“Chum” is such a nice, evocative, old-fashioned-y word for friend. It recalls the Leave-It-To-Beaver era types of playground friendships, back when the world was black-and-white, at least on TV screens. Your chum was a friend who would be there after school, at your house on Saturday morning, and maybe even would let you come along with his or her family on their vacation. “Chum” implies a comfortable, organic friendship. A chum would get down in the dirt with you when you fell off the merry-go-round. You, in your turn, would help her limp to the school nurse when she twisted her ankle running the bases. And, most importantly, he would stand beside you against the local bully. Because nobody, but nobody, picks on his best friend!
After my children and I escaped our abusive home, I begged my life-long church for help. We only had what we had been able to grab that day. My X had made sure I lost my job. We were desperate.
My church made clear that they wouldn’t help us financially or in any practical way. Like they told me, they really don’t do that sort of thing. Any help they would give me would only encourage me in my undesirable course of action. Their point was even more clarified when a family-friend pastor called and asked me over and over, “Well, what are you going to do?” Never, “How can I help?”
My church assigned me a nouthetic “Biblical” counseling team. They offered counsel from all the training they had acquired — one long weekend once a year at some hotel, with a few lectures and some break-out sessions. You probably know the counsel they had been taught and tried out on me. Wives submit to your husbands. Marriage matters more than the people in it. Pray even more. Memorize the right verses, and (because I reached a new level of scripture memory) X would miraculously become nice all the time, not just in public or in front of them or when he wanted something.
I just needed to center myself on Christ. Once fully “centered” on Christ, insults, silent treatments, threats, sneering, hatred, mind games wouldn’t bother me anymore. (No explanation of how to make that “centering” thing work, but apparently it had to do with saying a prayer and then going back home and faking a quiet, cheerful attitude no matter what he did to me or my children or the pets.)
The counseling they had learned said feelings don’t matter, or worse, feelings lie. The counselors taught me about the “train.” I needed to revamp my thoughts (the “engine” of the train) about the situation — including reframing the abuse I was living with into seeing it all as poor X’s cry for help, poor X’s hurting inner child throwing tantrums, poor X’s way of dealing with stress — the stress I and the kids were obviously causing him. Then my changed “engine” of thoughts ( which meant going back to denying the reality of my situation like my mind did under the fog that abuse had created for my whole marriage), that “engine” would pull along, and would be fed by, the “coal car” of my attitudes. My attitudes would become more positive the more often I thought pleasant, reality-denying, thoughts. Then, eventually, those stubborn feelings (like this was all wrong, like we were in pain, like X was cruel), which were in the “caboose,” would be dragged into the correct, positive-thinking path. After drawing the train for me several times on a whiteboard, it eventually just stayed up there.
We heard a lot of phrases that my kids and I condensed down to, “You should, you ought, shame on you for not…” We grew to use that as a label for all the teaching we received. The “You should, you ought, shame on you for not…” kind of teaching.
The one thing I never heard was shock. I never heard horror at what had happened to me and my children and my animals. I never saw sorrow over what X had done to us. I never saw anger at what someone had done to a daughter of the King. I never heard what an old-fashioned chum would say. “Nobody, but nobody, does that to our friend — to God’s friend!” And I never heard, “How can we help?” At least Job’s friends saw him in his pain and reacted like things really were bad for him.
Job 2:13 Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.
When I wasn’t “healed” (meaning having gone back home with a positive mental attitude and a quiet spirit) within the six-week allotted time period with prayer, scripture memory, and a Christian book study, they tried it again. When that didn’t “heal” me, (see aforementioned definition of “healed”) they passed me around to a couple other rounds of counselors, who each prayed with me, made me memorize more verses, and picked other Christian books.
So even though I was prayed with, they emphasized that they were praying Ephesians 3:14-19 for him!
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant [X], according to the riches of His glory, [for X] to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in [X’s] heart through faith; and that [X], being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [X] may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
So they put that beautiful prayer of Paul’s into their mouths to pray for my bully, my abuser! Because that’s what they were trained to do. They may have been my “Biblical” counselors. They may have even said we were friends. But the kind of friend who says, “Nobody, but nobody does that to my friend”? I was not their chum.
The other chum…
The other definition of chum is not so pleasant or homey. It is a term for when fishermen take what they consider “trash fish” — fish of no monetary value in the marketplace — chop them up, and use them for bait to attract more desirable fish, like “trophy fish,” such as the marlins and sailfish that are then stuffed and mounted above a fireplace.
I know that Jesus asked the twelve to follow Him and become “fishers of men.” But I don’t think He had the “offal” that nouthetic counselors teach in mind.
I was told that I needed to go home to my abuser, with a quiet, gentle spirit, along with my memory-verse-strengthened “Christ-centered” spine. I should pray minute by minute for X. I ought to ignore everything X does to me, my children, my pets. Shame on me for not trying to filter everything X did in light of his bad childhood, his stress at work, his dealing with his “difficult” family.
They kept playing on what love I had had for X when things were new and better, when X was nicer. They told me he must be in a difficult place right now for him to act the way he did. (Never mind that I told them he’s always been that way. X’s charm was simply a mask to win me and them over. X’s normal, abusive ways were just intensifying, as abuse does.) They pressured — didn’t I want to see X come back to his former ways? (Again, I said X was always that way, it was just intensifying.) They said he clearly was not acting as a Christian right now (again, I said X was always… oh forget it…), so I needed to win him back. If he was saved, as he claimed, then he was now living as a “carnal Christian.” I didn’t want to see him fall under God’s discipline, did I? So, they said, I needed to be the “means” God would use to reach him to bring him back into the fold. With a gentle, quiet spirit, without a word.
And if he was never actually born-again-saved, then I needed to be the “means” God would use to reach him for real this time. So I needed to let God use me to reach out to him. I needed to win him over. I needed to love him back into the fold. I needed to pull him, draw him, lure him.
(Italics added to emphasize where their focus lay.)
But let’s go over my second definition of chum.
“It is a term for when fishermen take what they consider “trash fish”, fish of no monetary value in the marketplace, chop them up, and use them for bait to attract more desirable fish, like “trophy fish,” such as the marlins and sailfish that are stuffed and mounted above a fireplace.”
I needed to be the “means” that God (at least they say it was God) would use to draw him? Lure him? Aren’t they in reality saying God (really their program) wanted to use me as bait?
I wasn’t the fish they were after. I had no monetary value, no social value, no marketplace value. I was broke, alone, now a pariah at church, and destitute. I was the trash fish.
But it was okay, even good, for the church (God, they said) to use me as bait, as chum — send me and my kids back to be crushed more, wounded more, and, as X had threatened, possibly chopped up (not kidding), so that he — a “trophy of grace” — could be won. If he came back to his “rightful place” as the head of our house (if we were still alive; if not, then coming back as a newly-single, sorry-for-what-he-had-done-to-us man) and he took the next step the church had lined up for him — to become an elder — then truly, God’s grace, power, and mercy would be on display for all to see! Praise the Lord! (Stick him on the mantle…)
But I read in the Bible…
Jesus sought out the woman with the issue of blood. He knew who she was. As an example of Jesus’s knowledge of each person, remember the story of Jesus calling Nathaniel? John 1:45-48 says,
“45 Philip *found Nathanael and *said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip *said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and *said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael *said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (Italics added for emphasis.)
So, He knew everything about that woman. He knew her parents and her parents’ parents. He knew how many hairs were on her head. He knew where she was at that moment. He knew her prayers, her tears. He knew her. He may have been on the way to heal the important man Jairus’s daughter, but he could have done that from right where he was. He could have spoken the word right there. After all, He spoke the word outside of the tomb of Lazarus. He didn’t have to go into the tomb. But he walked the path to this important man’s house. He walked it to make his way past the woman. He chose the road where she was so that she could reach out to Him. And He stopped when she touched Him. Why? Everyone in the crowd was touching him. As a celebrity without a modern bodyguard entourage, he would have been pushing His way through packed, narrow, Middle-eastern lanes and crowded plazas.
This woman was broke. All of her money had gone to useless doctors. She had no social value. She was a pariah because she was perpetually ceremonially unclean. She had no value in the marketplace of personhood. She was a trash fish.
But He stopped on His way to somewhere “important.” To acknowledge her. To speak to her. To look her in the face. To see her. To call her “Daughter.” To free her from her suffering.
He didn’t use her to reach, to lure, somebody more “important.” She was important. To Jesus, this little nobody woman was His trophy. His trophy of grace — His unearned favor. In the eyes of her town, a trash fish. But according to her place in three different books of the Bible, she was His trophy.
But I read in the Bible…
Of the woman at the well. A trash fish to everyone else. She had had five husbands, and was living with a sixth man. As someone pointed out recently, women were not allowed to divorce in that culture. Only husbands could divorce their wives. That means she had loved and had married and had been thrown away by five husbands. And she was trying to find love again. But she was alone. She was coming to the well in the noonday sun because none of the “good” people of the village wanted anything to do with her.
Normally Jews walked around the whole area of Samaria to avoid those “disgusting” Samaritans. But Jesus walked through Samaria. And Jesus stopped in Sychar, her town. And Jesus sent his disciples away to go get food. So He could be alone, so He could be available to talk to her when she came to the well. He sat down. And He waited. For her.
He changed her life. He didn’t use her to reach the “trophy fish.” She was the trophy! His grace, His unearned favor, was for her. If you read carefully in John 4, Jesus doesn’t tell her, “Now that you believe, I’m using you to reach your village. Go draw everyone in your village to me.” He doesn’t. He reveals himself only to her. Like Jesus predicted, the joy she has found spills out of her like Living Water, splashing into her village. The village was reached. Many believed. But not because Jesus used her as chum, as bait. He gave her worth. She was His trophy. The others were just drawn to her joy and her Jesus.
There are so many more instances like these throughout the Bible. God doesn’t use the hurting, the victim, the crushed, as bait. God doesn’t use the “trash fish” of society to reach a “trophy.” Jesus sees value and worth where others see none. God sees. God reaches. God searches. God stops.
So you see, church leaders, we are not your chum.