If you are a new reader, this “Voices From The Last Pew” series is about how past experiences may influence what we hear in a church setting or scripture reading, even when not intended. We don’t know about this place. We only know for sure what she is hearing and what she is thinking. We know some of her history that has brought her to this place.
This post has taken some time to get the pose right and fitting with the idea of finding one’s voice. Hopefully it looks as if this woman on the last pew is able to speak, ready to speak, but choosing not to because that is her choice, not anyone else’s choice for her. She has found her voice. This is so very important for anyone who has experienced any form of abuse.
The secrecy and shame that often accompany abuse can keep a person from saying that they have been harmed and can carry over into many other life areas. They may feel overwhelmed and worried about what would happen if someone knew the truth.
It bothered me at first that she said along with everyone else “Thanks be to God” after a scripture verse is read that tells her to be quiet in church because she is a woman. It almost felt to me like she was agreeing.
The next words from the speaker may be, “These words from Paul the Apostle have been used in oppressive and abusive ways, and for that, I am truly sorry. Here in this community of believers, we put more weight on these other words also from Paul: ‘there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ So how can we let those words give life here in our community?”
Words can give life, but words can also give death. Finding our voice, using it remove those words of death, is critical for healing, I believe. Words of death like “You are stupid and worthless” only have power when they are kept inside.
I had tried to write the “dilemma” part of this post as being about how to get around the man’s beliefs and faulty logic. It’s difficult to change the mind of anyone who argues as illogically as this: “Men are better enabled than women to understand God’s Word, and it says so in God’s Word. Therefore if a woman disagrees with that, then she has only proven this point.” It’s just lousy logic like saying “God’s Word is inspired by the same Holy Spirit that is in me, so if you don’t agree with me about what God’s Word says, you don’t have God’s Spirit in you. You’ve probably got a demon inside you instead.” Or even something as totally nonsensical as “It’s shameful for a woman to have no shame!”
Here is the dilemma that I want to write about instead.
You want to tell others what has happened. You know that this will make you feel better because you desperately need the support of family and friends. You know in your heart how someone treated you was wrong, destroying your dignity and worth. But you know that you will most likely have to answer questions like “Why did this happen?” and “Why did you let it go on for so long?” You may have been asking yourself those questions as well. There are no good answers. “Why?” is my least favorite kind of question in situations like this because even if there is an answer, it seldom makes a person feel better. It always seems to lead to another “Why?” which is likely to cause you to falsely blame yourself.
If you are like the young woman on this last pew, you have been through a great deal. Maybe like her, you fell in love at a very young age. Maybe like her, you believed that when you fell in love, it would be forever and with just the right person. God would join you together, and nothing could separate you.
So you wonder, “How could I have missed God’s will for me?” and “Why didn’t I listen to God?” and “The minister said God joined us together. How can that all fall apart? Why?”
These questions, though well-intended, end up making you feel like there was something you could have done to prevent the situation. You wonder if maybe you were blind or week or stupid. That’s not the case at all, but it can sure feel that way, particularly when there has been someone in your life who is very good at being manipulative and shifting blame onto you.
Another question, almost as harmful, is “Why did that person treat you like that?” Quite honestly, the last thing you need is to try to imagine that “Why?” because it can very quickly lead you to feeling sorry for the person who has harmed you. Dwelling on things like this can not only keep you up all night, they can take you back to the dangerous place where you were.
My best advice is to seriously avoid the “Why?” questions. Tell what happened. Tell the facts. “I was blind” is not a fact. “I was weak” is not a fact. “I was stupid” is certainly not a fact. “He told me I was possessed by a demon because I would not obey him” is a fact. It’s what he said. “He hit me across my face with the back of his hand while I was standing at the kitchen sink preparing something he didn’t want for dinner” is a fact. It’s what he did. I think that’s why this woman in the graphic looks so confident. She is stating facts.
Perhaps the better questions to ask may be, “What was learned from this?” and “How can things be done differently in the next relationship?” That’s true if you are dealing with something like this yourself in your own thought life or helping someone else to deal with it when they are sharing with you. I think that’s why this woman in the graphic looks so self-assured. She is able to say what she will do.
One final key to finding your voice, I believe, is talking aloud to Our Heavenly Father. There is a strength in doing so which comes from the Holy Spirit’s guidance in what to say. It may also come from hearing your own voice speaking aloud what fear and shame wanted you to keep silent and secret. It is amazing how prayer works.
Here is the only part that I’m putting in bold. If you can relate to this and are struggling with this or know someone who is…seek counseling. There are resources available that can help you. I’m just drawing and writing from my limited perspective. But there are professionals that can help you.
If you are in an unsafe situation, get out! Get help! There are shelters that will protect you. That is more important than anything else!
Seriously. Jesus is right there with you on the last pew. He is your Advocate and He has nothing but good things to say about you. He will help you to find your voice. Honestly.