Erica Hamence opens our series of 16 days of prayer against Domestic & Family Violence - Foundations for Christian Action by reminding us that we pray because our God has promised to transform the world.
God can be a safe haven.
For I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you,
I will help you;
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'
- Isaiah 41:10
Peace and Grace to you all,
I feel honoured to be given a safe space to share my own story, and some of what I see as a clinical psychologist who works with victims of domestic and family violence.
Sadly, my childhood was familiar with family violence. I have clear childhood memories of police saying, "We don't get involved in Domestics."
I clearly remember this one time when I was 12 years old and I was so distressed with my mother's injuries from dad and scared of losing her that I remember in childlike faith I cried, "God I need my mother" and after that I remember happily playing in the hallway, a place far from safety.
That day God had orchestrated events that allowed us to escape, and that feeling as a child is beyond words to describe.
I still remember it.
This has led me to a journey to know God as my safe father, my safe haven and my refuge.
Most of all, I know God to be someone into whose arms I can jump safely, and share my deepest and most shameful secrets.
In my profession as a psychologist, I have also seen how God offers refuge for clients affected by domestic and family violence. I was able to contribute to research of attachment to God and its positive impact on mental health symptoms, and in particular utilise it in treatment in the area of domestic violence and family violence for people willing to go down this path.
The research showed that God has a significant impact on psychological wellbeing when you remove the impact of human attachments (mother, father, friend, romantic partner) from the equation. Knowing God can reduce fear and anxiety, and offer a safe haven for the individual who is seeking comfort, even when other people in their life do not offer safety. It is beautiful and encouraging for me to see God at work in this space.
Sadly, however, in my work I also see another side to things. There are myriad challenges to navigate with police, family law courts, and schools that are not trauma informed and that lack counselling services, as well as underfunded legal services and long-waiting lists for domestic violence community services. Sadly, it is very common for children in particular to be exposed to prolonged stressors, causing them significant risk of harm. I long to see all of our systems of support and justice be safe havens for survivors, just as God is.
Is God your safe Father? What barriers or memories do you suspect make it difficult for you to relate to him in this way?
Psalms 5, 91, and 121 all describe God’s love, care and protection, especially in the face of evil and danger.
Psalm 5:11 ‘But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.’
Psalm 91:4 ‘He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.’
Psalm 121:1-2 ‘I lift up my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.’
Sometimes this care is evident. At other times, we cannot understand why God does not act more clearly for our protection.
Perhaps take some time to read through one or two of the Psalms listed here. You might want to thank God for the ways you have seen him doing what the Psalms describe, or you might use the Psalms to prompt cries of lament, crying out for God to act powerfully for you, or for those in need:
Psalm 5:1-2 ‘Listen to my words, LORD, consider my lament. Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.’
A prayer for those navigating justice and support services:
Our Heavenly Father,
Keep us safe.
Help all those who have courageously left abusive family structures.
And for those who haven't, give them strength.
God we ask you to move your mighty hand in the current services (police, family law court, legal services, community services, churches) to assist them in giving a voice to the many women and men in domestic violence, especially the children, who are so vulnerable.
Let your light expose the deeds of darkness within this complex area so that lives may be rebuilt and only safe families restored.
We also pray that our Government would respectfully listen and implement the numerous recommendations from the Family Law Reform Commission to protect abused women and children. Align their priorities with yours, God.
God we pray for your will to be done, especially for children.
In Jesus’ name.