Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
…A Follow-up to the Previous Post on Overcoming and Rising Above “Critical Mass” Frustration
In my search for ways to encourage all of us in these very trying times, I remembered the following true story of a believer who overcame lengthy persecution of sorts in her life and who learned significant lessons in how to rise above it along with how to “renew a right heart,” at length, for her persecutor (abuser)–and herself.
I have been greatly inspired and guided by her testimony over time, and I think of it these days of increasing persecution of varying sorts in the world. I hope you will be inspired, too.
For if the times we are in will tempt us to react to those who despise us with same–as no other time has, particularly if prophecy concerning “end times” is soon to be revealed–we will need all the inspiration and practical advice we can glean from the testimonies of such as they who can now “comfort us wherewith (they) have been comforted” (2 Corinthians 1:3), and who can also show us the way out of the quicksand of anger that soon turns to contempt, then rage, and lastly, hate–which is the Devil’s home turf and which gives him the advantage over us.
This story is about domestic abuse: how this woman endured it and survived it until she eventually left it, each phase, she says, enabled by the guidance and deliverance power of God.
The following, she says, are seven of her most memorable lessons learned–and practiced–that have since helped her to deal with other mockers, false accusers, and abusers, for such individuals are found in all areas of life: at home, work, church, and the public square. She shares it to encourage others.
What Happened, and Seven Critical Lessons Learned About Dealing with “Those Who Persecute You.”
Having married very young, too young (she wrote), I realized much later I had simply left one dysfunctional home for another. But what do you know when you are still a teenager, untested, naive concerning the ways of the world, and warped in certain ways by the damage in your family of origin?
I did not become a Christian until a few years into that marriage. There had already been a few instances of physical abuse–a slap, a shove, a kick. But I was a typical young, naive wife and I thought his apologies were sincere.
Besides, we lived far away from any support system I might have had and this was long before there was any such thing as a women’s shelter. Besides, “back in the day,” abuse meant broken bones, cuts and bruises, or even death. Nobody discussed the “thousand cuts” of verbal, mental, and/or emotional abuse, but they damage and break relationships just the same.
I did leave him once, in the early years, in the middle of the night after one particularly threatening episode, and stayed away for a few days until my money ran out. He promised me he would go to counseling, but we never did. However, he did stop the physical abuse.
The verbal abuse, however, the contempt, false accusations, ordering around, and mocking did not stop, episodes occurring sometimes several times per week. He was also a serious alcoholic, I realized at length, although he could hide it pretty well, and this exacerbated his anger.
I began to feel trapped and resentful. I withdrew. And of course, this made it worse.
After I became a Christian, I began to pray about our sorry situation. On top of feeling resentful, I was also losing trust in him, and no longer felt emotionally safe (I never knew when he would start in on me). I had also lost my love for him.
At first, it was more akin to a broken heart, later on, just a feeling of emptiness and fatigue. A lot of fatigue along with a sense that this was never going to end no matter how hard I tried to clean up my act and become better at not only what he found lacking in me but also how I knew I needed to change.
I also felt as if I was in between a rock and hard place with God. I had grown up in a religious system that taught that divorce might as well have been the “unforgivable sin,” or that’s how I interpreted it, anyway. I also believed that if I left him, God would abandon me.
What little church counseling I did receive in those days was generally along the lines of “go back home, pray more, and submit more.” They just didn’t get it. Meanwhile, I withered…in between the good aspects parts of our marriage, and some successes here and there. But they didn’t last to the end.
One day after some time into this and feeling more and more frustrated, angry, and resentful, I prayed along these lines, “God,I absolutely do not love him anymore. I’m at my wit’s end over all this. He can be so mean! HELP!”
Immediately, these thoughts came to mind:
“Yes, he is blameworthy. You also share some blame. Do you want to be healed?”
“WHAT?” Where, I thought, did THAT question come from?
I pondered this for a few minutes. Well, yes, I thought. I guess having it stop would be a lot like getting healed. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted.
I also knew, though, I was in for some serious correction, myself, but I decided to go for it.
“Yes,” I said, out loud.
Immediately, the following Scripture came to mind, as if in bold relief:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)
I was surprised to have remembered that one, having studied the Bible for only a short period of time at that point. Nevertheless, I knew exactly what it meant, for me, just then.
What it meant, then–and several other times I “prayed it” over time, more like I “yielded to the truth of it” until I finally did leave–was that although it was very true I no longer “had a heart” for my husband it meant I could pray and ask God for “HIS heart” for my husband!
That is to say, if I “prayed the verse,” so to speak, God would not only give me a “clean” heart for him but also “renew” a steadfast spirit within me for my marriage, itself. That was my first big lesson.
Having no other option I could hope for or knew existed given the era and my state of mind and emotions, I decided to do just that.
Then, and each time following, until I believe that same source of inspiration (the Holy Spirit) directed me to leave at a critical juncture later on, I did experience a gradual return of soft-heartedness and renewed love for my husband. He also softened, apologized for the abuse, and our marriage was renewed. This lasted for several years.
I also, at the same time, began to learn how to love myself better, to sense God’s heart for me, too, which involved a gradual change in my spirit, mind, and emotions. I was also learning slowly how to stand up for myself,
However, as much as it is important to stand up for oneself, to “establish boundaries,” as counselors put it, this is often another source of anger for abusers–my second important lesson.
There are few fairy tale endings in real life, in this case, there was no “Beauty and the Beast”* ending, as it were. Because it’s generally beauty and beast mixed together in both players along with hearts that can soften then harden, soften then harden again, because free will is involved–each, his or her own.
What led me to eventually leave him is another testimony, also one featuring God’s clear direction, but only after I prayed one last time, to “create in me a clean heart.” I also added a kind of post script: “Maybe soon? This is feeling a lot like the old days prior to physical abuse and I just don’t have the stamina for that again.”
The prayer was answered differently that time which led me to understand that God doesn’t always answer a prayer the same way (lesson number three).
My only analysis is that my ex-husband made a choice that I was unaware of but that God knew of, and it necessitated my departure. It would be some time until I realized that I would have very possibly, once again, been in danger of physical abuse had I not left when I did.
In short, we can pray and change for someone under God’s direction and inspiration, and others can change, but they still have their own free will to make their own choices–as do we.
Since then, my “heart” is a different one for my ex-husband, but after a lengthy and intense period of recovery all those years ago, it’s at peace. I pray for him still, love him (in a different way) still, and I always will. We have an amicable relationship, now, when we see each other at certain family events when they come up.
Lesson number four: and that same prayer, to ask God for HIS heart for a person, or perhaps for a group of people, should that be the case, has been one of my go-to, practical responses for any and all who come into my life and verbally abuse me.
And I have learned to wait on God’s inspiration as to whether or not to stay and pray for wisdom–His “further instructions”–or to go.
In the former case, I then pray for God’s wisdom regarding “choosing my battles” to make sure they are really “mine” (lesson number five), keeping in mind that there may be a time, having extended my peace, to “shake the dust off my feet” and move on–figuratively or literally.
This is very important, because we are not meant to endure more than God knows we can handle.
These days of such political turmoil in particular, I think of those hard-learned lessons often–virtually every time I listen to the news of yet more hate out there toward certain groups, including Christians, which seems to be increasing, and when I become tempted to respond with anger.
And I can testify that when I remember to pray that way, it eventually brings me back to stability, clarity, and away from the temptation to be angry in return (lesson number six)…
I would encourage anyone bound up in frustration, hopelessness, and resentment, like I was, to “pray the Psalm 51:10 prayer,” and to be steadfast in believing it (lesson number seven).
Then watch and see what healing God will work in you, and, perhaps even in the other(s).
These days, our mental, emotional, and even spiritual survival may depend on it.
*UPDATE: interesting that she used the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale in her discussion. I wrote on this fairy tale a few years ago in the context of how one of my Biblical heroine’s, Abigail, whose story is told in 1 Samuel 25, was a completely different kind of “beauty,” one in spirit as well as in the flesh, which enabled her to deal in a Godly way not only with a long-term “beast” in her life (her abusive husband Nabal, whose name means “fool”) but also the “fool” of the moment, David (as in King) who was about to make an egregious error due to his sudden rage. Here is the story and commentary:
**Note: some parts of “Her Story” were edited for clarity and continuity. Links added.