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Counseling Abandoned Women

Truth in Love 192

While her circumstances appear to be out of control, God is always in control of her circumstances.

Feb 7, 2019

Dale Johnson: Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Julie Ganschow, who is the founder of Reigning Grace Counseling Ministry in Kansas City, Missouri. It’s a Certified Training Center of ACBC, and she’s one of our ACBC members. She’s also an author of several different biblical counseling resources, many pertaining to issues that women face. We’re so glad that she’s here with us today. Julie, welcome to the podcast.

Julie Ganschow: Thank you so much for having me.

Dale Johnson: What an appropriate topic, especially in the cultural time that we live in the present. It’s great that we’re here to talk about this issue of the church’s responsibility in ministering to women who have been abandoned. What I want you to do first is just explain some of the symptoms, some of the things that we would see in a woman who has been abandoned, some of the ways that the church would recognize some of the issues that she may deal with if she’s been abandoned.

Julie Ganschow: Abandonment that we typically deal with in a marriage situation is in three forms: physical abandonment where the husband physically leaves the home, emotional abandonment where he stays in the home, but he completely withdraws from her (he’s not engaged with her in any way other than that he’s physically present), and then sexual abandonment where he refuses to be intimate with his wife. We find that these three types of abandonment can overlap depending on the circumstances and all the underlying issues in the marriage.

When we get a woman that has been physically abandoned, we really rely on the church to step up and minister to her. The church as the ambassador for Christ is charged primarily with meeting the physical needs on the larger scale. This could be meeting her physical needs for shelter on a temporary basis if her husband throws her out, or meeting her financial needs if she has no means of her own. We find many of the women that are being abandoned are women that have no life skills. They were raised to be wives and moms. They’ve never had a job. They have very little education. When the marriage breaks up, they have no way to sustain themselves or their children.

So the church may have to step in with providing for her financially until she can get on her feet, helping her access the social service systems that are in place for housing assistance and medical assistance and financial assistance for herself and any children that are a part of the family. They may also have to step in and provide things like childcare because if she has low skills or no skills, any job that she gets will quickly be eaten up by paying for childcare if that’s required. Even when a woman has a sustainable form of income, the church may still need to step in to help her practically by preparing a budget, helping her to find affordable housing. Men in the church may need to help her with simple things like home repairs, car repairs, mowing the lawn—all these kinds of things that she has never had to face before.

The role of the biblical counselor in the life of a woman who has been abandoned in any way is to help her address the issues of her heart that will most certainly come out the longer the abandonment goes on. We want to help her to discern what the inner man issues are and to help her see her situation through God’s eyes. Being abandoned has a very large emotional component to it whether the abandonment is physical, emotional, or sexual. Primarily, the heart of every person is focused on themselves. We want to focus on how what’s happening in our lives is affecting us and our thoughts, beliefs, and desires naturally gravitate in that direction.

The abandoned woman will struggle with fear, worry, anxiety, all of these things that are ripe issues for the biblical counseling relationship. She may also struggle with areas of self-pity when she sees that other women around her aren’t dealing with these things, that they’ve got good husbands who have stuck with them and haven’t left them high and dry. The heart of a woman that has been emotionally abandoned will struggle tremendously with things like guilt because it is often used as a tool by the husband to force her into doing things that she’s not comfortable doing, to get her to submit to things that are ungodly. Part of our role is to help her to discern what he is asking that is godly or ungodly, righteous or unrighteous, and then to help her frame her responses through a biblically informed view.

Dale Johnson: It’s interesting the way you’ve broken that down as you began with her particular needs from the outside. We want to ask counselors to get to the issues of the heart, and we do quickly. But it’s really important for us to understand how the church is a very important piece of the puzzle in ministering to this lady. You mention tons of issues that may arise that she needs to take care of or that need to be taken care of for her, and we think of the resource of the church. We have lots of men who can do some of these, helping her work on her budget, helping her work on her vehicles, helping her take care of her yard or any repairs—all those things are critical.

Most of all, I’ve seen this situation where a woman has been abandoned and she has children in tow and she’s probably not going to sit down and listen to much of our counsel if we’re not first dealing with where she can lay her head tonight and if her children will be fed and taken care of. What an important way to break that down, and then we drive into the heart of the issues, being able to see all the emotional struggles that she may have. She’s been under control mostly for quite some time and all kinds of issues that may come from that. Talk just a little bit about how you counsel women. We’re past the issue where we’ve taken care of some of the most important needs and first-order needs that she has. How do we move in a direction now in the counseling room to work with some of these issues of the heart biblically speaking, to help her to see some legitimate changes as she moves forward in a very different life?

Julie Ganschow: We have to give her godly wisdom and counsel on how to continue to bring God glory even in the midst of her troubled times. Abandonment, fear, and all of the resulting heart issues don’t excuse or legitimize any sinfulness that she is struggling with. It doesn’t legitimize sinful responses, but it can help us understand them a bit. We need to balance compassion with our expectation of biblical change and the biblical response that we’d like to see from her. My goal is to help her to see that while her circumstances appear to be out of control that God is always in control of her circumstances.

Dale Johnson: Yes. You’re describing symptoms, which we need to be able to discern and learn as we’re seeing this from the counselor’s perspective. What you’ve described is encompassing relative to what a woman would experience. It’s another thing altogether for the counselor to now take what they’re discerning, the symptoms that they’re seeing, and begin to help them work through the process of change. Now we have the responsibility, once we’ve discerned some of the problems, how we can best help this lady walk through these issues to take all these ways that the heart issues are testing in her life and take the beautiful salve of the Word of God and begin to apply it? Can you talk us through maybe even using an example of how to apply the Word to some of these symptoms that you’re describing?

Julie Ganschow: I believe that asking her questions is one of the most important ways to get at the issues of the heart and then to help her to identify the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of her heart that need biblical attention. I’m a big fan of asking questions on the heart level. The answers to her questions will help her to understand what she is thinking about. They will help her to understand that the feelings that she’s experiencing (that may be ungodly or a natural result of her circumstances) are flowing from what she is thinking about, believing to be true, and desiring in her heart.

I want to ask her if she understands first of all that this really is the genesis of the feelings that you’re experiencing, because she has to be able to identify that my sinful anger is coming from all the injustice that I’m thinking about; that the fear that I’m experiencing, the anxiety that I’m dealing with, that these are the results of my what-if thoughts or if-only thoughts. The guilt that her husband may be laying on her, she has to identify first, is there real guilt?

In many of these marriages there has been a troubled history. Very few husbands just up and one day leave for no reason. Very few husbands will one day just cut the wife off when things have been happy and joyful in the home. She may very well have some sin issues that she has to deal with, but none of them will excuse what her husband has done. Our goal, my goal in serving her, is to take God’s Word and based on how she reveals her heart to me, make specific application of Scripture to these problematic issues, and then to show her what repentance looks like in this area. It’s not just, “I’m going to stop being angry and nagging him,” because we’re not behaviorists. We have to get at what’s driving this. What does she want that she isn’t getting? What does she get that she doesn’t want? How can we help God’s Word to make an impact on her heart? Some of these behaviors are so ingrained that it takes time. It takes time and it takes a diligent study of God’s Word even in the midst of dealing with her own heartbreak.

Dale Johnson: What you’re describing is really helpful and is very countercultural. When we think about women in these situations, we like to think about them as primarily victims and there’s a reality that they have been victimized and sinned against. That’s certainly true, but not to leave them in a place where it excuses them to carry on life in response to that sin against them, but to respond biblically and appropriately.

It’s obvious that you guys are working with lots of women in this situation and you have a lot of experience in this. As you start to see change in the woman and you see her progressing and growing, assimilated into the church, sometimes it’s the most difficult when you’re doing such deep heart work from somebody who’s so broken. How do you know when this lady is ready to start walking on her own two feet? You’ve seen some repentance, you start to see some healthy fruit. How do you know when to let this relationship go?

Julie Ganschow: At Reigning Grace, we do what we would consider to be more crisis counseling and we don’t ever just turn a woman away at any certain point. We want to turn her over then to being in a discipleship relationship with another woman in the church who can continue to walk with her. Our goal is to decrease our involvement with time the more we see her living out the fruits of repentance.

One of the things that is really difficult to get the woman to transition from is the whole idea that, “I have to get my husband back. I have to get him back. I have to fix myself so that my husband will come home.” We see women get embroiled in these frantic, self-improvement programs. “I’m going to lose 20 pounds and I’m not going to nag and I’m going to be pleasant. I’m holding in a smile.” Those aren’t the real problems so obviously those aren’t the real answers. When we see her focus change from “I want to get my husband back” to “I want to glorify God by how I am living my life,” then we see that she is actually making progress. Then we can start letting go a little bit of the intensive part of the biblical counseling and transition more to a discipleship relationship with her.

Dale Johnson: That’s right. I love that because what you just did was you wed the importance of intensely focused counseling ministry in the local church, but then also putting that with the importance of taking our counselees and making sure they’re assimilated into God’s method of care in normal cases, which is the church that He’s given to us to sit under the preaching, and to be discipled, to be in relationship and fellowship with one another. That’s beautiful to think about it, that all of our counseling should end in that direction. Julie, it’s been a great pleasure for you to be here today, and I’m so thankful for the work that you guys are doing in Kansas City and at Reigning Grace and being one of our training centers. We’re so grateful. Thank you for being here.

Julie Ganschow: Thank you for having me.