September 27, 2010

My Own Father Appeared to Have Evil Will

I would like to tell you a very personal story. I can recall instances from my early childhood when my dad would go into a rage. On one occasion my mother had purchased several pieces of new furniture and had it delivered to the house. Dad was furious over how she had spent the money, and he threw out all the furniture. I can still see in my mind one of the pieces tumbling down the stairs to the sidewalk. I was petrified by my dad’s temper, and there were other explosions that were even worse.

After Dad died, I shared with my mother another memory of something that happened when I was around three years old. It comes to me in scenes, and in the first scene my mom and dad are having some kind of argument. In the next scene my father is strangling my mother! He has her up against the refrigerator with his hands around her throat, and he is choking her. I run to help and hit my dad with my little fists, trying to make him stop. He just slaps the top of my head and pushes me out of the way. In the final scene, my mother is sitting on a brick wall somewhere outside, and she is crying. A neighbor lady is talking to my mom through her window, asking, “Jay, are you all right?” Then the horrific episode fades from my mind.

When I told my mother my recollection of what happened, she was in shock. Her face displayed utter dismay: “You remember this? You were too young to remember this. I can’t believe you remember this!” But I did.

My father’s violent fits of temper finally became too much, and he and Mom separated and later divorced. Mom, my sister, and I moved to a different address, and for the next three years, my father would come over practically every day for lunch to see us. As I shared in Love & Respect, my parents finally did get back together, and Mom was instrumental in Dad coming to Christ.

I feel free to share their story now that they are both with the Lord in heaven, but I do not do so to shame my father. My mother never minimized his actions. She never went into denial, saying he didn’t know what he was doing. At the same time—despite the painful, unnerving episodes that stick in my mind—neither my mother nor I, young as I was, ever concluded that Dad was evil willed. We chose to believe that, while Dad had committed evil acts, he was not evil willed.

Please hear me. I am NOT saying physical abuse and violence is not evil. It is evil! My counsel has always been for physical separation when there is physical violence. The safety of the spouse and children is first and foremost. There is no debate about this. My Mom had to make that decision. But after years of proven behavior, she decided to give my Dad another chance, rather than to write him off as evil. My Mom was a strong woman with a solid career who provided well for her children. She made that decision from a position of strength, not weakness.

I am thankful my mom sought to reconcile. Your situation may be different and reconciliation may not be possible or prudent for you. But if there is the smallest measure of hope, my appeal to men and women is this: If God has not absolutely closed the door (like a spouse divorcing and remarrying) then that cracked door could open more widely. Adultery can be forsaken by an adulterer and forgiveness extended by the innocent party. A deserting spouse can return, like a prodigal. A physically abusive spouse can truly change and stop the abuse. For the innocent party, such a journey is not easy. My counsel is to turn to a local church that has godly wise people who have experienced these things before. People care and they want to help.

Dr. E


Stephanie said...

"If God has not absolutely closed the door (like a spouse divorcing and remarrying) then that cracked door could open more widely."

--are you saying that if a spouse chooses adultery and a path that takes them away from God, divorces his or her spouse, and marries someone else, this is GOD closing a door? ABSOLUTELY? really?

myfivemonkeys said...

I love this! Thanks for sharing your story about your Dad. One of my favorite songs is by Whiteheart, "even the hardest heart, can break like the dawn and be changed by the song of love..." If God doesn't give up on us, neither should we give up on eachother.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. My husband was abusive toward me early in our relationship. We sought counseling, classes and lived in different states for a time. We are still in counseling, but we are both happy and he has not hurt me since. I agree too that he was not/never was a bad person. I have had so many friends write me off because they say, "Abuse never changes." And they tell me I'm stupid. Even my parents have rejected me. We are not perfect, but I do not tolerate abuse. Thank you for this perspective.

Anonymous said...

What about Verbal Abuse?

Anonymous said...

I am happy for your family that your parents were able to rediscover love late in life. I am a therapist and pastoral counselor. Research shows that sometimes abusers do change. However, research shows that - even in the church - that is very, very, very rare. You may want to view information on - a web-based resource for the Christian community on abuse and domestic violence.

Hearing your story, I am keenly aware that abusers rarely change. I remain very very concerned about the pattern and beliefs expressed by evangelicals that reconciliation is always the greatest good. Terrible pressure is brought to bear on women especially, to prop open the door of openness to reconciliation after abuse. Evangelicals seem closed to the idea that someone would justifiably and wisely say, "No. I have shut the door. I and my children have been damaged and destroyed by my spouse's sin, abuse, and controlling behavior. No more."

Evangelicals seem closed to the idea that this person might be freed to move on. Make a healthy, stable, good life for herself. Perhaps remarry and find happiness and a loving stable home for the children. Perhaps....

But evangelicals seem so determined that reconciliation is always the highest good that they demand an already abused person put herself at additional risk. Remember, only she can walk this out. Only she can live her life - not her pastor or church leaders or the very fellow Christians who may have ignored or been blind to the abuse she experienced.

Sometimes, No is an answer. Sometimes, No More is the most loving action.

Finally, in response to one comment: Verbal abuse is actually more damaging in the long term than even physical or sexual abuse. As one abuse survivor said, "The bones he broke and the bruises he gave me are gone now. But, the words he said to me will hurt forever."
I know Jesus can heal those words, but the painful impacts of verbal and emotional abuse on the self-esteem and emotional well-being are serious and long-lasting.

Anonymous said...

To the therapist and pastoral counselor who wrote on October 11, 2010 12:33 PM - I was just wondering if you were referring to Dr E. when you wrote:

"Evangelicals seem CLOSED TO THE IDEA that this person might be freed to move on. Make a healthy, stable, good life for herself. Perhaps remarry and find happiness and a loving stable home for the children. Perhaps..."


"But evangelicals seem so determined that reconciliation is ALWAYS the highest good that they demand an already abused person put herself at additional risk."

I only ask b/c while am have not your credentials on this subject, I am curious how people react to statements of others and I guess I was a little confused by your observation. My point of confusion appears in that (and I may be mistaken) you seem to be suggesting that this (your words above) is what Dr E. is doing. I believe I read where Dr. E wrote that:

"Your situation may be different and reconciliation MAY NOT BE POSSIBLE OR PRUDENT for you."

Could Dr E. have stressed more vehemently how rare the possibility of a successful (as in "safe")reconciliation is, or moreso, how unwise the decision to reconcile IS in most cases? Probably. But, won't lump Dr. E in with those who minimize the cost of a decision to reconcile - where only SHE (or he in some cases) will be charged to carry the weight of the consequences of that longshot decision. Have you sir/ma'am?

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