It seems like this week is the week all my professors set aside for lectures on child abuse. Yesterday, in Psych of Gender, I found myself disgusted at the horrifying things that mankind can imagine up. Today, in Child Development, I was surprised to find that there were even more disturbing stories to be heard. If I were to look on the internet I would surely be able to find one account after another describing crimes against children, which are, in my mind, the worst ones out there.
Sadly, I don't think many stories would surprise me, though thankfully they would still disgusts me. I have seen so many kids who come to school happy, healthy and clean. I have also seen many kids who come to school in their sister's filthy shorts and a shirt that has a starburst wrapper stuck to it. They seem to use snack time as dinner time and their cognitive abilities seem to be far behind that of their peers. These are just the neglected children, not the ones being actively attacked.
It seems nearly inconceivable that a child who suffers through sexual, physical, or emotional abuse can escape the cycle. But thankfully, only 30% of abused kids go on to be abusers. It's a high percentage, but I'm still glad that those who leave the pain behind are in the majority.
In Zenos' allegory of the olive vineyard, the master of the vineyard is struggling to save his tame olive tree that is decaying. He tends it carefully and soon enough the tree produces new branches. Because the main part of the tree is decaying, he has to save these new branches by grafting them into new trees. He chooses to graft them into trees in the "nethermost part" of the vineyard. After a long wait, the master takes his servant back to where he grafted the branches in. To the servant's surprise, the branches brought forth good fruit. The servant doesn't understand, asking:
“How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of thy vineyard."
The Lord of the vineyard replied:
"Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit" (Jacob 5:20-22).
In this allegory, the master of the vineyard represents Christ. The new branches are His children and the poor spots can mean many things depending on who is applying it to their life. Many of God’s children have been put into homes and circumstances that may not appear to be conducive to growth. However, "Jesus’ teachings help us to have a correct view of life and our circumstances. Sometimes the solution is not to change our circumstance, but to change our attitude about that circumstance and its difficulties... God does notice us, and he watches over us" (Spencer W. Kimball).
My favorite part of the allegory is when the Master says "I have nourished it this long time" because I have felt Him nourish me as I grow in poor places. Christ has Atoned for all men so that they can be healed from the pain that the world throws at them. No child ever deserves to be abused. No child "earns" such pain. Pain is a part of life because the Fall allowed for pain to exist in this world. Christ Atoned for many people who brought sorrow onto their own lives through wrong choices, but he also atoned for the little ones who did not ask for such things.
Because of the Atonement, those who were abused as children can put their burdens on the Lord and be transitional characters in their family tree. Broderick defines a transitional character as
“. . . one who, in a single generation, changes the entire course of a lineage. The individuals who
grow up in an abusive, emotionally destructive environment and who somehow find a way to
metabolize the poison and refuse to pass it on to their children. They break the mold. They refute the observation that . . . ‘the sins of the fathers are visited upon the heads of the children . . .’ Their contribution to humanity is to filter the destructiveness out of their lineage so that
generations downstream will have a supportive foundation upon which to build productive lives" (Carlfred Broderick).
I know that those who are planted in poor places are not on a determined course leading them to be abusive to their children. As Spencer W. Kimball said, "Environment need not be our limit. Circumstance may not need to determine what we can be". All of God’s children are born agents who can thrive, despite being planted in “poor spots”, when they allow Christ to nourish them.
Not only can those planted in poor ground be healed from the pain of their past, but they will find that they have learned truths not available to those who haven't had the same experiences. The Atonement allows man to learn in painful ways , yet not carry the pain with him for the rest of his life. Dan Messe's lyrics to "Carry Me Home" illustrate this truth very well. He wrote: "We were raised in the nettles, and they showed us how they grow, where a poison comes to settle,
and what a poisoned man comes to know." Man can learn some dark truths through being planted in poor spots. Once he finds that Christ is there to "carry him home", he can use these truths to recognize pain and poison in others and boost them up to be carried.