“Why can’t you get over it?”
It’s one of the most hurtful statements you and I can utter to a person who has experienced abuse.
There are other ways of saying the same thing that seem a little more spiritual. “You just need to forgive.” “That happened a long time ago, and you need to stop letting it bother you.” “Just stop believing the lies.” “When are you going to choose to be a victor instead of a victim?” Or “But I thought you already worked through that.”
If there’s one thing I wish people would understand about sexual abuse, it would be this: Sexual abuse is physically, spiritually, and emotionally damaging. It affects every aspect of a person’s life – without exception. It is a traumatic event that literally alters one’s brain. (Check out this article about trauma and brain development here.)
I am very blessed to have a husband that has never made me feel like I should “get over it”. I could not ask for a more supportive church and family. Without a doubt, I would not be as far in my healing journey if it weren’t for my husband, church, and family. I am not writing this because I feel unsupported in my journey. I am writing this for the many victims in the Anabaptist culture and beyond who do not have a strong support system like I do.
I wish that we as Anabaptists understood abuse and trauma better. We tend to force or pressure people to be “normal”, which only further victimizes them. We push them to forgive before they are ready and then expect them to never utter anything about it ever again.
It’s crazy. It’s like expecting a person with a traumatic brain injury to get out of the hospital bed and walk, or telling someone with a broken bone that the pain is all in their head.
Do you want someone to “get over it?” Do you want them to heal? Do you want them to be “okay”?
It’s really pretty simple.
Be Jesus to them. Show them what unconditional love really looks like. Unconditional love is never forceful or pushy. It doesn’t demand forgiveness, though forgiveness is important. Instead, unconditional love loves at all times and in every circumstance. Jesus is the ultimate example of Unconditional Love – because He is love.
Jesus understands abuse much better than you and I do. He understands the effects and He cares. I think we could learn a few things from Him. I wish we’d do better at giving grace to abuse victims. Jesus does – why don’t we?
Helping the wounded takes time. It takes sacrifice. It means getting dirty. Too often we are like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We walk around the bleeding, broken person lying in the ditch.
Sometimes the reason we don’t stop to help is not because we do not care, but rather, because we do not know how.
There are many abuse victims in our churches who are dying because no one stops to help them. They don’t feel safe, protected, or cared for. And then we wonder why they leave the church or suddenly want nothing to do with God.
If you know someone who has been abused, you have an amazing opportunity to show them what true love is. Validate their pain and their feelings. Be a good listener. Do some research on abuse to help you better understand them.* Care about them and love them well.
Don’t compare their journey with someone else’s. And most of all, don’t try to fix them.
But Jesus can. So show them Jesus.
One of my survivor friends summed it up like this: “Sometimes all we need is a Jesus with skin on.”
*I highly recommend the book “The Wounded Heart” by Dan Allender. It is not light reading, but it lays out the damage abuse does and, most importantly, offers hope.