If you suspect a member of your church is being abused by a family member, how do you respond? What if someone comes to you for counseling and asks whether it’s OK to leave a violent spouse? What if you’re counseling someone who has escaped domestic violence but is still struggling to find emotional and spiritual healing?
Light + Life Publishing’s new book, “Love Does No Harm,” belongs in the library of every pastor. Co-authors Judi Noble and Susi Limon have each experienced the freedom of life beyond domestic violence. Now they are helping others find hope and healing through the new book — a vital resource for pastors and Christian counselors as well as a life-giving curriculum for people trapped in domestic violence.
“It’s my passion to see generational, spiritual, emotional, physical abuse stopped, and that can only be done if we get the word out about what domestic violence really is and how it affects our generations. Does it affect our children and our children’s children?” said lead author Noble, the founder and president of Eagle’s Wings Ministries in Upland, California, on a new episode of The Light + Life Podcast. “If we can stop domestic violence in our generation, then we can definitely stop it in the next.”
When people in the church experience domestic violence, they may turn to a pastor for help. Noble advised pastors, “If you have a woman or a man come in and say, ‘I’m being abused,’ know that took the most incredible courage for them to come in and share that with you. … Hear them, listen to them, and believe them. … Believe them over and above what you think you know about their mate.”
A sense of shame and fear may keep a church member from sharing about an abusive partner, especially a spouse in the same church whom the member may feel like she or he is betraying. If the pastor doesn’t listen and believe the person, then it makes the abuse worse because most people only share about part of the domestic violence they have experienced. A pastor also should be cautious with counseling to avoid using the same approach as with other couples who have relationship problems.
“One more thing that I saw countless times be very damaging — especially to the woman — is if they tried to counsel the man and the woman — the abuser and the woman — together,” Noble said. “It just had horrific outcomes, because she couldn’t be honest, and if she was, then after the counseling session ended, she would unfortunately be re-abused.”
Noble said she wants “to see Jesus involved in every broken heart and that He would heal them,” and Eagle’s Wings began out of her own journey with domestic violence and her desire to prevent other women from experiencing similar pain.
“I was in an abusive relationship with my husband for several years, and it was fairly violent,” Noble said. “In that process, I thought, ‘How can I reach other women? What is God’s heart? What does He want to do in this particular very confusing, conflicting issue?’”
The organization’s name was inspired by her life verse, Isaiah 40:31, and an experience on a trip to Alaska with the friend who led her to Christ. Noble lay on the Kenai River sand and saw “two eagles fly together, and the Lord said, ‘Those who hope and wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They’ll mount up like wings on eagles. They’ll run and not be weary and walk and not faint.’”
As she watched the two eagles, she understood them to “represent what God wanted to do with so many women and men that were limping along, and He wanted to rise them up and give them strength and healing.”
Living Free in Christ
Noble wrote the book with Limon, the Eagle’s Wings associate director who serves on the mentor team and facilitates “Love Does No Harm” support groups for women.
Limon believes the Holy Spirit supernaturally “led me to Eagle’s Wings and, once I became a mentor, started leading women’s groups and just saw how the curriculum was so effective. I was very excited to add what the Lord had taught me through my journey to what Judi was already working on, and so we collaborated.”
Her mentoring and writing draw upon her firsthand experience of abuse and the challenge of seeking help.
“I was married for over 10 years, and my husband at the time had a very respectable position in the community,” Limon said. “I finally got to a place where I was crying out to God, and I was very confused about just what domestic violence was. … I felt stuck for a long time, and finally the Lord made it very clear that was not His destiny for me. I was not living free in Christ. I was in bondage, and I believe that He wanted to set me free. Through my recovery, He showed me what real love is, and it does no harm.”
Her recovery also led to spiritual growth.
“My own experience with domestic violence led me to a deeper relationship with the Lord,” Limon said. “Through my healing process, as I started to discover my own identity or my true identity in Him, I just felt that He was changing my passion from being an artist to now using my gifts to help other people that were hurting from domestic violence.”
Defining and Understanding Domestic Violence
The “Love Does No Harm” book helps people understand what domestic violence is.
On the podcast, Noble explained, “Domestic violence is a repeated, deliberate act against an intimate partner. … It’s a deliberate, abusive, violent act against someone that they’re supposed to love.”
Most domestic violence occurs covertly and goes unreported.
“If they’re not being hit, that makes a huge difference for them. They probably won’t even call us because that’s what they think domestic violence is. However, there’s so much more to it,” Noble said. “Once we begin to explain to them that it’s not actually just hitting — that emotional and tormental abuse is so much harder on their hearts than physical [abuse]. The scars are left on their heart.”
Noble added that domestic violence usually escalates. If a person is experiencing abuse but not being hit, physical abuse is likely to come later.
“It’s a confusing subject, and it’s different for everybody,” Noble said. “But the wonderful thing is that we stand for what Jesus stands for. He wants to come and heal the brokenhearted and take the confusion out, and He told me in the beginning, ‘You hold their hand until they’re ready to grab Mine,’ and that’s what Susi and I have done. … When we give out love to them, they can see His love.”
The book includes “10 sessions, and we start with just talking about what domestic violence is, the signs of an abusive relationship, red flags, the different types of abuse, understanding the cycle of violence and the effects,” Limon said. “Every session starts off with Scripture, and we’re talking about the Lord in and through each topic.”
Limon said “Love Does No Harm” helps people who have experienced violence to “discover their true identity in Christ, because that’s going to make all the difference as they start believing who they are, then they’re going to open up to His healing power. And it’s really the Holy Spirit that’s going to guide them through these sessions.”
Some sessions address issues such as boundaries and codependency, which Limon said “is really important for us to understand, because a lot of us, when we’re in abusive relationships, we have learned codependent behaviors that keep us stuck in those relationships, and we confuse love with this codependency behavior.”
For more information, call Judi Noble and Susi Limon at Eagle’s Wings Ministries at 909-529-3373 or contact them via their website at eagleswingsglobal.org/contact/.