Building a new family from the ashes of past abuse is an opportunity to defy destruction and illuminate hope.
When you’ve come from an abusive past, building up your own new family is no ordinary thing. It joyfully, actively, and creatively crushes the work of Satan. The work of establishing a Christ-centered family stands as an act of redemption and re-creation that proclaims God’s glory and dominion over evil.
We are made in God’s image, created to reflect his value through our lives, words, and works — but we don’t come into the world fully mature. God designed families to serve as one of the most essential arenas of our development. Thus, we are born as malleable, impressionable children, who intrinsically imbibe the world of our caregivers. And this can be a world of affection and instruction in Christ, or a world of neglect and abuse.
“Building a new family from the ashes of past abuse is an opportunity to defy destruction and illuminate hope.”
Being raised in a godly home should communicate to us that we are loved, that Christ is to be trusted, and that God is our Father through faith in his Son. Abuse tells us, explicitly and implicitly, that we are not loved, that no one is to be trusted, and that God is either indifferent or cruel.
These lies, encouraged by the father of lies, stomp on our humanity and cause us to pull farther away from God. We fear he might confirm the message of our earthly parents that we are worthless. We manage the fear and shame, developing strategies to survive another day of chaos. But these former ways of coping, when beaten down by words or fists, aren’t the way to live abundantly in Christ. We have to learn a new way to be human.
God Is Stronger Than Past Abuse
In a sense, every Christian is learning to be more human. The fall separated us from God and left us broken and alienated from our Creator. When we become believers, we are united with Christ and brought into relationship with our Father. Everything begins to change, though the process of recovery will continue for a lifetime.
We learn who God is: Creator, Redeemer, King. He is all-good, all-wise, all-loving, all-just, all-powerful. He is mighty and majestic (Exodus 15:11). And yet he is tender, giving us refuge under his wings (Psalm 91:4). We learn who we are: chosen by God, adopted into his family as his children, redeemed, forgiven (Ephesians 1:3–10). These truths redefine our relationships, our work, and what we submit ourselves to.
For those who have been abused, the contrast can be even starker. Abuse doesn’t just lie using words; it experientially carves those lies onto our hearts and into the wiring of our brains. Our beliefs must be rewritten, not only with true words, but also with experiences of goodness and faithfulness.
Being in solid Christian community, where the truth and love of Christ is not only spoken but carried out, is a vital part of this rewriting, often in addition to counseling and other professional help. The good news is our hearts and minds can be rewritten. Neuroscience research confirms what Christians have known all along: that our brains can change even as adults. The damage has occurred, but it doesn’t have the final say.
Building from Scratch
Children from abusive homes often are deprived of healthy modes of interaction, and as adults, we have to learn seemingly simple things, like how to respond to loving touch or how to let trust deepen in a blossoming friendship. Our parents may not have passed on useful patterns and instincts for parenting, so we have to find mentors to guide us and godly families to emulate. We watch intently how they do everything from meals to prayer time to laundry, and how they drape these routines over the framework of faith in the true God.
“Abuse tells us, explicitly and implicitly, that we are unlovable, that no one is to be trusted.”
We may be building a family system from scratch, and godly families around us are a lifeline. Perhaps without even realizing it, they are contributing to our creation of a Christ-centered family whose strains will echo through eternity. This is Christian community in glorious application.
As a survivor of abuse builds up a godly family, it declares that God is stronger than our enemy, more than able to defeat his most insidious and deceitful plans. It tells the world that healing from terrible wounds — though painful, slow, and incomplete in this life, — is possible. We reach the point where we no longer see ourselves as outsiders to normal human joys, but instead — formerly unimaginable — as beloved children of God.
No matter how deep the miry pit into which abuse has drawn us, God can lift us out and set us in a broad place because he delights in us (Psalm 18:16–19).
Christ’s Brilliant Restoration
This restoration proclaims with trumpets that God’s own people never are hopelessly trapped on a downward-spiraling path, destined to fail because of our past. We are given the power of the Holy Spirit to succeed in the quest of knowing and enjoying God. By God’s grace, we’re forming a new legacy that will continue for generations, excising the poison of abuse and engrafting new, right ways of raising and caring for a family. In Christ, we are a new creation: the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17), and God receives the glory for this marvel.
Even in the shadow of death, the first woman is named Eve — the giver of life, “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). Beating in every woman’s heart is the desire to bring life to the world, in whatever way God gives us. For mothers like me who come from abusive homes and are intimately acquainted with darkness, this soul-wiring expresses itself in our desire to see our family embody the redemptive power of God.
“We are building a family system from scratch, and godly families around us are a lifeline.”
My heart thrills at the potential for my children to become men and women who love their spouses and children and neighbors, do their work to honor God, and share the good news with joy in all their spheres. God’s love and power are made evident in my family as I learn more and more what it is to be a child of God and a mother to my children.
When God carries abuse survivors out of the darkness and into the light, and calls them to bring forth a new kind of family that honors him, he is doing something magnificent. It is manifestly glorious in its natural impossibility: God alone has the power to create good from evil. The contrast between the deeply rooted destruction and evil of abuse, and the brilliant hope of life in Christ is enough to draw us to our knees before our Lord in awe and thankfulness.