Running in Circles
- Tuesday, June 19, 2007
We’d be packed and ready to go on vacation, only to cancel on the day of departure because the trip was “not God’s will.” We’d be eagerly anticipating a promised outing or gift and it would be canceled or never delivered, again because of divine will. Pets were given away without discussion. We were dragged from church to church every couple of months, abandoning a congregation once the pastor said something that “disagreed with Scripture.”
My father, a professor and theologian who was endlessly loyal to my mother, kept telling me it would get better, that God would do a new thing. He said this after each blowup, each tirade—and these could last for days.
I tried to believe him, and often after an eruption we experienced a period of calm. It was a scary calm—we weren’t sure when things would flare up again—but it was a calm nonetheless, and I was grateful. Yet the pattern inevitably repeated itself, and despite our earnest prayers and hopes nothing changed. My father sometimes bore his soul to me. “Why does she have to be so cruel to you?” he would say after an angry outburst that had left me shattered and sullen.
I didn’t know.
“She not only puts the knife in,” he said, “but she turns it.”
The fighting between my parents was extreme. Screaming and door slamming woke me in the night. Days of tension paralyzed my sister and me with fear, and we crept quietly up to the attic to play with old toys.
“I need to rise above this,” Dad would tell me in his vulnerable moments after he had been the target of an onslaught. “I have to not let what she does affect me.”
Away from home (and he kept the two worlds very separate) my father’s work and writing helped a great many people come to know the authentic power of Jesus at work in their lives. His combination of intellectual knowledge and conviction of the personal presence of God flooded the lecture halls where he spoke. But the world at home was scary, insane and lonely.
As I grew older I discovered that my mother had been the victim of severe abuse as a child. Even though I intellectually began to come to terms with the reasons for her behavior, I was unable to free myself from her grasp. Still, my father’s comments and judgments against my mother’s behavior helped me begin to grasp the unfathomable and experience a deep courage. Despite her claim that she was God’s voice and presence in the world, despite her grandiose proposals and assertions about her power and unique giftedness, I began to realize that she was—perhaps—wrong.
Maybe these experiences were not God’s will at all. Perhaps it was wrong that I couldn’t have friends over or get involved in social activities. Maybe I wasn’t born to be miserable all the time, and maybe I wasn’t in the grips of Satan with evil spirits lurking in dark corners ready to oppress me and throw me into hell. Maybe I wasn’t contaminated by those demons the way my mother said I was when she came into my room in the middle of the night to cast them out. Perhaps purging the house of evil—praying in each room that Satan would leave—was not the way most families spent their Saturdays.
At one point I suggested to my father that we get Mom some help. His usually gentle face went rigid and he sucked in his breath. He told me my mother didn’t need help, that she was doing better, and he asked where my family loyalty was. He declared that God had given him this situation so he could learn to rise above it. Jesus suffered, saints suffered—why shouldn’t he?
This topic was clearly taboo. It was just too painful for my father to identify the problem honestly. So the bizarre, erratic behavior continued to loom larger than life and define us. One day her tirade might be God’s voice to shape us up. Another day a low mood was a “dark night of the soul” she was being called to walk through. She often believed her struggles were demonic and had many well-known people in the deliverance ministry try to cast out spirits from her. It never seemed to take. Other days she accused my father of having no faith and contaminating her with an oppression she could not shake off.
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