I’ll conclude with some lessons I have learned from a lifetime of helping people deal with the shortcomings and failures of their parents…
Parental abuse comes in a lot of different packages. Certainly, physical and sexual abuse gets the most notoriety… and rightfully so. But there are so many other ways. Neglect. Intimidation. Unrealistic expectations. Belittling. Comparison. Rejection. Insults. Unfair punishment. Shaming. Threatening. Withholding affection. And so many more.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” One way children can show honor to their parents is by obeying them. No doubt. But obedience “in the Lord” is a huge qualifier. I have come to believe God does not ask children to give their parents blind obedience, especially as they grow older. Parent’s demands must be consistent with the heart of God, if obedience is to be required.
When God wants one thing and your parents want something different, Jesus makes clear which master you should serve. Man cannot serve two masters. (Matthew 6:24)
Here are some other passages that help clarify the parent-child relationship:
“Do not call anyone on earth your father; for you have one father, and He is in heaven.” Matthew 23:9
“Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50
“I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me …” Matthew 10:34-37
Harsh? No doubt. But the words of Jesus must inform our behavior.
There is a huge difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is when the offenses of the other person have been pardoned to the point we no longer desire harm or payback to the offender, but we can wish them well. Forgiveness does not require reconciliation.
Reconciliation is the restoring or rebuilding of a relationship. Forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation to begin, but that is only the starting point. Reconciliation requires repentance and life change on the part of the offender. Trust must be restored. Safety is essential. Reconciliation may or may not ever happen between an abusive parent and a child who has received abuse, although it should always remain the goal.
It is still possible to love our abusers, but because it is not safe to be with them, sometimes protective walls must be put up. It is always ok to say “no” to an abuser. It is always ok to withdraw from, limit, or even end a relationship with an abuser, if necessary. It is always ok to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the behaviors of an abuser. Even if it is a parent.
As followers of Christ, he is always our example. We should always be defined by kindness. Grace and mercy must be our guide. Compassion and understanding simply have to be the filters for justice, if forgiveness and reconciliation can ever take place.
Let the God of second chances rule in our hearts.