(Heads up – this post deals with intimate partner violence and abuse/abusers/victims. Also, my partner has agreed to let me post this and she’s read it ahead of time)
My partner recently wrote a piece about trauma stewardship and how she has been handling her own history of trauma brought to the forefront of her soul by the intimate partner violence heard through our apartment walls. She’s been diligent in confronting the emotions and feelings and I’m so grateful that she’s working with her therapist to both understand and manage them.
But some days are still difficult for her and random actions, sounds, and images can – in a moment – flip the trauma switch for her. She wrote in her post: “…in the midst of remembering my trauma I was journaling and wrote, “I hate that he still has control over me.”” In spite of her very best efforts and countless hours of therapy, this man is still able to haunt her and control her actions, thoughts, and feelings. Though years and miles apart, he still enacts violence on her. It hurts her to know and live this reality and it hurts me to witness her actions and reactions to the ghosts of his violence.
If I’m honest though, it more than hurts me – it angers me. It angers me that his abuse affects our relationship. It angers me that his violence affects our physical contact. It angers me that he has a voice in our relationship, that he controls the direction of our relationship, that he lingers in the corners of our relationship. It angers me that his misguided, mismanaged anger angers me.
The lectionary gospel passage from Luke has Jesus continuing his Sermon on the Plain, focusing this week on loving one’s enemies, doing good to those who hate, blessing those who curse, and praying for those who abuse. It’s a stretch to say that even the kindest and gentlest people find difficulties following Christ’s call in this passage, let alone someone who has directly experienced pain and violence at the hands of others. As I read my Lord’s words I’m confronted with the steep mountain of Christ-likeness I’m called to climb.
While I know that I’m called to scale this mountain and live out forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation with my enemies – in this case the one who has abused my partner – I really don’t want to. I don’t want to love him or do good to/for him…I don’t want to bless him and pray for him. What I want to do is what he has done to my partner: I want to abuse him. I want to traumatize him. I want to make him suffer as much as he has made her suffer. And that, too, angers me because that’s not who I am called to be: I am not called to reaction, retaliation, and violence – I’m called to response-in-love, forgiveness, and healing; somehow, someway I’m called to both respond in love and flat-out love the one who hurt my partner.
That’s a difficult call to both hear and live into because it’s so counter-intuitive to the ways of the world that I so often witness around me. Violence is countered with violence…abusers are abused…murderers are murdered…an eye for an eye, right? And this call to respond in love is difficult to hear because it feels like I am accepting, allowing, and agreeing with/to his violence. But I don’t want to affirm his actions, I want to condemn them and ensure he never abuses another person. Can I somehow denounce and rebuke his violence – and the violence he’s caused – in a loving, Christ-like way? In the depths of trauma and ripples of violence can I live out Christ’s words found here in the gospel of Luke?
Perhaps I can begin to walk towards love for this man by first choosing to respond rather than react to the ripples of his violence. Perhaps I can love him best right now by resisting the swells of his violence that pervade my and my partner’s life through non-violent means:
- by choosing to no longer accept the violence he imposed in my partner’s life nor accepting abuse in the lives of others around me. I choose to continue to stand with my partner in her trauma and refuse to accept any excuse for her ex’s behavior. I choose to stand with other victims of violence and listen to their stories
- by choosing to no longer submit to the violence, instead standing against it in any of its forms, both in the life of my partner and in the lives of those around me. I will stand opposed to intimate partner violence and domestic abuse in all its forms and support organizations that provide safe housing for victims
- by choosing to no longer seek or enact violence in retaliation or reaction to him or those who act violently towards my partner, myself, and those around me. I refuse to think of doing harm to this man. I refuse to allow violent ideations to control my response to this man. I refuse to allow him to take up space in my brain for violent reasons. Instead, I choose to deny violence in all its forms and remain committed to peace – even with my enemies
I can’t say that I’d be willing to seek him out and offer him a peace offering today, but I can offer him this: I choose to end your violence in my life. I choose my partner and I will walk with her, giving her access to tools to respond to the violence you created in healthy, life-giving ways. I choose to respond in love to your violence by not reacting violently. I choose to respond in love to your actions by doing to you what you couldn’t, by doing to you what you never knew, by doing to you what confuses you most. I choose to pray for you even if I can’t utter a word. I choose to love you even when I can’t. I choose to respond to you in love until you can do it for yourself and those around you.
And to my dearest partner, I choose to remain committed to you, even as the waves of trauma ebb and flow through your life. Never forget that I (and so many others) are right here with you as you navigate these waters. I pray that they will calm, they will lessen, they will fade away.
May we walk in mercy, love, and action all the days of our lives.
much love. sheth.