Abuse and the Family Worth Being Loyal to

Counselling; a blessed misery. You never really know how you are going to feel the next day. Sometimes it’s like a really good workout, and the next day every move feels like murder. Today is one of those days. I know that the counselling session had to happen and that what we talked about needed to be discussed, but that doesn’t make the pain any easier.

I once compared counselling to a pelvic exam. It’s the best metaphor I’ve found, but you could also use bone setting, physical therapy, or any number of excruciating and humiliating physical treatments. It is raw and real and vulnerable. You cry. You say things you never thought you would say to someone you hardly know. Family loyalty, that sacred bond, is sacrificed in the name of healing. Many sufferers can’t get past that. It took me many, many years to get past it.

The truth is, no family worth being loyal to doesn’t want you to heal. No family member who truly knows you and takes the time to sit in your agony with you would ever hesitate to say, “Tell them whatever you need to say, just get the demons out of your head. You don’t deserve to feel this way.” We talk a lot in our churches about eternal families. The truth is, there is only one family that is eternal, and that is the family of Christ.

When Christ was teaching his disciples, someone came and interrupted him and said that his mother and brother wanted to talk to him. He said, “My mother and my brethren are these that hear the word and do it.” Who knows what his biological family thought of him? We know that Mary had much divine insight into the Savior and his divinity, but we don’t know if the other members of his family thought he was the Son of God. Maybe they thought he was crazy. That would be more about them than it was about him. We all have to decide what family we belong to. The family of Christ is a family of healing. No one in that family keeps anyone from healing, no matter what family secrets they have to reveal.

I can’t go into specifics about yesterday because it isn’t my story to tell. I only tell my story on this blog. I will say that those who suffer abuse are my family, those who seek healing are my family, those who cling to lies and excuses and minimize the abuse in their families and then pass it on, you can’t be my family, because abuse is not allowed in my family.

What is Abuse? Like every word in a fallen language, it can mean vastly different things to different people. To me abuse is best described as unrighteous dominion. Every person is given their divine agency. When someone engages in a pattern of behavior that systematically takes that agency away for the abuser’s own benefit, that is abuse. It has a particular scent of evil that once smelt, is never forgotten.

Abuse can look different depending on the abuser and the victim. Some victims are compliant and then the system can look fine on the outside. Once I read about a woman whose husband exercised complete control over her by putting a bullet in the window sill of her kitchen. Every time she did the dishes she would see it and she knew what would happen to her if she disobeyed him. She never did, so nothing happened. That was abuse. There was no shouting, no bruises, and no outward signs, just a threat in the form of a symbol, but it was still abuse. She was totally subjected to the whims of her husband just as if he beat her every day. Sometimes the worst forms of abuse are mental and emotional where the victim is subjected to the psychological lies of the abuser for so long that the victim’s reality is no longer valid to them. This abuse can be passed along in families, as most abuse is. In the scriptures it is called, “the false traditions of their fathers,” and then as if to underscore the point they usually add, “which were not correct,” lest we forget.

Once I lay in a dark room pretending to be asleep as I heard a man verbally abuse his wife in another room. She urged him to stay quiet and tried repeatedly apologizing to calm his wrath. His denigrating comments and coldly cruel tone are forever burned into my memory. I witnessed this man engage in the abuse of his wife for sixteen years, but that first day in the dark was the only time it was shown to me so naked and raw. At first I tried to understand it and the dysfunctional system that created it, and have compassion on the people that it shaped. I realized this year at last, that you cannot be a part of a family system that allows abuse, or it will destroy you. It will sicken you. If you speak out about it, they will blame you and demonize you. If you say quiet, you are complicit. There is nothing eternal about a family like that, unless it is eternal darkness and damnation.

The only person I can control is myself. The only family I have are those who accept Jesus Christ, embrace unconditional love, and reject abuse in all its forms. There is no secret that will not be revealed. Bruises can be covered, tears wiped away, diaries burned, abusers excused, victims blamed, and behavior “forgiven,” but in the end, the God of heaven will reveal those secrets, and woe to those who have kept them. Abuse is a family sin; it takes a family to enable it and pass it on.

In April 2002 President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke about abuse in the Priesthood session of conference. He said that it was a problem in the church. I don’t have to be a prophet to tell you, it is still a problem. If you want to hear what he has to say about it, you can read the talk, Personal Worthiness to Exercise the Priesthood. Spoiler alert, he recommends counselling for the victims. Yup. If someone is sick, you send them to the doctor. If they have been abused, you send them to the therapist. It isn’t rocket science, but we try so hard to find another way. Counselling is more scary than a root canal.

Let us rip off the bandages. Let us uncover the secrets. Let us come to Him who is Mighty to Save! He can heal our families. He stands waiting for us to come to him that he may heal us. We have only to shed the lies, let go of the need to control and subject, and follow his gentle leadership. He will lead us to green pastures, and our little ones, he will succor. No family is so evil and twisted that it cannot be healed by his grace, of that I am sure.

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