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The Painful Reality of Abuse

Editorial by David Sedlacek

I was raised on a farm as the oldest boy of 15 children. My parents faithfully attended church, prayed together and instilled positive values of hard work, diligence and respect in us children. I love them for that and will be eternally grateful.

However, there was another painful reality that we lived with: emotional abuse and neglect. We were taught that we had

to be perfect. When we made a mistake or misbehaved, we were beaten with Dad’s Army belt and publicly shamed in front of the whole family. We were not allowed to have thoughts and opinions that differed from my father’s, unless we wanted to feel his wrath. My mother did her best to take care of our physical needs but was emotionally unavailable. She was in survival mode herself, and was overpowered by my father’s controlling nature. There were no verbal or physical expressions of affection in the home.

It didn’t help that I took on much of my mother’s victim mentality— prone to accepting emotional abuse because of the need of attention and distraction from my own pain. Predictably, in my first marriage, I was attracted to a person who was much like my father. I never wanted a divorce, but I must admit that when it happened, I was relieved because the constant barrage of emotional shaming finally came to an end.

As the result of my upbringing and first marriage, I tried to be perfect to earn love.

I looked to others for affirmation because I did not have a sense of my own value. In doing so, I allowed others to define me. While I loved God the best I knew how, I was also afraid of Him. I feared that if I wasn’t perfect, He was going to be angry and reject me. This deep wariness of Him lurked within my soul.

Only God is Perfect
When I learned that God loves me just the way I am (Jer. 31:3), I could hardly believe it. Today, I continue to grow in my capacity to trust Him and have learned a very important lesson in the pro- cess: We need to love others as we love ourselves, not instead of loving ourselves (Matt. 22:39). The greatest gift parents can give to their children is a positive sense of their value and lovability— just the way God intended my life to be from the very beginning.

David Sedlacek is a former pastor in the Ohio Conference and currently serves as a senior research professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Mich.

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