I had a wonderful time speaking to a church in Valencia, CA last Friday on how to care for victims of abuse. My heart is more and more heavy to help churches know how to competently and compassionately help those in destructive marriages. My new people helpers website (the old one will still be there too) will be opening up next week with free resources for church leaders and counselors.
Next week I head to the American Association of Christian Counselors Conference (AACC) in Nashville and will be speaking Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Please keep me in your prayers.
Today’s Question: Thank you for all your blogs and books–I have learned so much since discovering them! I especially appreciate the sample conversations you include; they are so helpful in illustrating what a healthy one looks like.
Nine years ago our eldest daughter moved out in part because of my husband's emotional and verbal abuse of her. He disowned her and coerced me to also. I agreed in part because I had had an alliance of sorts with her and felt guilty about it.
My husband forbade me and our other children to talk about her ever again. I told him recently that I want to try to reconcile with her, and he said he would leave the marriage if I contacted her. He sees it as being disrespectful and disloyal to him. I doubt he'd actually leave, but I would be made to pay somehow. I also doubt his heart will ever soften towards our daughter.
For the past two years, I have been working on my CORE, but I am unsure of my responsibility to him in this situation. Would it be wrong to contact her anyway?
How does “forsaking all others” from our marriage vows apply to this situation? I also am concerned about how the resulting unpleasantness would affect our teenagers still living at home. I could sure use your insight! Thank you.
Answer: Wow, what a horrible dilemma your husband has put you in. I don’t believe that your marriage vows include forsaking your own children in order to stay loyal to your husband or to preserve your marriage.
I do think marriage needs to be a priority, and in many homes, children take center stage. But I also don’t believe that being “marriage-centered” is any less problematic or unwise than being child-centered. We are called to be God-centered people.
Therefore, one question I usually start with when I feel spiritual confusion around an issue is this: What course of action honors and glorifies God the most? Click To Tweet
Does it honor or glorify God to go along with your husband’s decision to disown your daughter and refuse to allow your other children to speak with her? To look at this question Biblically, let’s not just look at submission passages, but other examples in Scripture as well.
For example, the Bible tells us a story about a father who had two sons who both disappointed and disrespected him (Luke 15:11-32). Each son exhibited attitudes and behaviors that were dishonoring to their father. The first one demanded his inheritance before his father died (pretty insulting), and then squandered it all on loose living. When this younger brother came to his senses and returned home, his father didn’t disown him, but welcomed him and planned a big party to celebrate.
However, his older brother felt indignant at the kindness his father showed his wayward brother and refused to attend the family party. The older son didn’t sin like his younger brother, but his pride and self-righteousness was sinful, and his refusal to attend the family party insulted his father’s position and his kindness. The father didn’t disown this son even as he pleaded with him to welcome his younger brother back home. Both sons disappointed their father and behaved sinfully. Yet the father remained a devoted father, an example of love and truth.
So let’s fast forward to you and your situation. It’s been nine years since you spoke to your daughter. Do you think this honors or glorifies God? You’ve acquiesced to your husband’s request not because you believed he was right but because you felt guilty about your own unhealthy alliance with your daughter and were afraid of the repercussions. Does that glorify God?
Here’s another story in the Bible may shed some additional light on your dilemma. Abigail was married to a wealthy but surly and foolish man named Nabal. Everyone knew how ornery Nabal could get. David (before he was the king) was traveling in Nabal’s territory and requested hospitality and kindness for his men. He reminded Nabal how he and his men were gracious to Nabal’s shepherds when they were traveling near him. But Nabal refused and David became enraged and threatened to kill everyone in Nabal’s entire household. When Nabal’s servants heard what he did, they ran to Abigail and asked her for help.
Abigail knew just what to do. She prepared food and drinks and loaded them on donkeys and went out to meet David’s men as they were heading her way to seek revenge. She didn't make excuses about her husband’s character. Yet she humbly asked David to accept her apology and the meal she prepared for his men.
There are many lessons we can glean from Abigail’s courage, David’s uncontrollable anger, and Nabal’s foolishness. But did Abigail dishonor her husband by going against what he said? She was not submissive to his order. But were her actions glorifying to God? I think they were. And, later the story tells us that when Abigail told Nabal what she had done, Nabal had a stroke and died.
Let’s now look at the submission question. Does God call a wife to give unquestioning submission to her husband even if he asks her to do, or cooperate with something wrong or hurtful towards other people? No. The Bible qualifies submission as “unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). When a husband asks his wife to do something wrong, I do not believe she should feel obligated to submit. She might feel afraid to dissent, but the Bible does not call her to submit.
Colossians also warns fathers not to provoke or aggravate their children because they will become discouraged (Colossians 3:21). It’s sad that your husband doesn’t take any responsibility for the problem with your daughter.
I’m glad that you told him already that you want to reach out to her. He said if you do that, he will leave the marriage, but you doubt he will follow through.
However, before you take your next step, make sure you are ready to deal with the fallout if you move forward with your resolve. Make a safety plan, make sure there are consequences set up if he gets abusive or if decides to leave the marriage. I hope you can let him go if it came to that.
He is positioning himself as a god in your family, not a husband. He believes he has the right to judge and control everyone around him and if they refuse, he will punish. That is not his role but as long as you cater to that, the delusion stays intact.
Let me give you some ideas about how you might approach him. But it’s never all about the right words. Jesus had the right words and he was still hated sometimes. You have to be ready internally to challenge him and stick with your resolve because he will not like it and may escalate his abuse.
“It’s been nine years since we have talked to our daughter. I sense God wants me to reach out to her. I know you don't like that, but as I read the Scripture, I feel called to be a minister of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). God wants me to be a peacemaker and to love other people, including our enemies, including our very own daughter.
You may have different convictions than I do but I have to listen to God first and am going to reach out to her. She has hurt us, but we have also hurt her. You feel she is wrong, but we have also done wrong to her. I believe as a woman of God, as much as it depends on me, I am to do all I can to bring about peace and healing in our relationship” (Romans 12:18).
Ask for some prayer support from friends who know what your life is like, even from the women on this blog. And then do what is in your heart to do.
Friends, if you were a mother in this situation, what would you do?