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A man sitting on a snowy ledge, silhouetted against a body of water.

Travel Guides: “Scott”

Johann Christoph Arnold

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  • Josh Burkholder

    Scott's story is almost identical to my own. The difference is that he is on the other side of it to a greater or lesser degree whereas I am not. It is impossible to state the extent of personal pain that people like Scott and I experience. I can hardly accept a God who allows the horrors that have been my life. On the other hand, my abuse and suffering have left me with a terrible longing for God. I hope someday He will show Himself to me.

  • Gloria Fourie

    It is a very difficult part in life to grow up as a child without anybody giving you guidance or even teaching you about things that you are going to come across. I grew up nearly like that; I was not taught or being guided to the things that life may throw on my face. I had to learn the hard way...Today I am a happily grown up single mother, grandmother with 3 children in adulthood and 4 grandchildren. I have accepted Jesus as my Savior. I have forgiven my parents for things which affected us when we were young whereby we ended up developing hatred towards other children who were loved by their parents. And it is not that our parents did not loved us. They loved us but at the same time having their own problems which ended up frustrating us by not talking to us...God is there He is a Miraculous God....God of Action....God who answers our prayers. I have an inner peace within myself. I have taught my children and my grandkids about God. They know when things get tough we need to pray. Everything happens for a reason...God Bless

  • metin erdem

    After the separation of the parents. The character of the child may be changed and the the lifes of mother, father and the child may get hell. A child needs to be raised in peace by both mother and father. Yes the parents may be separated but the parents should not let this affect the life of the child. The parents should always talk good about each other. Otherwise the child 's character get changed. The parents should teach their child to be good human and faith in God in every way. So the parents have big responsibilities all life long. The children needs both mother and father.

  • Erna Albertz, Plough.com

    Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts on Scott's story. How have you or those you know found peace from tragic and damaging experiences from the past?

In this excerpt from his book Escape Routes: For People Who Feel Trapped in Life’s Hells, Arnold relates the story of Scott, a young man he has counseled.

Children have no immune defense against evil, and even the smallest germ of pain, hatred, or horror may infect their entire development and sense of self for years. Childhood is the first great battleground between heaven and hell, and its victories and losses tend to shape us in ways that later experiences will not. More simply put, a great part of coming to terms with ourselves as adults is coming to terms with who we were as children.

Psychologists and therapists speak of discovering one’s “inner child,” and in general, this is accepted as an important, positive, worthy pursuit. But what if your inner child is broken, wounded, or smarting? What if you’re like Scott, a young man I know whose childhood was hell?

My father, while physically present, was always – and still is – a complete stranger. I realize that this situation is by no means an uncommon one in today’s society. Yet that doesn’t make its lifelong effects any less real.

My earliest memory is of a physical and verbal fight between my parents. I must have been three or four years old. Because I “mumbled” – something that infuriated my father – I internalized everything I felt. Every time I spoke he’d shoot back at me: “I don’t have time to sit here and listen to you mumble, go away and come back when you can talk so I can hear you.”

I became reclusive, distant, and introverted, spending hours by myself, fantasizing. At school, even my little brother would defend me by fighting off other kids, because I would just cry and try to run away. I physically recoiled at the slightest hint of confrontation, often curling up with my head in my hands.

Punishment was unpredictable and harsh. For example, at dinner at a neighbor’s house I goofed off. Long after I’d forgotten the incident, my father took me on a walk. We ended up in a shed out of earshot where he beat the crap out of me. Eventually I outgrew him so the physical abuse stopped.

Up till my twenties, he’d try to hold me under his thumb – or throw me off balance by making me acknowledge that I needed him, but keeping me at arms’ length. I grew to hate a line often repeated to me by my mom: “Even though your father doesn’t show it, you know he loves you.”

My mother was a hardcore Christian, and our house was loaded with holy cards, photos of the Shroud of Turin, crosses, and pictures of Jesus. I would flee in terror from these images. Many times she reminded me of this, leaving me with the conviction that something was deeply wrong with me: “You were scared of pictures of Jesus.” When staying at friends’ houses she would tell me, “Be sure to pray, because I have seen the devil in the room you are staying in.” She treated nightmares as occasions for miniexorcisms, opening up religious books and leaving them around my bed, or telling me to chant “Jesus” over and over.

There were normal times in between, but terror was the underlying reality of my childhood. While the boys I grew up with had dads who taught them about cars, sports, and life, helped them with projects and homework, and explained sex and girls, I had none of that, ever. The only “advice” I ever got from my father was once after he had got mad and hit me. He said almost tauntingly, “You have a lot of anger in you. You’d better get it out or it will come out later in life.”

For me the most tormenting thing about my father was the dual personality he had, abusive at home but with a friendly face to the world. While the sham of our picture-perfect “family life” slowly but surely strangled me, others seemed blinded by it. In fact, everyone I knew saw my parents as “friendly and loving.” And while my father had once admitted to me that he was “incapable of feeling,” young adults flocked to him, telling me that he was like a “second Dad” to them and saying how much they valued his advice. They meant well, I know, but it was acid in my wounds.

When Scott was seventeen, his father finally showed his true colors in an unexpected public outburst at church, and the family’s respectability was exposed as the masquerade it had always been:

Something snapped, I guess, and after all those years of everybody assuming that my parents were such loving, thoughtful people – while I was silently screaming out for help – everything came to a head. My parents escaped the situation by moving to my father’s hometown. I found another place on my own.

During the first couple of weeks I fell apart. I tried alcohol first, and when that ran out the really bad nights came. The first time, I just had a few beers with a friend. The next time, though, I drank alone, and I got this really dark feeling. A sense of total terror just hit me; I wanted to die. I wandered outside, in the dark, only to be terrorized further by the tempting thought of throwing myself under a train on the tracks that went by the house. I panicked, and went back inside.

How do people like Scott deal with the hell of their past? One way, tragically, is by conceding defeat – letting old sores fester, and allowing the pain that wells up as a result to ferment until it is a poisonous brew. It’s a devilish cycle, and one that will spin off new hells as long as it turns. It’s also the cycle of imprisonment – of shackling ourselves to the evil we have suffered and eventually becoming one with it.

Another tack is nurturing a “positive attitude,” and holding on to faith in the numbing effect of time. Both work, to a degree. Time does heal, and a hopeful outlook is certainly better than a pessimistic one. But just as hours of scrubbing cannot fully remove some stains, the best will in the world may not be enough to erase the marks of emotional pain.

A third way is to let go of the resentment we nurse toward the agent of our misery. This is easier said than done. For many people it is so difficult that it takes years, and in the interim the past may bind them so tightly that the way ahead seems barred. Still – and I do not say this lightly – those who go this route will find that when it comes to picking up the pieces of a shattered childhood, what they do has greater significance than even the worst that was done to them.

That is what Scott discovered. The years since he and his parents parted ways have been anything but easy, and yet in actively confronting the dark places of his past and struggling to forgive his parents, he has found release from the grip in which they once held him.


From Escape Routes: For People Who Feel Trapped in Life’s Hells.

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Contributed By Johann Christoph Arnold Johann Christoph Arnold

A noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, education, and end-of-life issues, Arnold was a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.

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