“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” we resorted to a self-protecting reply in the face of taunts and teasing from the other children on the playground. They would, of course, NEVER have the courage to be verbally abusive – and that’s what it was – in front of the teacher or principal, because they’d face the consequences of disrespecting another person. In my day, that was one quick, solid whack from Mr. Nelson’s paddle. Interestingly, one swat often “redirected” the bullies in class far more effectively than a time out in the corner.
The truth is, words cut and injure more deeply, significantly, and for much longer than any poke from a stick or bruise from a stone. Sticks and stones hurt the body, which mends quickly. Words cut viciously into the heart, into the soul, into the identity and value of a person, which means so much to God. No one, not even my enemy, deserves to be dismissed as a person, robbed of value, dignity, honor, respect,
I grew up in a home where harsh words were never used or heard. Oh, yes, my mother let me know when I’d disobeyed, but she always spoke of the behavior, not of me as a person. I never doubted my worth to her, value she made all the more evident the day she came to ask me to forgive her for falsely accusing me of lying. What worth she poured into me that day!
So I was never prepared to deal with verbal abuse when it struck suddenly like the fangs of a small, hidden viper early in my marriage. Had I known then what I came to know 38 years later, I would have confronted the angry jabs at my identity as the abuse they were. I chalked it up to his early childhood living in a very strict family and let it roll off my back. Only much later did his mother tell her children that their father was seriously mentally ill. Only later did she reveal her frustration and her own sense of invalidation to me. I had no idea then how early emotional and verbal abuse permanently damages “wiring” in the brain and sets up a child to become a “user,” ”controller” or abuser later in life.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, the Bible says, but hurtful, rejecting, abasing, accusing, denigrating, disrespectful, abusive words from someone you trust who tells you he/she loves you are like a flight of arrows or javelins, aimed top pierce the core of your heart. God does not want anyone assaulted verbally, mentally, emotionally, or physically. Anger is an emotion God gave us to alert us to problems. Righteous anger is not sinful and should not be associated with abuse. Anger mishandled can certainly lead to a sinful, abusive response, but it is a sinful heart, not the emotion of anger, that is the root cause of abuse. Abuse crosses the line from the proper expression of unmet needs to a sinful disregard for the worth and dignity of another person. The Bible regards abuse as sin because we are called to love one another. (John 13:34) Abuse disregards others and violates this command. An abuser desires to satisfy his natural selfishness regardless of the consequences to himself or others abuse, but the true deep insecurity in them ensures they won’t be abusive in public where authorities and others might see and think less of them or bring on consequences.
The Bible doesn’t use the term “verbal abuse,” but God speaks clearly about the power of our words: “The tongue has the power of life and death” Proverbs 18:21 NIV
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:23-31 NIV
Verbal abuse is one weapon in the stockpile of emotional abuse. While abusers use many tactics and strategies, the ultimate goal is to gain dominance and control over someone in a relationship. We all can be or have been abusive at some time, because we all fall short of God’s command to love one another at all times, but ongoing verbal, emotional, or mental abuse is a sign of a much deeper issue or pervasive sin problem. Verbal abuse constitutes psychological violence. Verbal abuse is n sin that seldom goes away on its own and can potentially escalate into physical or other forms of abuse.
We all can be or have been abusive at some time, because we all fall short of God’s command to love one another at all times. But ongoing verbal, emotional, or mental abuse is a sign of a much deeper issue or pervasive sin problem. Those who’ve been abused don’t get a free pass to perpetuate it in their own relationships. Those of us who tend toward deep empathy need to walk away from the false sense of responsibility for, or the need to cover up, an abuser’s actions. Sometimes being ”nice” isn’t helpful or healing, nor is it, I’ve come to see, truly “Christlike” if it only puts a Band-Aid over a festering wound that needs to be exposed to the light of truth for real cleansing. The tricky part for tender-hearted people is to understand how to “speak the truth in love,” and how to walk away in integrity, without returning abuse for abuse, when the truth is rejected.
One of the most helpful things I did for myself, without realizing it, was to tell children at a school where I worked that they were men of valor, courage, strength, honor, integrity, dignity, and kindness, and told the girls they were women of virtue, courage, kindness, value, worth, beauty, kindness, honor compassion, and caring. I sensed God telling me this is true of me, too! One prayer warrior I’d never met before told me, “I see the beach. Words are written on the sand, but God is coming like a wave to wash away all the words spoken over you.” I needed the wave of God to wash away all the abusive words so much deeper in me than words in the sand, but thank you, God,t hat you see themas just words in the sand.
Christians, churches, and civil authorities clearly know what to tell victims of physical abuse: get out while you can, and report it. Sticks and stones leave marks. But how can the abused document verbal, emotional, or mental abuse? Who will believe you when your abuser seems so charming and mentally sound? Where do you go for help? And why include this in a devotional book?
My abuser “pulled the wool over the eyes” of two psychologists and one psychiatrist. I take comfort in knowing that God does indeed know the truth and I cling to the truth that God l will never abandon me – even if on my rough days I feel like He has – or grow tired in loving me. Out of relentless love and value for me, God brought a woman into my life through a small group Bible study who told me quite bluntly, ”Oh, he’s a narcissist,” and pointed me to a helpful website, BPDCentral.com. God spoke through another woman I didn’t even know, who heard from the Holy Spirit as she was ironing and gave the message to the young man who was renting a room in my house. I share it to encourage someone else who is suffering the pain of abuse and injustice:
“Don’t give up. Come to ME in MY secret hiding place, under MY protective wings. Love ME as I love you. Fear not anything man has done to you. MY WORD is what is important. I hold you in MY arms. You are MY chosen child.”
On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday last year, God lovingly lined up three cars with “vanity plates” – license plates with words or a reference to a saying – to pull in front of my car one after the other. In order, the plates read ”Justice,” ”Christz” and ”Chronos.”
Can we as the church, we as Christians, wake up to the silent suffering going on in our midst, drop the shame and blame we all too often lay on the victims – as if they were responsible for creating the abuse in their abusers – and courageously confront the men and women inflicting such damage out of their own unconfessed, denied and hidden wounding? Can we offer the wounded abusers a place of real grace and tough, but real, love that gives hope for transformation when they find the courage to admit their abusive nature and ask for help? We must break the silence!
I pray we can. I pray others caught in the trap of unseen abuse will find the courage to speak to someone of their own gender whom they can trust and seek wise counsel. I pray Christians will offer better, more compassionate and understanding advice than others gave me: ”Just get over it.” I pray we can all know who our true enemy is: Satan and his legion of abusive deceivers. I pray for my abuser, that somehow the relentless love of God will pursue him with redemptive judgment, not for his destruction, but for his transformation. My prayer for a narcissist, ”God, break him to make him the man of true goodness, kindness and integrity you intended him to be when you formed him, in his mother’s womb” is not a prayer of anger or revenge, but a fervent cry for true justice for us all from the real abuser of us all, Satan himself, the father of lies and abuse. Father, I surrender my abuser to you for your victory over the abuser in him.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel ( insert the name of the person who offended or abused you) is that they (name him/her) may be saved.” Romans 10:1 NIV
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43 NIV
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 NIV
Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself. Proverbs 2:24 NIV
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:14-19 NIV
God loves you, period, forever. Hang on to the hand that won’t ever wound or push you away!
A “…BUT …”to pray: Oh, God, ABBA Father, I cry out to you. You feel my pain from _______________________________________________________________________ and you want me, above all, to know how much you love me. I confess I’ve been thoughtless and I hurt ________________________’s feelings when I said__________________________________________. Forgive me, God, and give me the courage to go to _____________________________ admit my wrong, and ask for forgiveness. Help me,Holy Spirit, to use only kind words when I speak, and filly words with encouragement,truth and grace. God, you know that __________________ did/said ____________________________________________________________________________ and I see now that wasn’t just a mistake; it was abuse. Holy Spirit, show me if and how and where and to whom I need to speak up to bring into the open, for true healing, _____________________________________________________________. Show me what real love looks like in this situation, and where and how I need to exercise “tough love” if that’s what will be best. Almighty God, if I need to walk away from _______________________________________, give me the courage to trust that you will hold me in your hand, cover me with your promises, and provide for my needs as your word promises. I’m listening for your voice now, looking for your hand to lead me. Help me trust in your love for me. In Jesus’ name, amen!Sticks and Stones …..