Guest Post by Sage Sparrow
I’m a survivor of domestic abuse and I remember the day my world as I knew it came crashing down around me. I got a phone call from an elder at my church hours before I was planning to help lead a children’s program.
Don’t come, not for this, not for choir, not for holding babies in the nursery, not for anything.
I broke down in ugly tears. Only a few weeks prior, I had left my abusive husband. More than a decade of all kinds of abuse directed toward the children and me. This was enough to disqualify me from church service. It’s for your healing was the excuse I heard. I can only imagine how healing it would have been an hour a week to see the faces of the preschool children light up as they played or talked about Jesus. Instead, I sat in the lobby while my own children attended their groups. I can only imagine how healing it would have been to have been surrounded by a choir who had sung with me for over a decade. Instead I sat in the congregation as a well-known singer. I heard more than once, “Choir not paying you enough?” I can only imagine how healing it would have been to rock a baby to sleep in the nursery. Instead, I listened to a sermon calling people to serve and how they always needed more childcare workers.
Each Sunday became an exercise in pain management. Passing choir members in the hall who “don’t know why you’ve suddenly “quit” the choir.” Passing elders and wondering how they could equate isolation with healing. Passing former “friends” who didn’t believe me. Avoiding my abuser (because he’s still there too). Trying to go into worship with all of these people and listen to the pastor preach against abuse so eloquently, while not being able to recognize it when my husband strode into his office with a charming smile and introduced himself as “victim of an unloving wife.”
Months went by and there was no indication of reinstatement to church life. Meanwhile my abuser had told the church he wanted to reconcile, claiming he had been forced into legal action because of me. I offered to show them the court documents to prove which one of us had filed to start the divorce (him). I attempted to explain to the church how this was a lie as he was making false allegations against me with CPS (Child Protective Services) with the intent to win sole custody and make me homeless in the process.
Shrug. We’re still praying for you and for your marriage to be restored. We can only believe what he tells us, even if his actions seem contrary. Maybe you can serve again when all this is over.
Half a year of this torture had passed with at least another half year before “all this” could have been considered over. In secrecy and desperation, I attended a different church’s service. I found healing there. Compassion, prayer, genuine worship, acceptance.
If you are a survivor reading this and you are in a church where you feel shamed, anxious, cast aside, isolated, and treated as anything less than a believable, lovable, beautiful woman who is more than welcome to worship, I submit to you that you haven’t found your church yet. Church is the way God set up for his children to come together as a family to worship and fellowship. Jesus went after the rejected, despised, and the unloved. His heart is for the oppressed.
“The LORD is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O LORD, do not abandon those who search for you.”
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
“But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He keeps every promise forever. He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The Lord frees the prisoners.”
“Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.”