by Anne Dryburgh
Christine’s story had a familiar ring to it. Clearly gripped by fear, she spoke about not being given enough money to feed the children, being increasingly isolated from people and how, as a result, she questioned her own ability to think. Things in the home would suddenly disappear and just as quickly return. Events and conversations were said to have been figments of her imagination. For years she had heard from her husband how incompetent, stupid and inferior she was.
Christine is one of more than a hundred women with whom I have had contact during recent years, who have experienced emotional abuse. Like many others, she wants to know the Lord and to be a God‐honouring wife for her husband. Yet she struggles with depression, guilt, fear, shame and other issues.
The Need for Practical Discipleship
During my first seven years in Belgium, we carried out evangelism in a Flemish‐speaking town that has not had a church for centuries. We had hoped to see a church planted there. Each year, the Lord, in His grace, brought a few local people to confess Christ. They had no idea about the content of the Bible, meaning that they were unable to think, relate or function biblically. The nearest church was 20 miles away and full of people like themselves. This lack of biblical knowledge is due to the fact that the Bible was a forbidden book for lay people up until the mid‐1960s. Living a life under the Lordship of Christ was foreign to them. The difficulty of helping disciple these people was compounded by the immediate issues they were struggling with. There were victims of incest, human trafficking, alcoholism and adultery.
Karen, like many others of her age, had been taught to go the extra mile and to turn the other cheek when people treated her badly. She believed that this meant ignoring bad behaviour and being even nicer to those involved. Sadly, Karen married a man who turned out to be cruel and abusive. When she saw her children being abused, she knew there must be more in Scripture than what she had been taught. She came to see that, as a believer in Christ, she was to glorify Him in her inner being and in how she related to others. This made it possible for her to deal with her anger towards her husband. She came to see that it was more loving, both toward him and the children, to address the way her husband treated them. Over a long period of time, she learned how to speak and respond in a way that was both honouring to the Lord and helpful for all involved.
Transformed by the Lord
I knew Christ had answers for these women but I knew I had to know the Bible better to be able to help them. That led to me returning to Scotland in 1998 to study at Tilsley College. When I came back to Belgium with Echoes of Service in 1999, I continued studying what is known as biblical counselling. This is just intense discipleship. It holds to the belief that the Bible is about the struggles of life. Biblical counselling seeks to understand what Scripture teaches about who God is, who we are and how we can change in the light of these truths. From understanding that people are created, fallen and redeemed, it looks to understand how these ideas are expressed in a person’s inner being, their thoughts, motivations, desires and will, and in their behaviour in all areas of their life. It applies the reality of the work of our Lord on the Cross, that He has made believers new in Him. When a person allows the Lord to change them in every area, all of their life is changed.
My own life was changed and over the years I have seen the Lord transform countless others, including women who have asked for help regarding addictions, childhood abuse, depression, living in a third culture, marital abuse and sexual assault. The truth of Scripture is universal and women in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Spain, the UK and the USA have been helped.
Over a long period of time, she learned how to speak and respond in a way that was both honouring to the Lord and helpful for all involved
From 2009, I started to meet with many women like Christine, and doing so raised many questions. In an effort to come to a better understanding, I studied and set out to answer these questions in my PhD thesis, which has now been published as the book Debilitated and Diminished: Help for Christian Women in Emotionally Abusive Marriages.
Debilitated and Diminished was written for people who want to help Christian women who have been emotionally abused by their husbands. It provides a definition of emotional abuse, describes the behaviours involved and the effects of these behaviours on the victim. An approach for helping these women is then proposed that looks at human nature, marital roles and what it means for such a woman to live in Christ. Suggestions are given as to how the church can provide essential support to the emotionally abused woman and her family.
Judith grew up in a household where there was abuse of drugs and alcohol, and habitual marital unfaithfulness. After being assaulted as a teenager, she started taking drugs to dull the pain, which began to control and destroy her life. Now, as a Christian, she is building her life on the Lord who chose and adopted her. Her life and purpose are found in Him. She has been helped by seeing that the Lord was rejected and humiliated on the Cross, which means He can minister to her and help her to grow. Through time she has come to see that evil has been dealt with at the Cross and at some point our just Lord will right all wrongs. Rather than living in a way that is a reaction to what she has gone through, Judith is letting the Lord define who she is and how she lives.
Defined by Truth
For years Catherine had been nastily insulted and made to feel stupid. Since she has been created in the image of God, she knows these comments are not true. After reading Ephesians 1, and seeing what Christ has done for her, Catherine knows who she really is. She knows that she is to live in union with Christ, which means living out these truths. Catherine learned to test everything her husband said about her by this and also to challenge her own thinking when she was inclined to dwell on what he had said. She would stop herself dwelling on these insults, knowing they were lies and that doing so would not lead anywhere good. Catherine would bring her thoughts and heart back to who Christ says that she is and what He has done for her.
Since 2016, I have been involved with the Biblical Counselling Coalition. It seeks to provide biblical resources to help people in all sorts of areas and to make these available throughout the world. My main role is to promote resources in European countries. Similarly, I am working with The Addictions Connection to promote their materials in Europe, helping to equip the church to biblically support addicts and their families.
Since writing Debilitated and Diminished, I have been working on a book for those who want to help rape victims and a book for those helping adults who have grown up in emotionally abusive homes. These books seek to understand what such people go through and then look to Scripture to see how the Lord can transform them in their inner being, their relationships and then in their lives as a whole. It is my hope and prayer that the Lord will use these books as helpful resources for equipping people as they seek to come alongside and supportothers who are suffering in these ways, so that they can know Christ and have Him define their lives.