“Dear Sherrill”

You may have noticed that we recently introduce an advice column for those of you who have questions for Sherrill.  Here is a response to one reader’s question (posted with permission).

“Dear Sherrill,

A couple months ago I learned that a relative was sentenced to several decades in prison for sexually abusing her son. At one level, my heart goes out to her because I am quite sure she is an incest victim herself. But at the same time, I find myself getting very angry at her for the damage she has done to this boy. How do you deal with the conflicting emotions of both compassion and anger in a situation like this?

Mixed Feelings in the Heartland”

Dear Mixed Feelings,

What a great and good question.  This situation is especially hard when it is family.

First of all, I want you to know that your anger at the abuser is healthy and appropriate.  God is also angry about the abuse and so your anger is a righteous anger.  At the same time, it is amazing and healthy that you also feel compassion for her.  Such compassion reflects the heart of God.  Yes, she probably is a survivor herself and repeated what was done to her.  To be appropriately sentenced is the best chance she has of changing.  It is good to pray that in prison she will not be harmed by fellow inmates (which is so sadly common in prison for child abusers) and that she will receive the help she needs to heal.  To visit her and just be a listener would be a gift to her.  However, this is a choice and you set your anger aside for such a visit.  If you cannot do that, then such a visit would not be helpful.

I wonder what makes you think these are conflicting emotions.  It is quite common to have a variety of feelings at the same time in a situation like this.  Once again, I want to reiterate that the anger and compassion you are having as you describe it are healthy and good.

Yes, she has given this boy an emotional/spiritual cancer that I hope and pray he is getting help for.  I too am angry at the abuser as I read your message.  This situation is one to weep over.

It is always our job as adults to protect children at all costs.  Someone in your family has been brave enough to be a truth teller.  I hope you are thankful for that.  That is a sign of health in a family.

Sherrill

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