Formations 08.23.2015: Leaving Isn’t Easy

1 Samuel 26:17-25; Acts 15:36-41

Heart photo mirrors_uniform_smAbout a year ago, author Beverly Gooden started a movement that went viral. She was frustrated and saddened by a popular argument that criticized victims of domestic violence, and she wanted to help the world understand how broad and varied these abusive situations are in the world. Specifically, she wanted to answer the critics who were saying, “If the abuse was so bad, then why did the victim stay?”

Using the Twitter hashtag #WhyIStayed, Gooden shared some of the reasons why she had stayed in her own abusive marriage for as long as she did. Her vulnerability and bravery encouraged others to speak up, and soon, thousands of domestic violence survivors were telling their stories. Their testimonies highlight a painful and poignant reality that most people, especially victims of abuse and people who have worked with abuse victims, know too well:

The more you care about someone, the harder it is to leave that person.

“But we are talking about human hearts. It’s not easy to leave someone you love. It’s not easy to leave when you have no resources and nowhere to go. It’s not easy to leave when you are threatened with additional violence. It’s not easy to leave when you remember how it used to be, or when they romance you during the good times, or when they promise it is the last time. Or when there are children involved. Because you believe in love and you believe in them.”

Gooden’s testimony here might help add a little more weight to the lessons we pull out of this week’s Scriptures. If victims stay with their abusers, it doesn’t mean abuse isn’t happening, because the decision to leave is excruciatingly hard to make and even harder to carry out. In both Scriptures this week, we read from the perspective of the person who chooses to walk away from a relationship with someone he was close to. In David’s case specifically, we read from the mind of a victim of violence.

We might read his story and think, “Well of course he ran away. He didn’t want to be killed.” But we also can see his hesitation. We see his worries. David does decide to leave, but he doesn’t leave after Saul’s first attempt on his life. Even Paul spends a long time arguing with Barnabas before the two decide to part ways. Neither of our protagonists walk away without a struggle.

From these stories, we learn that leaving a harmful situation usually requires some assistance. According to a national survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the most effective strategy for preventing an abusive environment is to reach out and foster healthy, loving, supportive relationships. I think it is important to note that neither David nor Paul left in isolation, and neither of them made their tough decision alone. God was actively with David throughout his experience, and Paul had Silas as his companion.

One of the most beautiful things about human nature is our ability to form such strong and loving bonds to each other. If one of these relationships turns bad, the best way to give help or get help isn’t to focus on why a departure is necessary. The most effective solution involves creating an even stronger and more supportive relationship, either with someone who needs us or with someone who can help us overcome our fears so we can do even more good work in the world.

“19 #WhyIStayed Tweets Everyone Needs to See,” Mic.com, 6 Aug 2015 http://mic.com/articles/98326/19-why-istayed-tweets-that-everyone-needs-to-see .

“National Data on Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking,” CDC.gov, 7 Aug 2015 http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs-fact-sheet-2014.pdf.

Discussion

• Think about some difficulties we, or others, might face when trying to leave a harmful situation or relationship. How do these ideas affect the way we read these Scriptures?
• How can I be there to support others who struggle to leave a harmful situation?
• If I needed help leaving a harmful situation, where could I find it?
• How can my relationship with friends, family, community members, or God help alleviate some of my fears and worries about walking away from a relationship?
• How is my community affected by domestic violence and other abuse? Are there any local organizations with resources, prevention programs, or volunteer opportunities to assist victims and survivors?

Reference Shelf

Parting Company

Some commenters observe that the dispute between Paul and Barnabas over Mark (v.39) actually served to advance the gospel. The departure of Barnabas and Mark to Cyprus, Barnabas’s home (4:36), means that the gospel planted there (11:19; 13:4) can be further nurtured, even while Paul and his new companion, Silas, can further nurture the churches in Asia Minor. Such edifying readings are insightful, but speculative since the narrative offers no further comment on the work of Barnabas and John. One could also read v. 39b to mean that Barnabas went back home to Cyprus, even as John Mark had gone “back home” to Jerusalem in 13:13. However, the fact that Mark is leaving his hometown and accompanying Barnabas invites the more charitable reading.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 276.

Saul Keeps Hunting and David Keeps Winning

Note that both David and Saul continue to use proper pleasantries and honorific terms throughout the discussion. As before, David queried Saul concerning his intentions (26:18), but in this account, he skips any further sarcasm and focuses on the participant in the drama that Saul seemed to have forgotten: Yahweh.

On the one hand, David imagines the unlikely possibility that it is Yahweh who has stirred Saul against him. If Yahweh had done so, David argued, divine anger could be appeased with a burnt offering (literally, “Let him smell an offering”). If, however, human persons had stirred Saul’s anger against David, they deserved to be put under a curse, for they were forcing a subject of Yahweh to live outside of Yahweh’s land. “The inheritance of the LORD” was a reference to Israel, thought to be Yahweh’s special possession. David, like all Israelites, had a share in that land, but Saul’s army was forcing him to leave, to live among people who served other gods (26:19). Significantly, once David and Saul parted company after this confrontation, David left the borders of Judah to enlist in the service of King Achish, who ruled the Philistine territory surrounding the city of Gath, and he did not return to live in the land of promise until after Saul’s Death.

David’s concern was not only that he must live apart from Yahweh’s land, but that he might die apart from the LORD: “Now, therefore, do not let my blood fall to the ground, away from the presence of the LORD (26:20a). The irony of David’s expressed fear is that he would die as an old man in his own bed in his own city in the heart of the promised land (1 Kgs 2:10-11). Saul, on the other hand, would die an ignominious death far from home, and his body would be defiled and hung on the walls of Beth-shan, an ancient Canaanite city that had long been controlled by Egypt, but which apparently had fallen under Philistine jurisdiction.

Tony W. Cartledge, 1 &2 Samuel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 304-5.

Michelle Meredith is a graduate of Mercer University, where she was the editor for literary and arts magazine The Dulcimer. She taught third and fourth grade in Mississippi for two years with Teach for America and became even more obsessed with live music and southern food (don’t even get her started on Delta tamales). She loves comedy, board games, roller derby, and hanging out with her dog. She is happy to be back in Macon, Georgia as the associate editor of Formations.

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