My Experience of Abuse

I grew up with six older sisters and a twin brother in a northwestern city in Ohio. My mother was, and is, a deeply committed Christian woman in her local Church of God In Christ. She raised us up to fear and respect God (Prov. 1:7; 22:6), nurtured us and loved us with every bit of energy she had — and she had plenty. We sang songs and prayed together.

My mother prayed openly and constantly revealed her faith. I vividly recall her praying for us to have food in the house because my father had taken the money from his job and spent it on alcohol. I remember my mother praying and fasting for several days for the opportunity to purchase the house we were renting. On the last day of her fast while she was standing on the front porch, the owner drove up and gave my dear mother the deed to the house. On the spot, my mother worshipped and praised God for hearing her prayers (Ps. 113:9). We all praise God for her.

My family’s problems of abuse started with the alcoholism of my father. Whenever people were around, he was full of mirth and humor. He loved telling jokes and having people laugh. But there was a darker side to Dad. He would curse at Mom and us children often. He would become physically abusive and fight Mom. We saw this and were terrified, but tried to protect our mother by fighting back. Many times the police would come and take my father to jail. The abuse happened for many years.

In a healthy, functional family, parents take the place of authority. This healthy authority allows parents to affirm their children’s personhood; with wisdom giving appropriate consequences for wrong behavior and teach(ing) and encourage(ing) right behavior.”

Parents are human beings. In the process of meeting the needs of their children, they make mistakes. When parents use their authority to force children into performance, use harsh standards of judgment, or use their position of parental authority to satisfy their needs and desires for importance, power, emotional or even sexual gratification,” abuse occurs. Family is the child’s place of safety; it should not be a place of fear. When a child’s trust is violated emotionally, verbally, physically, or sexually by a parent or adult, abuse occurs and destructive forces are released within the child. These forces may only be healed by Christ himself and his healing community (2 Cor. 2:5 – 8).

Burying Pain and Anger

Even though I was a very committed Christian, my early experiences caused my pain and anger to deepen. As a defense mechanism, I developed a spirituality” which permitted denial. I buried my pain and anger for many years.

However, my pain and anger were real. I remember wanting my father to hold and hug me. Apparently, that was too difficult for him. One incident occurred during a separation between my parents. My father took me (I was six or seven years old) and hid me from my mother so that he could force a reconciliation. The police were called in and classified me as a missing child. On another occasion, when I was getting ready to go to university, my father gave me a dollar and laughed in my face. I became so enraged that throughout the thirty minute ride to school, I was unable to talk to my friends.

It was the grace of God that helped me through that quarter of school both financially and emotionally. In those days, I only acknowledged that Mr. Thomas birthed me; he was my biological father, nothing else. If anyone had asked if Mr. Thomas was my father, I would have given him a polite, matter-of-fact, Yes,” without elaboration.

I wanted to be loved by my father and received little to nothing in return. I began looking for a father” in other men, particularly my pastor. God used my pastor to heal some of my pain and anger.

After university, I married my long-time friend. We developed a deep and abiding love and appreciation for one another. She had a beautiful healthy relationship with both her parents. Eleven years into our marriage, her father died. We were devastated. This incident inspired thoughts of my father. I began to think, What would I do if my father died today?” After the funeral services, I was tormented with thoughts of my father dying and the abuse he had caused.

One day my wife and I were talking about having a family. She was disturbed by the emotional distance between my father and me. My wife wanted this to be healed so that when we had our family, our children wouldn’t experience my pain and anger. Then she made the most piercing statement; it rendered me emotionally naked: You hate your father!” No one had ever said this to me before. I had developed a spirituality that protected me from having to confront my father. This spirituality also made it next to impossible to be healed from my pain and anger.

I had no place to hide. I had no defense against this raw powerful truth coming from my wife. God used her to confront me with a sin that had debilitated me. I couldn’t prevent any longer the disclosure of my hatred. After trying to protect myself by denying what was obvious to her, I surrendered both to the Lord and my wife; I went to the quietness of my office and fell on my knees, weeping and praying.

The Prayer That Heals Abuse

The Lord began to speak to my heart and said, How can you love me whom you’ve never seen and hate your brother whom you see every day. You are a liar (cf 1 John 4:20). The ultimate of your brother is your father.” I begged the Lord to forgive me for hating my father. I told him that I didn’t have the ability to forgive after being so full of pain and anger for so long. The Lord told me that he would provide me with the grace to forgive my father.

I had a major surprise. The Lord then told me to get up and call my father and ask him to forgive me for my hatred towards him. I said, No Lord, why don’t you tell him to ask forgiveness for what he took our family through, particularly me?” Then the Lord spoke to my heart again, I accepted you with all your sin and forgave you for all the offense against me and declared you righteous. You accept your father and ask him to forgive you for hating him.”

I rose off my knees and sat in my desk chair. I picked up the phone and dialed. Dad, how are you? How’s the weather? What’s Mom doing?” Usually when Dad and I talked, it was for two to three minutes at most, then I would ask to speak to Mom. But this time, I had to obey the Lord. I blurted out, Dad, would you please forgive me? I have hated you for many years.” I began to weep. You hurt me when you fought and abused Mom; you accused me of very ugly things that I didn’t do. You hurt and shamed our family for too many years. When you laughed at me, while drunk, and gave me a dollar for four years of university that was very painful. My friends laughed at you.” I said everything that I needed to say. Then I heard my father’s faint crying over the telephone. I had never seen or heard him cry before in my life. In the midst of his crying, he asked me to forgive him for all the things he had done to me.

After I hung up the phone, I sat quietly. It was as if Jesus himself had begun to put his hand inside me and pull out hands full of pain, anger, and hatred. I didn’t feel total freedom at that moment, but I knew that a great force of healing had occurred in me in depths that I would experience days, months, and even years later. As a matter of fact, this deep healing is still going on.

Dad has changed very little — but I have been changed for life because I confronted my sin of hatred. My family began to change its attitude toward Dad because of how I began to love and respect him.

How do people get healed from the devastation of family abuse of any kind? First by acknowledging that the abuse happened. For without this honesty, healing can never be experienced. Secondly, if possible, by confronting the person who is the cause of your pain and anger. The victim and the victimized are bound up together — it could be that the Lord would heal you both. Thirdly, knowing that we must always go to God in prayer about anything, including abuse, hatred, pain, and anger. We can hear him say, Come here to me all of you who are working hard and carrying too much, and I will refresh you. Here, take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and simple at heart, and you will experience refreshing deep down in your lives. You see, my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28 – 301).

  1. Paraphrased in Frederick Dale Bruner’s Matthew: A Commentary ↩︎

Adapted from African-American Men: Abuse, Anger and Healing Prayer. Permission to reprint given by Donn Charles Thomas.

Photo by Max Rockatansky on Unsplash

Text First Published January 1994 · Last Featured on May 2023