The new year is often a time when we set goals, look forward to new horizons, and perhaps close the book on the prior year. For victims of domestic abuse, it is especially important to look ahead rather than backward. Far too often, victims replay the past in their minds, feeling guilty for being duped by a con man, reliving the abuse, wondering why she didn’t leave earlier, grieving the loss of the dream of a happy family that will never be, perhaps even wondering if she should have left. Their thoughts are full of thoughts of their abuser, what he is doing, how he is “getting away” with such wickedness, how heinous his actions were, how completely unjust it is to have one’s kindness returned with evil, and how his life is going along completely unchanged while hers has been turned upside down.
But, focusing on the past and on the abuser is not helpful in the healing of a domestic abuse survivor.
Escaping from the bondage of domestic abuse is much like the Israelites escaping the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh was evil and used the Israelites only for his own selfish pursuits. Like Pharaoh, an abusive husband is evil and uses his wife only for his selfish gratification. Although Pharaoh didn’t care about his slaves, he clearly didn’t want them to leave and made them suffer tremendously before he allowed them to go. Like Pharaoh, an abuser doesn’t care about the well-being of his wife, but he will make her suffer before he lets her go. After the Israelites were rescued, Pharaoh continued on with his evil life with his evil friends, found replacement slaves, and little changed for him. And like Pharaoh, the abuser and his minions will continue on with their wicked ways, he will find another victim to replace his wife, and his life will go on fairly unaffected.
However, Moses knew that God had promised a land of hope and rest for the Israelites, and he looked forward relentlessly with faith and assurance that a better life lay ahead. He also believed God’s promises that God was with him, that God speaks to him, and that God would make a way. But, the Israelites did not share Moses’ strong faith and did not believe God’s promises. When they were wandering in the desert, they looked back and dwelled on their life in Egypt, questioning whether it would have been better to have stayed in Egypt where they at least had food and shelter. When twelve scouts went to check out the promised land, ten of them were afraid, reporting that the giants who lived there were too big for them. Only Joshua and Caleb reported that the Israelites should go forward and take the land, because they knew that God was with them, and their God was bigger than any giant in the promised land. Because of their disbelief and focus on the past, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years longer than they would have if they had believed God’s promises and had conquered the promised land.
January is a time of new beginnings. As survivors of domestic abuse who have been rescued by a holy God, we need to follow the example of Moses and Joshua, who believed God promises that He is with us (Joshua 1:9-10) and has a wonderful plan for our life (Jeremiah 29:11). We need to look forward to the promised land of peace and rest, not look back on the land of bondage. He truly is making all things new. His wisdom tells us “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not see it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19
Our promised land may be unfamiliar and it may have giants, but God is bigger than our giants, and they fall at our feet because God is by our side fighting our battles with us and for us. That’s why he tells us, like he told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, don’t be afraid, don’t be discouraged. Because the Lord your God is on your side.” (Joshua 1:9-10) And what better promise for the road ahead can we have than that?