No, that’s not what this post is about. (But really, I couldn’t just NOT mention it)
Okay, in truth, this post might be a little about that. See, I’ve spent the last year developing this character Vivian who spends a significant amount of time in an abusive relationship. A relationship that strips her of any self-worth she might have had, leaving her broken and struggling to find herself again.
And, if I’m honest, the nearly 40-year-old me, the woman who sometimes tries to disconnect herself from her own early-adulthood relationships, too often sat in judgment of Vivian.
Why doesn’t she leave? Why does any woman stay in an abusive relationship? Don’t they know that it’s not going to end well? Don’t they believe they are worth more? What are they getting from staying?
I told you. I judged her. I judged “them.” All my pseudo-righteousness and selective memory came rushing to the forefront. That is, until, as usual, I looked into the face of my little girl and saw myself, my history staring back at me. In that moment, I realized that they = me & she = my daughter. “She” is everyone’s daughter.
We all live in the murky, gray area that exists between our core values (for some, that includes faith) and the wisdom needed to deal with reality.
You see, with Vivian and with many of us, everything in our lives tells us that we should NOT leave unhealthy relationships. Sure we have the “right” to leave. Yes, we see the 1-800 numbers on television, read the books that tell us what emotional abuse looks like, and hear about the domestic violence shelters in our cities. But everything we actually learn from our culture—even as progressive as we are—about being a woman, a girlfriend, a friend, a wife says that WE are the ones who must remain committed, even when commitment is not even in the vocabulary of the other party. We are the ones that should stay in relationships regardless of whether staying is healthy or not. Don’t believe me? Check your favorite reality show or weeknight drama (side eye to you Mary Jane and Ms. Pope…but see you next week). For Vivian, only the men in her life got to leave. They left her emotionally. They left her physically. They left her spiritually. But the women? The women always stayed. Always.
And it’s not just about romantic relationships. This kind of “stick in there until it hurts” mentality shows up in our friendships too. We hold onto girlfriends with whom we no longer have anything in common. We invest in friendships where there is not only no return, there is a deficit. The person drains you.
I so don’t want this for my little girl.
But what about faith? What about a person’s ability to change; to repent? How do I teach my child principles of forgiveness and reconciliation but caution her to use discernment when engaging in relationships that are parasitic? Am I sending a mixed message?
Ahh, now we’re back in the gray again.
Because my faith teaches me (and subsequently, I teach my daughter) that we should bear with our friends and forgive one another (Col 3:13).
My faith teaches me that we don’t just forgive “seven times, but seventy times seven times.” (Matt 18: 21-22) Like over and over and over again.
My faith teaches me to try to restore relationships—that love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates. (Prov. 17:9)
These are all true for me. They are part of my value system and I treasure them. They remind me of the awesome grace God has extended to all of us. I believe that forgiveness not only opens the possibility of change in another person but if that never happens, it can be healing for us. But, in what I believe, restoration and reconciliation is a huge goal of forgiveness.
Wisdom, though, says to duck and then run. Run far away. And don’t come back. Forgive, yes. But don’t come back. Restoration is not always the goal in this case.
So now I’ve been pondering how to reconcile the two; whether or not I need to reconcile them at all.
Hmm, do I dare say this?
Okay, here goes.
To this day, I’m very hesitant to tell a wife to divorce her husband if he is abusive. Leave him? ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY! Divorce him? I don’t know.
And before you throw e-tomatoes at me, here’s my quandary: I do not believe that God calls a woman to stay in a relationship where she is being abused. At all. We are His daughters. What parent wants that for their child? But there’s this other part of me that says that divorce is usually pretty final and in a way, getting a divorce says that this person will NEVER, EVER change. That true repentance is not possible.
But isn’t repentance always possible? And if you’ve made a lifelong covenant with someone shouldn’t you at least–from a safe distance–see if that possibility is real?
Real talk. My answer to those questions if, God forbid, posed by my daughter would be NO! My mother’s heart never wants her to be hurt nor do I want her wasting time waiting on someone to get it together.
But I can’t ignore the conflict this causes in my heart.
Nevertheless, I will teach my daughter that she is worthy. That she is valuable. That she can be both faith-filled and wise. And I will let the gray area play itself out as it is supposed to in her life.
This post is the latest in Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Faith & Motherhood” series.
[Editor’s Note: MyBrownBaby is PROUD to support Tracey as she celebrates the release of her seventh book, published by Brown Girls Publishing, a venture by New York Times best-selling authors Victoria Christopher Murray and ReShonda Tate Billingsley. Download or buy your copy of Tracey’s “The Next Thing Is Joy: The Gospel According To Vivian Grace” on Amazon.]
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.