Brad Hambrick – Expert Contributor
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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

Warning: This season includes discussions regarding marital, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse. We advise listener and reader discretion.

Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

Ann Maree
It is my privilege to introduce to you today Brad Hambrick. Brad serves as the Pastor of Counseling at the Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He’s authored several books, including God’s Attributes: Rest For Life’s Struggles, and served as General Editor for the Becoming A Church That Cares Well For The Abused; churchcares.com. project.

Welcome, Brad.

Brad
It’s a joy to be with you. I appreciate the invitation.

Ann Maree
Absolutely. And I am honored that you are with us as well. And like I said earlier with you personally, I’m excited for our audience to hear your voice and your expertise and wisdom. But quickly before we begin, just by way of reminder, on the Safe to Host podcast, the names have been changed in order to protect those associated with these stories. The HelpHer ministry exists to help people in crisis and to train people-helpers. So integrity is one of our concerns. To the best of our ability, we have sought to honor the privacy and dignity of those who share their precious stories with us.

And before we begin, I’d like to share again with our audience that there may be some things discussed, that can be triggering. If you’re a victim or survivor, we want to just let you know that Michelle’s story can be hard to hear. Maybe find a trusted friend to sit with or someone you can talk to and process after you’ve heard her experience.

Also, Michelle’s story is for adult audiences only. Just as a heads up this season includes discussions regarding marital, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse. So we advise the listener and reader discretion.

Back to you, Brad, maybe for our audience members who might not be familiar with some of your work. Can you share just a little bit about yourself? And you can tell us whatever you want to talk about.

Brad
Sure. And so maybe in terms of this, the roles and settings that have served in ministry, might most inform your listeners of just, ‘Hey, how do we, how do we vet and weigh some of the things that Brad may have to say?’ So, after seminary, I spent about 10 years in a parachurch counseling center. And so there, you’re caring 25 to 30 cases a week, direct care, getting to know a stranger from a set of intake forms forward, and you’re just a counselor. But in that setting, also, you get the opportunity to work with a lot of your people-helping neighbors and peers; social workers and psychiatrists, law enforcement, you know, you get record subpoena of when folks are going through child custody as a part of a divorce, hearing and things of that nature. And so that was, that was a valuable season, to get to know some of the interdisciplinary things that are really important when it comes to doing good abuse care. For the last 10 to 12 years, I’ve served at the Summit Church as the Pastor of Counseling. During that time, my senior pastor was president of the Southern Baptist Convention. And out of that, you know, my opportunity to be a part of creating a resource known as ‘Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused’. I think many of the people that you’ve had on this series were a part that team, but trying to give a first aid level primer for churches and how to respond to a variety of types of abuse. And on that, I’ll tell people all day long I was, I was not the expert, I was the person who got to ask questions from a group of people that I very authentically wanted to learn from. And I tried to be the pastoral voice, who would say, ‘Hey, if we could just ask a question when we weren’t in the middle of a crisis, how do you handle a situation like this? In a situation like this other one over here? What is it that you would be looking for? What is it that you wish a pastor would ask you before they get neck deep in something that they’re confused about?’ And, and that’s what that project was about. And so, since that time, I’ve continued to try to stay informed and up to speed. And, you know, I think that’s part of why you reached out and thought we might be a good fit here. So that’s a little bit of my background, areas where I’ve served. Other parts of our conversation more of that may come out.

Ann Maree
I don’t recall ever having been taught how to handle a discussion I had with Michelle. So here’s me – acting like you now – asking the questions. Where did you where would you start? Or what would you say?

Brad
So my training for counseling was in a seminary setting. It was in the biblical counseling tradition. And I would say, as a biblical counseling tradition, our approach to counseling has been more weighted toward this fear of personal responsibility than suffering. And I don’t think it’s because we want to be harsh or condemning. It’s because we want to empower people and emphasize personal agency; that we don’t want to excuse things that shouldn’t be excused. But that good intent, it doesn’t justify neglecting the suffering side of the equation. And so that aspect of, how do you care for somebody, when the biggest problems in their life are not emanating from their beliefs, values and choices. That it’s more things that are happening to them, than things that they are doing. So initially, that’s just a category that we need to have. I’m not trying to make a mathematical statement here, but if we look at the Genesis 3 Fall, out of the Genesis 3 Fall it is 50% sin and 50% suffering, just like equal parts of, ‘Hey, we were internally corrupted, and the world around us is cursed and broken, and that makes life harder.’ And in our tradition, I think that is needed.

I think another word that I would say, in terms of when you’re receiving a story, is go slow. Like, honor the courage when somebody says to you, ‘this is the first time I’ve talked about this.’ Like that…there should be a speed limit sign with that statement that just says, ‘slow down your own precious ground’. That’s where, like Psalm 23. I think my favorite verb in Psalm 23 is ‘walk’ as it talks about a place called the valley of the shadow of death. It says our Shepherd will walk with us through that kind of terrain. That’s a very patient term. If I’m trying to get sheep through a place that’s dangerous, I want them to skedaddle. I mean, we’re going to move at a pace that it’s more about my sense of security than the pace of the sheep. If we are an ambassador for the Good Shepherd, we need to move at the pace of the person that we have the privilege to walk with. Some other things that that I have learned through the years of doing this kind of work, we need to understand the importance of jurisdictions. That’s not a term that gets used a lot in church circles. But abuse care requires a lot of jurisdictions that churches don’t have. So just for instance, if you become aware of a home situation where a child is being abused, and as a church, you’re right, this child is being abused. And you take that child out of the home against the parents’ wishes, because it’s for the good of the child. Do you know what that’s called? Kidnapping. But we don’t have the jurisdiction to get to do that. With abuse, you may need the jurisdiction of a restraining order. Well, that doesn’t belong to CPS, it belongs to law enforcement. That if somebody’s being perpetually harassed, and there needs to be a legal standing in the way of saying you don’t get to do that anymore. As a church, we can tell you like if you keep doing that, we’re gonna revoke your church membership. But there’s no teeth to that. There’s the jurisdiction of being able to represent in a court of law as an expert witness. That, that as pastors as ministers, in a court of law, all we are is character witnesses. But the licensed counselor, they have a standing in that setting that we don’t. And so when we understand jurisdictions, we start to see our Romans 13 neighbors in helping, as allies who aren’t competing with us, they’re doing complementing work, that we don’t have the jurisdiction to do. And I mentioned being in a parachurch setting, when I was just a counselor, my limits were clearer. When you get in a church, and you want to do everything for this person that can possibly be done. I think the temptation to do things outside of our jurisdiction, with good motive and with bad, becomes greater. So yeah, in that setting, I got to work with social workers, law enforcement attorneys, child specialist and get a sense for what are the unique contributions that they play, that I would have a very hard time doing as a ministry based counselor. And I mentioned the Church Cares project earlier – a big part of that project was when I was thinking through who who needs to be on that team. I tried to pull somebody from each sphere that I was just alluding to, that, that they could be represented in that project. And ministry leaders could hear from people in each of those spheres, when they weren’t in the middle of a crisis, to get a sense of what good valuable things can people from these other jurisdictions contribute to the redemptive care we want to provide as a church.

Ann Maree
And so just going backwards, this is why I love to talk to you, Brad. I mean, you pull out one word that explodes in my mind of ‘oh my gosh’, the way that all entails and the immediacy of the experience of abuse, like jurisdiction to saying that one word, oh, my goodness, you have such important words to say to the church, thank you for articulating so well.

Brad
And jurisdiction isn’t a rival to sufficiency. Like as we talk about the utility and the usefulness of Scripture, jurisdiction is a different category. Who in our culture has the right to do certain things that need to be done? And, again, I think when we get that, if we honor jurisdictions, we’re not insulting our Bible. We’re actually honoring Romans 13, as the prism through which God would have us think about these other jurisdictions.

Ann Maree
And lets the church be the church. And be the shepherds that they are called to be. So that’s excellent. So thinking about Michelle’s story, without a doubt, what she shared with us it was very hard to hear. And it was very uncomfortable. And you mentioned patience with hearing stories. That’s also a very good reminder conviction for us as counselors, but it may, – things like that, and it happens with me – It may even bring on triggers from our own experiences. So talk to me about, what does it look like to allow time for messy or theologically incorrect in those relationships?

Brad
I’ll start on the side of ‘messy’, and then we’ll kind of journey towards ‘theologically incorrect’. Premist thought for me, when somebody shares with me a story of abuse, they’re showing remarkable courage. They don’t feel courageous. They feel scared to death, weak, small, vulnerable. As we said a moment ago, that should impact our pacing. When somebody shares their story of being abused, it’s often very staccato. Like it, it doesn’t have a melody. It’s not narratively linear. Some of that’s just the way that traumatic experiences imprint and the way that we remember them. Some is the chaos in which they lived that experience. And so one of the things that I’m looking for as a temperature gauge in the room, ‘Is this person comfortable with me yet?’ Like, if I, if I’m just asking like, ‘Hey, am I tracking with you? Like, would this be a fair way to capture what you just said?’ Not only am I looking for an affirmation that I understand their situation correctly, in getting any clarification that I may need. I’m also engaging their emotional barometer. If it still feels like things are running really fast for them, that’s not the time to start trying to do directive or like correcting something theological or giving, like next steps for what needs to happen. And at some level, we all get this intuitively. You know, any of your listeners, if their parents and your kids come running in because they just had a bad bad nightmare, and they’re trying to tell you about that. The first thing you do as a parent is just like, ‘slow down, slow down, it’s okay.’ And there’s this intuitive sense, that if I start trying to show them that nothing’s wrong, and this is safe, out there sped up… and it is not going to stick. Because when things are emotionally frothy, in our own mind and heart, the stickiness that we have for anything that’s coming after that is just not there. And it can be really easy for that counselee who just wasn’t emotionally ready for where we were getting ready to go, to be seen as non-cooperative or not committed to the counseling process, when they just weren’t ready for that yet. This is one prown talk in the pastoral or biblical counseling tradition. I think we tend to view counseling and teaching as mere synonyms. And teaching is part of counseling. But I think counseling is a much bigger word. Like counseling is a larger circle. Teaching is a smaller circle within that circle. That building rapport and trust. Helping somebody see that their choices can make a difference in their life. There’s a little bit of teaching involved in just helping somebody differentiate like what am I responsible for and what am I not? What is it that I did and what is it that was done to me? You know, if you will, teaching is about helping someone determine the right answers to a question. Counseling is about helping someone get to the right place with a struggle. Teaching is educational. Counseling is more journey. David Powlison, somebody who passed away in the last few years but was a counseling hero to me. There was a statement that he made in a little book he wrote on sanctification. I’m paraphrasing, maybe more than quoting here, but I do think I’m getting the gist of it right. He said, ‘theology balances truth, for the sake of accuracy, but counseling imbalances truth, for the sake of effectiveness.’ And that’s one where if we just have pastoral instincts, we don’t want to say anything to anyone that we couldn’t say to everyone. Because pastors think in terms of a flock, because they know their sheep talk to one another. Counselors think in terms of clients, and they don’t assume their clients are talking to one or another. And so, if they’re talking with a prideful counselee, they’re fine putting the emphasis on humility. But if they’re talking to a really insecure counselee, they may switch up and place the emphasis on your identity in Christ and the confidence that that can bring. And if you listen to those two sessions, truth was imbalanced to serve the person in front of them. If the same counselor was giving a lecture on the implications of our identity in Christ, they would look to harmonize those in a more systematic way. Well, when we are counseling, particularly abuse, no two cases are the same. Yeah, that’s the hardest thing about creating protocols for carrying well in abusive situations. It assumes that the word abuse is talking about a particular thing. You know, abuse is much more a word like ice cream that comes in all different flavors, or a word like dog that covers everything from like Poodle, to a Great Dane. That’s where as we get into walking with someone who is going through an abusive situation, we want to honor where they’re at on their journey. And there’s gonna be lots of things that get said that we could go, you know, I could probably theologically clarify that. The question I try to ask myself is, ‘Is this next for this person?’ If we line up the dominoes of the most important things that need to happen, or be understood in the life of this person, is that theologically incorrect thing, is it next for them, or is it just clearer for me? Because sometimes as pastor types, we default to what is theologically incorrect, because that’s our strong suit. And we’re listening to this story that we don’t exactly know everything to do with what’s going on. And so we start listening for the thing that we know something about, instead of listening for the thing that is next for this person. And so we gravitate towards those things, because it is our area of familiarity. Not because it’s next for this person in their journey. And if, you know, my guiding motif for counseling is less teacher and more ambassador. I want to represent God’s heart and God’s agenda to this person in the season of life that I get the opportunity to come alongside of them. Well, that sense of, ‘What would God put His next for this person?’ That that is more of an ambassador mindset than just, ‘Did I hear something that I can clarify and make their theology more balanced and accurate?’

Ann Maree
Have you ever considered writing a biblical counseling book of definitions?

Brad
Oh, I struggle with definitions. Like I, I am much more of a concepts person than I am a words person. And honestly, that will be the kind of thing that may annoy your listeners here, is like rarely will I use, like say the same thing the same way twice. Because I’m, I’m talking through a concept more than, like, – definitions often get leveraged against people. And it’s like, Ah, this doesn’t meet the criteria of this definition. Therefore, it can’t be blank. And especially with something as diverse and fluid as abuse. I, I greatly see the value of definitions. But I’m also hesitant for how they might get, how they might get leveraged against somebody.

Ann Maree
Yeah, good point. I am though very glad that you have, I have you on tape articulating David’s quote, and explaining it further, because in biblical counseling, there are a lot of pastors or pastor types – some of us have gone to seminary – and you’re exactly dead on – that’s our go-to that theology and broad, you know, making sure everybody hears everything that they need to hear, and so to be person focused in our counseling, I think it’s so helpful to hear that articulated and that we would take that to heart into our counseling room, you know, and pay attention to that person in front of us very carefully. What is it they need right now? I do find myself now asking that question a little bit more frequently of what do they first need to hear. Because you’re right, I’m thinking of a case that I just took in an intake yesterday, and I wrote down all of the theologically incorrect perspectives that I knew would be helpful for her to hear truth. But when I looked at my list, as I was thinking of speaking back, after she told me her story, I looked at it and I went, ‘Hmmm, but what does she need to hear?’ So I hope that’s not diminishing what David said or and what you said as well.

Brad
Because if you just think of phases of abuse and trauma care, generally accepted practice; Phase One is establishing safety and stability. Being in a context where there is more predictability, and I can rightly name like, what are the experiences of what’s going wrong? Then Phase Two is, how do you work with the belief and meaning-making components if I don’t have some stability, and I don’t have the ability to name what’s going on to do that meaning-making work – which is theologically where we tend to go – it’s not the environment to do that. It’s like trying to take somebody through rehab of walking after a major injury on roller skates. It just that the footing isn’t there for it. And then Phase Three is reconnecting with life and relationships and kind of the practical parts of how do we, how do we engage well, and so yes, that that’s a long-winded way of just agreeing and reinforcing what you just said.

Ann Maree
No, that’s good. And we will have that included in the transcript. You can see it visually, the three phases. Very good. I’m just changing the tone slightly here in our conversation, I’m going to, I’m going to cue up a section of the story that Michelle told and it was one of the more difficult things that you can hear her voice was hard. So I’m gonna play this and then I’m going to ask you a question.

Michelle recording
“So over the next few days, there was, I believe, a conversation by phone with his counselor, but that was about it. I continue to try to talk to the girls from time to time to assure them if they ever needed to talk, I was there. But we were given advice by the counselor not to make too big of a deal of it. And to this day, when I look back, that is probably some of the deepest regret and shame I carry from all those years of just not advocating for my children. And in this case, particularly for my girls, for not speaking up to defend them, for being more afraid of making him angry or disappointing other people in my life rather than protecting them. And it’s something that I think about almost every day. And something that I’ve asked both to forgive me for just not having that courage that I needed at that time, and they’ve been so gracious to do that. But I know that it impacted them deeply. And years later, the trauma, the fear, the emotional exhaustion would catch up with all of my children in one way or another but particularly my girls. So I was not the only one who paid a price for the deceit or the sexual deviance and the abuses as he continued to place blame everywhere else, but himself.”

Ann Maree
So, what I’d like to interact with you on is something from your book where you write that no one would ever imagine themselves, your book Making Sense of Forgiveness. Right? No one would ever imagine themselves protecting a wrongdoer. And you hear that in Michelle’s words, can you help us understand that emotional tension?

Brad
I appreciate Michelle’s courage and sharing where she’s at at this point in her journey. And these are the kinds of things that – one of the impacts of abuse is it radically limits your number of good choices, and expands the number of bad choices in front of you. And so sometimes you feel like you get a multiple choice test in life where there’s only wrong answers, and you’re trying to pick the least wrong answer from the ones in front of you. And that’s, that is part of the effect of abuse, we wind up living with so many lose-lose scenarios in front of us. I’ll talk a little bit about emotions here to kind of walk us into maybe the kinds of things that that I would want Michelle to hear. Oftentimes, we, not just in the church, outside the church, we have a very fairly limited emotional sorting system. But we kind of divide our emotions, like we divide our laundry. Usually in laundry, we got two piles, we have those with color, those without, and we know we need to keep those separate. In our emotional world, we have pleasant emotions, those are the ones that we like, and we have unpleasant emotions, those are the ones that we don’t like. And okay, that is a fairly basic sorting system. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when we get to where Michelle is in her journey, right now, if we lump together all unpleasant emotions, then the category that we tend to use, particularly as Christians, to explain those and figure out what we do with them is guilt. We start to feel bad for feeling bad. You know, when when I hear Michelle tell this part of her story, there’s a part of that where her going to her kids and helping them understand. ‘Hey, you were small. You were vulnerable. You couldn’t protect yourself. I was scared. I was in a hard spot. I see I should have done more. I want to have done more. It is okay and right for you to be hurt by the limited actions I took.’ Okay, that, like we don’t want to be heavy with that. But in their, in her kids understanding their world, that’s part of understanding the world well. At the point where Michelle sees that and she owns that, she’s forgiven. What I would probably hear her wrestling with now is a form of grief more than guilt. But if we’re not separating guilt and grief, like this is regret. Like what I’m lingering with now is not something unforgiven. It’s something I wish was different. And there is comfort for that. That of recognizing abuse puts us in those lose-lose situations. She was scared. She was overwhelmed. Life was moving fast. She had trusted voices telling her things that she was doing what those things that she could do and had access to. So yeah, you want to help your kids understand their world and what legitimate expectations of them navigating that was. But if we take and we leave regret in the category of guilt, and as long as we still feel regret as long as we have, this sense of grief for what happened, we keep beating ourselves up with guilt, then that’s, that becomes a false guilt. There is more freedom for us than that. And, you know, this is one that when you look at the systems that emerge in abuse, they’re not as simple as we want them to be. That when we’re spouse and parent, and there’s kids, and we’re it, of giving ourselves some emotional freedom that there’s okay, there’s, there’s no way I was going to move through that and not have some things that I needed to come to my kids. And say, ‘I should have done that differently. But I didn’t know. I was frantically looking for what needed to happen and find it. I made the best choices I could based on the best advice available to me, and I’ve learned some things now that I wish I’d known then. Because if I knew them, now, I would have done some things differently.’

And that’s where, like, the first time that gets said, it doesn’t need to be between Michelle and her kids. Like to, to process that and go, ‘What exactly is it that I’m saying?’ And for her to have a trusted resource – I mean, this is one where we talked about – you go at the pace of the person. This is not early in the counseling conversation. Like early meetings topic. But a big part of what we’re doing on the backside of abuse care, I mean, to put a fancy word on it is responsibility allocation. That’s one of those things that gets really distorted in an abusive environment. Who’s responsible for what? She was in no way responsible for the abuse. She wasn’t responsible for the bad advice she was given. Her kids need to understand that there were things that happened that they weren’t responsible for, and still in that mother role, helping that be navigated, because there’s layers of people that are trying to make sense of these toxic environments at the same time. And so, there, those are real emotional tensions. And hopefully, this is an example where we see that rushing to the right answer, even if it’s the right answer, does it serve people well? You know, in the Proverbs, I forget the exact address on the proverb, but it says, ‘a word fitly spoken is like an apple of gold in a setting of silver.’ That ‘aptly spoken’ is timely to where someone is on their journey. And so this is one that you probably hear me wrestling with it as I say it, because I know you’ve got listeners who are at all different places on their journey, and part of this could sit really heavy of like, ‘ah, it would crush me to make that statement right now.’ Right, that that’s a really good indication, you’re not ready for that. That’s not next. That aspect of responsibility allocation work and what it’s like to, for you to help those who are dependent upon you in this situation, to make sense of their word, well, we’ll get to that. In the same way that I would advise those caring for you not to rush you. To that listener, I would say you don’t rush you. Like, give yourself that same patient grace that God gives to His children as He walked with us through complicated situations like this.

Ann Maree
That is all very important, I think for victims and survivors to hear. Yeah. So moving on to an article that Michelle read, during this time, this most difficult time that you had written on Romans 8:28. In that article, you exegete that verse in context. So for instance, in 8:26, Romans 8:26, scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. Michelle, in the segment, is feeling the weight not only for herself, but also for her children. So Brad, maybe can you tell us more about God’s message in this verse, and now we’re speaking just directly to the sufferer?

Brad
Yeah. And, you know, Romans 8:28, it can be one of those cringe verses when you’re going through suffering. And I think part of the reason is not because it’s not true. But because it’s so microwaves our experience. It fast-forwards what we can and should do with what we’re going through. And a category I tried to use for passages like this is Romans 8:28, is an end-of-the-journey perspective. That most of the Bible is written with an end-of-the-journey perspective. You know, we get the first five books of the Old Testament, after Moses has seen the children of Israel go into the Promised Land, they’re out of Egypt, all of that happened. We get Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John on the other side of the resurrection. The book of Acts is written as the church is already going to the ends of the earth. And so sometimes when we, when we read Scripture, we can falsely get the assumption that God expects us to have an end-of-the-journey perspective in the middle of our journey. And when you read the people – like about what’s going on, like – God didn’t rush them. That’s why His people are so messy and clumsy throughout the Bible – now we’re getting it narrated from an end-of-the-journey perspective – but we see the clumsiness throughout the way. It’s one of the reasons I like the Psalms, especially the Psalms of lament – they are words given to us for middle-of-the-journey moments. But if we’re coming back to Romans 8 and saying, ‘okay, verse 28, it’s the rearview mirror perspective on what happened, that there’s a sense of promise that at some point, we will be able to look back and say God did some good things in this hard situation. It doesn’t have to say we call the bad situation good, that would be lying. We don’t have to say that the good that God did was better, like weightier than the bad we went through. I don’t see any comparative words in that passage where we’re trying to weigh, you know, that there was three tonnes of pain that means there has to be at least 3.1 tonnes of something else as if you could emotionally quantify pain and enjoy that way. But we do see Paul being very tender. He talks about exhaustion. He talks about confusion. He talks about getting to that point that in the midst of our suffering, we don’t even know what we would want to pray, if we still had the hope to pray. And that’s where he is ministering tenderly and patiently and that part that you referenced of verse 26, he’s like, when you, when you are staring blankly into heaven with your mouth open, dazed and confused, not even your silence can be silent before God. That’s being translated by the Spirit who knows you perfectly to the Father who loves you deeply, that even that angst that is too deep for words. You’re known. You’re seen. Like, sometimes we we rush over if you go back to Exodus, where God shows up to Moses in the burning bush. And we think it’s basically just poetry. What’s God saying right there off the bat to Moses. But the first words out of God’s mouth is, ‘I want you to know and I want my people to know, I’ve seen your suffering. I’ve heard your cries. I know what you’re going through.’ Like where God begins is, ‘You’re not unknown. You’re not unseen. I know it feels that way.’ Like we… He wasn’t correcting them of like, ‘How dare you say I didn’t see what was going on? How dare you think that I didn’t listen to your prayers?’ No, those are words of compassion. That there’s no way to go through something this hard and doubt not to emerge. Let me not start by telling you what I’m about to do. Let me start by comforting that part of your experience and that’s where when we get the opportunity to come alongside of somebody who’s trusting us with their story, like some of those early fears is, ‘If I told this to somebody, would they just utterly reject me? Would they condemn me? Would this make me so other that I would have no place?’ And just the warmth and compassion, I’m saying thank you for trusting me with your story. I appreciate the courage of what you’re doing. I’m not sure what the next steps are, but the step of talking to somebody who can help you in that that that was an excellent next step for you to have taken. I know you’re confused, scared, second-guessing everything that you’re doing right now. What you’re doing is good and right, and shows courage. That’s the tone of everything that Paul does from like, verse 23 to 27. And, by God’s grace, when we get to the end of a counseling session, and we’re looking back over the journey that we walk, we’ll get to look back in the rearview mirror and see some of that 28 stuff. We just don’t have to microwave it, and force it in the early sessions.

Ann Maree
That’s a good visual. Okay, back to your book on forgiveness. In it you mentioned five things forgiveness is not. Forgiveness was one of the topics that Michelle brought up as something that was a new learning for her in the situation. But out of that, out of the five things forgiveness is not what would you say, which ones are the ones that are most important for our discussion and why.

Brad
There’s probably two that come to mind. One is we often treat forgiveness and restoration as if they’re absolute synonyms. And I think it’s probably more helpful to think of the relationship between forgiveness and restoration like – if you remember geometry class, the relationship between squares and rectangles. All squares are rectangles, not all rectangles are squares. And if you go back and remember the formula is like both squares and rectangles have right angles, four sides, 90 degrees each. And so that’s why we can say all squares are rectangles, but a little something gets else gets added with a square and all the sides have the same length. So when we talk about forgiveness and restoration, all restoration begins with forgiveness. Not all forgiveness, necessarily trust in restoration. So maybe using another metaphor, another picture for forgiveness. Forgiveness is canceling a debt. Canceling a debt is different from giving another loan or going into business together again. I can very faithfully do one, I may or may not choose to do the others. And this is where another concept that I tried to emphasize there. Trust is a proportional virtue. That you’ve got absolute virtues like honesty. You know, we should always be honest, I mean, when do the Cori Ten Boom thing and Hiding Place and we’re not getting into whether you tell your kids about Santa Claus or not like those things are relatively superfluous. Not Cori Ten Boom, that’s extreme circumstance. But like, honesty is one of those things we go, ‘we should always be honest.’ I don’t think we should… we should always be trusting. Like when trust exceeds somebody’s trustworthiness, we have a word for that. Actually, I have several, like naive or gullible of which Jesus was neither. An interesting study would be to read through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and look at how Jesus interacted with people who meant Him harm. He was not naive and gullible. Maybe a classic example of that is John 2:25. Had some people there with nefarious intentions. It says, ‘He did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew their hearts.’ What we find is Jesus wasn’t naive. He was more than willing to forgive. But that relationship was not going to be restored unless that person was meeting with repentance, the offer of forgiveness that was there. And so I think the one piece would be of what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not necessarily restoration. A second that forgiveness is not… forgiveness is not saying, ‘I’m okay.’ Forgiveness is not saying things are all better. I tried to coin phrases to make things memorable. One thing that that I say in that part of the book is, ‘forgiveness is what allows us to express hurt is hurt, instead of hurt is anger.’ A great way to tell whether someone is a safe person is when you do that which forgiveness allows you to do. Which is to express hurt as hurt. Do they respond with appreciation to your vulnerability? Or do they respond with aggression, as if you still hurting is an offense to them? If somebody is responding to hurt expressed as hurt, with defensiveness, anger or aggression, then that’s a time when forgiveness isn’t ready to express itself as restoration. I want the internal emotional freedom that comes with releasing bitterness, not accepting false guilt, the kinds of things that forgiveness can do in me, that gives me greater freedom from what happened. But if they’re responding to an expression of hurt as hurt with aggression, that work of restoration isn’t next. And so that’s where sometimes forgiveness gets held over people in abusive relationships. As if, ‘If you don’t just respond to whatever I did, like nothing ever happened, then you’re not being forgiving.’ When I read the four Gospels, Jesus didn’t play grace-based checkers when other people were playing abusive chess. He was not naive. Galatians 6, God is not mocked. He has not fooled. Nobody hoodwinks Jesus. And so us being Christ-like doesn’t mean we have to play by the rules of those weighted scales.

Ann Maree
Your information on forgiveness is just rich. And I have to confess I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m in seminary, so I haven’t been assigned the book. I haven’t read the book.

Brad
I know life by syllabus living. I fully appreciate that.

Ann Maree
But as you’re talking, I’m thinking, I know it’s in my husband’s office, I’m gonna go get it. Anyway, just a little bit more on forgiveness, what is the most important thing we need to know about it, especially as it relates to abuse or anything else you want to say about it?

Brad
You know, one, don’t rush it. This is one where just because something is commanded, doesn’t mean it’s next. That something can be essential, and not be next. And oftentimes, when, as, as Christians, as pastors, as biblical counselors, we get so excited about forgiveness. And it’s one of those places that we can go to in because we know it’s right, if we’re not sure what to do next, we just moved to the next right thing. And that, that moves it up the line of dominoes more than it needs to be. You know, one thing for us to realize is the Bible has as many commands for the abuser, as for the abused. Things like, don’t be harsh. Take your sins seriously. Oftentimes in the helping role, the person who’s abused is more compliant. The person who is abusive is either not present, or a bit cantankerous. And so we can gravitate towards where we can get traction. And this is one of the reasons why – if I could give a word to pastors here – if you’ve got a situation that is abusive, it is much better to take a season to counsel those two individuals separately, than to always work with them together because of that gravitational pull of who’s going to be more compliant in the way that it disproportionately puts the emphasis on directives for the oppressed individual, more than the oppressor. And until the oppressor is taking their oppressive actions more seriously, then this person is still in active harm. And to begin to say, ‘You need to do what you need to do in response to having been harmed while still being harmed.’ That doesn’t make a lot of sense. You know, maybe another way as we can think of forgiveness and abuse cases, like restoration in church discipline, you know, church membership is also a covenant, like marriage. And the church often decides that the character of a member is such that breaking covenant with them, is the most God honoring thing to do. And it’s actually we would say, not the church breaking covenant with the individual, we’re just acknowledging that that has been done by the person under discipline. And church discipline doesn’t show an unwillingness of the church to be forgiven. It shows an unwillingness to cheapen forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t saying, ‘That’s okay. Let’s just keep the peace. Let’s do the status quo because that’s easier.’ Forgiveness says Christ died for the wrong things that we did. And we’ll respond to them with that weight. And if we’re not, we will not dishonor the blood of Christ by cheapening something as an inadequate response that ought to be given. And that’s one for like, even those with more pastoral instincts when they place it in that category of church discipline, they begin to go, ‘Okay, if we, if we’ve done this as a church, we, we know how people under discipline throws everything back on the church. You’re just being unreasonable. You’re being legalistic, you’re being perfectionistic, your standards are too high.’ And it’s not that those things can’t happen. But even when the church doesn’t do those things, we still get accused of it. And even when that abuse victim is not having too high expectations, they still get accused of it. And this is one where it’s often so much easier – if we want to go by gender prevalencee and statistics – for pastors to identify with the abuser because they’re male, instead of identifying with the victim. But the church discipline metaphor says, ‘Okay, wait a second, we’re the one willing to forgive, but the other person isn’t doing what it would take to see that relationship restored. And it would actually be wrong of us, even in a covenant relationship, like church membership, to compromise the standards of what this relationship needs to look like. I get where this person is coming from more.’ And that’s one that, one there should be some women involved in the process, that it doesn’t need to be a male only process. But for the pastor who’s trying to wrap their mind around, ‘like how… what is an experience that I would have had in ministry that helps me get where this victim is coming from’, I think that one can be helpful.

Ann Maree
Brad, I just so very much appreciate – I feel like I’m in my advanced class of counseling for the last hour or so – and appreciate everything I’m learning from you. And I think our audience will just be so very blessed as well, both the victims of abuse, survivors, and also our church leadership. I’m excited to broadcast this and get it out there.

Brad
Thank you for being a voice for those that have a hard time finding a voice. I just want to say thank you to Michelle. The number of people that will hear what she shared and draw some courage from that. To be able to reach out and go, ‘Maybe I will be believed, maybe I will be cared for.’ That’s huge. And so you creating the platform for that and people having the courage with their stories, that’s just remarkable. Thank you.

Ann Maree
Yeah, somebody asked me what gets me up in the morning and that is what gets me up in the morning – is to be able to give a place for somebody’s voice. Well, again, such good material.

Thank you for joining us to the audience. I hope you will be with us for the next episode, which will be Michelle. And she and I will speak about, one more time, just some of the ways God met her in her circumstances and some of the many thoughts and feelings she had to mediate during that time. So make sure to join us again on July 11th, on the Safe to Hope podcast.

If you want to know more about domestic abuse, we suggest going to Called to Peace.org. Several of Brad’s resources will be listed in our show notes, including the Church Cares program, and Making Sense of Forgiveness: Moving from Hurt toward Hope. We will also provide links for the resources Brad listed in his episode. Darby Strickland’s book, Is It Abuse?, is excellent for both victims and church leaders for finding and identifying the patterns of abuse. In addition, Dr. Jeremy Pierre and Dr. Greg Wilson’s book, When Home Hurts is particularly helpful for church leaders.

[closing]

Safe to Hope is a production of HelpHer. Our Executive Producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe To Hope podcast series.

Safe To Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of HelpHer, a 501C3 that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for HelpHer to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax-deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to help her resources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals, or advocacy needs, go to help her resources.com That’s help her resources.com

[disclaimer]
We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of HelpHer. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.

Brad Hambrick mentioned include the Church Cares program, and Making Sense of Forgiveness: Moving from Hurt toward Hope. and God’s Attributes: Rest For Life’s Struggles

To learn more about domestic abuse, go to Called to Peace.org.

Darby Strickland’s book, Is It Abuse?

Dr. Jeremy Pierre and Dr. Greg Wilson’s book When Home Hurts is particularly helpful for church leaders.

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