Abuse is complicated in so many ways. It is completely unsurprising that people find it difficult to deal with. It’s not as “simple” as just dealing with one horrific type of behaviour. A typical abuser might have dozens of types of behaviour that stretch across multiple forms of abuse. Some of the most confusing and difficult to respond to are the apparent “positive” behaviours – behaviours that help the abuser hide and deny the abuse.
In a church context, for example, an abuser might use charm, speaking skill, technical know-how, theological training, bullying disguised as “leadership”, and many other tactics, all of which look like positive attributes. They might have convincing smokescreens in place, such as a good reputation, involvement in pastoral care ministries, or being known as a social justice advocate.1 The lack of integrity involved in this behaviour is no problem for a person who is committed to abuse. Yet this shocking lack of integrity is so hard for decent people to fathom that tend to believe the smokescreen instead. It’s often easier to believe a victim is mistaken, exaggerating, deluded, making things up. It’s even worse when an abuser uses yet more tactics to undermine the victim and their story.
Abuse is a dark, noisome evil. And it is deeply unjust when victims are in the fight alone. With so many abusive behaviours to face, support from well-informed allies is a priceless asset.
Creating space for victims of trauma
In contrast, we find Psalm 131. Here is a person who is not proud. They know they need help. Neither are they a baby – they are not without ability. Eating solid food, yet still finding comfort in God, like an exhausted toddler with a safe and competent parent. The ESV describes their experience:
Like a weaned child is my soul within me2
This is a beautiful picture of stillness and trust, and the psalmist invites us into that space. But when we talk with those who are suffering, we do need some care in how we talk about the journey. Proverbs tells us,
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.3
So let’s not make the mistake of singing songs to a heavy heart. Instead, we can listen to people before rushing in, and allow them to be our guide.
Listening to God is not always easy
There is a common picture used in the Christian community of listening for the “still, small voice” of God. It’s valid, but it’s not the only way God talks. In Job’s case, for example – if you ever read Job with an eye on the background weather, you will see:
Yahweh spoke to Job out of the storm.4
When Job’s friends refused to listen, when they believed the worst about him and would not accept the fact of his integrity, and when Job was in absolute turmoil – God spoke out of the storm.
Those who have suffered the turmoil of abuse, or are still suffering, might well be familiar with the idea of having a storm inside and the great difficulty, even impossibility, or hearing a small, still voice. I think it is quite reasonable to believe in Job’s case that Yahweh raised his voice to be heard above the maelstrom. That does not mean we should raise our voices, it simply creates space for the idea that hearing God can be hard to do.
Like a weaned child is my soul within me
For all of that turmoil, this writer has an invitation for us. An affirmation that God is worthy of our trust.
It’s interesting that this psalm is nearer the end of the pilgrimage. In the overarching structure of the Songs of Ascents, this one is balanced by Psalm 123. Where that psalmist talks about lifting up their eyes to God, this one talks about not “lifting up my eyes”5 in pride. The longing in Psalm 123, of a servant looking to their master for provision, and begging Yahweh for mercy, now finds some resolution in the picture of a weaned child with its mother. As the pilgrim is not yet, but almost, in the promised land, their experience of their relationship with God has shifted from the initial turmoil, and the writer beckons us towards that hope.
My heart is not proud, Yahweh,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in Yahweh
both now and forevermore.6
Steve WadeA typical abuser might have dozens of types of behaviour. Some of the most confusing and difficult to respond to are the apparent “positive” behaviours that help the abuser hide and deny the abuse. Click To Tweet