Love by leaving

Love by leaving July 7, 2011

How do you love a boyfriend that abuses you? How do you treat an abusive girlfriend like Jesus would treat her? How do you forgive a person without letting him/her hurt you again?

Ever since I broke up with my abusive first boyfriend five years ago, I’ve been searching for answers to this question.

If I had treated him better…

If I had stayed with him longer…

If I hadn’t responded with violence at the end (our break up involved me punching him in the face out of self-defense)…

….would he have changed?

Does loving like Jesus loved mean letting people walk all over us? I used to think so.

But I’ve changed my mind.

I’ve been reading the book Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. If you’ve read other books by Shane Claiborne, you’ll know that he is radically committed to following Christ’s teachings of love, mercy, and peace. He is anti-violence, anti-war, and pro-“enemy love.”

But in Jesus for President, he reminds us that Jesus was not pro-passivity. He didn’t want us to “let people sadistically step all over us (p. 92).”

No violence or hatred.

No passiveness.

Jesus taught a “third way.”

As Claiborne and Haw explain, when Jesus preached on “turning the other cheek” in Matthew 5, he was not supporting passiveness. Because of  cultural law, the Jews of that time would only use their right hand to hit someone. Turning the other cheek would prevent attackers from backslapping you as one would an inferior. Your attacker would have to “look [you] in the eye” and fight you as an equal. Jesus did not want people fighting back or cowering in fear. He wanted them to look attackers in the eye and say, as Claiborne and Haw state, “I am a human being, made in the image of God, and you cannot destroy that.” (p. 92)

Of course, our culture is different. Turning the other cheek won’t produce the same effect today. But we can still stand up for our “sacred humanity” (p. 93). By leaving abusive relationships- by showing our abusers that “I am enough!” we can remind them whose image we are made in.

When we walk away from those relationships, our abusers see our strength. They are forced to look at us, not as inferiors, nor as objects, but as equals. As fellow humans. We escape the situation, and at the same time, we force our attackers to see things from a different perspective.

(By the way, this isn’t always easy. I used violence because I couldn’t find any other way out of my situation. I’m a pacifist committed to non-violence, and my saying this is probably hypocritical. But, if you feel that there is no other way out of your situation and you punch your abuser in the face like I did, I will not judge you. In fact, I might secretly cheer for you in my head. There, I said it. Excuse my imperfections. You may not have to use violence, but you may have to get authorities involved. And you will almost certainly need help from friends and family. It’s not easy. Don’t do it alone)

It’s not loving to provide your abuser with an opportunity to continue his violent lifestyle. Violence kills the image of God in us.

So leave abusive relationships and give your abuser a chance to start over. Give your abuser a chance to see the image of God in you, but also in himself/herself. Love abusers by letting them start fresh- by giving them a chance to change.

As Jesus for President states, “Even those who have committed great violence can have the image of God come to life again within them as they hear the whisper of love.”

Love by ending the violence. Love by leaving.

**By the way, read Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. It’s awesome!

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • phantommullet

    I just want to say that I really love this blog. I think I found it on the Citizen vs. Christian thing?

    I was in an abusive relationship when I was just in grade 6 (silly, I know), and I still have trouble with remembering some of this and realizing it’s not my fault. I keep telling myself I let it happen and it wasn’t really that bad and trying to make excuses for him, but this blog is helping me start to finally heal for real this time and see things the way they are (I thought I had healed before but it seems maybe not haha). :3

    • I really love your username! haha. Five Iron Frenzy? great stuff.

      And I’m very glad that my blog is helping someone. The healing process for me always seems to be complete…until a new wound rips open out of no where. It gets frustrating. But I hope we can both continue to heal!

      • phantommullet

        Yeah man, I love them so much. I’m guessing you like them as well seeing as you knew Anthem to comment on my comment with. :3

        That’s exactly how it is for me, WE CAN BE HEALING BUDDIES YEAHHH. 😀

  • Yes! Healing buddies sounds good to me!

    • phantommullet

      I really like you for some reason haha. xD

  • Thank you!

    “When we walk away from those relationships, our abusers see our strength. They are forced to look at us, not as inferiors, nor as objects, but as equals. As fellow humans. We escape the situation, and at the same time, we force our attackers to see things from a different perspective.”

    It would be nice if this were the case. In theory it should be. But in my experience it doesn’t work out this way. For one it assumes a fairly healthy ability to see beyond self when the reality is abusers/controllers/ pieces-o-s#@% would be amongst the most egocentric that there are. They are so small in their own subconscious eyes, lack confidence and self-esteem. They on a level that they can’t see can’t even see themselves as fully human. (I was once amongst their number. I hate it in others and loathed it in myself (that guy had to die or this one I just could not live with him anymore)).

    But when you stand-up for yourself and walk away you can see your strength, your value, your Imago Dei even if he cannot. None of you, no one deserves to be treated in a way that denies them their Imago Dei, that dehumanizes them.

    It breaks my heart that one so young has been in an abusive relationship and Phantommullet even younger. I am sorry for your experiences. However I am glad that you understand that none of it was your fault, that you don’t deserve to be treated that way, and that you found the clearness of mind and strength to get out. I applaud you both for telling your stories and encouraging others.

    Oh as for punching him in the face, read the third story here:
    to see what can happen when someone is desperate.

    • Thank you so much for your honesty and advice! You’re right- walking away may not always help a self-centered abuser (though it’s the best way to try I believe) but it does restore the humanity of the victim for sure!

  • Thank GOD that you were able to leave that situation! No, nothing you could have done or not done would make that person non-abusive; that’s a choice they have to make for themselves.

    Forgiveness, like you said, doesn’t mean “I’m totally okay with what you’ve done.” It means that you aren’t letting anger, bitterness, and hatred eat away at you. It means letting go of what that person’s done, not so much for THEIR sake as much as YOUR OWN.

    I’m all too well acquainted to how bitterness and the desire for revenge can eat away at you. And it can be a battle to consistently forgive the same person for the same event over and over again. But it’s worth it to have peace of mind, and accept that God is in control of that person, not me. 🙂

    • I agree that walking away is even more important to do for one’s own sake! Like Paul Debaufer said in the comments, walking away shows us our own value, even if our abuser can’t see it!

  • Lex

    Thanks for sharing your experience, and I join in with those who have celebrated that you were able to get out!

    I was reflecting on the tension between loving our enemies and risk abuse, and I noticed something in Luke 6:27-28…

    “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

    There are boundaries in those instructions, and distance we must keep relative to how our “enemies” treat us.

  • Iseebetternow

    I fully agree, and can do so on the basis that my daughter left her abusive husband for two and a half months. Unfortunately, she went back. Remaining in close and consistent physical proximity to one’s abuser places the entire burden for the relationship on the one being abused. The abusive one never has to take responsibility and endure any consequences for his/her actions because his “object of control” is still where he wants her…under his control. This is basically his only concern for the relationship…to keep his object of control where it serves his lust for control the most. The victim will, therefore, still be left to her same song and dance routine (i.e. walking on eggshells, trying harder, praying harder adapting, changing herself to try not to make him angry, watching out for indicators that he is about to be set off, etc. etc.) By remaining physically present, and still as the object of his control, she is serving as his greatest enabler, but thinks she is helping him. Leaving is the only way to give him a chance to wake up to the destructiveness of his behavior. I’m so happy you are free! I hope my daughter will be someday! Thank you for your posts!