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What Does It Take?

Whether or not you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, we all need awareness of how to help those in need around us Kathleen MacInnis Kichline shares her learning.


What Does It Take?

By Kathleen MacInnis Kichline

“What does it take for someone to break out of an oppressive – possibly even an abusive situation?” Deeply troubled, I blurted out my confusion to my friend, Dianne, as we walked.

The previous night, a close friend had confided to each of us about the abuse she was experiencing in her relationship. Uncertain of what to do, I looked to Dianne as someone who had often helped me in the past. She paused. With a slight smile and sad eyes, she said, “I have found it takes three things. It is an act of great moral courage, precipitated by grace, and usually enabled by another.”

Her words, though spontaneous, bore truth beyond our knowing in that moment. Since then I have seen Diane’s wisdom borne out with remarkable accuracy during my years of active church ministry and within my circle of personal connections. Her insight helped me recognize patterns, pray more effectively, and respond with compassion as I encountered such situations.

I have learned to never underestimate the great moral courage that it takes to break free, to do differently, to take the risk necessary—whatever it is that this act will require. It is courage to leave the known when what you know is not good. It takes courage to put at risk not only yourself, but your reputation, your future and sometimes even your children. The person who acts with that courage deserves our undying respect. Naming it as courage helps us to recognize the heroic nature of the person, as opposed to seeing a victim. When we honor that courage, we also free people to see themselves differently and give them a sense of their own autonomy and strength.

In that act of courage, I recognize the grace of God, whether the person in that situation knows or believes that to be so. The moment of truth may not come until the 47th time something happens when suddenly something is different. Max Lucado writes, “Grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off.” Often it is only recognized and named as God’s grace with the perspective of hindsight. If we get to be a part of that naming, we rejoice. But even if we were not there for that moment of recognition, we can give thanks for the grace of a new direction.

Why is this saving action “usually enabled by another”? Perhaps because, as we have been told from the beginning, it is not good for us to be alone. God often chooses to act in our lives through the influence and agency of other people. The role of that “other” may be active and immediate, as in physically assisting, consistently encouraging, or offering advice and information, the number to call, a ride to the shelter. Or the “other” may be remote, as in remembered advice or an example that inspired. This can go as far back as the childhood memory of a grandparent or teacher. It can even be from an outside source rather than a personal connection. Women who never met Maya Angelou still find their own courage and grace in the pages of her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which chronicles her own trauma as a child.

We don’t know the influence of our words and actions. We don’t know the scope of our prayers. We don’t know God’s timing, nor the breadth of God’s compassion.

We do know that we are part of a larger whole, that we are here to serve God’s purpose in a pattern of interconnection beyond our awareness. We can stay the course, faithful in prayer, focused on God’s great desire to make us whole. The abundant life for which Christ came is intended for all, especially those most in need. When we live with that awareness, speak it aloud, and return to it in times of trial, we contribute toward bringing about God’s purpose in the lives of those we touch.

Kathleen MacInnis Kichline finds the stories of women in Scripture both fascinating and relevant to our lives as women today. “What does it take?” is just one of the questions she uses to explore the women in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus in her newest book, Why These Women? Four Stories You Need to Read Before You Read the Story of Jesus. Kathleen holds a Master of Divinity degree from Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry where she also served as adjunct faculty for seven years, teaching spiritual retreats. She leads retreats and workshops both online and in person. Her two earlier books are bible studies: Sisters in Scripture: Exploring the Relationships of Biblical Women and Never On Sunday: A Look at the Women NOT in the Lectionary. Connect with her at Sisters in Scripture.


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