Enhanced: read by the author
Faith Filled Family

with Steve Demme

Hope for Parents Who’ve Messed Up
“I was becoming safe. It was then that one of my boys sat down and shared what it was like growing up in our home. He talked, I listened, and we wept together. Our hearts have been restored.”
I have been a parent for over forty years. Throughout that time I have gone through different seasons of parenting. I have been the homeschooling-involved parent teaching and learning with them. I have sought to apply Deuteronomy 6:7, teaching my “children diligently” while also being “with them.” I have tried to be transparent and not exasperate them.
“Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to resentment], but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord.”
—Ephesians 6:4 AMP

I desperately wanted to be the kind of dad I had always wanted. However, I had issues and blind spots, and while doing many positive things, was unaware of the harm I was also causing. Ten years ago our family went through a very difficult year. Not only did I suffer, but we were all hurting.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together.”
—1 Corinthians 12:26
I will not go into details here, but if you want more information go here. When we met together with a counselor/consultant, I learned some of what my family had quietly endured for years. As I listened to their pain, I was undone. Learning how I had wounded those who are nearest and dearest to me motivated me to get help, so I reached out. I sought the help of Christian brothers and enlisted the expertise of therapists.

With their help, I learned that I had scars, wounds, and painful experiences from my past that I had not dealt with. When I was under stress or overtired, I could speak harshly, discipline in anger, or respond negatively. Normally I would confess my sin and ask forgiveness, but the damage was done. In listening to my family, I discovered I had the power to wound them with a word, the tone of my voice, or even a disapproving look.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
—Proverbs 18:21

At the same time that I was in this dark valley, God showed up and began revealing His love for me in a new way. The passage that the Spirit used to reach my heart was John 15:9. Jesus said:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love.”

I understood for perhaps the first time, that God not only loved the world, He liked me. My relationship with God improved dramatically and I began to sense His care and affection in new and wonderful ways that I had longed to experience for decades. To continue to grow in grace, I began to set aside time to transform my mind and connect with Him at a heart level.

As I continued to study John 15, I noticed that the key to abiding in His love was to love others as He loved me.

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. …This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

This is the new commandment that He first taught His disciples in John 13:34:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you.”

As I searched the Scriptures to discover how Jesus loves us, I saw that Jesus came to serve and not be served. He came to lay down His life for us. He loved us while we were sinners. He prays for us. He is meek and lowly and invites us to come unto Him. My ongoing study has now grown to seven pages of Bible verses. Philippians 2:6-7 paints a wonderful picture of Jesus, who

“though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.”

Matthew 11:28-30 expresses the tenderness and care of Jesus:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

The more I meditated on the character of Christ and His love, the more I saw how I needed to love the same way.

As the father, I know God has given me a measure of authority as the head of the home. Paul gives insight into authority while addressing the church in Corinth.

“…the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.”
—2 Corinthians 13:10

I wanted to use my position to serve and build up my family and not to rule over them or tear them down.

In hindsight, I see that I misunderstood and misused my authority. One of my chief takeaways from the past ten years is that I believe there is no one who can build up my wife or my sons like me, nor is there anyone who can hurt them and tear them down like me. Authority is a sobering responsibility. It has great potential for good and harm.

I am wholeheartedly committed to being the best builder-upper I can be. My number one aim now is to be safe. I can traumatize my wife with a word, a tone of voice, or a look. I also have the opportunity to help her flourish and grow. My family has experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly with me. They know me. They can help me understand my blind spots… if I am humble and approachable and safe.

It took two years before my sons began to believe that my repentance was genuine this time. I had tried to make changes before but would return to my default behavior after a season. This time they sensed a difference. I was becoming safe. It was then that one of my boys sat down and shared what it was like growing up in our home. He talked, I listened, and we wept together. Our hearts have been restored.

The world can be a scary place, but I long to be a refuge where my family can find peace. God has graciously given our family six grandchildren. Several of them have come through the foster system. I want to be a big, safe, loving “Papa” to each of them. I want to invest in my communion with God and daily draw near to Him. For when I am in a place of abiding in His love, I am more approachable, more kind, and more at rest.

I continue to explore my own wounds and baggage. With God’s help, I continue to address my baggage and grow in my relationship with Him. The more love I receive from Him, the more love I can give to my family. I have gone from being a young parent with lots of dreams and ambitions to being a seasoned parent who simply wants to be kind. To be gracious. To be loving. To be safe. Like Jesus.

I aspire to lead my family well by serving and laying down my life, like Jesus. I want to put my best foot forward in my home and love my family as Jesus has loved me, faithfully and consistently. I have done a lot of dying in the past ten years, but it has produced such good fruit in my relationships with God and those closest to me. I am not surprised because Jesus said:

“Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
—Matthew 10:39
Steve Demme

teve Demme and his wife Sandra have been married since 1979. They have been blessed with four sons, three lovely daughters-in-law, and six special grandchildren. Their fourth son has Downs Syndrome and lives with them in Lititz, PA. Steve has served in full or part-time pastoral ministry for many years after graduating from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the creator of Math-U-See and the founder of Building Faith Families.