How do I help a girl who has abusive parents?


Hi Mr. Hamilton!

I've written to you before and I greatly appreciate your site, which I visit almost daily. I know you're busy, so I'll try to keep this somewhat brief (I am greatly sorry for the length). I'm also going to try and present an objective account, though it is from my perspective, so there will always be some bias.

First, I've grown a lot spiritually and have been blessed with many opportunities to help others spiritually, introducing people to Christ's body of believers. Here at the local church of Christ, I present about half of the lessons, at least when I have time, and have been asked to be the full-time, paid preacher. I've declined because I'm young (in my twenties), not knowledgeable enough, and though I have zeal, I don't yet have the wisdom I need. In other words, every now and then I make poor choices spiritually. I'm going to describe one of them to you and ask for your advice.

I met a girl online from the churches of Christ. We knew each other for not quite a year and studied the Bible for much of that time. She lives in another state, so it's a quick flight to see her. She's also close to my age and in college. Over time, she started telling me about her parents, who attend a church of Christ where she lives. At the time, she still had a room in their house, as she attended college locally. She told me many things, some of which involved her dad verbally and physically abusing her and her mother. It didn't seem to be "too bad" — just cussing and screaming and throwing them into walls when very angry. I was upset since my own father was abusive. However, she said she was scared of her dad getting worse.

As time moved on, I found out that her mother was also often complicit, and I heard her say bad things about me, as well as my friend's desire to study the Bible. I also found out that her parents show up for as little as possible on Sunday, and never speak with anyone. She asked for studies with others, and they said, "We're workers, we don't need friends."  The more I learned, I saw a trend of great stress in the dad (his mother has dementia and lives nearby, but there is no one to care for her), and great dysfunction in the others. Having been involved in the same and having escaped it, plus witnessing it most days when I worked helping other people, it was heart-breaking. She told me that taking it to her parents merely resulted in more abuse. After one spree of anger from her parents, she got her own apartment with a sister in Christ. Her mother also suggested that she not be in the house because of her dad's anger, said that she was going to live in a hotel herself, and said crying, "this is why you should never get married."

Eventually, I asked her to come to see me (having family in the church who had an extra room, it would also have saved me a great deal of money), as I had the finances, but not the time, to see her. Plus, her parents had stated that they had no interest in seeing me. While she initially agreed, her parents called me and quickly informed me of some bizarre things. The strangest was that they might not know the Bible, but they wouldn't study with me and didn't need someone around going on about the Bible. Though I sent them references from many different preachers and elders who I knew in many states, they professed that I was a liar.

Time moved on and I went to see the family. I met her mom on the first night, and the meeting was great. I was informed, however, that I was not allowed in their house, as they were remodeling, or in the grandmother's house, as they were not comfortable with that. Since the girl and I planned on going to devotionals, the zoo, and having Bible studies, it wasn't a big deal.

The second night, the mother called me up and said that the girl was not allowed near my hotel as I was probably a rapist (we had been studying at the public library). She also said that I was lying about my age and that I had a fake driver's license. (I don't know where the driver's license thing came from.)  She then told me that I was someone she didn't know or trust and that I needed to bring her daughter home immediately. (Keeping in mind that her daughter lived on her own by that time.) It was much harsher than that, and I was upset. She also accused me of using Christ to manipulate her and her daughter, as I'd repeatedly asked to pray and study the Bible together. I was told that they would not be comfortable with that.

And here is where I truly stepped in it. Instead of being calm, loving, and realizing that this poor lady had been abused, I snapped when she called the girl a spineless coward. I told her that she needed help, that she was clearly abused, that I knew about it, that I was experiencing anger because I'd been abused in the past, too, and that I wouldn't let anyone abuse me again (big mistake). She denied it and became more hostile before hanging up.  The father then called and threatened to hunt me to the ends of the earth.  A great deal more than this happened, but hopefully, the pattern should suffice. It is worth noting that the girl has not been allowed or shown how to: put in windshield washer fluid, drive on interstates, go swimming, etc., under the guise that she is "too stupid," as I heard on the phone, and that she would get killed. The psychological profile seems fairly damaged among the entire family.

I went to assembly on Sunday, but the mother and father both came in late and left early, not wanting to see me. The time I had there with most of the congregation was great, however, and the young minister communicates with me.

I've made a great many errors in this situation. I've been angry at what has happened, and that's a result of ego, and me taking it personally, as well as being foolishly protective like Peter, which though I slant it in favor of my perspective, is not Christ-like. The girl has stated that she is afraid to go to the elders, as the dad will fall farther away, and he had already stated that he didn't care for some of the men and was going to stop attending or find another congregation.

What should I do? The girl and I are not dating, as there are too many issues. Matthew 5 and 18 have been heavily on my mind, as well as John 15 and I also know that I don't need to lean upon my own understanding.

I have determined to write them a letter with all of my perceptions and ask them to forgive me and to look for godly ways to manage their stresses and anger. I don't know if it will work. The psyches seem, as I have said, damaged. But it is causing me great sorrow that I have erred so greatly, and I want the best in Christ for us all.

Though we are not dating, and I could just forget it, I know I have something against my brother. Plus, the girl keeps coming back to me. I think it's an indirect cry for help.

Thank you for any advice, and I love you very much in Christ!

P.S. The girl and I offered a variety of different ways to accommodate the mother's worries, including having her present in the room (I would never shut the door or window with a girl alone in my room), me going over there (she refused and threatened to call the police), etc. This made my reaction more negative, and I told her that she needed help and that I couldn't trust her because she was acting unstable and I felt threatened. Like I said, one mistake after another for me.


Let's start with a very important fact: You are not the cause of this family's problems. They existed long before you met the daughter. While you are trying to determine a reason for their behavior, it doesn't work because their behavior is not reasonable. Just because a person attends a church, it doesn't mean they are righteous. This is what Jesus' parable of the dragnet is about (Matthew 13:47-50). It is just a guess on my part, but I would not be at all surprised to hear that there are drugs involved. The most likely reason this family doesn't have fellowship with the church they attend is that the parents know they are in sin and don't want anyone to find out what is going on.

A second fact that needs to be established is that this young lady is an adult. She is independent of her family. You need to treat her that way and she needs to see herself that way. She doesn't need her parent's permission to study the Bible with anyone. Her parents only control who comes into their house -- that's it.

If you made a mistake, it has been in trying to make an unworkable situation work. You are trying to win the acceptance of her parents, but they will not accept anyone. Notice that the mother brought up odd, unrelated things, such as your driver's license. By doing so she proved that she will lie to herself and others to get her way. Yet, though she proved herself to be a liar, you are trying to treat her as an honest person. You are dealing with two very evil people.

What you said wasn't wrong when you rebuked them. I'm not at all surprised that they rejected it. The only thing you need to work on is telling people when they are in error without getting angry about it yourself. The anger is coming from the fact that you are trying to make something happen that you have no control over. But you do have control: you don't have to have this couple be a part of your life.

The girl is wrong about not getting help locally. Her reaching out to the elders for advice will not drive her parents away. They are already wandering away and getting further away every day. They are responsible for their own decisions; just as she is responsible for her own decisions (Ezekiel 18:1-20). What she decides doesn't make anyone else more or less righteous.

Do not write a letter. It is a worthless effort. Just because you said the truth while angry, it doesn't make it any less the truth. Truth is not to be apologized for being spoken.

The attraction between you and the young lady is that you are the knight in shining armor coming to rescue the damsel in distress. The problem is that she will remain in distress so long as she remains closely connected with her parents. What I would suggest to her is to limit her communication to the bare minimum. Moving to another place would greatly help her -- not necessarily where you are.

Remember that if you ever decide to date such a girl, you are signing up for a lot of headaches unless she starts seeing herself as a spiritual orphan. The baggage that comes with someone who drags such a family along will be too much for almost anyone.


Thank you very much for the detailed response. I had been thinking about how much a tare looks like the wheat around it, but I had also read your notes on restoring a brother in love. I suppose a person must want to be restored.  I shared what you said with the young lady, and she was very appreciative. These events are definitely causing her to mature in many ways.

After a great deal of consideration, I have realized that you are correct about writing a letter to them. The perceptual filters they apply are not compatible with truth or, in this case, love, though I suppose really truth and love are ultimately the same things.

My anger took me by surprise! I can see why it came up though, as my father was excellent at pretending to be a good part of the body of Christ, though in secret he was abusive, vile, and more of a conman than anything else.  Furthermore, you're correct and made me realize that a lot of my distress came from trying to steer things into a workable situation, only to encounter mind-boggling turns of irrationality at every turn. Still, I have found in the past that these surprisingly difficult situations are really a blessing, as they're times when God gives us the opportunity to overcome very difficult things and come out much stronger. This is a great opportunity to refine my character and to learn not to be angry even in situations that are the most personally distressing.  Plus, if I trusted in God and His plan, and made an effort to be more Christ-like, I'd be a lot less upset.

I really appreciate all of your help, and it helped calm my spirit and ease my self-doubt. While I made a mistake, I'm going to change that behavior and be better for it. Could we set up a time for me to call you sometime? I have a brief question as the young lady's mother threw a wrench into her plans for addressing the issue, and she was upset today. As for a relationship, I told her that we should go to focus on her growth spiritually before anything romantic — with anyone — should occur.

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