see why in a few minutes), I have to admit that it’s really humbling and challenging to sit with people who have chosen to adopt 6 kids.
Intro: You are listening to CCEF-On-The-Go, a podcast of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. Here at CCEF, we’re committed to restoring Christ to counseling, and counseling to the church. You can find our podcasts, books, articles, videos, and more resources for Christ-centered pastoral care at our website, ccef.org.
AG: Welcome to CCEF-On-The-Go. I’m your host, Alasdair Groves. I’m a faculty member here at CCEF and I direct the School of Biblical Counseling. And today I’m talking with my colleague, Julie Lowe, also a faculty member and counselor here at CCEF. And we have the special privilege of having her husband here with us in the office as well, Greg Lowe, who also counsels at CCEF. So we’re a bunch of counselors here sitting together.
What I wanted to do today is actually to have a conversation with you guys a bit more personal. Often we talk more sort of counseling topics, how do you help people — today I just want to hear from you guys, particularly about your story of adoption. You have spent a lot of time thinking about adoption, doing adoption in your own life. How have you guys experienced the process of adoption, how many kids do you have, what has been the process for you? Where are you at now? Just share a little bit if you would about your story of adoption.
JL: I’ll start. So how many kids do we have? That’s the easier one: six and counting. So ages 17, soon-to-be 16, 15, 14, 13, and 7 years old. We actually started fostering before we got married. I started fostering so our two daughters were our foster daughters, and when we got married, they were our flower girls in our wedding, got to walk down the aisle with us, and just happened to be the timing that we also found out we’d be able to adopt them at the same time as well. So it was a really neat way of talking to them about how God literally was bringing us together as a family. He brought them a mom, now is giving them a dad, and they would jump in and go, “Yeah, and God knew you needed kids!” And so instantly we went into marriage with two girls.
AG: Did you already know Greg when you started fostering though?
JL: Yeah. We dated for a while.
GL: We dated for a long time. And Julie had always had a passion to adopt and do foster care and felt like it was just time for her to go ahead and do it.
JL: Interestingly as well, we had provided respite (I primarily, because we weren’t married), but primarily I was providing respite for kids, so I would have them for a week or a weekend to give foster parents a break and had thought a long time about whether I would consider fostering as a single person or not. I was in my 30’s, just didn’t know for sure if Greg and I would marry or what our future would be. And in the process, I was providing respite for the foster family of our girls, and it became clear that that placement was not going to remain, so I had some time to really pray about and consider: would I take the girls on? But prior to that, we had had lots of kids, they tended to be older kids, minorities, kids that Greg and I would take to the Phillies games or take to the movies. And so for us it was kind of, even in our dating it was a natural extension of, “Yeah, why wouldn’t we want to do this?” And we were both counselors, we weren’t afraid of kids with behavior struggles or pasts, and really had a heart for kids that were hard to adopt. So we always presumed that we’d have a very multicultural home. We presumed we’d have kids 13 and up because we were just willing to work with those types of kids, and in our first year of marriage, we ended up with four little white kids under the age of 5. You can’t make that happen if you try, so there’s just an irony in saying, “Here’s what we feel equipped to do. Here’s what we think God is calling us to do. Here’s what we want to do. And then God gives us what He’s going to give us.”
Which is kind of our principle with our kids. One of the ways we’ve talked about it is, “God brings into our family whoever he wants in our family.” And we want to be open to it. We want to be wise, but that’s actually a little different than how a lot of adoptive families talk. A lot of the adoption books, which I love, talk about how, “God brought you to me” or “I went out searching for you and looking for you overseas.” And I love those stories and I think those are equally great, but one of our ways of talking to our kids is, “You know, the Lord knows who he wants in our home, and we want to be open to that, and we want God to bring who he wants in our home, whether it’s for a short period of time or longer, permanently or not permanently.” And this sense of God’s sovereignty and how he places people together, and trying to give them confidence that’s part of their story: God sovereignly ordained for them to be a part of our family.
AG: Those of you who are listening to this and can’t see us sitting here in the room, you don’t realize that I’m on my hands and knees on the floor bowing down before Greg and Julie who on their dates were taking foster kids to the Phillies game.
JL: Yes, we were.
GL: You know, it’s funny you say that because this was one of the things I was thinking about that I wanted to mention. One of the things I’ve had a little trouble dealing with over the years is when people think that we’re good people. They’ll say, “Wow you’re a saint. You’re going to go to heaven. You’ve got your ticket.” Or, you know, that kind of idea. And I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that and didn’t really know how to respond. I just came up with the idea of saying, “If adoption looks good, it’s because that’s God’s heart. And it’s not us. We’re meant to be his imagebearers, we are his imagebearers, and we’re meant to reflect his image, and God has a heart for adoption: He adopted Israel, He has adopted us and brought us together as a family, so that reflects His image. So I try to point away from myself to Him when I hear those kinds of things.
AG: Greg, if I can pick up on that and actually connect that back to what Julie was just saying: the language you guys are using about God has brought this to us. God is the one directing this process. You are very, very, both of you speaking that language. In some ways that’s sort of an interesting language to use for something that’s a fairly intentional process that you have to choose to be in. It’s not like you guys were sitting at home one day watching Netflix and suddenly four children showed up on your doorstep, like “Oh, I guess we’ll take them in, God brought them…”
JL: Sometimes it feels like that… <laugh>
AG: I can imagine. Can you say a little bit more, just for yourselves, of how that experience has gone? Greg, I think you maybe started to get at this earlier by saying, “Julie has just had a heart for this for forever, and I said, ‘Let’s do it. I want that, too.’” Help me understand that mentality.
GL: Well, I became a Christian at 13, and it was a very powerful experience of transformation for me of being wanted, being embraced, having a new sense of belonging, a future, a new identity. So that immediately kind of set my mind in the direction. And then you read in James that: pure and undefiled religion is to care for orphans and widows in their distress. So it was not even something I actually gave a lot of thought to. I just knew that I was going to adopt. And then when I met Julie, she was a foster care social worker at the time and it wasn’t much of a discussion for us either. It was a non-negotiable for both of us. We were like, “Hey, how do you feel about adoption? Okay, yeah. Yeah.” And that was it.
AG: Well, and she liked the Phillies.
GL: Yeah, I didn’t hold that against her. <laugh> Yeah, there actually wasn’t a lot of discussion for us. It was just, how was it going to happen? Julie was already doing respite care as a social worker, so I knew she knew how to think about those things well, and her heart was broad and embracing, and that was my heart, too. So we never actually really said, “How many kids do you want? 4-6 maybe? Something like that?” That was about the extent. We were doing, as Julie said, respite care, and it’s not – you know you hear about international adoptions, people paying a lot of money — well, there’s a ton of need right here. Our children were all foster children that we had fostered to adopt, where there’s potential they could go back to their family. So it was a little anxiety-producing at times, trusting in God’s providence, that He’s going to bring the children to us that he wants to have in our home, like we said. But always the chance that they could’ve left, so just letting God lead and trying to be obedient and love the people around us.
JL: Yeah, that was the hard part about doing foster care. At least with adoption, you know how it’s going to end. The process. There can be heartache in them as well…
AG: You hope you know at least.
JL: Yeah, exactly. With foster care we were intentionally taking children that we knew the goal was for them to return to their birth family, and in the ideal world, that should happen. We want to want that for them. But your heart gets attached and you grieve and you fear and you worry and you want them for yourself as well. And holding all that out saying, “Lord, even then do what’s best.” And some of our kids, we took knowing that we were moving towards adoption, but again, there’s always the legal risk.
AG: It’s interesting. I mean, I’m sort of reflecting out loud here. It seems like part of why you’re both so able to say, “God has brought these kids to us. God made this family,” is because you’ve been faithful in taking smaller steps. It’s not like you started from, “Hey we’re a couple and we’re going to go find ourselves an adopted child in whatever country we have to go to.” (Which again is wonderful —I don’t mean to say that in any way contrasting as if one is good and the other is bad). Just where you have come through the process is, it’s sort of these little steps of, “Well, I’m going to do some respite care. I’m going to do some fostering. In this system, I know about these kids or how this kind of thing works even if it’s not a specific child I’m thinking of.” So by taking little steps of serving, you really have ended up in places where it’s like, “Okay, well these kids that I’m caring for right now, maybe we could actually adopt them.” It’s not this abstract concept of, “Let’s do adoption.” Which is where you started, Greg, at 13 — “This is how the Lord has treated me and of course this is where I’ll go.” But that’s really helpful for me to think of. I feel like you guys are doing that dance that’s the whole Christian life of, God is utterly in control and we respond to that in faithfulness, little by little, not knowing where it’s going to land. How many times do you start a ministry or parenting or anything being like, “Oh, I know exactly where this will land in 10 years?” Never. And yet in each step, when there’s that responsiveness to what God is doing around you, because you’ve put yourself in the way of his giving you the opportunity… that’s interesting. I haven’t thought about easing one’s way into it in that sense.
JL: Yeah, and our story, we don’t hold out as the model for how everybody’s story should be. That’s true with every family, but even with adoption, some people are called to international or domestic, or the special needs, and things that I would feel ill-equipped to deal with, others God gives them a heart to do that. So our story is simply that – it’s just our story and how we learn to navigate it and trust God in the midst of it.
GL: Yeah, kind of blooming where you’re planted is how I like to say it. Just seeking to be faithful.
JL: So we went into marriage with two girls. Within the first year of marriage, we were approached with two little biological brothers. So in our first year of marriage, we had four children, and…
GL: And a mortgage and dogs and…
JL: Full-time ministry work… And at that point we probably thought we were done, but we were still providing respite and doing fostering, and that’s how the majority of our kids came to us. And we’ve had kids come and go, we’ve had some heartbreaks of saying goodbye to little ones, and just continue to say: “All right, well, God knows who’s going to be in our home.” And probably about two years ago, we took on a sixteen-year-old teenager, which is probably one of the things we said we would never do.
GL: That’s true. That’s exactly right.
JL: And we love him, he’s great, we’re so glad he’s a part of our family. But there’s probably few things in life we’ve said “Never” to, and those seem to always come to fruition. <Laugh>
AG: Everybody says it, right? Never say never. <Laugh> Will you guys say a little bit — this is coming from a couple different angles now, but just the heartache, the uncertainty – how have you guys dealt with that, and how have you dealt with that with your kids? That, to me, I mean I hear you guys tell your story and I’m just giving a summary version here, but it’s really hard for me to get my own mind around the level of vulnerability that you guys have chosen to invite into your lives and into your home, both by having the uncertainty of the fostering issue and then you adopted children by definition are coming to the table with serious sense of loss and challenge. How have you guys dealt with that? How have you helped your kids deal with that?
JL: One way has been with our kids always being honest. Our strong belief is that this is God’s story for them. It’s God’s story for us, but it’s God’s story for them. So we never presume shame in any part of their story. It’s God’s story to tell. There’s wisdom in how we retell their story to them. There’s developmental appropriateness to details they know and don’t know, but we never presume we need to hide their story for them. And in doing that, there’s a lot more confidence to say, “Yeah, there’s hard chapters of your story, but God knows that, and He’s redeeming all of it, and not one piece will be lost. Not one piece of the story is unimportant.” And so again, we hold the responsibility of pointing them to the Lord in the midst of their story. That author of the story knows what he’s doing. So the emphasis isn’t in the hard things of their story or trying to paint over them like there weren’t any hard things. It’s saying, “God knows.” And that has encouraged me, too, as much as I’ve had to say it to them. It helps me to remember, “Lord, you are the author of our story. You know what we need. So help me to trust you. Though this hurts and I think my heart will never recover if you take this child from us, help me to trust that you are good.”
GL: Yeah, and in some ways it’s no different than any family. God brings natural children into your family and they have struggles or they don’t, some are gifted in some ways, some struggle in some other ways. You don’t know the future and you’re just called to love them and show them their need for Christ and point them to him as their Savior…
JL: Though I have to confess, there are multiple times when we didn’t know if we would be able to adopt our little guy, Connor, he’s our youngest. And I’d pray, and I’d feel the frustration of: What parent has to worry about this child being taken from them? And how hard that was as a foster parent potentially moving toward adopting to think that I’ve fallen in love with this little one and God could take him from me. That feels so unfair.
GL: Yeah, I mean, but also there are people who have lost children who continue to struggle with that same exact kind of fear. “How would I survive should this child not be here, be taken from me?”
AG: I feel like the conviction in my own heart just hearing the way you guys are processing this, as I’m processing it with you here today is just, there is this false dichotomy that’s so easy to live with, as if, oh adoption is full of risk and vulnerability and hardship and challenge, but if you just keep your safe little family over here that’s biological, then you can avoid heartache and whatever.” And on some level, there is a practical common sense reality to the fact that there are struggles you don’t have to deal with. Like when you’re sitting there and you fall in love with this child, you do not have the right…
JL: He’s literally not mine.
AG: To continue to be his parent unless it’s granted to you. That’s an inherently scary place to live. But ultimately, that is no different than what any of us live with every day, like you said, Greg. We live, every one of us — our children are not our own. And that is our greatest hope even though it’s a source of just enormous fear to realize that our kids, they are the Lord’s. And whether they’re our biological children, adopted children, foster children, children in function rather than children formally, children whom we have lost to death or miscarriage, the list goes on of all the different ways that you could interact with those you would consider your children. But how true and how right what you guys are highlighting: This is not ours. I feel like you guys have been forced to live with that at a much more direct level than most parents have to, and I just so appreciate the challenge of that to my own heart today of: Will I live as if my children truly are a gift to me to which I do not have a right? Especially at 2am when you’re up with them and they’re fussing and whining. Am I going to treat this child as a gift and it’s a privilege to get to be, to have this child in our family that the Lord has constructed? You’re rearranging my mental furniture today, and I really appreciate it.
Greg, would you be willing to pray for your family and for all those who are listening in as they think about their own family in light of the conversation?
GL: Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for all this discussion. I pray that we would consciously live in the way that Alasdair was just saying – that we would remember that more and more. We forget, we get caught by our own agendas for what we want our family to look like and what we want to happen, but may we all remember that truly we’re called to work ourselves out of a job as a parent, to help our children be self-aware, and to know their need of you and to look to you for life. So as this information goes forth, I pray it would be a blessing to people and they would come to know you more deeply as a result. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Outro: Picking a resource to offer as a follow-up to today’s episode was easy. We just did a panel on adoption with four couples at CCEF who have all adopted. The panel was at our national conference. And it was from my perspective the best panel we’ve ever had at a conference. You can download the whole panel for free at our website, ccef.org/podcast, right next to the link to the link of today’s show. It’ll be free until our next episode gets posted. If today’s show or any show makes you want to get in touch with us with questions or suggestions, feel free to email us at [email protected]. ‘Til next time, blessings.
This is the first in a series of three blogs on the sexual abuse of women in marriage. My goal is to help counselors and pastors to recognize when a wife is being sexually abused by her husband and then offer appropriate help. In this first blog, we will define what marital sexual abuse is. In the second, we will talk about why women might not realize what is happening to them. And in the third installment, I will offer some thoughts on how to help women in this situation.
God created marriage to be something beautiful and sacrificial in which the hearts and bodies of a man and woman are united as one. Sex is supposed to be a culmination of this emotional and spiritual relationship expressing unity, peace, and love (Gen. 2:24; Prov. 5:18-19; Song. 7:6-12). Given this foundation, the possibility that marriage could be a place where sexual abuse or violence occurs is almost unthinkable. But sadly, it does happen—and with surprising frequency.
Though the recent #metoo movement has revealed the prevalence with which people are violated sexually, my heart remains heavy for wives who are victims of marital sexual abuse. Their stories remain untold, and I am concerned that many pastors and counselors are unaware of its occurrence. I hear many stories (too many stories) of women being abused, violated or even raped by their husbands. It is a frightening reality for these women—one that they usually endure in isolation. The Lord is not silent on such horrors, nor should we be. My goal, therefore, is to identify what sexual abuse in marriage looks like so it can be recognized more readily and these women can get the help they need.
Sexual abuse in marriage occurs when husbands make demands on their wives that are not based on love .¹ These demands for sex are not sanctioned by 1 Corinthians 7:3-5,² though the passage is often used as a goad to require a wife’s compliance. To be clear, the men who do this are troubled themselves. They usually have deep-seated problems including a weak or non-existent relationship with God and an inflated sense of entitlement. They believe that other people (including their wives) exist for them—for their comfort and to meet their needs, including sexual ones. When their wives fail to respond as desired, it often results in a pattern of coercive and punishing behaviors designed to force their compliance.³
Sexual desire perverted by entitlement damages a couple’s sexual relationship in many ways. Here are a few examples of what it looks like:
I have found this pattern to be the most destructive in relationships where the husband is also disengaged from other foundational areas in the marriage such as parenting, household management, and connecting relationally.
Coercive sex abuse can be very confusing because after being “persuaded” (a.k.a. bullied), consent was technically granted. The victimized wife is left wondering, “Was I sexually assaulted or did I agree to it?” Whatever form of coercion is used, be it physical, financial, or emotional, any sexual act which is not based on mutual consent constitutes sexual violation. It leaves a wife feeling confused, dirty, betrayed, and assaulted.
These patterns are disturbing and have no place in a godly marriage.
Marriage does not equal consent. It does not obligate spouses to participate in any sexual act at any time. But devastatingly, many Christian women have come to believe that sex-on-demand is their “wifely duty.” Thus, they have a hard time separating being violated from what they have come to believe is their responsibility. Confusion, shame, and guilt are compounded.
Those suffering from these distorted, abusive demands should not be left questioning what God says about such evils. The Apostle Paul speaks clearly here. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3:5-6). Paul is calling on us to eradicate all sexual sin that stands against our identity in Christ—any sexual impurity. He is not setting a low bar here and saying “just don’t cheat on your spouses.” He is saying: Wipe out all sexual covetousness—all your greedy taking—for all sexual impurities deserve the wrath of God.
We, too, must identify these behaviors for what they are—evil. Like Paul, we need to call for the cessation of such terrors and clearly give voice to God’s hatred of such abuses. We need to speak up on behalf of victims—and speak with the full weight of Scripture behind us.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust.” (1 Thess. 4:3-5)
¹ Women can sexually abuse their husbands, but it happens at a substantially lower rate.
² This passage is often incorrectly applied. It does not give husbands permission to demand sex from their wives and does not sanction pressuring women into thinking that it is their “wifely duty” to give in to such demands. These distortions fail to account for the fact that sex is a gift from God designed for his purposes, not our own. Space does not permit a full discussion of the passage, but for a better way to look at 1 Cor. 7:4-5 see Tim Challies’ blog “Two Different Ways to Think about Sex in Marriage”
³ I have written two mini-books on this subject. See them here.
Nancy Guthrie and Megan Krimmel sit down and talk about seeing Jesus in Scripture.
This and similar topics related to bringing life to Scripture and Scripture to life will be addressed further at the 2018 National Conference. Click here for more information and to register.
Megan Krimmel & Nancy Guthrie
MK: Hi. Welcome to CCEF-On-The-Go. I’m Megan Krimmel, a staff member at CCEF and the manager of our national conference. It’s my pleasure to serve as your guest host today.
At the 2018 National Conference, “Living Scripture,” we are delighted to host Nancy Guthrie as a featured guest speaker. Nancy’s life experience at the death of two of her children has significantly affected her teaching style and formed in her the openness and authenticity that inclines people to listen to her. “I’ve had to dig into God’s Word in search of answers to hard questions about God and how he works,” Nancy says. “And I find that those I’m writing to or speaking to usually have the same struggles and questions.” Nancy teaches the Bible through numerous Bible study books at her home church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, as well as at conferences around the country and internationally. She offers companionship and biblical insight to the grieving through respite retreats that she and her husband, David, host for couples who have faced the death of a child. She has authored a number of books, among which include: Holding Onto Hope, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow, and a recently completed five-book series of Old Testament Bible studies called, Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. She is also the host of the “Help Me Teach the Bible” podcast at The Gospel Coalition. Nancy happens to be in the Philadelphia area today, so we’re thrilled to have the chance to sit down and chat with her.
Intro: You are listening to a podcast of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. CCEF is committed to restoring Christ to counseling, and counseling to the church. You can find our podcasts, books, articles, videos, and many more resources for Christ-centered pastoral care at our website, ccef.org.
MK: Welcome, Nancy. It’s so good to have you with us today.
NG: Thank you, Megan. It’s fun to be here at CCEF to get to talk to you.
MK: It’s great to have you. Let’s jump right in. As we prepare for this fall’s conference, some of the questions we’ve been focusing on include: “How does Scripture impact your life personally? How do you bring your life to Scripture, and how does that then make a difference?” So to start with, would you be willing to share a little bit about your personal devotional life and what your interaction with God’s Word looks like on a daily basis?
NG: I wish I could answer this differently. I wish I had this idealized way of how I interact with God’s Word. But you know, honestly, I struggle with consistency in it. It’s not that I’m not in God’s Word because I am in God’s Word every day. Probably the biggest struggle for me is being in it devotionally. It’s so easy for me — I’m always working on preparing a message, or working on a book, or there’s something I’m studying, that it’s so easy to be all about getting a question answered or figuring something out rather than turning it personally.
A good example, though, might be that, right now, I teach a summer Bible study at my own church. I travel a lot during the year, but the last 5 years I’ve taught a weekly Bible study that’s open to women throughout the community in the evenings in June and July. For the first few years, I was teaching through a series of books that I did called Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament series. Then last summer I actually taught through a book that I was writing at that time that will come out in August called Even Better than Eden.
And so, let’s see, it is April, and here comes June and July, and I don’t have something new, so I’m thinking about teaching through Colossians. What I’ve been seeking to do recently is to just begin to read through Colossians. Now I do think sometimes we fall into this trap in regard to a personal devotional life that we just take these few little verses and we look for something to take away from them for the day — and so much of devotional literature lends itself to that. But I have found that to be honestly pretty unsatisfying. So, for example, with Colossians, yesterday I read through the whole book and was just looking for key words or things that jumped out to me as I begin to think about teaching it this summer. And words jumped out to me, like hope, and the mystery of being in Christ, and the focus on heavenly realities, the focus on union with Christ — so that’s starting to till up the soil. As I continue to work through Colossians over the weeks and months to come, it’s going to be searching out answers to questions that are being raised as I read it. So rather than just reading something and immediately wanting to jump to myself to apply it, I think for me, most often, interacting with the Bible looks like trying to get to the deeper meaning. For example, as I’m working through Colossians, I’m trying right now to be able to identify what the big picture message is of the book of Colossians, and that is going to enable me then to go back through it slower, little bits of it, and see it in context of that larger message and so therefore have a deeper understanding of it. I think that’s how the Word changes us most profoundly: as we get a deeper understanding of the larger messages of a book, of a testament, of the Bible itself, and that that message then begins to work its way through us.
MK: So it’s more of a marinating in that longer chunk of Scripture rather than kind of doing these bite-sized pieces, if you will.
NG: I think so. I think it’s coming to the Scripture with an inquisitive mind. And the thing is, if that is only intellectual, then we have a dry relationship with it. But I think for me, that’s not only intellectual, because as I try to understand that, even as I’m thinking about Colossians. As I’m thinking about trying to understand union with Christ as it’s presented in the book of Colossians, that’s not a dry, intellectual pursuit. The process of that for me is going to also be very personal as I take in what it really means to be joined to Christ and as I then apply that to areas of my life where maybe I think I’m on my own, maybe areas of, “What does it really mean that I am seated with Christ in heavenly places?” I can’t answer that for you today. I haven’t figured that out exactly. But I hope a couple of months from now, as I’m working my way through Colossians, I’m trying to get an answer to that question. But in a couple of months from now, I’m going to have a great answer to that question. And so that won’t necessarily come from reading little bits every day. Maybe it’ll be a couple of days a week really diving in deeper. But I hope that as I understand that, not only am I going to be prepared to teach it, but it’s going to be transformative to me.
MK: Thank you for that. You’ve written a number of books you just mentioned on Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. Can you share how this perspective has impacted your engagement with God and with Scripture?
NG: It has completely changed my paradigm. I remember, maybe 12 years ago, being asked by someone at a church if I could teach the Old Testament and I said “No, I don’t understand anything about the Old Testament…” And at that time I didn’t! It was really when I began to hear other teachers present Christ from Old Testament passages that I began to realize all of my collection of Sunday school Old Testament stories that I couldn’t put in any order and that I couldn’t make any connection to any larger bigger things about the Bible, that that was not serving me well. I grew up going to Sunday School. My earliest memories are Sunday School at our Baptist Church. I studied Bible in college, I worked in Christian publishing immediately out of college and have for a lot of years but yet somehow, I got to be into my 40s and just realized I don’t understand. I couldn’t have told you the basic storyline of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Maybe I could have gotten to Joshua entering into the Promised Land, but after that, in terms of kings, exile, and return… that all got very fuzzy for me. I think I was content to be able to go to bits of the Bible and draw something out of them without understanding the bigger picture of the Bible. So I basically said, I’ve got to go back to kindergarten in understanding the Bible. And I was so fortunate that one of my publishers, Tyndale — I just went to them (they have this line of one year books) and I said, “I’d like to write the one year book of discovering Jesus in the Old Testament.” So that gave me nine months to basically reorient myself, and I spent those nine months reading, listening to sermons by people who preach with a sense of redemptive history and seeing Christ in all the Scriptures.
Your question was, how has that changed me? Well, the beautiful thing about coming to see Christ in all the Scriptures is that you come to see and understand Him more rightly. Because the Old Testament, to me, it’s like looking at a statue. If you go see a great work of art, you work your way around it to see it from all these different angles and you have appreciation for it from all the different angles. I think as we begin to see Christ in the Old Testament, it’s like we see him from all these different angles in the sense of who he’s going to be, and what he’s going to accomplish, and why we need him. And the impact of studying Christ in the Old Testament through writing that first book, that one year book, and then this five book series of seeing Christ in the Old Testament, I can probably explain it this way: I remember when I wrote the last sentence on the last chapter of the last of that 5 book series as I was closing out on Malachi and my husband walked by my desk, and I had put my head down on my desk, and I was kind of weepy. And he was like, “Uh… so, what are those tears? Are they tears of relief to be done?” Because this had been about a 5-year project. I said, “Well, a little bit. But more, it’s first of all, they are tears of gratitude for being able to spend this amount of time in God’s Word and how it has changed me to see Christ in this deeper way and to see him more fully. It makes me worship him more fully. It makes me love him and appreciate him. So I’m grateful for that. But the other thing is, I just feel so grateful that the Bible is such a book that studying it this way has convinced me that the Bible has one divine author. And most things in this world that you investigate more closely, the closer you look, they fall apart. Like you see how the sausage is made and you’re like “Eugh.” But with the Bible, I just found the closer I looked, the more it actually came together, the more I was convinced that it is a divine book. How else could it be so consistent and have these significant themes and truths that weave in and out through all of these various authors and all of these different times of history? So my study of the Old Testament in seeing Christ, coming to better understand it and see Christ in it, has been to cherish it and to respect it and to love it.
MK: What would you say to someone who is drawn to the New Testament maybe for ease of understanding of the text? Would you encourage them to relook at the Old Testament from a backwards perspective of history?
NG: Yes. I would say you can’t really understand the New Testament until you understand the Old Testament. When Matthew 1:1 begins with a genealogy, how can you think you don’t need to understand the Old Testament to understand that? Or when Mark opens with John the Baptist and he’s calling out, well he’s the last OT prophet. Can’t really understand what it means that he’s saying, “Prepare a way in the wilderness, make a highway straight for our God…” or when Jesus’ first words in Mark, where he says, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Well, what’s the kingdom of God? You don’t know unless you’ve traced 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings to see the anointed king that was the king after God’s own heart that he put on the throne over his people, who showed us in shadow form both why we need a king and what he intends for his king to be like. So I think we fool ourselves if we think, “Okay, I’ll just be a New Testament Christian because I’m in the new covenant and I don’t really need to know the Old Testament. We can’t really understand the New Testament without the Old.
MK: As we mentioned in your bio, you have walked through much grief, both your own and alongside others through your ministry. In light of these experiences, as we all have different struggles in our lives, how would you encourage someone who is finding Scripture to be dry or hard to access during a difficult season?
NG: Well, a lot of times in the midst of struggle, they have a lot of questions about God. Sadly sometimes we use our questions we have for God as an excuse to turn away from Him, rather than an opportunity to turn toward Him with our questions. I mean, how great is this, that we have a God who welcomes us to approach him with our questions? He’s not threatened by them, he’s not offended by them. And so He invites us to turn toward him with our questions. Which that’s what the psalms are, aren’t they? When the psalmists are saying, “How long O Lord?” Those kinds of questions. “Why does it seem that you’re blessing the wicked and not me when I am following after you?” And think about the psalms. They are divine words given to us to speak back to God. Wow. This is amazing. That this is the kind of God we serve. He even gives us questions to ask him. So I think first of all, don’t turn away from him with your questions in the midst of your suffering. Turn toward him with them. Now The question is then, What does that look like? Well if I’m going to have a conversation with you, Megan, and I’ve got some questions for you, I’ve got to put my questions for you, but I’ve also got to spend some time listening to you. And that’s what God’s Word is.
I think sometimes in the midst of struggle, they pray, and they expect an answer to drop out of the sky into their subconscious mind, and they never expect that as they read the Bible, some of their questions might be answered. Now I would say though, my experience has oftentimes been, not that I got my questions answered, but that in reading the Bible, I realized I wasn’t even asking the right questions. That God has something to say to me in his Word that’s what I need most to know, and apart from the Scripture, I don’t even know that’s what I need to know. So we can’t always come to the Bible in demand that it answer every question that we have. But I think what happens as we bring our questions to God’s Word and as we go to it in pursuit of Him as much as in pursuit of an answer, that he answers the questions that we didn’t even know we needed to know. He reshapes our perspective about our suffering, about Him, about what this life is all about, about what we can and should expect from Him, so that we come to peace.
I think Job is the perfect example. Think about Job. You’ve got all of these, from chapter 3 through about 38 of Job, you’ve got he and his friends rehearsing all of these questions about how the world works with God. And then God shows up, speaks to him out of a whirlwind. He doesn’t answer their questions at all. He says, “You want to question me? I’m going to question you!” So he asks them this series of questions: “Where were you when the world was made? You think you know so much? You think you’re more just than God? Let me ask you this.” So his response to Job’s question in his suffering is not to answer his questions, but to reveal himself.
And interestingly in Job’s experience, what does he do? He says, “I put my hand over my mouth. I’ve been talking about things I didn’t even know.” And he says to God, “No plan of yours can be thwarted.” His experience when he hears God speak to him is submission to who God is and to God’s work in the world. He doesn’t get all of his questions answered, and yet he has such joy that is restored. Everything about his life is restored. It’s like there’s a resurrection in his life. And it doesn’t come by getting all of his questions about his suffering answered. It really comes in his experience with God, his fellowship with God, as he hears God speak.
Now I know some of us in the midst of our suffering would really like to hear God’s voice speak, even out of a thunderstorm, although I think that had to be terrifying. And God doesn’t always speak to us that way. But we have something Job didn’t. Job didn’t have these 66 books. He didn’t have ten copies of it on his bookshelves like we do. We have this abundance of God speaking to us and yet we so quickly disregard it thinking we need him to speak to us in some other “supernatural” way. Oh my goodness. We have a supernatural book in which he has spoken to us. And as we invest ourselves in it, we discover he really does speak to us in a significant, powerful, life-changing, grief-soothing, clarifying way.
MK: I think I read a quote from John Piper once that said, “Do you want to hear God speak? Then read your Bible out loud.” I thought, “That’s profound.” It’s seeing Christ as the end and not the means; when we look to him to get answers as opposed to saying, “He is the answer at the end of the day and He will provide what we need…”
MK: So at our conference, we have a variety of people come. Many people are hurting or are looking to grow in their own interpretation of the Bible and knowledge of the Bible. And we also have many folks who come who are pastors or ministry leaders, counselors who teach the Bible regularly. So you host your own podcast. You’re really the expert. You’re in a different role today, but… you’re the real podcast guru here. With “Help Me Teach the Bible,” you’ve had the opportunity to interview many Bible teachers.
NG: I know. It’s so much fun.
MK: I can only imagine how much you’ve learned over the years.
NG: And that’s one reason I do it. To prepare to ask intelligent questions about a book of the Bible means it pushes me in the Bible.
MK: That’s right.
NG: One of my goals of the podcast is to introduce people to excellent mentors. Those aren’t necessarily the names people know. They’re not necessarily the most popular speakers out there. But they’re excellent either at that particular book of the Bible I’m talking to them about or some aspect of Bible teaching, so I’ve learned a lot. I’m thrilled when I hear people, especially young women — they haven’t been to seminary, they’re wanting to teach the Bible at their church, and they tell me things like, “Okay, I have a friend, we listen to it together, and then we talk about it,” and that it’s a lifeline for them to try and get better at something that’s really important to them – which is handling God’s Word.
MK: We can always grow in that.
NG: I can.
MK: Well, Nancy. It has been such a pleasure to have you with us today. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.
NG: So looking forward to CCEF in October.
MK: It’s going to be a great conference. We hope you’ll enjoy being with us then.
NG: Thank you.
MK: Thank you.
Outro: If you would like to subscribe to Nancy Guthrie’s podcast, “Help Me Teach the Bible,” the link will be provided below today’s episode on our website, ccef.org/podcast. We also want to invite you to join us at the 2018 CCEF National Conference from October 19-21 in Virginia Beach, VA. The topic is “Living Scripture” and it’s our hope that in our time together you’ll be further equipped to connect life to Scripture and Scripture to life. Visit ccef.org/conference18 for more information and to register.
“I am not ok.” It’s the first thing the voice of self-hatred says. While it takes a hundred different forms, it always says the same thing—you are lacking.
I’m a failure.
I’m way too messed up.
I’m a disappointment to everyone.
I am worthless.
I am weak and pathetic.
Many of us are familiar with the voice of self-hate. It shows up amid the small talk and self-talk of our daily life. We’re familiar with it because it comes from within, and it inevitably comes out.
Self-hate’s strategy is subtle, and calculated. It takes advantage of one of the most fundamental things about us—our social nature. Relationships are our life context. People are our environment. We live before the eyes of others, and they live before ours. We take our cues from them, and they from us. We evaluate, and we are evaluated. We size up, and are sized up. We compare, and we are compared. Within our desperate striving to be “ok”, “acceptable,” “adequate,” “legitimate,” “worthwhile,” and “satisfactory,” self-hate spins a seductive lie—our thoughts about others and their thoughts about us are the ones that really count. We are tempted to believe this and live out of it.
Thankfully, this is not the true arrangement of things. We do not live in a world where our evaluation of ourselves and others is ultimate. God is there. God, too, is our environment and we also live before his eyes. We live before the maker and sustainer of all things. We live before the one who has absolute authority. He, too, evaluates and sizes up. He declares and announces reality.
Liberation from the clutches of self-hate and the endless striving to be “ok” is available only in our relationship to God through Christ. Liberation begins by giving ear to what the loving voice of God says about us. We don’t have to guess how he thinks or feels. In the Scriptures, he tells us clearly. Authoritatively. Repeatedly. Lovingly. He is not fickle or flippant or shifty. He does not change like the shifting of a shadow, nor does he show partiality or favoritism.
Just as self-hate zeros in on our identity (“I am a ____), so too the loving voice of God has something to say about who we are. Whereas the voice of self-hate proclaims “I am a piece of garbage,” or disgusting and unwanted, the voice of God announces,
I want you, you belong to me. (Psalm 18:19)
I love you and my love does not have strings attached. (Deut. 7)
I cherish you. (Psalm 8)
I will do what is needed to save you. (John 3:16)
I have given you a true and lasting name. (1 John 3:1; Isa 43:1)
In no uncertain terms, the voice of God, tells us that we are perpetually and substantially “ok.” This does not mean our failures and sins and limitations and struggles are not real or insignificant, but rather, despite the presence of all of these things in our lives, our “ok-ness” does not change. Our spiritual status is not up for debate. It is permanently established through Christ.
The voice of God proclaims an alternative to the identity that self-hate argues for. Because you cling to Christ, you can repeat what the God the Father says about you. Because you cling to Christ, you can own what the God the Father thinks about you. “I am ok.”
This is part 2 of a 2 part series: Part 1
Season 2 of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why was released last week. This series is based on a novel written by Jay Asher. After classmate and love interest, Hannah Baker, commits suicide, Clay Jensen is left reeling to understand why. He returns home from school to find a package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside, he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah. She tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life, and Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
What we know of season 2 thus far is that it will continue the story and do so using some of the same themes. It will depict lives full of secrets, poor decisions with grave consequences, sexual assault, violence, guns, substance abuse, and the on-going impact of suicide. It will also encourage a resurgence of curiosity in the first season.
People have very strong opinions regarding the benefit and potential harm of this series. Some argue it is beneficial to bring to light hard topics that face youth today and believe it encourages conversation on these important topics. Others argue it glamorizes the worst of teen culture and portrays rape, liberal sexuality, substance abuse, lies, and violence as normal in the lives of teens. Many families would find this far from normal, while for others, it may hit close to home. What I hope we all agree on is this: while it is good to encourage healthy conversations on tough topics, we also do not want our kids to accept as normal the culture this show describes, nor do we want their choices/decisions to mimic what might be seen there.
If there was anything positive in the message of the first season, it was that choices have consequences (at times, very serious ones) and that we all must take responsibility for our own actions. That, however, was not enough to sway the opinion of the National Association of School Psychologists. They acknowledge the potential for more harm than good by stating: “We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”
Should your child choose to watch the series or you choose to watch it with them, it is essential that you discuss the program together. Here are some of the themes, some obvious, and some not so obvious, that you may find in the series:
These false messages must be exposed, discussed, and bridges built with young people. They need to know that if they open up to their parents or another competent adult, there is help and support and understanding. We can, and must, do a far better job of engaging young people on these topics than any tv show. (See my blog about Season 1 for some thoughts on this).
Regardless of what you think of the series, realize this: kids need reasons to live. They need to know that they can face hard things, even traumatic and insurmountable things, and get through them with God’s help. They need to have hope and know they are not alone. We can offer them that hope. We have someone even greater and more intimately involved in their struggles: their Creator and Savior. In my blog from season one, I offered a list from the Bible of 13 reasons why life is worth living. Use them to help kids connect the dots from God’s promises to their struggles. Show them that God knows what is going on in their lives—that he longs to interact with them personally and offers them an abundant, rich, hope-filled life. In fact, do this even if your kids aren’t watching 13 Reasons Why. It’s something we all need.
This is part two of a two part series: Part 1