Why did he do that?

Matt* graduated in 2013 with first class honours and began the application process for a mission agency at the end of that year. He and Cailey*, his wife, both had interviews in November of that year. Matt talked with the interviewer about some anger issues he used to have but stated that he had realised it was all a stress response and that Cailey had been quite difficult to live with after their first child was born.

Cailey talked to the interviewer about the difficult first three or four years of their marriage as they adjusted to life together and to the stress of sleeplessness. She admitted that Matt had been quite scary at times, yelling at her and blaming her unreasonably sometimes but that was all in the past. She also said that she had not been the easiest person to live with during that time either and they have been able to talk about it and understand each other so much better. Matt had done so well studying and had enjoyed the sense of great achievement.

During these interviews both Matt and Cailey shared some of their history with you.

Matt and Cailey were married in 2006 and their first child, Tom, was born in 2008. Tom was not a good sleeper and Matt and Cailey noticed their stress levels rising significantly in his first 6 months.

For Cailey this increased stress showed itself in her low mood and many times of bursting into tears. Matt’s stress levels were obvious as he became quite irritable and, at times, quite angry. His anger was always directed toward Cailey. He sometimes apologised for his outbursts but remained convinced that he was right to be angry with her. Cailey understood this to be because of stress and only talked to her two close friends about it.

As Tom became more settled at night Cailey noticed that Matt was much less irritable and after 2 years was rarely angry with her.

Matt left his work as a high school teacher and began to study at theological college in 2010. Their second child, Sally, was born in that year. Cailey worked hard to keep the children quiet and was the only one to get up to the children during the night so that Matt could study well.

Matt did very well at college, often earning HD’s and D’s in assignments and exams. He made several good friends and both he and Cailey enjoyed living close to other college families. Their third child, Luke, was born in their final year of college.

Are there are any red flags at this point? Would you consider recommending they stop the process at this point and seek counselling?

Missionary Training

The missionary training course began well in 2014 with Tom settling well into school and Sally into pre-school. Matt thoroughly enjoyed learning and Cailey felt very supported by the people around her. Towards the end of the term two incidents occurred that concerned the trainers.

  • In a discussion during Cultural Anthropology class Cailey had been asking some very good questions. The lecturer had commented that Cailey had obviously understood the issues extremely well. Matt said “What? Just because she is asking a bunch of silly questions that I don’t feel I need to ask?” This was said loudly enough for several people to hear him.

Cailey talked to one of the trainers about this incident but made it clear that this was just Matt being tired and a little stressed. She also said that she does ask silly questions a lot.

  • As the group was talking about making pastoral care plans it became clear to all that Matt was not seeing the need for such a plan. When challenged by the trainer about the need to think carefully about these issues Matt responded that “you only need to talk about emotions if you’re not in control of them.”

Cailey talked to one of the trainers the next day explaining that Matt had been quite angry with her the previous evening. He had said that the staff obviously think she is a star and that she should stop trying to ‘suck up to them.’ When Matt was asked about this comment he just said that Cailey had misheard him.

During the rest of the time during the missionary training course Matt was cheerful and co-operative.

Are there any red flags at this point? Would you consider recommending they stop the process at this point and seek counselling?

Fundraising

Fundraising began in July that year. Matt had been quite unhappy with the housing (provided by the agency) as he had specifically requested housing closer to his parents, but it had not been available. Cailey mentioned this to a pastoral care worker and explained that Matt was upset with her because she had not been clear enough in explaining their needs to the agency.

The rest of the six months fundraising went well, and Matt spoke enthusiastically and clearly about the work they were heading out to do.

Are there any red flags at this point? Would you consider recommending they stop the process at this point and seek counseling?

First Home Assignment

The family arrived in Australia four weeks ago after a three-year first term on location.

At an orientation meeting they were enthusiastic about the work they had been involved in, the language they had learnt and the church they’d joined. The children had settled well into school and had made friends. Cailey talked a lot about how much Matt is appreciated by the other missionaries and how well he has done in his role. Matt talked about some of the funny cultural mistakes that Cailey had made – they both laughed at that.

A few weeks later Cailey asks to see you. She is concerned that Matt may be a little stressed. She describes him as having become more and more angry as the 3 years went on. He struggled with language whereas she found it enjoyable. He had had a few disagreements with the team leader and had come home very angry each time. For some reason he had explained to her that she had been the problem – either because she had given them the wrong impression, or she had not been clear enough, but she found his logic hard to follow.

Matt had also been making comments about her in front of others – especially regarding language learning. They had been put-downs, but she felt unable to raise that issue with him for fear of making him angry again.

Cailey was also concerned for Matt as he had been comparing her more and more with his sister. Matt’s sister was a very attractive woman who dressed well and Cailey felt quite plain and unattractive in comparison.

Cailey wanted to let someone know so that the agency may be able to help Matt with his stress levels while on Home Assignment.

Are there any red flags at this point? Would you consider recommending they stop the process at this point and seek counselling?

Analysis

Some sobering statistics are worth considering as we ask ourselves what social issues are involved in our scenario.

One in four Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012.

Signs of emotional abuse

The signs of emotional abuse can be difficult to identify, especially because it is non-physical. Emotional abuse includes:

•blaming a partner for all the problems in a relationship

•constantly comparing them with others to undermine their self-esteem and self-worth

•usually being in a bad mood

•intentionally embarrassing them in public

•name calling

•yelling, insulting or swearing at them (also known as verbal abuse)

•controlling someone’s finances (also known as financial abuse)

•preventing them from seeing their friends and family (also known as social abuse)

•stalking

•threatening suicide

•making them feel guilty when they refuse sex

•online humiliation and intimidation.

http://www.whiteribbon.org.au [1]

More information about emotional and other types of abuse can be found at

Whilst it is clear that physical abuse is wrong, it is not always accepted that emotional or psychological abuse can be just as harmful.  Emotional or psychological abuse often becomes physical as well.

Returning to our case study, we see that Cailey normalised Matt’s anger at various times. She was afraid of his anger and it was significantly impacting her behaviour.

Matt is exhibiting selfish or narcissistic tendencies (characterised by a lack of empathy).  If he were to have a narcissistic disorder, it is difficult to diagnose and would not usually be identified in a psychological assessment undertaken during application for missionary work.  If Matt did have a narcissistic disorder, it would also be difficult to identify early on in his missionary career because it is hard to identify this pattern of behaviour until the person is in their thirties.

A story to consider

A certain man in Maon was very wealthy. He owned property there at Carmel. He had 1,000 goats and 3,000 sheep. He was clipping the wool off the sheep in Carmel. His name was Nabal. His wife’s name was Abigail. She was a wise and beautiful woman. But her husband was rude and mean in the way he treated others. He was from the family of Caleb.

David was staying in the Desert of Paran. While he was there, he heard that Nabal was clipping the wool off his sheep. So he sent for ten young men. He said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel. Greet him for me. Say to him, ‘May you live a long time! May everything go well with you and your family! And may things go well with everything that belongs to you!

“ ‘I hear that you are clipping the wool off your sheep. When your shepherds were with us, we treated them well. The whole time they were at Carmel nothing that belonged to them was stolen. Ask your own servants. They’ll tell you. We’ve come to you now at a happy time of the year. Please be kind to my men. Please give me and my men anything you can find for us.’ ”

When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal the message from David. Then they waited.

Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are running away from their masters these days. Why should I give away my bread and water? Why should I give away the meat I’ve prepared for those who clip the wool off my sheep? Why should I give food to men who come from who knows where?”

So David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported to David every word Nabal had spoken. David said to his men, “Each of you put on your swords!” So they did. David put his sword on too. About 400 men went up with David. Two hundred men stayed behind with the supplies.

One of the servants warned Abigail, Nabal’s wife. He said, “David sent some messengers from the desert to give his greetings to our master. But Nabal shouted at them and was rude to them. David’s men had been very good to us. They treated us well. The whole time we were near them out in the fields, nothing was stolen. We were taking care of our sheep near them. During that time, they were like a wall around us night and day. They kept us safe. Now think it over. See what you can do. Horrible trouble will soon come to our master and his whole family. He’s such an evil man that no one can even talk to him.”

Abigail didn’t waste any time. She got 200 loaves of bread and two bottles of wine. The bottles were made out of animal skins. She got five sheep that were ready to be cooked. She got a bushel of grain that had been cooked. She got 100 raisin cakes. And she got 200 cakes of pressed figs. She loaded all of it on the backs of donkeys. Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead. I’ll follow you.” But she didn’t tell her husband Nabal about it.

Abigail rode her donkey into a mountain valley. There she saw David and his men. They were coming down toward her. David had just said, “Everything we’ve done hasn’t been worth a thing! I watched over that fellow’s property in the desert. I made sure none of it was stolen. But he has paid me back evil for good. I won’t leave even one of his men alive until morning. If I do, may God punish me greatly!”

When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey. She bowed down in front of David with her face toward the ground. She fell at his feet. She said, “Pardon your servant, sir. Please let me speak to you. Listen to what I’m saying. Let me take the blame myself. Please don’t pay any attention to that evil man Nabal. His name means Foolish Person. And that’s exactly what he is. He’s always doing foolish things. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to see the men you sent. Sir, the Lord has kept you from killing Nabal and his men. He has kept you from using your own hands to get even. So may what’s about to happen to Nabal happen to all your enemies. May it happen to everyone who wants to harm you. And may it happen just as surely as the Lord your God and you are alive. I’ve brought a gift for you. Give it to the men who follow you.

“Please forgive me if I shouldn’t have done that. The Lord your God will certainly give you and your family line a kingdom that will last. That’s because you fight the Lord’s battles. You won’t do anything wrong as long as you live. Someone may chase you and try to kill you. But the Lord your God will keep your life safe like a treasure hidden in a bag. And he’ll destroy your enemies. Their lives will be thrown away, just as a stone is thrown from a sling. The Lord will do for you every good thing he promised to do. He’ll appoint you ruler over Israel. When that happens, you won’t have this heavy load on your mind. You won’t have to worry about how you killed people without any reason. You won’t have to worry about how you got even. The Lord your God will give you success. When that happens, please remember me.”

David said to Abigail, “Give praise to the Lord. He is the God of Israel. He has sent you today to find me. May the Lord bless you for what you have done. You have shown a lot of good sense. You have kept me from killing Nabal and his men this day. You have kept me from using my own hands to get even. It’s a good thing you came quickly to meet me. If you hadn’t come, not one of Nabal’s men would have been left alive by sunrise. And that’s just as sure as the Lord, the God of Israel, is alive. He has kept me from harming you.”

Then David accepted from her what she had brought him. He said, “Go home in peace. I’ve heard your words. I’ll do what you have asked.”

Abigail went back to Nabal. He was having a dinner party in the house. It was the kind of dinner a king would have. He had been drinking too much wine. He was very drunk. So she didn’t tell him anything at all until sunrise. The next morning Nabal wasn’t drunk anymore. Then his wife told him everything. When she did, his heart grew weak. He became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal down. And he died.

David heard that Nabal was dead. So he said, “Give praise to the Lord. Nabal was rude to me. But the Lord stood up for me. He has kept me from doing something wrong. He has paid Nabal back for the wrong things he did.”

Then David sent a message to Abigail. He asked her to become his wife. His servants went to Carmel. They said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you. He wants you to come back with us and become his wife.”

Abigail bowed down with her face toward the ground. She said, “I am your servant. I’m ready to serve him. I’m ready to wash the feet of his servants.” Abigail quickly got on a donkey and went with David’s messengers. Her five female servants went with her. She became David’s wife.

1 Samuel 25:2-42

What was Abigail’s response? What do you notice about Nabal’s action and David’s response? What was unexpected about Abigail’s response?

Surprisingly, Abigail took action without consulting her husband, Nabal. In so doing she saved her community from destruction resulting from her husband’s foolish behaviour. Immediately Abigail recognised the danger and set about averting the disaster threatening her community. She wisely and courageously challenged David about his proposed actions in light of the sovereignty of God. David, listened to Abigail, a wise woman. He was influenced by her, such that he changed direction and avoided doing wrong. Later, God brought about a new start for Abigail as David’s wife.

Fools mock at making amends for sin,
    but goodwill is found among the upright.

Proverbs 14:9

Action

Appropriate professional support and protection for Cailey is required immediately, since there is significant danger of escalation of abuse towards her from Matt, once he hears that she has spoken to the agency.  This may escalate to physical abuse and/or a worsening of emotional abuse.

The Member Care Worker needs to provide Cailey with hotline information so that she can access assistance if required. Hotlines are .

Professional assistance is essential for Matt and Cailey and should be undertaken separately, initially. This should be financed by the agency or church. If Matt responds well, they may be able to move to joint counselling later.

The Member Care Worker needs to clearly communicate to their sending organisation, whether agency or church, and that they must stop the family from returning to location.

Member care workers need to walk alongside Cailey and Matt for some years. The children will also need appropriate support.

*Note: If you, the reader or a friend of yours, is experiencing abuse, please seek help by contacting these hotlines found at https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/find-help/domestic-violence-hotlines/.

*All names used in this blog are pseudonyms to provide anonymity.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Jenni Woodhouse and Megan Withers for their assistance in writing this blog post.