How to Help Abused People

Two hospice nurses visited my neighbor across the field from my home in Texas. He was battling cancer and was no longer able to care for himself. His son, Ron, met them at the door. He was bare chested, and the women’s eyes quickly riveted on the long scars on Ron’s chest and abdomen.

As he led them through the living room, they noticed a rifle by the front door, a shotgun by the back door, and a revolver on a chair. As they approached the father’s bedroom, Ron nearly stepped on a cat. After yelling a string of expletives, he threatened to kill the cat. Then he mentioned to the nurses that he spent time in the penitentiary for killing a man in self-defense.

After doing a hasty assessment of my elderly neighbor’s physical condition, the nurses left. Then they called to tell me that they were not going back until I checked Ron out to determine that it was safe to be in the house with him.

I wasted no time in paying a visit to my neighbor’s home. “So, you’re taking care of your father,” I commented. Shirtless, Ron invited me into the living room and immediately began to fill me in on the family relationships—or lack of them.

“I didn’t want to come. See, I owned my own rig. Long-distance hauler. Got out of prison for killing a man in self-defense and decided to make something of myself. Bought a big Peterbilt and began hauling.”

“My brother ran for New Penn out of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, for 38 years,” I said.

“I know their terminals. Seen them on the road a lot,” he said.

“You miss trucking?” I asked.

“Yes and no. The old man needed someone to look after him, and I was the only one to do it. Sold the Peterbilt and here I am. Never been crazy about the old man as I was growing up, but I figured it was the kindest thing to do for your own father.”

We were startled by sounds coming from the bedroom. We ran to the bedroom and found his father in the middle of a seizure. Ron cared for him as if he were more a gentle health professional than tough ex-con or rough trucker.

When the seizure ended, he tucked his father in, and we walked quietly to the kitchen. We sat at the kitchen table. Ron sipped a cup of coffee and was quiet for several minute, before speaking.

“The old man and I had no contact for years. You see, he was very cruel to me and my Ma. I watched him beat the tar out of that poor woman for no reason at all. When I tried to stop him, he beat me too.

“The last time he beat me with a two by four, I fell to the floor and lay in my own urine. I looked up at him and said, ’Old man, you lay another hand on me and my Ma again, and I’ll kill you. I mean it.’ From that day on he didn’t beat us physically, but he neglected us emotionally. I left home as soon as I could. When I heard he was dying, I told myself I had to help him.”

“Ron, I’m so glad all that is in the past, but it still hurts, I’m sure,” I said. “I admire you for your compassion in spite of the cruelty you received at his hands.”

Emotion began showing on his face as he said, “A few days ago he called me to his room and asked me to sit down. He reached out and took my hand and began to cry.

“Son,” he said, “I don’t know why you are taking care of me. I don’t deserve it. I was cruel to you and Ma. Ma’s gone now and I can’t make that right, but I want to take this chance to ask your forgiveness. I’m sorry for the pain I caused you. Please forgive me.”

Ron wiped tears with the back of his hand as he said, “I can’t tell you how much I hated him all these years, but since I came back something has happened that I can’t explain. The hate has gone and I sort of love the old coot. I really do.” Both of us were quiet while Ron blew his nose and wiped his tears.

I said, “I can’t explain it either, Ron. It is beyond explanation the way that God changes us. I’m so happy He has changed you—and your father.”

Emotion squeezed Ron’s words. “It’s like I have the father I always wanted when I was a kid, but now he’s dying.”

I told Ron how pleased I was to be able to get to know him. As I walked toward the front door I said, “I notice you have plenty of firearms.”

Ron said, “They belong to the old man. He used them all. When strangers set foot on the property, he’d blast the rifle in the air to scare them off. He used the pistol and shotgun to pick off the squirrels when they’d eat the pecans on the trees in the backyard. I suppose I should put them away. He won’t be using them anymore.”

I assured Ron that the nurses would give him all the help he needed. We parted good friends, and we both promised to stay in touch.

What We All Can Do

People who have experienced abuse often require professional treatment. Yet caring Christians can play an important role in hastening the healing process.

The following may be helpful:

  • Befriend them and socialize with them. This helps them improve their self-esteem.
  • Give them your time and your affirmation. This is the way to develop a much-needed trust level.
  • Allow storytelling, even if you’ve heard parts of the story before.
  • Be shocked at nothing. At each meeting, ask God to give you this control.
  • Verify that the abuse is over. If the abuse is ongoing, urge your friends to seek professional help.

You spiritually help people who have abuse-riddled backgrounds by making a connection with them that restores their dignity and sense of purpose.

Survivor Checklist

“Incest and abuse survivors often develop telling ‘pathologies.’ ” These pathologies are actually the various ways a survivor learned to cope with the abuse as a child, and they were extremely healthy (perhaps even lifesaving) at the time, but are now in the way of their becoming a fullyfunctioning adult. 

The book, Secret Survivors by E. Sue Blume (John Wiley & Sons, 1990), has a checklist of some of the many symptoms that can develop from sexual abuse. Of course, these kinds of symptoms can develop from other causes as well.

Do you have issues with your body? Problems such as swallowing and gagging sensitivities, eating disorders, addictions to drugs or alcohol, skin carving or other self-abuse, the need to wear baggy clothes, or a fear of removing clothing even when appropriate (swimming or bathing, for example) often have their roots in childhood sexual abuse.

Survivors often have trouble expressing their anger, or live in constant fear of the anger of others. . . . Others are rage-alcoholics, and have trouble seeing the damage their outbursts have on the people around them. Another path survivors take is to become obsessed with suicide and death, or they spend their lives in and out of depression.

Blume says: “There is usually a good reason for every strange thing you notice about yourself. If you have phobias, sexual kinks, behavior glitches, etc., there is a very good chance someone taught them to you! These kinds of things did not come from the Original Manufacturer, they developed from misuse of product.”

Larry Yeagley
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists