Tuesday, June 4, 2013

As We Forgive Our Debtors

i have a dear friend who grew up in a home where she and her sisters were abused by their father.  their abuse was both physcial and mental, though there was no sexual abuse.  their father beat them with leather belts, with water hoses, with automobile fan belts.  they were thrown to the ground and kicked.  one sister tells of being beaten for begging her father to quit spanking an infant sister because the baby was crying.  they lived in constant feat that a minor, or imagined, infraction would result in some horrific punishment.  this abuse affected each sister differently.  the oldest has deep resentments of the younger sisters, because as the oldest she believes she suffered most.  another sister refused to discipline her children in any way because she feared turning into an abuser like her father.  another sister harbored deep resentments toward her mother because the mother never tried to stop the abuse.  the fourth sister was able to forgive her father, though the hurting child inside her sometimes emerges, and she becomes a "control freak" to create an environment where she feels safe.

it is difficult to have compassion for such a father, but as i've listened to descriptions of this man, i can see a person who was hurting deeply while he was inflicting such pain on his children.  he grew up in a home ruled by a mother who was constantly on the lookout for "sinful" behavior, a home in which the father regarded his children as little more than farm laborers and who had deepseated hatred of anyone who was of a different religion or race.  one of the children in this home died of heat stroke working in the fields because she was not allowed to stop working until she had completed her assigned tasks.

later in life, the father of my friend suffered a severe head injury while working in a manufacturing plant.  in those days, there were no laws to protect workers from unsafe conditions, and his employer felt no responsibility for the injury.  the attitude of the factory owner, who was known in the community as a devout christian man, was that a worker's carelessness must be the cause of any injury, and since the worker had caused his own injury, he was on his own--no medical care, no sick leave pay, no job.

by all accounts, my friend's father was never the same after this injury, and he took out his anger on whatever vulnerable creature was handy, be it a child or a farm animal.  the story is told of him beating the family dog to death in front of his daughters because the dog, on his orders, had attacked a cow at which the man had become angry when the cow became obstinate.  what a profound impact that must have had on the daughters as they witnessed what their father was capable of when he was provoked.

what is amazing to me is that while each of the daughter carries deep scars from their childhood, all have become successful adults.  they have treated their children with kindness, and the pattern of abuse that began at least two generations earlier stopped with them.  three of the daughters have great difficulty relating to their husbands, frequently berating and criticizing them, and such behavior is not surprising.  the fourth daughter, my friend, who has been able to reach a sort of forgiveness towards her abusing father and passive mother, has the most loving relationship with her spouse, who she describes as her best friend.

when i see how she conducts her life, i am convinced of the power of forgiveness and the need to understand how the behavior of others is often the result of how they were treated as children.  i stand amazed that, little by little over the passing years, my friend has worked to come to terms with the unspeakable horror of her childhood.  while there are times when the old hurts surface, they have become less and less frequent, and love has become stronger than the hatred she may never be able to rid herself of.

my prayer today is that each of us learns the power of forgiveness to heal, that we are able to be forgiving and kind toward ourselves and others, and that we will look beyond the cruel actions of others to try and understand the motivations that are at the root of such cruelty.  shalom.

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