I wrote this article in 2009. I had been struggling to find anything in my church’s resources that resonated with how I felt and experienced abuse. There were many resources that talked about it and condemned it, but I wanted more than that. I wanted to understand the multitude of feelings I felt, from love, hate, hope, desolation, anger, forgiveness, self-abhorrence,and so on. I found it in The Book of Mormon and it felt like such a miracle and mercy to feel connected to another who experienced abuse. Abuse is isolating and feels more so when we hide it and do not talk about it. Being willing to write or talk about has helped to heal my wounded soul. There are so many more resources now that connect better, but I wanted to share this again.
My Misery & Shame Confessed
As I left my bishop’s office with tears still running down my face, I felt strangely relieved. After years of enduring abusive behavior in my marriage, I had finally confessed my misery and shame. My relief stemmed from finally being honest about my life, my unhappiness, and the disastrous state of my marriage.
Abuse occurs in many forms and from different sources. Abuse by a family member is filled with complexities and gray areas. I was a woman who always said that if I was ever physically abused, then that was the end of it. I loved my husband deeply and I had made covenants that I couldn’t simply walk away from without tremendous consideration. Most of all, I had a testimony of the Atonement and knew that my husband could change through Christ, so I endured in silence for a long time, hoping and praying for that change to occur. I also found ways to justify his behavior and blame myself for the things I’d done to anger him.
After counseling with my bishop, he asked me to begin doing a few things, one of which was to immerse myself in the scriptures. I grew up loving the scriptures and studying them daily. As my marriage deteriorated, it became increasingly difficult to pray and do my scripture study as I knew I should. Despair and self-abhorrence weighed heavily upon me and impacted all areas of my life. My testimony of Jesus Christ never wavered and my covenants remained sacred to me, but I found it difficult to draw near unto my Savior. I was desperate and committed to doing anything I was asked in the hope of saving my marriage. As I began a new study of the Book of Mormon, I was skeptical of finding much applicable to the problems in my marriage. I had read the Book of Mormon well over a dozen times, many of those times during my marriage. I couldn’t think what I would be able to liken to my struggles.
A New Perspective
After reading the first of chapter of Nephi, I realized how unwarranted my skepticism was. I discovered new things right away. Nephi gives an account of the struggles he and his family faced in their journey to the promised land (1 Nephi 17:6). I suddenly saw Nephi in a completely new light. Nephi endured an abusive relationship at the hands of Laman and Lemuel. He not only endured, but was ultimately delivered. Nephi declares this as part of the purpose for giving this account saying,
“I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”(1 Nephi 1:20)
With this realization, I eagerly and earnestly began studying Nephi to learn how he responded to his abuse and how he in turn treated his brothers. I gained a new perspective on my situation. Nephi was a prophet of the Lord. He was obedient to every commandment from God no matter how difficult (1 Nephi 3:7). Yet, the Lord allowed even him to be sorely abused (1 Nephi 3:28, 7:16, 16:38, 17:48, 18:11). I knew that I wasn’t anywhere near to being the type of person Nephi was, so what did I have to murmur about with my situation? I couldn’t help but wonder, “If Nephi was allowed to be abused, then why not me?”
I discovered so many parallels and answers from Nephi’s journey through the wilderness and across the sea to my life. Nephi was facing enough challenges of feeding his family, building a boat, sailing the ocean, why did the Lord additionally allow the challenges with his brothers? First, Laman and Lemuel had agency, though they saw miracle after miracle, they still chose a different path. The Lord was able to preserve Nephi’s life through several miracles, but he could only do so by preserving the agency of the unjust as well as the just. Nephi explains this by saying,
“And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel did take me and bind me with cords, that they did treat me with much harshness; nevertheless, the Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of his word which he had spoken concerning the wicked.”(1 Nephi 18:11 italics added)
What’s not said, but became clear to me, is that the Lord suffered it that he might show forth his power concerning the righteous as well. When it was all said and done, Nephi was delivered by faith and through the power of God time and again.
Bound & Chained – a Link at a Time
The descriptions of being bound or chained in the Book of Mormon resonated so strongly with how I felt by being abused. Abuse begins carefully and a link at a time. In familial situations, the chains can be complex since there are feelings of love and wanting to please your abuser competing with hurt and anger. Hopelessness and desolation increased as more links were added to the chains. As the chains tightened and increased around me, it was often enticing to consider completely succumbing to the weight of my despair. I always marveled that Nephi was able to praise God through being bound for 4 days on the ship and after his release. Nephi knew his agency was unbounded if physically he was restrained. He chose faith and devotion to his Redeemer.
The Psalm of Nephi or 2 Nephi 4 has always been a favorite of mine, but my understanding of what Nephi felt and why have mended my heart more fully to his words. Nephi achingly describes his struggle with anger. That was my sin that so easily beset me in my marriage. When we give place to anger in our hearts, we cannot rejoice and our souls literally droop in sin. Being abused or even witnessing abuse can create so much anger in a heart. Anger, once it secures a stronghold, will spread its poison throughout the soul and out toward others and even to those who are innocent. Satan is then able to entangle a victim in an awful snare. He is so cunning that the anger doesn’t always feel wrong and can often lead us to behave as badly as our abuser.
A Miracle That is Sweet
That is the great of example of Nephi. He struggled with the natural feeling of retribution and anger. He had been shown a better way, though. He knew that he had to cling to the word of God and his knowledge of Christ. He followed the example of Christ in praying for those who had abused and despitefully used him. Nephi knew despair and heartache, but more importantly, he knew in whom he could trust for redemption and joy.
Nephi forgave his brothers every time they asked for it (1 Nephi 7:20-21). He continually prayed, hoped, and exhorted them to find redemption (1 Nephi 15:25, 16:5, 17:47). Eventually, when the time was right, Nephi and his family were commanded to separate themselves from those who would harm them.
Ultimately, it was for the preservation of their children. I found this to be my answer as well. However, I continue to pray with real fervor and concern for my former husband. By doing so, Christ has cleared my heart of anger and filled it with charity and a spirit of forgiveness. Partaking of this miracle is sweet above all that is sweet and most desirable in finding joy (1 Nephi 8:11, 11:22,23).
Watched Over, Protected, Guided
I was granted a view of my husband from the Lord’s perspective which has helped my soul to further be healed. Christ set the ultimate example of pleading for forgiveness for those who abused and crucified him while he still hung on the cross in agony. Though, I couldn’t see it at the time, mostly because I would not lift my eyes and look, my Savior was mindful of me through the entirety of my trials. I prayed and fasted often for my marriage to improve, for me to be a better wife, for my husband to be slower to anger. My situation only seemed to worsen and I thought it was due to my lack of faith and unworthiness.
Once I was freed from the chains of abuse and anger, my eyes were opened to see that I was truly watched, protected, and guided through my journey. My testimony of my Savior and His gospel have grown tremendously now. I actually am able to feel grateful for my sorrows for they have brought me so near to my Redeemer and led me to further understanding of this miraculous plan of happiness. I feel to praise my Lord all the day long that he led me to safety. I can testify that the pleasing word of God truly heals the wounded soul (Jacob 2:8) and leads us to the encircling arms of love of Jesus Christ.