Family

A Letter to Parents About Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

A Letter to Parents About Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

Dear Parent or Caregiver,

We wrote God Made All of Me as a tool so you can explain to your children that God made their body. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity, or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special.

The message children need to hear is: “God made all of you. Every part of your body is good, and some parts are private. He made the parts of your body that other people see every day, and he made your private parts. Every part is good because God made every part and called them all good.”

Our goal is to help you in protecting your child from sexual abuse. We wrote Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Sexual Assault Victims because it is an important and prevalent issue. One in four women and one in six men have been or will be assaulted in their lifetime. Heartbreakingly, many of the victims of this epidemic are children: 15% of those assaulted are under age 12, and 29% are between ages 12 to 17. Girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault.

We want parents and caregivers to be smarter and better prepared than those who would want to harm the child you love and want to protect. While we know that actions by adults can be more effective than expecting children to protect themselves from sexual abuse, children still need accurate, age-appropriate information about child sexual abuse and confidence their parents and caregivers will support them.

Education is important in prevention against inappropriate sexual behavior or contact. By teaching children about their body and discussing appropriate and inappropriate touch, you are helping them understand their ability to say No to unwanted touch, which will help them if anyone ever tries to hurt or trick them.

Please consider taking the time to read this book and talk to your child about it.

Best,

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

GMMcoverGet our children’s book, God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

 

After Domestic Violence, Why Should a Christian Wife Call the Police, Not a Pastor, First?

After Domestic Violence, Why Should a Christian Wife Call the Police, Not a Pastor, First?

This article originally appeared in Christianity Today (Jan/Feb 2015).

Following an act of violent abuse, a Christian wife should first turn to the police. We definitely support calling her pastor, too, but only after calling the police.

“Violent abuse” refers to physical assault or battering, which is a crime. The police have the power to protect victims from physical attack. And victims of violent abuse have the right to protect themselves and any children involved.

The police are the best first responders because they understand that an act of violence is a crime. They understand that without proper intervention, this crime will most likely occur again. It is rare for pastors and their churches to have relationships with a domestic violence shelter, the police, or the public health department. What a Christian wife needs after an act of violent abuse is immediate intervention, emergency shelter, medical care, and legal support.

About one in four American women experiences violence from her partner at some point in her adult life, according to credible national surveys. And research shows that Christian women stay far longer in the abusive context and withstand far more severe abuse than non-Christian women.

One researcher states, “A woman is hit an average of 35 times before she calls the police, and she will leave her abuser 5 or 6 times before she leaves for good.” Psychologist Lenore Walker writes, “Women with strong religious backgrounds often are less likely to believe that violence against them is wrong.” Abused women who are Christians may try to understand their suffering by believing it is “God’s will” or “part of God’s plan for my life.” Yet we believe this runs contrary to the biblical image of a kind, merciful, and loving God who promises to be present to us in our suffering.

A Bureau of Justice Statistics survey concluded that women who reported their abuse to authorities were far less likely to be assaulted again than women who submitted to the abuse and did not contact the authorities. Specifically, the survey found that 41 percent of wives who did not report their abusive husbands to the police were attacked again within 6 months. By contrast, only 15 percent of abused wives who reported the abuse to authorities were assaulted again.

The justice system is not an absolute guarantee. But if an abused wife is honest and upfront about the danger her abuser poses, the police can be a key to safety. If she takes that first step, the police can offer her resources—including people to talk to and make plans with—that can make all the other steps easier. They’ve done it before. An abused wife is not alone.

How Pastors Can Best Help Victims of Domestic Abuse

How Pastors Can Best Help Victims of Domestic Abuse

This article originally appeared in Leadership Journal (Spring 2015).

At least one in four women is a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime. And research shows that Christian women stay far longer in abusive situations and in more severe abuse than their non-Christian counterparts.

My wife, Lindsey, served as a case manager at a domestic violence shelter, and together we provide crisis intervention to victims of abuse. As we’ve conducted training to service providers and churches, we’ve found that pastors want to help those being hurt by domestic violence, but they don’t always know how.

Ministers can offer immense help and support. Those suffering domestic abuse need care on various levels—practical, spiritual, emotional—from pastors. Responding effectively and referring victims to advocacy services results in fewer violence-related injuries and saves lives. Here are some of the most common questions we receive from ministers.

What is domestic abuse?

In our book, Is It My Fault? Lindsey and I define domestic abuse as “a pattern of coercive or controlling behavior used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner.” This definition is the consensus of psychologists, lawmakers, and experts in the field.

Is abuse dangerous if it is not physical violence?

Yes. Domestic abuse can take many forms—willful intimidation, physical assault, sexual assault, battery, stalking, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, economic control, psychological abuse, and isolation. Threats of abuse can be as frightening as the abuse itself.

Should I encourage a victim to call the police and report physical abuse, or should we deal with it as a spiritual issue?

A victim should first turn to the police when violent abuse has occurred. Pastors have much to contribute, but after the police have been called.

“Violent abuse” refers to using physical force in a way that injures or endangers someone. Physical assault or battery is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside of the family. The police have the power and authority to protect victims from physical attack. And victims of violent abuse have the right to protect themselves and their children.

The police are able to respond quickly to her situation 24/7 and will know where she can seek immediate assistance in the community. The police are informed of medical and emergency housing options and can help facilitate safe travel to those places for her and her children.

The police are the best first responders because an act of violence is a crime, potentially life threatening, and should be addressed immediately. Without proper intervention, this crime will most likely escalate and occur again. The police receive training on how to intervene in domestic assault situations and are prepared to keep the victim and themselves safe in the process.

What might an abused woman think about God and the hope for deliverance?

Abused women who are Christians often rationalize their suffering as being “God’s will” or “part of God’s plan for my life” or “God’s way of teaching me a lesson.” But enabling one person’s cruelty to another is not the will of a just and loving God.

Pastors can say something like this:

“God knows and sees your suffering. He cares for you so much that he wants you safe and delivered from threat and violence. If you have children, he wants them safe too. And beyond physical safety, God wants you to heal from the many ways you’ve been wounded.

“Your suffering does not mean that God has forsaken you. Rather, God is on the move in response to prayers for deliverance. Not only that, but he equips us to move ourselves. The Psalms show us that while David prayed to God for deliverance, he also took the necessary measures to get to a safe place away from the violence. David prayed, but he also wisely fled and removed himself from the threat of violence.

“While we cannot always observe this deliverance immediately, God will, no doubt, provide a way of escape.

“In a world where you have suffered from the one closest to you, the greatest promise we can offer is the assurance of God’s loving and watchful presence. And he will give you the strength you need to do what’s next.

“As you discern what your next step is, remember that there are resources available to you. You don’t have to remain silent anymore. Tell a friend, a family member, the authorities, a pastor, or ministry leader.

“Please understand: Jesus responds to your pain. Your story does not end with abuse and violence. Your life was intended for more than shame, guilt, fear, and confusion. The abuse does not define you or your identity. Yes, it is part of your story, but not the end of your story.”

What can I say to a woman who is convinced the abuse is her fault?

“There is no action, thought, or sin you could have done to make you deserving of violence. You do not deserve this. And it is not your fault.

“You did not ask for this. You are not worthless. You don’t have to pretend nothing happened. You are not damaged goods or ‘getting what you deserve.’ You are created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity, love, and respect. Instead you were the victim of abuse and violence, and it was wrong. You were sinned against.”

When should I encourage a woman to leave an abusive situation?

In general, whenever she and/or the children are being abused or feel they’re in any kind of danger.

Make a safety plan, which outlines what steps to take if they are experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal abuse from a partner, spouse, or family member. A safety plan helps her know what to do if/when she decides to leave or finds herself (and/or children) in an emergency.

Since it’s such a sensitive document, tell her to be careful when creating, printing, or completing a safety plan. Consider who will have access to it and where it will be stored.

Leaving is a critical step for a woman in an abusive relationship, but it is also dangerous. There is an on-going risk even after leaving. Over 75 percent of separated women suffer abuse after they have left their partners.

Does the Bible require a woman to stay in a marriage that’s abusive?

Abuse twists God’s good intention of marriage. The Bible condemns domestic violence, and proclaims God’s judgment on abusers. The psalmist, for example, declares God’s hatred of abuse in no uncertain terms: “the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion” (Ps. 11:5).

No person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. Marriage is a covenant. When a husband chooses to be abusive, he breaks that covenant.

If his wife chooses to separate, she is making public his breaking of the covenant, and this does not go against what the Bible says about divorce. It is the abuser who must be confronted about breaking the marriage covenant.

As Ron Clark writes, “Victims need to know that leaving is well within their rights as a child of God.”

If I suspect a woman is being abused, how do I approach her?

Find a time to meet with just her. Tell her you have noticed certain things and are concerned about her safety and well-being. Explain what you see and why you think it might mean she is being abused. Women in abusive situations often don’t identify it as abuse. She might think this is normal.

Ask her what she needs and how the church can care for her. Be prepared to offer a few options. Does she need emergency shelter, medical care, or legal support? (Have a list of domestic violence shelters with legal advocates.)

Let her know she isn’t alone, doesn’t have to make a decision today, and that you are there for her when she is ready to get help.

You can call a local domestic violence shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for specific things to ask or not say and get some practical things to offer if she opens up.

What are possible signs of abuse?

Possible signs of an abusive relationship

  • Partner belittles, controls, or threatens her, or exhibits violent behavior.
  • Partner talks over her or for her. She is reluctant to speak.
  • Partner makes disparaging comments about her.
  • Partner is in contact with her excessively. Rarely leaves her unaccompanied.
  • Partner presents her as unreasonable and himself as victim of her unreasonable behavior.
  • She is more and more isolated. Withdrawn. Stops talking about her partner.
  • Has unexplained injuries or blames herself for them.
  • May appear fearful, jumpy, or over careful in her partner’s company.
  • May have no access to money.

Her children may call her names and ignore her. Or they may be clingy, not wanting to leave her.

Sample of God Made All of Me

Sample of God Made All of Me

Download a preview of God Made All of Me!

God Made All of Me is a simply-told, beautifully-illustrated story to help parents talk with both boys and girls about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between the appropriate and inappropriate touch.

Do you have children or do you have friends with small children? This is a book that will benefit parents for years to come, so please share!

Our goal is to help parents in protecting your child from sexual abuse. In this post, we discuss:

  • What parents need to know about sexual abuse offenders?
  • Why is it important to teach personal safety to children?
  • Why is it so important for Christians to be educated about this issue?

GMMcover

Order our new children’s book God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

Jesus and Children

Jesus and Children

In his ministry, Jesus showed striking interest in and love for children. To the surprise of his disciples, he often including them in his teaching: “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt 19:13–14). When the disciples came to Jesus asking him which one of them was going to be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom, Jesus called a child to himself (Matt. 18:2) and said, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:4). Jesus went on, telling his followers that part of their duty is to receive little children: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (Matt. 18:5).

In Mark 10, Jesus upholds childlike faith as admirable: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15; cf. Luke 18:17).

Jesus wants his followers to honor, protect, and care for those among them who are small and vulnerable, especially children. Part of Jesus’ ministry on earth involved healing children. In Mark 5:39, Jesus came into the house of a ruler of the synagogue, whose daughter had just died. Jesus said that she was not dead, but only sleeping. After they laughed at him, Jesus said to the child, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41; cf. Luke 8:54). Mark recounts what happened next: “And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement” (Mark 5:42). Similarly, in Mark 9, Jesus encounters a young boy who had been having demonic attacks. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him (Mark 9:25) and the boy fell down as if he were dead. Jesus took him by the hand and he was healed (Mark 9:27). Jesus, who calls himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), brings life and healing to children.

The tenderness and care Jesus showed for children is an expression of God’s heart toward the small, the weak, and the vulnerable. Judith Gundry-Volf, also points out the ways Jesus’ teaching and practice highlighted the importance and significance of children:

  1. “He blesses the children brought to him and teaches that the reign of God belongs to them.”
  2. “He makes children models of entering the reign of God.”
  3. “He makes children models of greatness in the reign of God.”
  4. “He calls his disciples to welcome little children as he does and turns the service of children into a sign of greatness in the reign of God.”
  5. “He gives the service of children ultimate significance as a way of receiving himself and by implication the One who sent him.”
  6. “He is acclaimed by children as the ‘Son of David.’”

Jesus’ love, honor, and care for children leads us to imitate his care for children and take action to protect them from those who try to harm them.

GMMcover

Pre-order our children’s book: God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

Why We Wrote A Children’s Book

Why We Wrote A Children’s Book

GMMcoverGet our new children’s book, God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

 

We wrote God Made All of Me as a tool so you can explain to your children that God made their body. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity, or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special.

God Made All of Me is a simply-told, beautifully-illustrated story to help parents talk with both boys and girls about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. It allows families to build a first line of defense against sexual abuse in the safety of their own homes. Our goal is to help you in protecting your child from sexual abuse.

Why is this book important?

Most victims of child sexual assault know their attacker. According to the U.S. Department of Justice,  34.2 percent of assailants were family members, 58.7 percent were acquaintances, and only 7 percent of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.

Of child sexual abuse victims, approximately 10 percent of victims are age three and under, 28 percent are between ages four and seven, 26 percent are between ages eight and eleven, and 36 percent are twelve and older.

What do parents need to know about child sexual abuse offenders?

Although strangers are stereotyped as perpetrators of sexual assault, the evidence indicates that a high percentage of offenders are acquaintances of the victim.

Most child sexual abuse offenders describe themselves as religious and some studies suggest the most egregious offenders tend to be actively involved with their faith community.

Dr. Anna Salter, a sexual offender treatment provider, says it is important for parents and child-serving organizations such as churches to avoid “high risk situations.” This is because “we cannot detect child molesters or rapists with any consistency” and thus “must pay attention to ways of deflecting any potential offenders from getting access to our children.”

Victor Vieth, senior director and founder of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center, writes: “Many youth organizations have prevented the abuse of children in their care simply by limiting the access of potential offenders to boys and girls. Child abusers count on privacy to avoid detection of their criminal behavior. When churches or other faith institutions remove this privacy it becomes more difficult for the offender to succeed.”

Why is it so important to teach personal safety to children?

Victor Vieth explains: “Personal safety education involves simply telling children that the parts of their body covered by bathing suits are not supposed to be touched by others and, when they are, they should tell someone. If the person they tell doesn’t believe them, they should keep on telling until they are believed. In addition to teaching the children personal safety, it is important to provide instruction to the parents so that they can reinforce these lessons at home and will know how to respond if a child makes a disclosure. Many teach fire safety, school crossing safety, or even swimming safety and yet bristle at the thought of personal safety designed to empower children to protect themselves against offenders.”

Why is it so important to Christian to be educated about the issue?

Dr. Anna Salter, a sexual offender treatment provider, writes: “If children can be silenced and the average person is easy to fool, many offenders report that religious people are even easier to fool than most people.”

Salter quotes a convicted child molester: “I consider church people easy to fool . . . they have a trust that comes from being Christians . . . They tend to be better folks all around. And they seem to want to believe in the good that exists in all people . . . I think they want to believe in people. And because of that, you can easily convince, with or without convincing words.”

Child molesters are skilled at deception because, in part, they have considerable practice at lying to their families, their victims, their friends, and to themselves. Anna Salter describes the abilities of molesters to lie convincingly in this way: “You are never going to run into a child molester who is not a practiced liar, even if he is not a natural one.”

Not only are child molesters skilled at lying to pastors and parishioners alike, they are often proud of their abilities to fool the leaders and members of their congregations.

“Many child molesters,” writes Victor Vieth, “put a great deal of time and thought into selecting the children they will violate. There are two reasons for this. First, sex offenders often look for the easiest target. Second, sex offenders often look for the child or children least likely to be believed should he or she disclose the abuse.” An offender convicted of sexually abusing children at church was asked how he selected his victims. He icily responded:

“First of all you start the grooming process from day one…the children that you’re interested in…You find a child you might be attracted to…You maybe look at a kid that doesn’t have a father image at home, or a father that cares about them…If you’ve got a group of 25 kids, you might find 9 that are appealing…then you start looking at their family backgrounds. You find out all you can…which ones are the most accessible…you get it down to one that is the easiest target, and that’s the one you do.”

Based on her experience with child sexual abusers, Anna Salter concludes: “Child molesters are very professional at what they do and they do a good job at it.”

Because of this reality, parents need to be smarter and better prepared than those who would want to harm their child.

GMMcover

Get out new children’s book God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

Does the Bible Say Women Should Suffer Abuse and Violence?

Does the Bible Say Women Should Suffer Abuse and Violence?

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The Bible does not say that a woman must stay in an abusive marriage.

Tragically, at least one in four women experiences abuse from her partner at some point in her adult life. And tragically, that rate is no different in Christian homes. In fact, research shows that Christian women stay longer and suffer more severe abuse than their non-Christian counterparts. Biblical interpretation on the topic of divorce and separation can cause confusion and allow violence and abuse to continue.

Lindsey and I wrote this article for The Journal of Biblical Counseling. It is written both to the women who experience domestic violence and to those who know of the situation and can offer help: ministers, family, and friends.

For more on domestic abuse, check out Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

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Are You Prepared to Minister to Those Suffering Domestic Violence?

Are You Prepared to Minister to Those Suffering Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is extremely prevalent and damaging, but frequently hidden.

Intimate partner violence is pervasive in U.S. society. One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Nearly three out of four of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

Questions

These statistics don’t begin to reveal the darkness and grief experienced by the women themselves. Those suffering domestic violence are in the midst of a whirlwind of emotions and have serious and important questions. Here are some of the most frequent questions we’ve been asked:

  • Does the grace of God apply to me?
  • What does the Bible say about women?
  • What does the Bible say about violence against women?
  • What does the Bible say about God delivering victims?
  • Does the Bible say I should suffer abuse and violence?

My wife, Lindsey, and I wrote Is It My Fault? for those suffering domestic violence to answer these questions and to offer accessible, gospel-based help, hope, and healing.

Those suffering abuse need to know that God sees their suffering and that God cares about them and hears their cries and prayers. He cares for them so much that He wants them safe and delivered from threat and violence. But even beyond physical safety, God wants them to heal from the many ways they’ve been hurt and wounded.

Healing In Community

Because the healing process is best aided in the context of community, Is It My Fault? is also for the family, friends, clergy, and ministry staff who want to love and support victims of abuse.

Many people want to help those in their family or circle of friends who are being hurt by domestic violence, but they don’t always know how. They are often overwhelmed by the seriousness of the situation and feel helpless to lend adequate support. But here, they couldn’t be more wrong. Friends, family, and ministry members can offer immense help and support to victims of abuse.

The alternate effect of this, of course, is that some “help”—if misapplied—can actually hurt. Unfortunately, many ministry leaders are woefully under-equipped to deal with domestic violence. Platitudes, prying questions, and shallow “biblical” answers, for example, do more harm than good for a victim who feels stuck in a desperate situation. In fact, many victims believe clergy have the most potential to help them, when in reality they are too often the least helpful and sometimes even harmful.

If you are a leader in ministry, statistics tell us there are people under your care 
that have suffered—or are currently suffering—from domestic violence. This is particularly tragic because part of God’s mission for the church is to proclaim God’s healing and to seek justice for everyone it encounters. And this book is to help equip you in doing just that for women in abusive situations. It is also a resource to give to women being abused as well as their support network of friends and family.

We believe that the deepest message of the ministry of Jesus and the Bible is the grace of God to all of us because we are all broken people in a broken world. Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness.

“Your Story Does Not End With Abuse”

Those suffering domestic violence need the good news of the grace of God applied to the effects of the abuse. Our hope is that ministry leaders clearly communicate and care for them with this message:

“Jesus responds to your pain. Your story does not end with abuse and violence. Your life was intended for more than shame, guilt, fear, anger, and confusion. The abuse does not define you or have the last word on your identity. Yes, it is part of your story, but not the end of your story.”

In Jesus, the God who delivers us from evil also offers us a path to healing. And it’s time to let this truth transform the shape of our own stories and how we minister to others.

10 Practical Ways to Care

If you are a loved one, friend, or minister serving a woman suffering domestic abuse, here are some suggestions on how to best care for her.

1. Let her know the abuse was not her fault. Communicate clearly: “You do not deserve abuse. And the it is never your fault.”

2. Listen. Don’t judge or blame them for the abuse. Research has proven that victims tend to have an easier adjustment when they are believed and listened to by others.

3. Don’t minimize or deny what happened. The fact that the abuse was not physical doesn’t make it any less painful, and it doesn’t make it any less wrong. The scars of emotional abuse are very real, they can run very deep, and they are not to be minimized. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so.

4. Reassure her that she is cared for and loved.

5. Encourage her to talk about the abuse with an advocate, pastor, mental health professional, law enforcement officer, another victim, or a trusted friend.

6. Encourage her to seek medical attention if needed.

7. Fight on her behalf against the lies that the abuse was her fault, that she is to blame, that she is a failure, or that she deserved abuse because she is a bad wife, mother, girlfriend, woman, or Christian.

8. Take care of yourself. As a support person, you need to be healthy in your caregiving role.

9. Avoid placating statements as an attempt to make her feel better.

10. Take time to notice where she is in the healing process and do not rush her through it. Help her keep moving through it at a pace comfortable to her rather than trying to force progression to a different stage immediately.

When My Dad Loved Me At My Worst

When My Dad Loved Me At My Worst

Many of us think (whether we admit it or not) there must be some breaking point where our Father God gives up on us. Even if we successfully avoid believing this fallacy, others’ overzealous cries still reach our ears: certainly there must be some sin or amount of sin that is just too much.

THE FLOOD

My understanding of unconditional love and its implications deepened when I was 10 years old. Our neighbors had moved and they were trying to sell their house. One day I broke in through the back door and closed all the drains in all the sinks and tubs and turned on all the faucets. Then, I just sat there and watched the water run. I let it keep running when I went home for dinner, only finally returning a few hours later to turn it off. I flooded the entire house.

THE FEELING

I knew right away that what I had done was wrong. I was shocked that I just wanted to do something so destructive. Our neighbors saw the damage the next day while showing the home to prospective buyers. They came to our house, and asked us if we had seen anyone around their place recently. On top of what I had already done, I lied to our neighbors and my parents.

I felt completely messed up. I was destroying stuff for the sake of destroying, and then I lied blatantly to everyone. I had heard about asking God’s forgiveness (my dad had taught me the Lord’s Prayer), so I begged God to forgive me.

But I was worried that he wouldn’t. Surely something so deliberate and cruel was just too much to forgive.

THE FORGIVENESS

After a month of an uneasy conscience, I was finally found out. Another neighbor had seen me sneaking around and told my parents. My father called me in from playing outside with my friends and asked me if I remembered anything important about the flooding incident. I knew something was up, but I felt like I had to stick with the lie at this point.

Finally, my dad told me that I was busted. I experienced an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt for my sins, and intense fear of the consequences. I sobbed and muttered, “Dad, I’m so sorry. I’ve been asking God to forgive me for so long for this and I don’t know if he ever will.”

In a moment of parental love and great wisdom, my dad said, “If you asked God to forgive you, then you are forgiven. You deserve to be punished, and this will cost lots of money to fix. But, son, you are forgiven. Go back outside and play.” In that moment, the reality of forgiveness and gratuitous grace powerfully moved me.

Instead of experiencing my fears unfold, I knew I was safe with my dad and I finally understood what he told me growing up: “I love you unconditionally.”

THE FAITH

Now when I confess my sins, I think of that experience of absolution. My dad didn’t take grace “too far.” He saw that my misunderstanding and fear of God’s wrath and my dad’s discipline threatened to crush me. He took on the consequences of my sins and literally paid for them for me.

I know there was nothing I could do to cause him to love me less. And I also know there was nothing I could do to cause him to love me more.

He loved me because I was his.

God the Father loves you like that. It’s gratuitous grace, the only kind there is.

 

A version of this story appears in Judgment and Love, a 35-story collection from Mockingbird.