GUEST WRITER: Laurie Tims
“Where was Jesus when you were suffering?” my spiritual director asked me as we sat together seeking the Lord recently.
Tears. I didn’t know. I had faith that He was there over the decades, but I couldn’t see Him through the shame of my reactions to my dad’s abuse. Since my reactions were condemned as sin, keeping a record of wrongs, and unforgiveness by the abuser himself, it was hard to see that I could be on the side of Jesus – loved by Him, accepted, and not condemned.
Why also, did Jesus wait so long to show me scriptures, assuring me that I could separate from my dad? Why were years squandered in beliefs that the only righteous path was to stay in proximity and suffer – suffer for Christ. An idea that comforted me on this path as a young adult, that though Jesus was reviled, He gave no answer. Yet I always failed because I could not NOT give an answer. My biggest struggle was when my dad said untrue, twisted, and degrading things about my dear mom or my sisters. From the time I was little, it hurt me the most to hear him snarl demeaning things at my mom. His threatening presence and physical domination was also scary. As a younger child, watching him as he harmed or threatened my mom in order to accentuate the points made in his verbal tirades – it was devastatingly wounding.
I couldn’t hold it in my body.
I had to shout! I had to intervene, disrupt. At least once I attempted to pull him off her with my little girl self and many more times, I shouted against him. Yes, I was set against him – but not by her as he always accused. It was his own behavior which repelled me from an early age.
As I grew in my faith and learned in my Christian surroundings, my conclusion was that these interventions were immature responses – and that if I were spiritually mature, I would be able to take it, entrusting myself to the One who judges justly. So, I felt like a failure.
This also fed into my internalized beliefs about not measuring up; I was a second-class Christian in so many ways. I was able to have successful relationships in Des Moines where I made my home as an adult, but when I was around my reviler, I blew it. How strong and authentic could my faith in Jesus be if I couldn’t lean on Him and succeed? What good is it to do good to those who do good to you (my wonderful friends back in Des Moines.) I needed to do good to those who harmed me. I believed that enduring abuse from this “difficult person” was God’s tool to refine me.
I enlisted scripture. I memorized and prayed through Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,” on the two-hour drive to my hometown to visit my family. There was happy anticipation of visiting with my mom, and a hopefulness mixed with dread in regards to interactions with my dad. There was not a visit where my spirit didn’t end up feeling defeated. My drive home was anxious and sorrowful, re-playing what he said and what I said in return, considering all the ways it might have gone differently if I had shown up better.
Why so hard?
Why so painful?
Years later my roommate and best friend of twenty years told me it took several days for me to recover. She could read the grief, defeat, and frustration in my countenance.
So where was He?
Where was Jesus?
Friends, Jesus was in the resistance. He was. He was the truth in my gut and in my soul. Across my shoulders and down to my toes.
My world was confusion, suffering from the cognitive dissonance of an every-Sunday-in-church dad amening and a seething, yelling-across-the-kitchen, scary dad.
Jesus was in the strength of that little girl who knew the truth. She knew that what she was witnessing wasn’t right, good, pure, true, or praise-worthy.
Jesus was with the teenager who wanted to follow God but had a faltering faith – unsure if she could follow God with integrity if she was supposed to just take it when her earthly father berated her, assuring her that, “kids like you would be stoned in bible times”, calling her a “wicked, rebellious, non-Christian teenager.” He informed her that “the bible says rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” This teenager knew that what she endured and witnessed was not to be respected.
Though I resisted, I still carried the weight of shame and guilt because I didn’t know what to believe about myself. I knew that my resistance to his spiritual abuse and my desire to defend myself and my loved ones looked ugly too, but even in that I maintained integrity and avoided name calling and twisted arguments. I stated the truth over and over. Often I set boundaries:
– You can’t push us or slap us or block us in a corner and scream in our faces.
– It’s not okay to name call.
– No, I won’t ride in a vehicle with you and it’s not because I’m an unforgiving, rebellious person.
I was trying to live with boundaries long before I read the Boundaries book by Townsend and Cloud. My boundaries were not and still are not respected. Sadly, we are not able to have a relationship presently, which grieves me, but it’s necessary.
When I was in my twenties, after a verbal altercation where the abuser failed to get his way and had thrown a three-year-old fit in the body and with the vocabulary of a man in his fifties, I went out to a coffee shop, defeated. I wrote about the situation and noted a verse in my journal with no further commentary:
Titus 3:10-11 – Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; He is self-condemned.
It took me another 16 years for the blinders to come off – that this verse and other similar ones* were God’s help, provision, and protection for me. Two of many reasons I was blind are:
1. I felt my dad was exempt from my stepping out of our lives together because he was my dad. However, I had added on to scripture. Scripture did not say, “have nothing to do with him, UNLESS he’s your parent.”
2. The relentless lie I believed that I had to be perfect – do everything for peace, before I stepped away. I was waiting all those years for my responses to become holy – then I’d have the freedom and clear conscience to step away – thinking also of my need to consider my “log” vs. his “splinter.”
- My mom knows Jesus. We had our quiet spiritual conversations apart from my dad. He would have loved to join, but he was so divisive and opposing – there couldn’t be fellowship with him. My mom spoke life and truth to me.
- My maternal grandparents saw the damage, sorrow and defeat. They encouraged me in their own little ways as they were grieved by how their son-in-law treated our family. “You’re alright, kid.”
- Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders. They affirmed God’s love for me. It was an anxious attachment though because I heard from my dad, “If people at church knew what you were really like . . . how you don’t respect your dad. . .” If people really knew me, they wouldn’t love and accept me. God still used these relationships for good and to keep me on a path with Him.
- College friends, and post college friends. They saw me. They ached for me. They encouraged me, even when I didn’t feel the freedom to avoid and have nothing to do with my dad.
God was in the resistance. He was also in the community. I didn’t have agency to flee the abuser as a child, and my beliefs kept me in proximity for two more decades as an adult. At the same time, God sent his people to love, guide, teach, mentor, and encourage me. God is good. He was and is my refuge and strength.
* Other similar scriptures that encourage me to avoid an abusive person are 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Proverbs and Psalms often refer to abusive type people as fools or wicked and warn us to keep our distance.
About the Author: Laurie Tims grew up in a family where she learned about Jesus, and at the same time, experienced spiritual, verbal, emotional and physical abuse. In the last few years, she’s observed patterns of these abuses happening in “Christian homes,” and the ways that teaching from the pulpit can inadvertently disable women to resist abuse and enable abusers. She now studies domestic abuse and advocates for others in similar situations. She lives in the Midwest with her sweet husband and wonderful children. You can find more of her writing at her facebook page : No More – Finding a Path of Righteousness Out of Abuse | Facebook