Question: How do you ask for help from your church family, and how do you handle the judgment if it comes?
I spent about fifteen years vacillating between three places. One, asking one specific person for advice, that I would then attempt to put into practice without questioning it. Two, telling a handful of friends little bits and pieces about my marriage but never really laying the whole story out for anyone, in an attempt to garner pity and yet somehow keep my mask firmly in place. And three, living in denial that it was as bad as it was and just trying to live my life as if my marriage weren’t in huge trouble the entire time.
I don’t really recommend any of these tactics.
So, here’s what I would do if you have come to the place of feeling ready to do something about your marriage…to do something different about your marriage.
Pray. Ask God to bring just the right people into your life who can help you navigate this.
Read. Look for books about hard marriage, not just marriage. Trust me, there’s such a difference, and regular marriage books will just make you feel less-than, which is not what you need right now. The one I can recommend the most highly is Leslie Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. If I had read this book fifteen, ten or even five years ago, there’s a chance I might still be married.
Counseling. If you aren’t yet in counseling, it’s time. If you’ve been seeing the same counselor for five years and every week you have a slightly different version of the same conversation, it’s time to switch it up, as uncomfortable as that might be to even consider.
Make a list. Who are the people in your life, in your family, in your church, in your small group, in your recovery group that you trust? Of that list, who do you feel would understand the very specific dynamics of a difficult marriage (of abuse of all kinds, of addiction)? Of that list, who do you have a good rapport with? (Trust me, this will matter in the long run.)
Ask. Take a deep breath, pray another prayer, gather your courage, and then ask these people out for tea one at a time. Tell them a short version of your story and see how they respond. If it’s with shock, move on. If it’s with a lack of any idea what to tell you, move on. If it’s with judgment, move on. If it’s with compassion, empathy, and some ideas of where you two could start, this is your person. A key here is that this person may not be in church leadership or even go to your church, and that’s okay. Help can come from anywhere. Keep your heart and mind open.
Make a plan. Once you’ve decided on the person, and they’ve agreed to help you figure all this out, you’ll want to make a plan together as to how often you’ll meet, what you’ll talk about, what steps you’ll take, etc.
Then get started. Be consistent. Take their advice, but do so by first seeing how it lines up with Scripture. Do not just do whatever they tell you to do blindly. God wants you to be wise. God gave you a spirit of power and of a sound mind…you are able to make decisions on your own. (This was a revelation to me.)
Now, about the judgment part of your question. Sweet one, judgment probably will come, I’m sorry to say, even from within the Church. As they say, we’re the only group that shoots its own wounded. (How I wish that weren’t true!) When that happens, there are three things you’ll need to do.
Put a boundary up around your heart so that this person can’t hurt you on a regular basis.
Pray for thicker skin.
Remind yourself that only God’s opinion of you matters, and he knows and loves your heart.
It’s time. Help is available. Be brave and ask for it, and keep asking until you’re understood and helped.