Preparing a Safe Place for the Abused

Still the nightmares come. She knows the Word better than most. She’s committed to Christ—wants to live as a faithful woman of God—but her heart is weary and doubts assail her as the onslaught of horrific memories and pain continues . . . for years. For decades. And I want to be more than just a praying friend. I want to “fix it,” but I don’t have that power. Only One does.

That’s the problem we face when dealing with women who’ve experienced horrific trauma. And the church better get ready, because now that the cover has been lifted . . . and the long silence broken, women (and men) in your church might finally come forward and have the courage to share their stories. They’ve hoped for a safe place, an opportunity for freedom, but so many silently stuffed their pain and hid—believing the lies of the enemy: That it was all their fault. That they are worthless. That they deserved the abuse. That no one would believe them. That the Church would punish them and make them a public display rather than offering help (which has happened in so many cases, only confirming their fears).

So, they have suffered in silence.

Of all places, the church should be where they can find help. The church should offer the opportunity for women to step into the light without fear. The church needs to prepare itself to be a safe place for the abused.

My friend has suffered abuse and horrors that she was fearful of sharing with anyone. Every story of trauma is unique, but there is a theme that runs through all of them—fear of stepping into the light. And fear of not being believed if they do.

And who can blame them? When they get the message from the church that tells them, “You just need to have more faith . . . If you just believe this promise, you’ll be fixed . . . Just get over it!” Or perhaps even worse, the message that they must’ve done something to bring on the abuse themselves. The message of shame.

Those messages are not helpful. Those messages are cruel.

The traumatized need safety and encouragement. They need real help and assistance with recovery. And the church should be where they can find it.

The church may be good at offering the ministry of encouragement when someone is suffering from a physical illness, but sadly, many in the church don’t see the need to personally encourage those who are drowning under what some might consider less “acceptable” struggles— like mental illness, suicidal thoughts, cutting, or other destructive forms of “self-abuse” because of past trauma.

Some want to avoid the hurting person entirely or approach the broken and needy with the cold message of “Just get it together!” Some preach a “just have faith” message, without compassion or understanding that the road to healing from trauma is hard—no matter how spiritually mature you are, or how much you are seeking to honor God in the trial.

Enduring a past traumatic event doesn’t end when the abuse ends—the abused go on enduring the trauma.

And those of us who desire to help, need to realize that. We need to come to terms with the fact that it’s not a “quick fix.” Many in the church apparently deny that, or haven’t experienced that kind of real suffering, so they have no context for the complexities of, and long road to, healing and recovery.

As a church, and as individuals, we need to grapple with how to cultivate a “safe place” for the hurting. Of all places, the church should welcome the abused and give them permission to grieve, to struggle, to weep—and we should weep with them. We should learn how to encourage and minister to those who are traumatized and in need of healing.  

In this life, a believer never reaches the place that they no longer need comfort or encouragement. But that is especially true of those who’ve lived in fear and hiding for most of their lives.

Let’s don’t add to their trauma by belittling their pain and suffering, by demeaning them when they don’t suddenly have an instantaneous healing of their emotions. When they still struggle with depression or doubt. When they ask us to pray in the night hours, because the nightmares just won’t stop. Don’t add to their trauma with an attitude of indifference to their pain and expectation that they should be “over it.”

My friend carries a picture in her head. She sees the man who suffered in pain for years, without hope, and without the ability to reach Jesus on his own . . . and so he languished on his sick bed—alone and in need.

“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’” (Luke 5:18–20)

Several friends came together to help the paralytic. It took a group working together. And did you notice that Jesus saw “their” faith? It wasn’t the man on the mat who had faith. His faith isn’t even mentioned. But friends had faith for what Jesus could do for him. His friends not only had faith, but they were willing to do for their suffering friend what he couldn’t do: Get him to Jesus.

My friend hopes for the day when the church will take up the mat of those who suffer from trauma and abuse, and carry them to Christ—because they are too weary to make it alone. Or maybe the trauma has completely shut them down and they no longer feel anything. They are paralyzed by fear and abuse and don’t know what to believe.

My friend has suffered long years, and I know that I can’t fix it, but perhaps I can be one of the friends that takes the long hard slog, hauling my traumatized friend on her mat, carrying her to the roof, and prying back the baked-mud tiles, to open a hole to let her down to Jesus. Maybe I can be a friend who has faith for what Jesus can do, on days when she’s struggling for faith.

Maybe I can’t fix it, but I can help to carry her.

All of that hauling, carrying, lifting, peeling back roofing, doing the hard labor and balancing act of lowering a friend from roof to floor . . . all of it takes time, patience, rolling-up-the-sleeves-kind of hard work, and it can be grueling. But, Church, we’ve got to carry these friends to Jesus! We’ve got to be there for them. We’ve got to be patient with them and realize they need more than an “I’ll pray for you” memo. They need the grit and determination of friends who will go the long haul with them to get them to Jesus for healing and recovery.

This post is already too long to include the “how to” of carrying your friend there, but if you missed it, you can click here to read a post that includes ways to implement the journey to healing and recovery.

Will you join me in encouraging your church to be a safe place for the broken and abused?


  • T

    Thank you so much, Kimberly! Amen! These words are so true and show the care and compassion that victims need. It is so hard. However, God is able. I wish every Christian would read this post! So many do not understand and make the trauma worse, victimize the victim all over again. Thank you for your understanding and showing the love of Christ!

  • Joy Miller

    A much-needed post! Thank you, Kimberly, for addressing this in such a humble but courageous and wise way. It is clear that you are being led by the Spirit. As a pastor’s wife who has experienced abuse from her husband, the church has yet to be my “safe place.” Our Father, however, is and always will be.

  • Kristy

    What a wonderful friend you are to the one who suffered such abuse. I’m sure she is very grateful to have someone who loves her and is so full of compassion, patience, and encouragement. The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and will heal their wounds. I am a testimony of that. When the abuse was going on in my life, I had no one, BUT Christ. Where would I be without Him; I cannot fathom the thought! I love you, dear sister!

  • Kimberly Wagner

    Thank you for that encouragement, T ~

    And I agree, there needs to be greater understanding on the part of the church at large–I think the Church has been in denial, but also, it is very hard to look at the horror of abuse. We naturally want to shrink, turn away, to run and hide and pretend it’s not there. But like you said, that victimizes the victim all over again.

    Hopefully, those who see the need will share this post (and others like it) through social media and by just texting to friends in leadership at churches.

    Grateful for you ~

  • Kimberly Wagner

    Dear Joy,

    How very sad it was reading (and rereading) your comment. I am so very sorry. Have you sought help? I encourage you to read these guidelines (embedding the link below to my pdf “Guidelines When Confrontation is Necessary”) and prayerfully consider following these steps (if appropriate to your situation).

    Thank you for your kind words, pausing now to pray for you, your husband, and your church.

  • Kimberly Wagner

    Hello, dear friend, so good to hear from you, Kristy ~

    How it grieves my heart to think of your years of abuse. But, I’m so thankful that Christ became your refuge and safe place!

    Actually, I count my abused friend as more of a friend to me, than I can be to her . . . she has opened my eyes and heart to see the need to challenge the church in this area and “sound the alarm” in a sense, letting believers know that we must walk with these who are suffering and carry them to the place of healing, to the Savior’s restoring Hands.

    And I’m trying to find a way to catch Abigail while she’s in the state, would so love to see her, but still working on that . . .

    Much love ~

  • Kimberly Wagner

    Dear Joy,

    How very sad it was reading (and rereading) your comment. I am so very sorry. Have you sought help? I encourage you to read these guidelines (embedding the link below to my pdf “Guidelines When Confrontation is Necessary”) and prayerfully consider following these steps (if appropriate to your situation).

    Thank you for your kind words, pausing now to pray for you, your husband, and your church.

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