October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and recent news of domestic violence charges against NFL stars Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson has touched me on a personal level. Although I've never met them, their stories of abuse are all too familiar. It resembles what I'd witnessed as a kid in my own family.
I'm especially grieved because Rice and Peterson were supposed to be two of the "good guys" in the NFL. Neither of these men had the persona of an angry young "thug". In fact, they both seemed to be the kind of man you would want your daughter to marry.
So much for appearances!
Yet I know what it's like to grow up in a family that is full of smiles and sanctimonious spirituality in public, even when there is a reign of terror behind the curtain. You see, my father used to mercilessly beat my mother, and both parents used to beat us kids.
If you think I'm exaggerating, think again. These were not harmless marital spats or justifiable discipline of children. If surveillance videos existed--as happened in the Ray Rice case--most of our family would have faced jail time. Instead of just being slapped around a little or struck on our bottom, we were beaten across the body with extension cords, broom handles or any other objects our parents could find.
As a follower of Christ and preacher of the gospel, I've been processing all of this for many years now. Consequently, I realize that hurt people tend to hurt people, and abused people tend to become abusers.
Which begs the question, how could that tragic cycle be broken in my life and the lives of my children and grandchildren?
Of course, I've heard countless preachers justify dysfunctional behavior by citing Biblical principles out of context. "Wives, submit to your husbands" (Ephesians 5:22) is no endorsement of tyranny in the home. Nor is it valid to quote the maxim "spare the rod and spoil the child" to justify violence against kids.
My heart has been grieved to see God's Word too often become just another curtain to hide and justify people's rage and egotism. Some folks are experts on all the verses that appear to endorse their sinful actions, yet they never seem to read passages like Ephesians 4:31-32: "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you."
I didn't see much of this side of the gospel in my home as a child. There was plenty of wrath and clamor but not very much kindness or forgiveness extended. While God's name was frequently used in vain, his command to "love one another" was only sporadically on display. The Bible was an ornament to carry to church meetings and behind closed doors it was not a guide for our family's behavior.
So how can such a cycle of anger and violence be broken? On one level, my heart goes out to abusers like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. In almost every case, an abuser was once abused often as a child. That was the model set before such a one and it's hard to shake because it was deeply imprinted on one's soul at an early age.
But the good news is that the cycle of abuse CAN be broken. I've seen the cycle broken in my life, and I know it can be broken in yours as well.
The Bible says that if you're a true follower of Christ, you've been redeemed "from the futile way of life inherited from your forefathers" (1 Peter 1:18). I thank God for that.
Fortunately, my children and grandchildren have never had to witness the kind of cruelty and violence I experienced as a kid. Our family life wasn't perfect, I'm sure, but the multigenerational cycle of abuse ended with my siblings and me.
My heart goes out to you if you're facing a reign of terror behind the curtains of your life today. No one should have to endure such things. However, please know that help is available. It takes courage to believe and find a better way to live. You are stronger than you think you are.
You are just one phone call away from exposing the nightmare of domestic violence and taking steps toward a better life. If you are a victim of domestic violence, I encourage you to visit or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224 and tell a family member, counselor, religious leader, or friend whom you trust to help you get to safety. We start to realize the power to end the cycle of abuse when we speak about it, thus stepping out of the shadows of domestic violence and into the light of freedom, safety and recovery. It may take some time, but with God's help you can escape this nightmare.
The same gracious God who broke the cycle of violence in my family line can do so for yours. He sees what you are going through. He cares. He has set in place a supportive community that is waiting to help you and will do so the moment you begin to tap into the strength He has placed deep down inside of you and speak about it. And in a way that only he can, God will heal your wounded heart, replacing fear and rage with hope and love.
Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network: 1-800-656-Hope