When Family Goes Hostile

The December 16, 2012 Huffington Post carried the article “I am Adam Lanza’a Mother,” in which Liza Long wrote about the verbal and increasingly physical aggression of her 13-year-old son who would soon be stronger than she. Liza created a safety plan which the younger siblings, ages seven and nine, follow when their older brother becomes aggressive. Violent children threaten and harm their parents, siblings, or others.

Psalm 3 was written in a context similar to that of Liza Long. It is “a psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son” (3:1). Second Samuel 15-19 records how Absalom killed his brother and eventually went after his father, David, in a growing storm that would have killed many. David had to run for his life, sending others to safety ahead of himself. In Psalm 3 he tells how he handled the fear, shame, and grief. He shows what trust in God in the midst of danger looks like. If you have a family member who is threatening or endangering you, listen to Psalm 3. If your sleep is disturbed because of worry, or fear, or because you’re brooding over being bullied or ridiculed, listen to Psalm 3.

Parents, you can use this psalm to help any of your children who may feel threatened by a sibling (or other person). In it, you can also find comfort and guidance for yourselves. This post is not intended to be a manual on practical steps for personal safety, but to offer the practical help that David shares for the heart, mind, and emotions.

What can you do when people are seeking to harm, or at least malign, intimidate, bully, or ridicule you? When trouble comes:

1. Take appropriate safety measures.

If you read 2 Samuel 15-19, you’ll see that David sent loved ones ahead of himself to escape danger. This demonstrated love for others. It was also prudent that David left the place of danger (Prov. 22:3). Choose a safe place to go. Just be sure to depend on God even as you take action. Parents, be proactive about protecting children at risk of harm.

Back to Psalm 3…

2. Tell God about it (1-2).

O Lord, how my adversaries have increased!
Many are rising up against me.
Many are saying of my soul,
“There is no deliverance for him in God.” Selah.

The word “selah” is used three times in just eight verses. It tells the reader to pause and think about the passage, to consider how the reader might apply it.

Betrayal by the ones you should be able to trust hurts. Hostility from someone in your own house can be frightening. A manipulative offender may taunt or otherwise try to convince you that God doesn’t care or can’t help. Tell God about it; He cares and is in control.

Tell God about it, but don’t stop there. Talking only about the problem, even in prayer, can lead to brooding. Brooding makes the problem appear larger than it is and larger than God.

3. Turn your eyes from self to God (3-6).

But You, O Lord, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying to the Lord with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah.
I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me round about.

After telling God about his situation, David’s first words transform his perspective: “but You.” Those words, “but You” and “but God,” are some of my favorites in the Bible. They direct a U-turn, a 180, turning our eyes from the situation to the Savior. David refuses to think on the lies, the betrayal, the danger, or his feelings. Instead, he meditates on God.

  • Are you weighed down with resentful or fearful thoughts, perhaps the lies you’ve been hearing or telling yourself? God is the Truth that counters lies (“but God”).
  • Do you feel threatened? God is the Protector (“shield about me”).
  • Are you humiliated? Oppression shames the innocent, but those who are right with God have no cause for shame. Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. They have Christ, and Christ is of priceless worth. He is the believer’s delight and dignity (“my glory”).
  • Are you hanging your head? Have shame, grief, or a sense of hopelessness weighed you down? God is the Encourager (“lifts my head”).
  • Are you tired of crying to Him? Does it seem like your prayers go no higher than the ceiling? God is near, nearer than the ceiling (“He answered me”).
  • Does God seem irrelevant or ineffectual? God is holy, completely different from us (“holy mountain”). Where else can you find anyone like Him? His holiness makes Him the only one who absolutely never fails.
  • Do you feel anxious, agitated, uncertain? God will hold you steady as you diligently meditate on Him (“I lay down and slept”). “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You” (Isa 26:3).
  • Have you lost energy to keep doing what is right? God is the Sustainer (“sustains me”).

4. Turn away from retaliation.

There is something missing from this psalm–anger and revenge. David was Absalom’s dad. Moreover, he was the king. He had the right and authority to retaliate, but he didn’t. Rather than try to do God’s job (of justice) for Him, he trusted God to take care of justice in God’s time.

5. Trust in the Lord (7-8).

Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God!
For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek;
You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah.

  • Does it seem like there is no help? God is Savior (“save me,” v. 7). He is capable of changing your situation to save you physically. Even if He lets it continue, if you trust Him for your spiritual salvation, He will save you from His wrath by forgiving your sins. And if you are His child and follow David’s pattern here, He will save you from anxiety, anger, and worse troubles that a sinful response would cause.
  • Does it seem that some people get away with injustice, with insulting others, with evil acts? God is just (“smitten all my enemies,” 7). He will avenge wrongs in His time.
  • Are you tempted to manipulate others to get relief or a sense of control, to save yourself from the discomfort of your situation? Salvation belongs to the Lord (8). David didn’t claim a deliverance or demand anything; he submitted to the hardship God sent him.
  • Are you tempted to think that nothing good can come of your hardship? God is good. He blesses people (8).

Salvation belongs to the Lord.

  • Since salvation is the Lord’s, unless God allowed it, David’s enemies could not hurt him.
  • Since salvation is the Lord’s, God had the right to withhold it from David. Even so, David willfully put off fear (“I will not be afraid,” 6) and set his mind to trust God (2 Sam 15:25-26). It was a willful choice.

What was the result of David’s method of handling threats and ridicule?

Keep in mind that David’s situation didn’t improve; it grew worse. For weeks, he continued to run for his life. Then his beloved son was killed and he suffered in grief. Yet, He could sleep; he had peace. He had a clear conscience, leaving justice in God’s hands. He thought of others. Rather than curse, he blessed.

How might Psalm 3 relate to you in light of being ridiculed, bullied, or threatened with harm?

First, since salvation belongs to the Lord, only God can save us from our sins. You must turn from your own ways and trust Christ to forgive you.

Then, when people ridicule or try to intimidate or even physically threaten:

  1. Take prudent action for safety, but don’t be independent from God.
  2. Tell the Lord, but don’t stop there.
  3. Turn your eyes from self to God. Meditate on God’s attributes. How do they relate to your situation? Identify lies. In trials, we’re all vulnerable to confusion and misperception. Don’t trust impressions or perceptions; trust God’s Word. Think true thoughts.
  4. Don’t sin in response to trials.
    Put off anger; put on desire to glorify God.
    Refuse to worry. Put on right prayer, right thoughts about God.
    Do right actions, but don’t become selfishly manipulative to get relief. Salvation belongs to the Lord.
  5. Trust in the Lord even if your difficulty worsens.
    God may or may not take away your present dangers and hardships. But:
    • Since salvation belongs to the Lord, then there is nothing a hostile person can do to prevent God from delivering you.
    • Since salvation belongs to the Lord, then there is nothing you can do to make God deliver you.
    Ask for deliverance, believe in the Lord’s goodness and ability, then trust Him with the outcome.

Here are a couple of ideas for praying from Psalm 3:

Lord, You are my shield and helper (3, 5). By your power, I choose to put off fearful thoughts and put on thoughts about how strong and good You are (6, 3-8).

Father, please keep me safe. But even if you bring trials, I am entrusting myself into Your hands. Please help me to sleep (3, 5). Thank you.

Ideas for thinking more on this psalm with your child, adapting for age:

  • Together, read 2 Samuel 15-19. Then read Psalm 3.
  • Talk about what it meant to the original readers.
  • What hints do we see in Scripture about how David was feeling? About what he was thinking? Do you ever think these kinds of thoughts? Feel like he did?
  • David turned to God immediately in prayer and meditated on God’s character. What difference did it make? What rewards did David enjoy even when his situation did not improve?
  • Ask the bulleted questions above.
  • What does Psalm 3 show us about what trusting God looked like in David’s life?
  • You can trust God, too. What can you do to put trust in God into action?
  • What can you do about your situation that is right and good? What can you not do? What biblical action can you take about what you cannot do?
  • Pray with your child using Psalm 3.

Psalm 3 holds far more richness than I can include in this post, but perhaps this jump-starts you on digging out its treasures.

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About Linda

Wifing, Singing, Studying, Counseling. I counsel at Gateway Biblical Counseling and Training Center. M.A. in Biblical Counseling. Certified by Association of Certified Biblical Counselors
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