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How do you honour an abusive parent?

Everyone has a worldview. It is a way that we look at the world and rationalise what we see. I have a Christian worldview. So I believe that there is one God, who sent His Son, Jesus to the earth, to live with us. Jesus understands what it means to be fully human, warts and all. He then suffered a horrendous death at the cross in order to remove our sins so that we can have a relationship with God.

man standing on the top of a mountain looking at a map

I believe that the Bible is the word of God written by spirit-filled people, and that all scripture is true, and not a fairy tale. However, some scriptures have been hard to read over the years, and sometimes I’ve really wanted to ignore those verses and just pick the ‘nice’ ones and hang those on my fridge instead. But over the past decade, I’ve really started to delve into all of the Bible, including those hard to swallow passages.

When Moses received the ten commandments, one of those was to honour your father and your mother. Actually it says that we should do this in order to live long (Deuteronomy 5:16). I hear people say can’t we just ignore the ten commandments? We are living under grace and not law now aren’t we? No we can’t. A lot of the laws that we have adopted as a world have their foundations in the ten commandments. Do not murder and do not steal are just two of those commandments that society has forever written into law. We cannot unhitch the Old Testament from the New Testament. The Bible says that God is the same yesterday as today and forever (Hebrews13:8). He never changes. So the God of the Old is still the God of the New. The New Testament confirms the Old time and time again. Jesus himself confirms it when he speaks in the temple and quotes Isaiah. The words that He spoke on the cross was the beginning and end of a Psalm.

two children reading the Bible

Paul talks to the church in Ephesus and reminds them of the command to obey your parents. Paul says that this is the first commandment with a promise; if we honour our parents, it will go well with you and you may enjoy a long life (Ephesians 6:1-3). But how do we honour our parents if they have been abusive? It is a question that I’ve been asking myself for years now.

I grew up in home with an abusive parent. We went to church on a Sunday, but Monday to Saturday, God’s love didn’t fill my childhood home; only fear and anger. It wasn’t until social services came to visit the house when I was 10, that I realised that the environment that we were living in wasn’t normal. I left for university at 18 but didn’t really start my healing process until my mid 20s. I thought if I ignored it, the pain would go away. If I just buried it deep enough and didn’t talk about it, then none of it would be true. But then the vicious cycle of abuse started again when I married to an abusive man and I knew that I needed to face the difficulties of both the past and the future.

The Institute of Recovery from Childhood Trauma describe trauma as ‘an event or series of events such as abuse, maltreatment, neglect or tragedy that causes a profound experience of helplessness leading to terror’. The effect of trauma on our body, mind and spirit can be overwhelming and leads to toxic stress. It has both immediate and long term affects on the person experiencing the trauma. When a child experiences trauma at a young age, they don’t just ‘get over it’. It is not part of a child’s journey to be physically beaten up, starved, spat at, ignored, spoken at with venomous words, coerced and controlled or any other manner of non-nurturing care. Trauma changes the way that our brain develops which can lead to changes in behaviour, thoughts, relationships and the ability to emotionally respond to situations. In other words, it squashes the person that God created them to be.

pinboard showing trauma cancelling out our dreams

So if God places us in a family, why did He choose to place us where He knew that harm would be part of our journey, and by a parent or family member who’s job it is to love and nurture us? This goes into the whole area of suffering, and why would a loving God allow people to suffer. I will write much more on this at a later date. But I will just say at this point that because God loves us, He gives us freewill. It is out of that freewill that we chose how we live our lives; who we hurt; who we love; what we believe; what we value and hold dear. God also understands suffering. He sent His only Son to be born of a virgin and die a horrendous death that He did not deserve, so that our sins, past, present and future, may be removed. For many of us who have had an abusive or absent father, the concept of a loving Heavenly Father is just too much for us to accept. If you are in this category, I would recommend that you read the blog that will look more at suffering and God. In the meantime, I would encourage you to read the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

No two journeys are the same in length or route. My journey of recovery was long. For me, ignoring what I had been through and turning my back on God and the church was the first step that took me on a downward spiral of destruction. So often, we see people make mistakes and we want to catch them before they are ready to be caught. But most of the time, we need to hit rock bottom in order for our restoration process to begin. Sometimes we can fluctuate between rock bottom and recovery for a while. Sometimes we think we’ve hit rock bottom, when in fact we’ve hit a ledge on the way down. If you are a person who is supporting someone who is facing a battle at the moment, continue to be there for them. We know that God walks through us in our battles, but it is less lonely when we have supportive friends around us. But remember, it is God that brings the victory, so don’t try to replace the Saviour who is trying to do inner healing that we cannot do as humans.

I have had Christian and non-Christian counselling. If I’m honest, the Christian counselling was the only one that I should have engaged with. In our Christian worldview, healing looks different. We are made to be different; to be salt and light. Only a Christian counsellor would understand this. For example, one of the biggest steps of recovering from trauma is to forgive your aggressor! Scientists have discovered that forgiveness is healing for our mental health, which is what the Bible has been telling us all along (on an aside note, I love that science is finally catching up with what the Bible has been telling us). Jesus was asked how many times we should forgive someone who sins against them. He answered seventy seven times, in other words, an uncountable number of times (Matthew 18:22). So the first step to honouring an abusive parent is to forgive them. That does not mean forgetting. In fact, if you are one of those people who have dealt with past trauma by burying it, I can tell you that this is damaging all that God created you to be. It will be painful to rake up the past, but the past has made you who you are today. And trying to bury childhood trauma often leads to an adult who is unable to emotionally connect to others, is emotionally immature and will often pass their trauma on to their own children through their words and actions. Forgiveness IS freedom.

woman standing with her arms open wide in freedom

As a Bible believing Christian, I believe that everything that I go through, the traumas that I face, the battles that I walk through, will be used for God’s glory. In his book to the Romans, Paul promises that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). So what you are walking through, whether it was by a wrong choice you had made or had done to you by another person, if you love God, He can and will use that. So for me, the trauma that I went through as a child and then as an adult, God is using to speak to other people. But allow God to heal the wound before you speak to others. I have seen so much damage in other people’s lives where they have listened to a person who is speaking out of a oozing wound rather than a battle scar that has been sealed with God’s grace.

Finally, you get to control the microphone. You get to be in control of who you allow to speak into your life. This includes when and how loud! It might be that you never allow your parent to speak into your life again. However, it probably means that you will still see them at family functions, especially if you have children or your relationships with the rest of your family are healthy. When you do see them, walk in the freedom of forgiveness, but also walk in the freedom that God has given you through His grace. Honouring doesn’t mean allowing them to speak into parts of your life, especially if they aren’t healed. It means thanking God that they are part of your birth story and praying for healing for them. Honouring means to treat someone with admiration and respect.

man holding a micrphone

The biggest part of my healing journey was to truly forgive them, to pray for them and to see them how God sees them. God created each one of us with love and with a purpose and a plan. Many people wander off from that perfect plan, but God still loves them. I pray that one day, they might see just how much they are loved.

If you are struggling with an abusive parent, you might find this prayer helpful.

Lord, thank you that you see me and know me. Lord you see the hurt that I have had done to me. I know that it has caused you pain as well as me. Lord I ask that you heal my heart and dry my tears. Just as your word says Lord, you keep track of my sorrows, not one tear goes unnoticed. Lord I ask that you help me to forgive (name). What they did to me was wrong, but Lord I know that holding on to the past hurts me too. So Lord I ask for forgiveness for them. Lord surround me with good people who can help me on my road to healing. Thank you for (name) part in my birth story. Thank you that because of them, I can live to know you better. Lord I know that the path ahead will be hard, so I ask for your mercy and grace as I start to work through the areas of my heart that hurt. Thank you that you have a plan and a purpose for my life. Amen.


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