By / Jun 19

Holidays are intended to be special times. They unite family and rekindle shared memories. They delight and bring joy. They give us reason to push pause on the everyday and celebrate a common joy. But for some, holidays are hard. Instead of joy, holidays only bring up painful memories. They are a glaring reminder of loneliness and heartache. They are a day to get through and endure rather than celebrate.

Father’s Day is a holiday that can be hard. For some, it brings grief because their father is no longer alive to celebrate. For another, it’s only a reminder of the neglect or abuse experienced at the hand of a father. Father’s Day can also be painful for the one who never even knew their father. The day only serves to mock the loss.

If you are one of those who cringes at the sight of the grocery store’s card aisle filled with happy Father’s Day wishes, I want to encourage you that this is a day you can celebrate. You don’t have to avoid it or begrudge it. Why? Because you have a Father in Heaven. For all who have been hurt, disappointed, neglected or ignored by an earthly father, your heavenly Father stands there as the perfect father—the one you always wanted and have always needed. Here are four truths about your Heavenly Father:

  1. He has chosen you to be his own: If you are in Christ, know that your Father has loved you before time began. “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1:4-6). He loved you and knew you before you ever took your first breath (Psalm 139). Through Christ’s work on the cross on your behalf, he redeemed you and made you his own. You are now part of his forever family. As his child, you are also his heir (Gal. 4:7). You have a glorious inheritance to enjoy—a foretaste now and its fullness in eternity (Eph. 1:14, 1 Pet. 1:4).
  2. He will never leave you: If your human father left you, you can know that your Heavenly Father never will. He will never turn his back on you. In fact, because he turned his back on his Son and poured out the wrath you deserved upon him, there is no more wrath left for you. He will never reject, forsake or deny you (Heb. 13:5). He is always with you (Isa. 41:10).
  3. His love for you is perfect: While your human father may have failed you and let you down, God never does and never will. While your father may have said and done hurtful things, God never will. While your earthly father can never love you perfectly, your Heavenly Father’s love for you is perfect and complete. That’s because it is part of his nature; he is a God of love (1 John 4:8). “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 145:8). His love for you is so great; he loves you as much as he loves the Son (John 17:23).
  4. He knows exactly what you need: Human fathers often fail to give their children what they need.  Your father may have failed to teach you what you needed to learn. His discipline may have been too harsh or non-existent, but your Father in Heaven knows just what you need, and he never fails to provide it for you (Matt. 6:25-34). Everything he does is for your ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). Any discipline he gives is out of love and for your growth in holiness (Heb. 12:10).

This Father’s Day, when everyone you know is making plans to meet with their fathers, look to your Father in Heaven, and celebrate his great love for you in Christ. Relish what it means to be his child. Dwell on all the ways he has provided for you. Give him thanks and honor him for being the perfect Father who has always loved you and will never leave you.

By / Oct 17

I went to the dermatologist the other day for my yearly checkup. In the course of my appointment, I mentioned that I had broken my arm this summer. The doctor paused and looked at me, asking how it happened. I knew why she asked. It wasn’t simple curiosity that prompted the question. Rather, she is a health professional, trained to look out for signs of abuse in her patients. As soon as I told her I fell while trying to teach my kids how to roller skate, she moved on with the exam.

Educators, counselors, those in law enforcement, and health professionals all receive training in how to identify a victim of domestic violence. Many states require such training for licenses. But for those who work in ministry, too few are aware of the signs of domestic abuse or what to do when they hear about such abuse from one of the members of their congregation.

The U.S. Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

Statistics report that one quarter of all women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives. While men can also be victims of domestic violence, the numbers are significantly higher for women and for the sake of brevity, this article will focus on violence against women. Women that we see in church on Sunday mornings may have witnessed such violence in their homes of origin. Some may have been in such a relationship in the past. And others may even now be married to or dating someone who is abusing them.

Pastors and ministry leaders need to be prepared to hear a woman’s story of domestic abuse and know what do to help her. It’s not only important to know what such a relationship looks like but also what resources are available in the local area that can offer services to abused women and their children. Additionally, a church’s diaconate or mercy ministry should be prepared to help practically and financially if needed.

Carefully ask questions

If you have a woman in your congregation you suspect might be in an abusive relationship, here are some questions you can ask to help you learn more. It important that you ask such questions of her in private and in a place where she feels safe.

  • All couples disagree about things. Tell me about some things that you and your spouse disagree about. Describe a recent one. What do they look and sound like? How do you feel in the midst of them? Do you ever feel frightened during a disagreement? Why were you frightened?
  • Does your spouse ever call you names, curse at you, put you down, make you feel stupid or inferior, or humiliate you? Give me some examples.
  • Do you ever feel controlled by your spouse? Does he keep track of what you are doing? Does he follow you or monitor your phone calls? Does he restrict you from seeing friends or family? Does he control the finances and not allow you any access to it?
  • Does your spouse throw things, punch things, or do other things that frighten or intimidate you? Do you ever fear that he might hit you? Has he ever hit you? Has he ever threatened you with a weapon? Has he ever shoved you, restrained you, grabbed you, choked you, or pinned you down? How often has this happened?
  • Does he threaten you? Does he threaten to take your children away, call authorities on you, or threaten to say things to your family or others that isn’t true?

Consider her safety

Safety is of primary importance and if you learn that the woman you are meeting with is being abused, you must take every precaution to help her stay safe. This is not a situation where you go to her spouse to double check her story. If her spouse knows that she has spoken to you or that she plans to leave, the risk of harm for her and her children increases. Contact your local authorities to find out how they handle domestic abuse in your area. They may suggest that she file a report on the abuse. They might also suggest she get a restraining order. Many areas have local shelters that will take women and children for an extended period of time.

Above all, a woman who is being abused needs to know that what is happening to her is wrong and that the way she is being treated is not love. She is not to blame; no one ever deserves to be abused. What she needs most is someone who can stand up for her and defend her. May the Church be a place of help and support for those who need it most.