A man received a talking parrot as a gift, but the parrot had a horrible attitude and worse, horrible language. The man tried repeatedly to get the parrot to change his verbally abusive ways, but nothing helped. One day the parrot was particularly abusive and in anger and frustration the man threw the parrot into the freezer, whereupon there came an immediate shriek with pleadings and apologies.
When he opened the door the parrot stepped gently onto his outstretch arm and politely said, "I apologize for my behavior. I have offended you and hurt you and I promise to change my ways, please accept my most sincere and humble apology." Astounded, but before the man could ask what caused the sudden change in his behavior, the parrot continued, "And if I may ask kind sir, what did the chicken do?"
They don't let the Spirit of the Lord change them.
This humorous example shows the lower part of human (parrot) behavior, in that we often don't let things we've experienced change us for the long term until and unless, maybe, something dramatic happens. We may marvel in a singular moment, but letting 'the moment' sink in and actually change us for the long term requires honest introspection.
Additionally, abusers focus on telling others what's wrong with them in part to keep the attention off of them so they don't have to change or adjust or adapt...by outbursts of anger designed to make a person back away so they won't stand up to them, or they shrink into themselves in silent contempt as a defensive mechanism to distance themselves from the other person or a situation. The abuser is often angry at life.
How the abuser stops being an abuser: Revelation followed by hard work
For the abuser, they must first have the revelation they are an abuser in complete unvarnished honesty with themselves, and then couple that with a desire to change that is greater than the desire to maintain life as is.
This is a process leading up to that moment of clarity and transparency, and a process after the revelation. Many times people will pray that God will touch them and make it all go away, but the Word says and real life demonstrates, most of the time He walks with them out of dysfunction and abuse and into functioning normally and healing relationships over time. They must deal with their issues, learn how to control themselves and be honest enough to deal with the most private parts of their heart - something they've not done their whole lives. It is new territory for them, and it means humbling themselves, for in the final analysis, the issue is pride that prevents them from changing. (Often coupled with fear)
For the abused person, they must call it what it is; abuse. They must also be honest about what in them caused them to enter into an abusive relationship, or if the abuse revealed itself later, what in them is causing them to stay - is it their faith? Their sense of failure? Their fear of what will happen to the abuser if they leave? What in the abused is keeping them in the relationship. Unvarnished honesty with themselves is step 1 to getting out the abuse.
Jesus said divorce is given due to the hardness of hearts* in a reference to the Jewish law of divorce** which cites an hypothetical example of a woman married and divorced several times because each time her husband ends up 'hating' her, and each time she is clean before the Lord and free to remarry. (I have a cd/MP3 series on the subject if interested)
I knew a couple with 5 children and the husband regularly beat the wife to the point she was covered in bruises from face to waist, and it was getting more violent. He wouldn't listen to me nor get help, and she refused to leave. He broke their covenant and his vows before God with his hard heart demonstrated by violence against her - and before God and man she most certainly had grounds for divorce. But she refused to even separate for a time. When last I saw them, their 2 barely teenage sons started abusing their girl friends...so sad. *Matthew 19:8; **Deuteronomy 24:1-4
Here are some very practical indicators you are in an abusive relationship:
They gradually cut you off from others - family, friends - closing the circle. They track your whereabouts or always want to know what you are doing, wanting you just for themselves. They 'forgive' you (as it is always your fault) with no sense they need to apologize/repent, they make threats that could range from their own suicide if you leave to threatening your life to taking away your money to ruining you or your reputation in the eyes of your family and friends and/or work.
Do you see that some of these traits are also found in abusive church cultures? They demand you go only to their church. They use guilt but you know you are in good standing if you give or volunteer or attend. They use heaven or hell to manipulate and threaten you. You are the one with the issue, leadership is coated with a non-stick coating so that nothing sticks to them. They are the masters of spin, able to turn around any situation to blame someone else - just like an abusive spouse. Run don't walk to the nearest exit!
But I love them - love the church teaching, love my spouse, love my work
I want to insert here a fact that always has to be in the background in our minds; We will each stand individually before the Lord Jesus to give account of our lives, and at that time there will be no ability to say 'the devil made me do it', or 'my wife made me this way', or 'if dad hadn't died when I was 12 I would have been different', nor even 'I was abused at church' nor 'I experienced spiritual abuse at several churches'.
Successful people in Christ realize 'judgment day' is here and now, at every decision point, because the Spirit of Truth lives within us presenting us with the right decision at each circumstance along life's journey - Those maturing in Christ make the right but often more difficult decision because they want to be right before Him here and now more than they want to be proven right in front of someone else in the here and now.
You can't stand with the abuser on Judgment Day holding their hand explaining to the Lord why he hit you - they will stand alone and explain their actions without wiggle room, without the ability to blame you, or their dad or what happened when they were 9 years old. Judgment day for the maturing is every day, as those maturing are eager to judge themselves and eager to have the Lord expose anything in their heart or life that isn't right so that it may be corrected.
There comes a point where the abused have to let the abuser go, and stand on their own two feet. Often that point comes when the need for self-preservation rises to a level equal to the realization if they continue in the relationship they will be enabling the abuse, or endangering themselves.
I remember praying for a heroin addict - barely out of teen years, in and out of the addiction - and the prophecy the Lord gave me was that He was with them, but walking out of it would be the hardest thing they had ever done, but that He would be there walking with them as they made right decisions. There would be no heavenly 'zap' and you're all better, just that He would be there with them at every decision.
King Saul became abusive to 1 man - David
The abuser often is only abusive to 1 person, and good at keeping that fact secret, whether it be explosive anger or verbal abuse or abuse by neglect, like retreating into self and refusing to talk to their spouse once home. That same person may go to church, may experience the presence of the Lord in worship or learn something from the Word...but remains an abuser once behind closed doors. Like King Saul, they never let the Spirit of God change them for long.
The previous series was about the emotionally ill Christians, and this series has followed in that line of thought, but these can only help insofar as they point out the emotionally ill and abusive traits. For practical help on escaping an abusive relationship or a relationship with an emotionally ill believer, in many cases more in depth professional help will be needed. These series shine the light on the Word and human behavior, but to escape, someone may need to come alongside to help...another subject next week, until then, blessings,