And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. -Galatians 6:9
Healing is a long journey. It never relents, never takes a break, and never fails to require more of you. One of the greatest difficulties, to date, is the realization that healing does not automatically occur when trauma ends. In fact, the cessation of trauma, in and of itself, does almost nothing in guaranteeing emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual restoration.
Joseph and I were utterly clueless about this reality. When Asher was removed from our home, the assumption was that our family would immediately experience a peace. After all, Georgia, Olivia, and Nathan were no longer suffering and Asher, himself, was finally free from the deception he had lived under for so many years. Light was pouring into corners of darkness long left unattended and with it, we believed, would come the merciful freedom only truth can bring.
That was not our experience. Apparently, what we did experience is far more common than our presupposition about this season was.
God designed family dynamics to function as a support mechanism, which allows people to both fail and succeed in an environment rich in grace. Healthy dynamics underscore a person’s individuality, worth, and function, and the repetition of interacting inside something that is whole creates a powerful current. Like the merry-go-round on the playground, or the whirlpool in your kiddie pool in the backyard, when you consistently push in the same direction you eventually create a forward motion that will carry you with very little energy. In whole families, offhand remarks are not assumed to be barbed insults, out-of-character behavior is taken with a grain of salt, the benefit of the doubt is easily extended during misunderstandings, and life generally bounces back quickly after unexpected hiccups. Essentially, the whirlpool you created now goes to work for you and in times of difficulty it continues to carry you in the correct direction.
Sadly, like any other aspect of creation, sin has marred this beautiful tool, and the whirlpool can be set into motion not only through healthy dynamics but also unhealthy ones. And because sin – and the propensity towards it – is something that each one of us carries in our natural selves, a broken family’s consistent abuse will establish an even stronger pull in the wrong direction. A dynamic that creates and underscores criticism, rejection, or codependence views each offhand remark as a thinly veiled insult, or assumes out-of-character behavior is intentionally challenging, or believes misunderstandings are actually attempts at ignoring another person’s wishes. When life creates unexpected hiccups for these families, they do not bounce back quickly but rather suffer under a heavy yoke of entitlement and victimhood. And the near-dizzying force of this dynamic means that when good choices are made they are barely recognizable and when alone, they can’t possibly change the direction of the whirlpool.
As a faith-filled family, we worked hard to create a caring infrastructure that encouraged the development of emotionally stable people. But, as I wrote before, we were also struggling with the ongoing difficulties that Asher’s behaviors brought to us. Ignorant to the full depth of our son’s rebellion, Joseph and I ventured to ask ourselves where the fruit of faithful parenting was.
And then Asher was gone.
I was so ready to see my children blossom without the sin and pain that had marked so much of their lives. I knew the change wouldn’t be instantaneous, but I thought it would come quickly. How on earth could my home not experience near-immediate results from this freedom?
At first, the setbacks were disappointing but understandable. As I shared, the response to victimization is complicated and produces a wide range of challenging, and even unacceptable, responses. Savannah, Ginny, Joseph, and I bore with patience the outbursts of rage and fear. But then we started seeing responses that just didn’t make sense. Why were our younger children, who once thrived on standing up for one another, now so prone to fighting? Why did it seem like they were unable to give one another the benefit of the doubt in anything? Why could I still sense the need for chaos to reign in my home even after making the incredibly hard decision of removing one of my own children?
The whirlpool was carrying them.
My children were so accustomed to Asher’s tantrums interrupting our meals, our outings, our life that they simply didn’t know how to react without them. And the instability that came from his absence left them with a void they didn’t understand. But the whirlpool of angst and suspicion was not only a known-quantity but an entrenched response that, ironically, brought them a sense of safety.
I cried in the therapist’s office the day she opened my eyes to see that Georgia, Olivia, and Nathan were comfortable carrying on in the dynamics established by Asher. Sure, they were all relieved to be rid of the sexual abuse, but to be rid of emotional rancor was too great an unknown. So, subconsciously they each took turns filling the void left by Asher’s absence – spinning the merry-go-round faster.
I remember playing in my aunt’s above-ground doughboy pool as a young girl. My cousins and I would all walk in the same direction, faster and faster, until we established a wonderful current. Then, on the count of three, we all turned and tried as hard as we could to get the current to change. We laughed and choked on water and watched one another get swept away even as we held onto the sides.
It takes a long time to finally get the whirlpool going in the opposite direction. It isn’t enough to just be able to stand against the current. You must stop the force pushing you back and create a new force propelling you forward. It’s only possible with perseverance and the grace of God, but it is the essence of healing. Here is what we’re learning about this process:
- Acknowledge that the current we are swept up in is not propelling us in the right direct. Be honest about the choices we were actively involved in making that helped strengthen the whirlpool and bring light to those dark places.
- Stand firm against the near-overwhelming desire to return to the old, “safe” ways. We found that using open conversations about motives during questionable activity was essential in this step. Shaming ourselves or someone with whom we are walking this path will not serve any higher purposes.
- Begin making small, steady choices that support our new conviction of the truth. Trust someone with the details of our sacrifices during these initial days. We need all the encouragement we can get! For us, we openly praised the smallest choice made with the right motives in order to help foster a growing sense of enthusiasm for bigger and better fruit.
- Do not allow one misstep to turn us from our new course. Be honest about how strong the current is and recognize that stumbling is not the same thing as failing. Share the temptations and fears that accompany the feeling of dread that this will never change.
- Trust that this process takes time. We are not doing anything wrong just because we are not experiencing profound change overnight.
- Rely on the power of our God. He alone raised Jesus from the dead, and the same power that was able to conquer the grave is working in us to bring about His will. That will includes healing for me and my children.