As a Christian, you may have thought it could never happen to you. But abuse has exploded into your world, shattering your relationships, dreams, hope, and even your faith.

Abuse is never part of God's plan for you. And, no matter what your circumstances, you can count on God to help you break free of abuse and begin a new, healthier life.

Here are some ways you can heal from abuse:

• Don't blame yourself. Realize that the abuse is not your fault, no matter what your abuser says. Understand that abuse can happen to anyone, of any faith, age, economic status, race, or neighborhood. Know that you are not alone. Know that you are not stupid or worthless; to the contrary, God loves you deeply and values you highly.

Realize that God does not condone abuse of any kind. Believe that His will for you is to break free of the abuse you're suffering. Recognize your need for help, and decide to pursue it.

• Make safety your first priority. Honestly consider your own safety at home, and your children's safety there. Do you think your spouse could harm you, your children, or your property?

Develop a safety plan in case you need to leave home quickly. Make sure you have access to a car or public transportation at all times. Keep a list of important phone numbers handy. Pack an emergency kit with an extra set of car and house keys, money, food stamps, your checkbook, credit card(s), pay stubs, birth certificates and other identification for you and your children, your driver's license or other photo identification, your social security card or green card/work permit, health insurance cards, medications for you and your children, the deed or lease to your house or apartment, any court papers or orders, a change of clothes for you and your children, and a familiar toy for each child. Make sure you know how to contact your local domestic violence shelter or transition house in case you need another place to stay.

• Break your silence. Reflect on how much pain you've suffered, and remember your abuser's broken promises. Consider the fear you feel and how your children are being affected. Gather your courage to take action. Realize that God offers you real hope for a life free of abuse. Take stock of trustworthy people with whom you may safely share your story. Start by telling one person as soon as you can. Then reach out to others so you're not relying just one person to meet all your needs.

Don't let the person abusing you know who you have told so he or she won't try to harm the people who are trying to help you. Understand that it's critical for you to break your silence, however. Know that many people are willing and able to help you if you let them know what's going on.

• Use the many resources that can help you. Spiritually, bring all your painful feelings and hard questions to God in prayer. Invite Him to minister to you through His Spirit and His Word - especially passages such as the Psalms in which biblical characters pour out their own pain and doubts to Him and find deliverance.

Legally, seek police intervention and obtain advice from an attorney or a community agency. Medically, get a doctor's help. Psychologically, go for individual or group counseling and join a support group. Enlist a social worker's help to you obtain temporary benefits such as welfare or food stamps, guide you through moving logistics, and set you up for job training. Talk with your pastor about whatever support your church can offer you.

• Envision a brighter future. Imagine the possibilities that lie ahead for you; dare to dream of a better life. Believe that God has a good future filled with new hope in store for you. Plan how you'd like to move forward into that future, relying on God's strength. Figure out what specific types of help you'll need, and what new skills you'll need to acquire to move forward. Accept that help and begin learning those new skills. Walk into your future one step at a time, knowing that you'll make progress with every step you take.