Abuse, Church

The tip of the iceberg

The first time I went to my pastor for help I was terrified. 

I was terrified that my husband would find out I was telling his secrets. I was terrified of his reaction. The thing is, most of his secrets stayed safe. There was only one aspect of his sin at this time that I was desperate for help with. The problem was I did not recognize the depth of this sin nor did I recognize his behavior as destructive as it was.

The years of 2009-2010 were terrible years for me. My husband was angry all the time. He frequently insulted me with harmful names, some of which I would not repeat here, and lashed out at me.  He was also involved in some secretive behavior which he protected fiercely. I was the one person keeping him from what he wanted and I believe this was a source of resentment for him.

I met with my pastor’s wife first. At that time I was not even aware that his angry abusive behavior was every bit as much of a problem. It was his other activity that troubled me the most. It had been a problem our entire marriage and I was ready to reach out for help. I can remember my pounding heart, shaking hands, and the sick feeling in my stomach as I made the phone call to summarize what was going on and asked her to meet with me so we could talk more.

We met and talked for 2 hours while her daughter kept the kids occupied for me. From there it escalated up to her husband and not long after that, my husband was confronted. He was angry of course, but acknowledged his sin and said he was ready for help.

They met several times in his office. This lasted no longer than 2-3 months. I had also had several phone conversations with my pastor during this time and one or two with his wife. Those stopped too. Then life went on as normal.

We slipped back into a comfortable routine and everything went back to how it was before. Nothing had changed.

Fast forward 2-3 years. We had become much more involved in our church and felt like an integral part of it as a result. He was placed in a leadership position and I was given some responsibilities as well. I did not nominate nor vote for my husband for those responsibilities much to his annoyance. How could I, knowing that the person he was in public bore very little resemblance to his private persona? It felt so wrong and of course, it WAS wrong. I should have spoken. I should have pointed out that he was not fit for this leadership position, but I will tell you something. It gave me something to hope for. Surely, I thought, he will take this seriously and change. Surely he cannot stay the same and maintain this position.

He actually admitted the same to me. He thought that maybe this would be the catalyst for the change he needed and for a little while it seemed to be the “magic pill.” The new weight of responsibility wore off after time however and the “progress” that had been made not only disintegrated but worsened. It seemed that every time there was an apparent breakthrough, his return to the former behavior was rapid if not instantaneous and ended up worse than it was before (proving it not to be true repentance).

Then we went to a marriage retreat. It was both wonderful and awful. The time spent with friends in a carefree venue was a tremendous boost to my spirits. The time spent with my husband discussing the brokenness of our marriage was absolutely demoralizing. More secrets and still the same old habitual sins resurfaced. But there was a turning point.

As we drove away the pastor who seemed vaguely aware of our distress stopped us as we drove away and said to my husband, “I am proud of you, brother.”

I was sickened by this. Sickened and incensed. Proud? Proud of what?? Did he even know who this man was or what he was doing? He was such a perfect actor that there were times I thought no one would actually believe me if I told them the truth.

For nearly a year, I looked away while he preached. I was hurt and angry. Finally, I could not stand it any more, I went to speak to him. I went into his office and he greeted me, asking how I was. I told him, “Not good.”

His reply was joking. “Join the rest of us!”

I replied, “I am upset with you.” He grew serious.

For the next hour or so we talked about the situation. I told him that I came to him for help and he did nothing and not only that but allowed my husband to be promoted to a position of leadership, even telling him how proud he was of him. I couldn’t bear it any longer. He indicated he did not realize the seriousness or the depth of his degeneration and vowed a renewed interest in the matter.

I should interject at this moment, that in the previous two years we had attempted to reach out to two other men in the church that we trusted and had hoped would be available for accountability purposes. Nothing came of that either.

The pastor and my husband met at the Waffle House. Three times I think. Maybe four, I don’t recall now. According to my husband, his behavior was never addressed. I cannot vouch for the veracity of this statement as telling the truth was never strong point for him. Regardless, this was neither a conducive venue for the discussion that needed to be happening nor, and more obviously, could years of sin be addressed in these few “counseling” sessions.

The pastor had my husband start a journal, read scripture, reflect on truths and pray. That journal was never even more than quarter of the way filled. (I do believe I am being generous by allowing for that much.)

I gave up. Four attempts to find help and apparently no one cared.

My faith in God, however, led me to believe that he was aware of my predicament and was still in control. I still had that knight on white horse mentality though. God would swoop in at the right time, his timing, and make everything right. That or it was my cross to bear. I did not know which but was convinced that one or the other was the case.

What happened to bring everything to a head will come in another post. That is quite a story. But the over arching message I want to get across with this post is this:

If a woman ever comes to you and gives you any personal information that indicates she is in trouble, suffering, or struggling you should do two things: believe her and then find out more because it is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

It is most likely she has not trusted you with all the information right at the start. You are probably just getting a glimpse. I would say this especially of a woman who otherwise acts like everything is just fine, not going around and complaining to everyone and everybody about the faults of her husband (though I cannot exclude this scenario either).

Nothing ever came of going to my pastor.

I had the opportunity to talk to my pastor just once after I left. I took that opportunity to advise him on two issues. The first being this very matter. In his defense, I did not tell him about all the abusive behavior that I had been experiencing. I had been mostly concerned with my husband’s private life and these issues don’t necessarily lead to abusiveness. But to anyone who works with people in that capacity and especially pastors, ask tough and probing questions and be prepared to receive indirect answers.

My friend asked me a question about six months before I left. He asked if I was safe. I hesitated, then answered, “I am now.” Instead of being satisfied with that answer, he did not give up. Through my friend’s persistent involvement and research, I was able to discard my “white horse” and “ordained suffering” ideology and change my thinking and act.

You must expect that there is more and be prepared for what you hear. I did not drop everything on my friends at once. Like peeling an onion, I slowly revealed details one by one, each time feeling more traitorous than the last. There were times, my friends admitted, that they were in disbelief, not because they did not believe me, but because they had no inkling of what I had been hiding.

The second thing I advised my former pastor on was this. It is ok if you do not know what to do or how to counsel in these situations. Bearing the title of pastor does not mean you know everything or how to do everything. However, seek your own counsel. Better yet, seek expert advice. Align yourself with experienced counselors who not only know the right questions to ask but can take the time to follow through and pull back the layers until the matter is fully revealed. This may even take more than a year.

For all pastors, the church is full of hurting people and people who hurt others. They are sitting in front of you every Sunday. What are you doing to help those people? Is your inertia hurting them even more?

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