Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Is Abuse?

A friend has asked a couple of very important questions and I’d like to address them. The questions are as follows:
Fr Michael your disclaimer intrigues me. I have never really understood where the line is between enduring insults, injustice, persecutions, etc. and rejoicing... and something supposedly psychologically unhealthy like enduring abuse.
Secondly I find it very curious that "abuse" seems to be a modern category unaddressed in the scriptures (for example child abuse, spousal abuse, etc.). How valid is the distinction between abuse and just plain sin, and is there some sort of difference in the spiritual treatment for these?
Why do you suppose the scriptures do not address abuse directly as a category unto itself?
I will attempt to answer these two questions together (in my usual rambling way).
There is no line between abuse and enduring persecution. That is, there is no line outside ourselves. The exact same “abuse” that makes a saint out of one person can destroy another. It all depends on the Grace of God, and more specifically our ability to be open to the Grace of God.
The fathers make it pretty clear that ascetic endeavor must always be freely entered into. Even when the ascetic practice is unchosen or forced upon one, for the Grace of God to have its full work in us, we must accept the deprivation (make a virtue out of necessity). The same thing is true about persecution. We are commanded to avoid persecution: Jesus said, “When they persecute you in one city, flee to the next.” However, when captured, when one cannot flee (or cannot in good conscience flee), then one must entrust oneself to the Grace of God.
In a family situation, certainly there are holy men and woman who have endured with rejoicing and thanksgiving by the Grace of God relationships that are commonly called abusive. But please note, and this is very important, that it is only by the Grace of God that holiness is produced by such suffering. It is a grave mistake to assume that one “should be able to” endure or find grace in a situation that is just not Grace filled--especially if escape is possible. Not to flee when flight is possible is to disobey the words of Jesus, it is to throw your body on the Roman pikes to become a martyr--a practice condemned by the Church.
I find it interesting that the hymns of the Church seldom talk about someone becoming a martyr. Rather they talk about someone being revealed as a martyr. That is, someone is a martyr before their mode of death reveals them as a martyr. Certainly we are all called to martyrdom, to lay down our life for Christ; but the path for each is different. And more to the point, the calling and growth in that calling are different for each believer. It is nothing but pride to assume that you can become a martyr by enduring what God has not given you the Grace to endure.
Actually, I know some people who have become quite saintly by remaining in uncomfortable family settings, but in all of the cases, nothing like physical or severe emotional abuse was taking place. In every case, the holiness of the person was revealed in his or her loving care for aged parents or a disabled child, remaining faithful to a sexually promiscuous spouse or in a particular case, raising nine (or ten, I lost count) very healthy children in a culture that calls three too many. Notice I said “holiness was revealed.” Of course the process of growing in holiness and the revelation of that holiness are mystically the same. And yet the truth remains that there is no doing without being. Attempting to do what you are not always ends in disaster.
The word “abuse” is indeed merely a modern term often used to refer to behavior as trite as someone using crude language in your presence or someone who doesn’t fixate on your aches, pains, worries and fears as much as you do. I have heard abuse used to describe all sorts of behavior that I consider near normal, though often crudely presented. (Consider the source--some people might consider me abusive.) That is not what I mean by abuse. What I mean by abuse cannot really be defined by outward behavior, for each person’s limits, expectations and ability to endure are different. Also there are matters such as love (human and divine) and sense of duty and calling that also play into the matter.
Abuse, as I use the word, has to do with the inner experience of the abused. If he or she cannot find Grace to endure with thanksgiving (this is assuming the person has already searched diligently to find such Grace through prayer and counsel) and he or she can flee, then I think flight is not only appropriate but necessary. When flight is impossible, then matters are different. Then, like the Christians thrown into the gulag or someone with a debilitating handicap, there is no choice. When there is no choice the dynamic changes. And since I have never found myself in such a dire situation, I better not presume to speak about it.

1 comment:

Ostensive Lyme said...

Thanks Fr Michael, this is very helpful.