Walking with the Broken
Caring Well for Friends and Family Who Have Experienced Abuse
I wish more than anything that this topic of caring well for friends and family who have experienced abuse wasn’t something that I could speak personally on. But yet here I am. I’m not coming to you as an expert on the topic of caring for survivors. I have no degree that gives me any credibility, but I’m coming to you as someone who has walked with friends who have been affected by abuse.
I haven’t walked this road of abuse personally and would never claim to understand what it feels like to have abuse of any form wreck your world. But a few years ago, my friends’ house became a battlefield as they realized that abuse had infiltrated their home and their children. Sexual abuse bombarded the house, and every family member was affected by this atrocity. No one was left without battle scars and wounds that will take years to even come close to healing. No one will ever be the same from the abuse that they have walked through. I’m not the same, and I have merely walked beside them, loving them as best as I can.
I’ll never forget the phone call, where my friend, through sobs and anger, told me that they had discovered that one of their kids had been sexually abused. It was as if I had the wind knocked out of me, and I felt as though I was drowning. And I was just a friend. Her pain, her confusion, her anger was palpable through that phone call. And in that moment, I knew that I would do whatever we needed to do as a family to walk this road with their family, as long as it took.
Walking with friends who have experienced abuse has been one of the hardest journeys for my faith, one of the biggest things that has caused me to say, “God where are you in all of this?” It’s been one of the dearest things for our friendships as well. I’m beyond honored that our Creator God would also place the Ivey family with our friends so that we could try our best to journey alongside them in their pain, bear their burdens, speak truths into their hearts, and love them through this.
Three Ways To Walk With Those Who Have Experienced Abuse
I’ve seen firsthand three ways that we, as friends, can truly minister to families that are having to walk this unimaginable, unthinkable road of abuse. What I’m realizing now is that being with them, petitioning the Father on their behalf, and weeping with them goes a long way in caring for them. I confess, though, that sometimes as Christians and as leaders we feel as though we need to immediately have all of the answers for their pain. We feel as though we need to open our Bibles immediately and usher them into the truth of God’s Word.
While there is always truth to be shared about who God is in the midst of trauma and tragedy and unknowns, I have seen firsthand many friends miss a beautiful opportunity to minister to their friends in the ways that they needed most because they were too quick to try and communicate what they thought were the answers to their problems and not listen to their hearts.
1. Offer our presence before answers
The first thing we can do as friends is offer our presence before we offer our answers. Many times, religiosity urges us to try to get the correct answer for their problem, grief, or trial. And what we need to offer them before we offer them any answers is our presence.
We see Jesus do this beautifully throughout the Gospels. He was present with people. He entered into suffering with them. We see Jesus do this when his friend Lazarus was sick. He got word that his friend Lazarus was sick, and we know that eventually Lazarus ended up dying. And as Jesus is making his way to Bethany, instead of going directly to the tomb and doing what he does best by bringing people back to life and healing people, he has two interactions with Lazarus’ sisters.
He spends time with Martha and Mary before he raises Lazarus from the dead. He mourned with them. His presence came before his healing. Listen to your friends as they process their grief. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you do have the ability to be there for them.
There is always a place for truth. Do not be mistaken by that. We know the truths about God. We know he is our Redeemer. We know he is our Rescuer. We know he is our Healer. We know that one day he’s going to make all things right. We know that he’s working out his plan for our good and his glory. He’s a God of justice. He’s going to sanctify us. Yes, these things are all true. But more than a place for truth, is a time for truth. Listen first, and then listen some more. Your presence is needed in times of grief.
Not only is your presence needed in the immediate, as mine was on October 12, 2016, but as a friend, your presence is needed for the long haul. Healing does not happen overnight. In fact, on this side of heaven, I don’t think many of us are truly healed from the abuse and trauma that we’ve seen. That day will come, but until then, we need to be friends that share our presence for the long haul.
2. Go to war for our friends through prayer
Not only do we offer our presence to our friends before we offer our answers, but we also need to be willing to go to war on their behalf. When I say go to war on their behalf, I do not mean that you find out about a friend who has abuse in their home, nod politely, and say, “I’m so sorry I’ll add you to my prayer list.” That is not war.
What I mean is that you say, “I am here for you. I will walk with you as long as you need me, and not only that, but I will petition the Father on your behalf and pray against the evil and darkness that you are experiencing as if my own soul depends on it.” As Christians, we are aware that there are bigger things that play in our world; there are bigger things than we see with our eyes. There are spiritual battles to be fought. Paul tells us very clearly to put on the armor of God because we are fighting a battle. We are at war. We need these things to withstand the schemes of the devil.
When you walk with families through abuse, this battle against things that are unseen becomes something that you cannot not see. It is evil, and we call it evil. And we will go before the Father, and we will battle for the hearts of our friends that have walked through abuse of any form. We will battle against the enemy that has played a part in this destruction that is affecting our friends’ lives.
Walking with a family where abuse has entered that family means that your personal prayer life is radically changed. You’ve seen the evil, you’ve seen the shrapnel left all around as their lives are trying to be rebuilt. Enter into those spaces with your friends. You are no longer blind to abuse. But now, you will commit to your friends to beg God for healing on their behalf and to beg God for the repentance of the abuser on their behalf. Pray on their behalf to a Father that cares more for them than you ever possibly could.
3. Mourning with those who mourn
Not only are we to be with our friends and offer our presence before we offer them answers, and not only are we to go to war on their behalf in the spiritual forces, but we are to mourn with them. We are to weep with our friends. We are to be sad. Sit with your friends, and sob with them. Abuse is awful. It is of the devil, and we should be broken over it. We should be deeply troubled and sorrowful about this.
The verse in the Bible that we all wanted to memorize as kids says, “Jesus wept.” Well, in this story is a bigger picture, and we see Mary the sister of Lazarus expressing her true feelings of anger and confusion. And Jesus listens to her. He offers his presence, and then he weeps with his friend.
Verse 32 says that when Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She is angry. She knows what Jesus could have done to prevent this. Jesus could have stopped it. My friend was and is still angry about this, and her and I have asked the same question a million times. Jesus, why did this happen? Where were you? You could have stopped this.
In verse 33, it says when Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who would come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, my Lord,” they replied. And verse 35 says, “Jesus wept.” Mary is angry, and she is confused. Her brother has just died. She puts that anger and confusion onto Jesus, her friend and Lord. And Jesus did not defend himself. He did not try to offer her advice. He did not quote any Scripture from the Old Testament.
He didn’t try to convince her at that moment that something bigger was at play that she could not see. He didn’t try to tell her, “Just hold on, Mary. Dry up your tears. In just a few moments I’m going to raise your brother from the dead.” He did none of that. He wept. What we see here is that God can take our anger, our confusion, our questions of “God, where are you?” in the midst of a theology that knows he’s there with us. God can take it. God is saddened over abuse. And Jesus wept with his friends.
Caring well for our friends that are walking a road that I would never wish on my worst enemy has been one of the most honorable gifts that God has ever given me. I wish that I didn’t have to walk this road with my friends. I wish that abuse had never infiltrated their house. I wish, more than anything, that we could all blink our eyes three times and tap our heels and go back to a time before abuse turned their lives upside down. But we can’t. And so we carry on together.
I will devote my life to trying to be a good friend to them. I will listen when needed, remind them of truths when appropriate, believe the truth when their hearts are struggling, petition the Father on their behalf, and weep with them until we are made complete—on the other side of this lifetime.
When abuse hits a family, there is no GoFundMe page. There’s no Instagram post. There is no meal calendar. It’s a lonely battle. And it’s one that takes friends who are willing to go the long haul. Commit to walking with your friends for years through their grief and pain. When your time comes, and it will, for a friend to invite you into their pain, I beg you to listen more than you talk and to pray more than you ever thought imaginable. And I pray that you will be OK in the sadness, no matter how long it takes.