Part II: An Open Letter to my Friend — On Praying for Your Abuser

My dear friend,

I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking a lot since you told me what happened to you.

There’s so much you said — so much that happened.

And there’s so much I could say, of course. Since we share our Christian faith, I’d like to discuss the advice your priest gave you. He said the following after you told him about your experience in a domestically violent relationship:

“What I want you to do is pray for that man. Pray and wish for good things in his life. A happy marriage and healthy children. A good house to live in. A fulfilling and rewarding career. You know — the things you want for yourself.”

If you’ve listened to a pop music radio station lately, you’ve probably heard Kesha’s shrill voice singing “Praying.” Even though I don’t think Kesha shares our spiritual convictions — listen to her catchy song, “Hymn,” for example — the lyrics from “Praying” won’t leave me alone. I wonder if she’s stumbled upon a profound, even if imperfect, Christian response to abuse. See what you think!

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become

‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”

…I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

…Oh, sometimes, I pray for you at night
Someday, maybe you’ll see the light
Oh, some say, in life, you’re gonna get what you give
But some things only God can forgive (Kesha et al.)

As you know, our faith is in a God who is Love Itself. A God who — precisely because He is LOVE — does not allow evil to go unaddressed. We Christians have a strange and powerful hope: that our Creator will make all things new and beautiful and right someday. We believe we can trust this Creator to deal justly with each of His children, including perpetrators of abuse. This relieves us of some of the need to take all matters of justice into our own hands because we know God will have the last word, no matter what.

However, this trust is what also gives us the courage to seek justice here in this world, as partners with this good God. Because we know that ultimately good will prevail over evil, we know our efforts aren’t foolish and won’t ultimately go to waste.

Interestingly, Kesha’s lyrics reflects a lot of this theological truth.

Before she says anything else, Kesha tells the truth. Even as she says, “And we both know all the truth I could tell, I’ll just say this is ‘I wish you farewell,” she also acknowledges she’s been put through hell and emotionally abused.

This is something you are doing, friend, and I’m so proud of you! You are telling the truth. Using Jesus’ own words, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32, ESV).

Some truth is ugly, though, unlike the truth Jesus was referring to in this passage — truth about who He was. Your truth about experiencing abuse is anything but beautiful to remember or share with others. But know this, plain and simple: an ugly truth about what happened to you DOES NOT make anything about you ugly, in my eyes or in the eyes of God!

You are beautiful, my friend. And when you doubt it, remember this:

“It’s not wrong to notice…and to protect yourself from being abused. Noticing a problem does not make you the problem” (The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, p. 39).

After Kesha tells the truth about her abuse, she then says what she hopes for her abuser. Read the words again, slowly:

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

These words are powerful because they wish her abuser well, considering the deep pain he’s caused. What is good for her abuser is that he would pray, that his soul would change, and that he would find peace through falling on his knees.

It is not good that abusive men and women often walk scot-free through their lives, never facing the consequences that should be theirs for the abuse they’ve perpetrated.

It is not good that victims of abuse often walk through their lives bearing the consequences of their abuser’s actions. This is not how things should be, and it’s not what our loving God intends for this world.

So, here are some things I wish the priest had said to you. Perhaps he said some of these things. I certainly hope so!

At the very least, here is what I want to say to you, as your friend, as your sister in faith.

You were abused. Before that guy ever got you into bed, he’d already set a trap for you. A deep and dark trap we humans have used since the beginning of time to control others, to get what we want, whatever the costs. He called you a “bitch” and a “whore,” but you weren’t those things then, and you weren’t them after he got you into bed with him.

It might take you a while to sort out who is to blame for what. It takes time to heal, to understand, to process. These things are complicated, I know, and your abusive circumstances were, and are, unique and different from my own.

You and I both know that all of us, victims of abuse included, hurt ourselves, each other, and the One who created only what is good. We all mess up, sometimes in big ways. That’s part of being human, and it’s serious business. What I’m saying, though, is that during that year of hell for you, he was the abuser and you were the victim. End of story.

Now you are a survivor because you are doing the hard work of healing and becoming whole again. More whole than you were before the abuse happened, even! That’s what we Christians call “redemption,” and it’s pretty amazing.

But, sadly, he remains an abuser. He hasn’t come clean and apologized to you and he hasn’t offered to even try to make it up to you through some kind of restitution.

So his status as “abuser” hasn’t changed. He’s still down there in that terrible trap he fell into while trying to pull you in. (Thanks be to God that he wasn’t successful!)

He is not yet free. And he shouldn’t be!

Not until he falls on his knees and opens his hands to receive forgiveness and grace.

So the priest’s advice that you pray for him? Probably not bad advice. Your abuser definitely needs prayer! In my (not so) humble opinion and understanding of Christian forgiveness, however, the priest needed to qualify this advice differently from how he did.

Instead of praying for your perpetrator to live a happy life, how about praying for what would be truly good for him? How about starting with a prayer such as this:

“Lord Jesus, please save my abuser from himself. Allow him to experience consequences for what he did and continues to do so that he can realize his need to repent and receive forgiveness. Give him the courage to open his tightly-closed fists to your grace.

And heal me! Keep me safe. Protect other women from his outrageous abuse! Amen.”

And you know what, friend? If you can’t pray for your abuser right now, there’s this thing we Christians call “the body of Christ” or “family of God.” Which means that your fellow believers can pray for your abuser. Let us take a turn, when you are too weary yourself. Or when thinking about him brings up memories and pain you aren’t ready or able to face yet.

Let healing happen as slowly as it needs to. Listen to and respect your own soul — because your healing is paramount right now.

In other words, you don’t have to fight this one alone.

We love you.

thawingout

I am a Texan-born Bostonian who wants to understand how we get through hard things in life (aka trauma) using spirituality, meaningful work, life-giving hobbies, connection with other trauma survivors, friendships with non-traumatized people, animals, etc. I am a hospice social worker (LCSW) and I have a bunny named Nadia.

2 Replies to “Part II: An Open Letter to my Friend — On Praying for Your Abuser

  1. Well said. Healing is a slow, sometimes extremely painful process that, in the end, can produce the most beautiful, kind and wise version of ourselves. It is a personal journey that takes a lifetime of complex yet simple reflections, studies and re-evaluations. When we can come to the place of saying, “what was done was wrong, but I am a stronger, better person because I have survived,” there is true, blessed and even euphoric freedom!! I love the strength I hear in your writings Anna, you make me proud!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *