Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 1: Acknowledge the Power of Your Actions
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 2: Know What God Requires
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 3: Make Your Action Plan
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 4: Get Ready for War
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 5: Master Your Biggest Enemy
Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 6: Fight This Fight
Sometimes the biggest challenge we’re up against in a harassment or assault situation is simply that we were not ready for it, in a practical sense. An inappropriate or dangerous overture comes like a bolt from the blue, and suddenly we’re having to make split-second decisions under high stakes, intense adrenaline, and sometimes tonic immobility (the freezing response.) Will I or won’t I allow this? What should I say? What should I do? Where can I run? Is it time to go for my Glock 43? How do you do a stomp kick again? Why don’t I have a gun??
As we explained in Part 1, 100% of the guilt of the abuser’s crime rests on the abuser, no matter what the victim does or doesn’t do. There is nothing a victim can do to “deserve” abuse, and if she fails to stop a crime being committed against her, it’s never “her fault.” That said, the Lord cares about the safety of His daughters, and wants us to be equipped to defend ourselves against evil in every way we can. Not only does Scripture walk us through responses to all kinds of sins, hurts, and offenses (as we saw in Part 2) – it also encourages us to take preemptive action to avoid bad situations. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself,” says Proverbs 27:12, “but the simple go on and suffer for it.” God hates the sins committed against us, but He also tells us that other people’s sin is a reality we have to be ready for. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves,” Jesus warns us in Matt. 10:16, “so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
When we realize that being wise and wary enough to avoid danger sometimes means choosing not to exercise the full extent of our rights to go where we want, when we want, with whom we want, it can be tempting to say, “But that isn’t fair!” or “But their sin isn’t my responsibility!” And both are true. But if we love wisdom, hate evil, and value our safety as much as God does, we have to be willing to let the reality of other people’s sin change how we approach certain areas of life. “All things are lawful,” says 1 Cor. 10:23, “but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.”
The Lord wants us to take the dangers of other people’s sin seriously – even to the point of sometimes choosing to forgo our personal rights (or things that would technically be “lawful” for us), to do what is most wise, prudent, helpful, loving, and up-building, for ourselves and for others.
And if we’re really serious about resisting evil, we should be pursuing the physical, mental, and spiritual training for doing it. Remember, resisting evil is not a bug of the Christian life – it’s a feature. And it’s best to plan for it in advance.
There’s a lot of fantastic material online about the brass tacks of self-defense strategies and tools, so we’re going to stick with some spiritual-preparedness suggestions here.
- Determine your boundary lines in advance.
Decide before you’re in an emotionally volatile situation what you will and will not allow in the way of physical contact, one-on-one time, verbal affection, emotional bonding, etc. – and be ready to stop any interaction in its tracks if it steps over the line, no matter how much you love or trust the person doing it. In the heat of the moment is not the time to be figuring out what you’re OK with.
All boundaries should start with a strong internal sense of how much God values our safety, our holiness, our sexuality – and a willingness to create sensible barriers to keep these things safe from trespassers. This isn’t about purity-culture guilt-trips, ladies – it’s about recognizing what things are important enough to God to protect from real danger, and deciding how we personally are going to do that. Maintaining the heart of the matter and the real end goal is key: What is it we’re really trying to protect? What is it that really threatens it? What would actually be the best way to avoid that kind of thing? This will also mean being at peace with the fact that these boundaries will need to look different for all of us; if we’re honest with ourselves about our own boundary needs, we’ll see that another woman’s rules might not do the job for us.
This may be a hard concept to embrace, for those of us who grew up with a more letter-of-the-law approach to boundaries. Boundaries are often approached as external regulations that would themselves produce holiness – or worse yet, as holiness itself. Sometimes they’re focused around an end goal that isn’t primarily holiness (e.g. making our future marriages “more special,” or protecting ourselves from emotional pain), and often they focus on following regulations that are “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh,” (Col. 2:23) instead of just directly attacking the indulgence of the flesh.
Boundaries can only be a supplement – not a substitute – for minute-by-minute vigilance when it comes to our own and other people’s sin. Some people or situations require setting up even more rigorous boundaries – and not just because of the other person’s sin nature, either. Boundaries or barriers also help protect us from our own. “Make no provision for the flesh,” warns Romans 13:14, “to gratify its desires.” This means that any desire that springs from our flesh (for out-of-place attention or affection, secret relationships, over-closeness with a non-spouse, etc.) needs to be given no chance or opportunity to be indulged. And if we know that we have a particular weakness for X, or that we lose a lot of stability and control in situations like Y, even if these things are not sins, they may be fuel or “provision” for our flesh, and we need to be willing to remove them from our life for now. In Matt. 5:29, Matt. 18:8, and Mark 9:43-47, Jesus commands that our very eye, hand, or foot that causes us sin must be cut off and thrown away. God wants us to be serious enough about holiness that we take radical, preemptive steps to keep ourselves far from sin – not because we legalistically desire to earn God’s grace, but out of our love and gratitude for Him, and hunger and thirst to be like Him.
We can’t tell you what your specific boundary lines should be, but we will say that a lot of unnecessary pain and regret is avoided by keeping a distance from danger zones. Making restrictions for being around certain people alone, or allowing certain kinds of physical contact, or going to certain parts of town alone at night. Setting guidelines for how much interaction we have with someone (over any medium), how intimately we talk with someone, how dependent we let ourselves become on someone or vice versa, or how exclusive the relationship is. Maintaining borders around kinds of interactions that really do belong inside the marriage covenant. Putting barriers around our time, our emotions, our bodies. Conventional boundaries or boundaries that parents set in place can be helpful, but they’re no substitute for the boundaries we set for ourselves, based on our own fierce convictions about what’s worth fighting to preserve. The battle for holiness accepts no substitute enlistees; it’s a battle we have to fight for ourselves.
- Figure out (and practice) your responses in advance.
This is your plan for what you will do if one of your boundary lines is crossed. A guy just touched you in a way you don’t allow. Your boyfriend is using emotional pressure and guilt-manipulation to make things go faster than you think is right or wise. Your pastor/employer backed you into a corner and told you you have the most beautiful eyes. A stranger just grabbed you by the throat.
Sometimes we have time to think through our response to things like this, but often, we don’t. And when we’re startled or frightened, we’re also up against the brain’s hard-wired responses to stress or danger, which can include freezing. Freezing is not a sin, or a sign of weakness; it’s part of the body’s “defense cascade,” and we should expect to encounter it. But it’s also something that can be overcome.
Soldiers train to be able to control freezing under stress, and we can too, by practicing our mental responses (e.g. learning to calm and focus our thoughts during stress, going through detailed scenarios in our minds), our verbal responses (e.g. “No.” “I don’t give my personal details to people I don’t know.” “Would you like me to report you for harassment?”), our physical responses (self-defense training), and even our spiritual responses (righteous fury over sin can be strong enough to overcome the freezing response).
- Get physical self-defense tools and train with them.
There’s a vast array of safety gadgets and concealable weapons that could make all the difference in an attack scenario: firearms, stun guns, pepper spray, and pointy things, as well as personal alarms, home security items, and safety apps for your phone. This isn’t the article to recommend specific products, as every woman will need to do her own research to determine what will be the most useful in the situations she might face (as well what is legal in her state), but we do strongly recommend that every woman back up her resolve to fight evil with some additional force (even if all she can get hold of is a tent peg or a mill stone) 1… and practice with these things so they’ll actually be useful to her when the adrenaline is high.
- Sharpen your spiritual situational awareness.
Yes, creeps abound in dark alleys and parking lots, and hopefully we’re watching out for those. But according to current statistics, the majority of sexual attacks aren’t perpetrated by strangers out on the streets; they’re perpetrated by friends and relatives, and in the young woman’s home or apartment. The lesson to be learned here is that the biggest danger for us isn’t in dangerous parts of town; it’s in dangerous relationships. It’s not who you already know not to trust, but who you do let into your trust. And it’s not as likely to be someone who will try to overpower you physically as someone who will slowly, little-by-little, inch by inch, overpower you emotionally and spiritually. If we are only on the lookout for creeps and thugs, we’re going to be completely unprepared for the threat in someone who’s very dear and close to us, and who we don’t want to hurt or cut off.
And while it’s natural to try to sort the people we interact with into categories of “safe to trust” and “not safe to trust,” that’s ultimately a simplistic and dangerous way to approach these relationships. Which category would King David, the man after God’s own heart, have fit into in Bathsheba’s mind? As much as we hate to admit it, even the people we love are sinners, with their sin natures warring against their desires to do right. For their good as much as ours, we can’t trust anyone – anyone – implicitly to do the right thing all the time (we don’t just mean in a sexual sense); in love and spiritual vigilance, we always have to be ready to help keep things on a godly track. The goal isn’t to suspiciously sort everyone in trust/can’t-trust boxes; the goal is to be spiritually alert and genuinely loving with all people all the time.
An interesting contrast to Bathsheba is Abigail, who came across this same man after God’s own heart at another point when his flesh was getting the better of him. David’s reputation as man “fighting the battles of the Lord” seems to have reached Abigail prior to the news that he was on his way to kill all the men of her household, but rather than assume that this godly man “must know what he’s doing,” Abigail confronted God’s warrior with what she could see and he could not. Bathsheba – perhaps in awe of David, perhaps in desire to please him, perhaps in fear of disobeying him, perhaps trusting that he knew best – ultimately abetted him in making the worst mistake of his life. Abigail, in keeping her spiritual senses turned on, drew him back to the path instead. Overcome with gratefulness, David cried, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from avenging myself with my own hand!” Ladies, let’s not underestimate the power of the Ministry of Reproof.
- Build a strong support network.
Specifically, have good relationships and communication with wise, mature people who could help you. Don’t wait until there’s an emergency to try to find people like this, establish your own credibility and integrity, and build good lines of communication. And seeking wise counsel from people like this before we think we “need” it can avert an emergency altogether. Some might think that it’s a mark of maturity to be able to handle our relationships all by our big selves, but Proverbs make it clear that the wise seek counsel (Prov. 12:15), that in an “abundance of counselors there is safety,” (Proverbs 11:14), and that people who just trust their own minds (Prov. 28:26) are fools.
For those who have godly, involved parents (and especially for those readers who may be younger), our parents are some of the first (if not the first) people we need to be talking to about these things. We need the kind of relationship with them where conversations on these topics are comfortable and natural and the lines are always open… and this takes work and cultivation. Don’t wait until you “have something you have to tell them.” Don’t wait for them to ask. Be keeping them posted on all your relationships. Encourage them to get to know your friends. Tell them about the conversations you’re having. Ask them for their opinions. Seek out their instruction. And if your parents are not involved in your life (or would be an ungodly influence), find trusted older counselors to fill that void.
If you don’t already have a strong relationship with your own church leaders, get to know your elders or pastors. There’s a biblical principle for this as well as a practical one: 1 Thessalonians 5:12 (KJV) says, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you…” God holds them responsible for “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17) – are we doing our part in helping them get to know us and the ways in which they might need to shepherd us? Are we giving them chances to speak counsel into our lives that might affect the situations or relationships we find ourselves in in the first place? Are we intentionally investing in our support system here to make sure it’s robust and dependable? (If, as you’re getting to know your elders, you discover that they aren’t really interested in speaking into your life, or that they have strange misogynistic views, or that one of them has a weakness for young women like you… those are really good things to find out before you’re in an emergency situation.)
The church at large is still learning how to handle abuse, and with all the reports of churches handling abuse catastrophically, it’s worth remembering three things – that the situations that do go well (we know of many) tend to go quietly un-publicized; that, while individual churches can be bad, God’s design and instruction for church or for elders is not bad; and that the proper health and functioning of the church depends on all the members of the Body fulfilling their roles, including us.
- Hate evil. Love righteousness.
And this is where our best weapon against evil comes in: We have to hate it as much as God does. Our strength to resist these kinds of sins is only going to be as strong as our hatred and repulsion for them, and our love of righteousness. Do you hate sin enough to kick and scream? Do you love justice enough to report someone you respect and love, immediately? How about to say, “Don’t call me again”? To say, “This relationship is over,” and stand by it? To actually just not go out with a guy again? To call a guy’s pastor? To call the police? To get up and walk away from a physically or emotionally-charged situation, even in the heat of the moment?
The force needed to fuel every line we draw, word we say, and bullet we shoot is not a sense of personal irritation or discomfort with what is happening – it’s a pure, molten, righteous anger that comes from loving what God loves and hating what God hates. With all the external safeguards we can put to use – boundaries, bodyguards, jujitsu, lead – we need to understand that this battle starts first of all in our own hearts. We start by being the kind of woman who sees evil the way God does.
Ultimately, the ability to see our scenario with His eyes is what will give us the strength to respond with His wisdom, His words, His authority, His strength, and finally, His peace with the outcome. Though He gives us responsibility to be wise and cautious, and requires certain responses to the sin of others, we have to remember that the final outcome of every encounter is in His hands, and He does not require that we succeed in stopping the crime. Even the best defense plan can fail; boundaries can be forcibly crossed; words can be ignored; a strong support system can let us down; guns can jam; and we can be victims. Our hope and comfort in this reality is that God is sovereign over these things; that He would see us as completely blameless and innocent (not “weak” or “inadequate”) and our attacker as guilty; that He would see our struggle for righteousness and justice against evil (even if we failed physically) as significant, and even the blood and tears we shed as precious in His sight. (Psalm 56:8, 72:14)
Our trust and confidence can’t be in our preparations and tools – but only in our Protector and Stronghold.
No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord. (Prov. 21:30-31)
1. Israel’s oppressor, Sisera, was killed when Jael lured him into her tent and then drove a tent peg through his temple (Judges 4:17-22). King Abimelech was killed when a woman in the city he was besieging went out on the city walls, and hurled her millstone down onto his head (Judges 9:52,53).↩
Read the next article: Spiritual Self-Defense, Part 4: Get Ready for War