It’s easy enough for someone to lay down the law about how a Christian should honor his or her parents. But any given situation is not always as straightforward as it looks from the outside. I know. For the last ten years trying to understand how to honor my abusive parents as God would have me do has been my primary spiritual work. I intensely long to live out God’s deepest truths in this. Today (that’s all I can speak for at the moment) this is how I do it:
1) Forgive them. There is no greater freedom I’ve experienced than laying aside the resentment from the injustice committed against me. When more pain bubbles up I am blessed again with the freedom to forgive.
2) Acknowledge their importance in my life and the good things they have done for me. The Hebrew word for honor is also used to mean heavy or weighty. I am literally made up of the genetic code of my mother and father. And while that thought mostly terrifies me, it helps to remember my parents were created in God’s image. No sin they commit can change who God really had in mind when He made them.
3) Live the truth. Keeping family secrets and living family lies is not honoring. For me it is idolatry. At this moment I am not able to keep in contact with my parents and still live in the truth. One day, I hope I will.
4) Stand for justice. I honor my parents by writing on this blog and by speaking out against child abuse. My parents were abused children who had no one to rescue them.
5) Be an honorable person. I try to live in a way that would make them proud if they were able to see things clearly, even though they don’t know about it.
How do you honor your parents?
The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD
Call this number for help if you are 1) a victim of child abuse 2) a survivor of child abuse 3) an abuser or someone who is afraid they may abuse a child 4) a witness of child abuse or someone who suspects a child is being abused . Your call is anonymous.
Last week in a ‘good Christian family’ a 13 year old boy named Tyler was murdered. By all accounts Tyler was sweet, obedient, and compliant young man. But apparently he was not perfect. Last week he made a mistake of some kind. Because of Tyler’s mistake, his father tied him to a tree overnight as punishment. In the morning he let him go but the next night he tied him up again with his step-mother’s full knowledge. Later that day Tyler was found unconscious and all efforts to revive him failed.
I am furious about what happened to Tyler. For the last few days the Bible verses Tyler’s parents must have used to justify his actions have played over and over in my head. There’s ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. There’s ‘children obey your parents’. There’s the one about the father taking his rebellious son outside the village to be stoned for his disobedience in the name of God. I wonder if those verses played over and over in Tyler’s head as he was tied to that tree. I wonder when he realized his young life was slipping away. I wonder if and when he stopped believing that his dad was good.
I believe God too is furious about what happened to Tyler. When the Judeans killed their children in the name of religion God was furious enough to give His chosen people over to the hand of the uncircumcised Chaldeans. He said: “They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” God did not command Tyler’s parents to tie him to that tree. It had not even entered God’s mind that they could do this horrible abomination. It was a sin beyond God’s imagination. A sin that demands justice. I want justice for Tyler.
May God give us all eyes to see. To stand in the gap for the Tylers in this world before it’s too late. This episode was far from a momentary lapse in judgement. Parents don’t suddenly decide to tie their children to trees. Abuse, like every other sin escalates as you feed it. The rush of power and sense of control abusers get from their crimes override rationality like any other drug. Reports are that Tyler’s dad was ‘scary’ and that he made people feel uncomfortable. If you as a grown man or woman feel afraid around someone, just try to imagine how a small child must feel when trapped with that person behind closed doors.
I’m planning to start a series of posts here cataloging the symptoms of child abuse and what you should do if you suspect it may be happening. It’s not justice for Tyler, that’s in God’s hands now.
*edited on 1/20/2009 to change ‘mother’ to ‘step-mother’*
Outside. Running down the hill in my bare feet. Cool grass between my chubby toes. Warm sun on my round face. I was a good girl. I was a smart girl. I was a pretty girl. They all said so.
Inside. The special room. Straight even lines on the carpet. Clear plastic on the couch. Glass shelf. Shiny things. They were for looking not for touching. One was round and clear and sparkly. I wanted to hold it. I imagined picking it up and feeling its weight in my hands. Oops. Warm heavy feeling in the back of my pants. Accident. Other things on the shelves. One looked like a deer. It looked very pointy but I wouldn’t touch. I would just pretend. Grown ups talking. They liked to do that. That child is old enough to sit on the toilet like everyone else. If that were my kid I’d rub her nose in it.
My arm pulled HARD. We walked FAST to the bathroom. The door slammed SHUT. Her face was RED. Her voice was LOUD. Her hands were SHAKY. Her words came FAST. My pants came off rough. Her hands held me down. Bad smell. Warm smelly poop on my nose, my cheeks, my forehead. Final raging words: “IF YOU ACT LIKE A DOG I’M GONNA TREAT YOU LIKE A DOG!”
At that moment a new sensation burned in my heart that I had never felt before. It started as a spark, then grew to a small flame, and finally became a raging wildfire. Before I knew it the forest of joy, love, and optimism that grew there became an empty, smoking landscape. The hungry fire consumed every inch. Although good feelings would take root and sprout again, they were mere shoots, not the tall glorious trees that once grew. And the fire’s name was Shame.
My mom was careful to hurt me in ways that did not show. During those years we attended church three times a week. We sat on our pew with clean clothes, neatly combed hair, and Sunday morning smiles. Mom was an enthusiastic Sunday school teacher. She was eccentric, but accepted.I was surprised when one day she made a mistake. She hurt me in a way that was as plain as the nose on my face. One day, in a fit of rage, she pinned me down and rubbed all the skin off my nose and cheeks. The wound was large and the wound was obvious. They could Tell.The long looks I took in the mirror removed any lingering doubt. Someone would notice. Someone would ask. That knowledge filled me with an indescribably twisted mixture of hope and terror.We went to church as usual and of course we pretended my wound wasn’t there. And like the emperor’s new clothes, when we pretended, everyone else did too. Everyone pretended except for my youth minister. I’ll call him John.John pestered me about my nose. He ignored all my brush-offs and dodged all my lies. He told me it didn’t look like I fell. He told me bumping into a door couldn’t possibly do that. He told me he wanted to know. He wanted the truth. He begged me to tell him.So for the first time in my life, I Told. I Told everything. John inhaled with a short, swift breath. Then he was quiet for a long time. A look of curiosity flashed across his face, then confusion, and finally he smiled.”Good”, he said. “You probably deserved it!” When John walked away that day I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I Believed him. More than two decades passed before I ever Told again.