Grace is here

The Joy and Agony of Free Will

How it must have thrilled and broken God’s heart to give His most beloved creation free will. I cannot imagine the joy and the agony of Perfection breathing life into a sentient, autonomous being that could choose to love or reject Him, especially when He knew how much pain and sorrow we would suffer by choosing independence from Good.

I’ve been running up against the hard reality of the pain we inflict on others the further we drift from God’s design. And being painfully reminded why I have struggled with identifying as “mentally ill.”

This Tuesday, the body of a beautiful 21-month-old girl was pulled from the water in Syracuse, NY. She went missing Saturday night, taken and killed by her 24-year-old father. He was apparently jealous of the attention his baby received from his wife. Children require attention from their mothers; they need to be cared for. And this child, this young innocent life that had barely had a chance to start, was battling and beating cancer.

I recently heard about a young boy who suffered horrific psychological abuse by his mother. I never met her. She is now dead. I am angry at a dead woman.

This father and this mother were obviously mentally ill. You don’t do things like that if you’re mentally healthy.

I know I am mentally ill. But I don’t want to be compared to or categorized with people like this.

Our ChoiceI never thought that I could in any way understand how a woman could take the life of her child... The Joy and Agony of Free Will

Whether or not we are “mentally ill” we are capable of far worse things than we would choose to believe we are. And those of us who are mentally ill are still responsible for our actions if we choose to commit an abusive or criminally antisocial act.

It’s uncomfortable for me to admit what finally drove me to seek treatment for my devastating mood swings into episodes of suicidal depression. It wasn’t the impact it had on my ability to effectively function. It wasn’t the atypically violent ideation. It was a devastating realization:

I understood how a mother could kill her children in an act of murder-suicide.

As horrifying as this is, it’s a logical conclusion when you believe that life is so dark that there is no hope, that there is no future in a world so twisted and evil. Not being seems a far better state than having to survive in an impossible life.

To clarify, I never considered harming my children in any way. The only person I was a danger to was myself. But I knew I had come to a dangerous understanding. And it was my responsibility to do everything in my power to never end up in a place where I could even consider harming my children.

My responsibility. And I was capable to choose to get help before I became a danger.

And I did.

While I advocate mentally ill Christians accepting that they are mentally ill, and accepting that sometimes we aren’t in control of our thoughts, I in no way support using mental illness as an excuse for cruelty or inflicting harm on others.

Would I have ever come to a point where I’d consider harming my children if I hadn’t sought help and gotten treatment? It’s impossible to know. But I know I cannot say that I never could or would do something like that. I also know there’s a very good chance that I wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t gotten help. From the depths of suicidal depression, I believed that the benefit for my kids, my family, my friends would outweigh the negative effects of my suicide; but it’s not true.

I have seen the life-long consequences and effects of a suicide on loved ones left behind.

It is vitally important to do what I can to keep myself from inflicting that type of damage on my kids. Fearing a need to keep them safe from me is what motivated me to get help and was part of what allowed me to come back to knowing that my suicide would be horribly damaging to them.

I never expected that I could in any way understand how a woman could take the life of her child. Click To Tweet

As a mom, I never expected that I could in any way understand how a woman could take the life of her child. And it’s difficult to just put it out there in fear that people will look at me differently. I’m afraid that even if they don’t believe they’re justified to mistrust me, they will.

But I am relieved to say I don’t mistrust me. At least not in this area.

I am confident that if I ever suspect that I could become capable of harming my children, I will do what is necessary to keep them safe.

Awareness of the abstract understanding of the unthinkable that had developed in the darkness of my despair felt like the death of something good in me, but it roused me back to life. I felt like there was nothing worthwhile about me or in me, but I was confronted with the reality that there was something good. I still had the desire to protect my children. The ugly thought of my potential to harm them gave me the motivation to take the seemingly pointless step of getting help.

A Hard Truth

Children need safe places and safe people to whom they know they could say anything. Click To Tweet

Countless parents over the years have psychologically, physically, and sexually abused their children. Some have killed them.

Of the children who were victimized by their parents, or others, how many went on to become abusers themselves?

This is the tragedy of cycles of abuse. The victim whose innocence was stolen becoming the perpetrator and stealing another child’s innocence.

It’s so important to provide children with safe places, safe people to whom they understand they could say anything. Easier said than done. Far easier said than done. FAR easier said than done.

Intervention and counseling are important for kids who have experienced abuse, so they can be true survivors, not victims who struggle to have a positive self-image and healthy relationships, or deal with the powerlessness they felt by victimizing others.

The Question

As often happens as a result of pain and tragedy, sufferers can question the reality or goodness of God. Several years ago I came across a good answer to the “Why did God let this happen to me?” question.

A young mother was stressed and busy. Her little son was not making it any easier. You know how kids have those days when they just persist, persist, persist in staying underfoot and just pick, pick, pick with their questions, requests, demands, and complaints? It was one of those days. There was so much to get done, and, as kids can, he was making everything take longer.

As the boy followed his mother to the top of the stairs, she lost her temper. Or almost did. She turned around with her basket of laundry and realized something… I could push him down the stairs and God wouldn’t stop me.

This mom was one of the parents who instead of repeating the patterns of abuse she had been raised in, was a survivor who used her experience to define what she would not do as a parent.

But in one moment she realized, as I did, that she was capable of doing something she hated the idea of.

Did she shove her son? No. Did she really want to? No. But if we’re not mindful, a moment of frustration and anger can have serious long-term consequences.

Like my moment of terrible, unwelcome self-knowledge brought me to a place I could seek help, hers brought her freedom.

She no longer wondered why God had let her suffer. Just as He wouldn’t stop her from hurting her son if that’s what she chose to do, God did not rescind her abuser’s free will.

The Responsibility

The father and mother I mentioned earlier had a choice each step of the way, and were capable of making different choices than those they made to bring them to where they ended up.

I cannot excuse what they did. God extends grace to all who repent and accept it, but I struggle.

It’s possible that this man and this woman were once the child who needed to be protected. Time passed. And one day they stepped over the line and became the adult from whom another child deserved to be protected.

It’s a heavy, heavy heartbreaking weight. I want to fix it. I want to fix everyone. But I can’t. No one can.

It should make sharing the Gospel, living the Gospel, more important to us. God is the only one who can truly fix our brokenness and fill our emptiness.

Grace is here. Surrounding us. Each moment, each breath. We have the freedom to accept it or reject it.

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