A Jesus With Skin On

“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.

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Photo credit

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.

You can’t.

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.

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Not My Pain

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day.  It is etched deeply in my memory.

I wasn’t prepared for the grueling class periods when I signed up for a three week ladies healing group.  I wasn’t prepared for the incomprehensive amount of emotional pain and heartache that I was about to walk through – both in my own life and in walking through other’s pain.

I cannot be convinced that sexual abuse doesn’t affect a person – because it does.   It is the equivalent of emotional murder.  I wish I could somehow explain how it felt to listen to story after story of deep, excruciating pain.  The loss of innocence.  The horrible betrayal.  The utter powerlessness – to keep it from happening and to make it stop.  The ambivalence.  The shame.  The contempt.

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I wanted to run out of the room – away from it all.  Somewhere…anywhere.  I instinctively shielded my growing abdomen with my hands as I tried to protect my unborn child.

At break time, I found myself at the window.  It was a beautiful summer day, but I didn’t see that.  Tears blurred my vision.  I only felt the deep pain.  My whole body hurt.  Through my tears, I managed to talk to my baby: “It’s okay, child.  Mama will be alright.  It doesn’t feel safe right now, but it is.  I’ll protect you, little one.”

Sharing my own story of sexual abuse was harder than I had ever imagined.  Oh, I had talked about it before.  But this time was different – very different.

I cried as I told of the brutality and total powerlessness. I shared details that only a select few people knew. Deep sobs that I had bottled up inside of me spilled out and tears ran down my cheeks.  I found myself surrounded by the dear ladies in my class.  They cried with me.  It wasn’t my pain – it was our pain.

As the tears flowed from our eyes, I felt the presence of Jesus.  In my mind’s eye, I saw Him.  He was weeping with us – weeping for the little girls who’d been hurt so deeply.  Tears ran down His cheeks and fell to the ground.

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And then it hit me.  Our pain is His pain.  There is no pain or abuse that Jesus hasn’t experienced.  When He carried your pain and mine, our pain became His.  “He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… Surely He hath borne our grief and carried our sorrows…” Isaiah 53:3-4

Dear hurting soul, Jesus understands your pain and He cares.  His tears fall with yours.  Because He makes your pain, His.

A Teaspoon of Honey and the Goodness of God

I am one of those people who’ve battled with questions such as this: If God is really good, then why does He let bad things happen to innocent?  Or to the righteous?

I went through a time in my life where I really questioned God’s goodness.  I questioned His love.

But what I was really asking was, “Where was God when I was a terrified little girl on the hard barn floor?  Where was He as I stared at the rafters, trying to distance myself from the man who towered over me?  Where was He in all the pain and confusion?”

Then one day, God began to help me process those questions in a unique way.

My husband came home from work to find his very emotional wife greet him at the door.  (Yes, I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened.)  His eyes were full of compassion, as always. He asked me what was wrong.

“Sweetheart,” I began, “where was God when that happened to me?”  He knew right away what I was talking about.  Back then, it was hard for me to talk about the rape.

He looked at me as he washed his hands in the sink.  I watched his face light up with sudden inspiration.

“Just a minute,” he said, walking into the kitchen.

I waited, wondering what in the world he was doing.

He soon returned, carefully balancing a spoon in his hand.

“Open your mouth,” he said.

“But what do you have on that spoon?” I questioned.  I pinched my lips tightly together.  I wasn’t going to try anything without knowing what it was. I figured it was probably vinegar or red pepper or something awful like that.

“Honey, open your mouth, please,” he said again.

I stubbornly obeyed.

“This is what God tastes like.”  He lifted the spoon to my mouth.

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PHOTO BY CATHY SCOLA VIA GETTY IMAGES

As soon as the honey hit my mouth, I began to cry.  A still, small voice inside of me said, “Ann, taste and see that I am good.  Blessed are those who trust in Me.”

Ben’s eyes were bright as he watched the Light dawn on me.

Then he quietly said, “You know what?  God is even sweeter than the honey you just tasted.  He is good, all of the time.  He is making something beautiful out of the ugly.  Remember, He loves you.”

I nodded as the tears trickled down my cheeks.

For a minute, all was silent.

“Sweetheart, where did you get that idea?” I asked, wiping the tears from my cheeks.

“What idea?  The honey on your tongue?”

“Yes.”

“At work today.  We were talking about Jewish traditions.  One of the ways that the Jews teach their children about the goodness of God and the sweetness of His Word is by giving them a teaspoon of honey on their tongue.”

I’d be lying if I’d say that this was the last time I ever struggled to believe that God is good.  I am so human.  Sometimes when things aren’t going well and life feels like it’s about to fall apart, I look up into my husband’s eyes and ask, “Ben, is God good?”

And without hesitation, he replies, “Yes, He is.  All the time.”

Though I have those times when I need to choose to believe the truth that God is good, I am beginning to feel it in my spirit.  To me, that is exciting.

Believing that God is good and choosing to trust Him go hand-in-hand; for you cannot trust God without a strong confidence and belief that He is good – no matter what.

I’m convinced that if we have a strong core belief in the goodness and sovereignty of God, we will be able to rest in that belief even when our lives “fall apart” overnight. When we wade through the question of “where was God when this happened” we will not become bitter because we have that assurance in our spirit that He is good.  When life leaves us feeling completely powerless, our faith will not be crushed.

You see, we don’t have to understand “why” when we believe that He is good all the time.

I don’t know what you are facing today, but if you’re like me, sometimes I just need a little reminder that God loves me and that He is good all the time – no matter what happens. And because He is good, I can trust His heart even when I don’t understand the “why”.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed is the man who trusts in him.” Ps. 34:8

Stripped of Control

Some things are impossible to forget.

I can still hear the sound of his boots on the wood as he raced up the stairs after me.  I can hear the door slam.  But the loud beats of my heart nearly stopped when he grabbed me and I looked into his eyes.

They were the eyes of evil.

There are very few words to describe the horror that followed.  I was stripped of all dignity and control.   I couldn’t get away.  I was trapped.

In the semi-darkness, I instinctively cried out to the only One I, in my little girl heart, believed could rescue me.  To this day, I’m not sure if the words were audible or not, but my spirit cried, “Help me, Jesus! Help me!”

As my body was being ravished and my spirit broken, I begged Jesus to save me.

But He didn’t come.

I was completely alone.  Alone with evil.

For years, I didn’t have any words for the terror I felt.  I just knew I was scared.  Very, very, very scared.  I lived in fear – fear that that terrible feeling of terror would eat me alive…next time.

Recently, I was able to name it.  Its name is Powerlessness.

In those horrific minutes as a little girl on the cold, hard floor, I experienced complete loss of control.  I could not get away.  I could not make it stop.  I could not even control my body.  I was completely powerless.

And, to top it all off, I felt abandoned by God.  Because He didn’t answer my prayer in the way I was expecting, it felt like He too, was powerless against that kind of evil.

I blamed myself for years.  I deceived myself into thinking that everything bad that happens is my fault.  I knew in my head that what happened to me as a little girl wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t seem to shake the blame and guilt I subjected myself to on a daily basis.

It got worse as the years went by.  I blamed myself for the wreck my family had when I was thirteen.  I blamed myself when the alarm clock failed to go off and my husband was late for work.  I blamed myself every time the children were disobedient.  I blamed myself for anything and everything.  I apologized frequently for the stupidest stuff.

Why?

Because if I could convince myself in powerless situations that “it is my fault”, I didn’t have to experience the awful feelings of terror that reminded me of the little girl at the hands of evil.  It was my self-defense against feeling powerless.

It wasn’t until I came face-to-face with the reality of the scope of the powerlessness I faced as a child that I was able to truly believe in my heart that the abuse was not my fault.

Does Jesus understand powerlessness?  Does He know what it feel like to be stripped of control?

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Yes.  He chose to experience powerlessness.  He wouldn’t have had to subject Himself to the limitations of a human body and allow His creation to crucify Him on the cross.  He could have stepped off of that cross at any point.  But He didn’t.

He loved you and I too much to do that.

It is not wrong to feel powerless.  It’s part of being created.  After all, we are, in and of ourselves, powerless.

God is in control; not you, not me.  Do I understand why He sometimes allows evil things to happen?  No, I don’t.  I can’t – because I’m not God.

But if Jesus loved me enough to choose powerlessness over powerfulness, then I believe I can trust Him with my life.  And I can rest in the fact that He is good, even when I don’t understand His ways.

From Broken to Beautiful

Note: This article was written for the Winter Issue of Daughters of Promise (a magazine for Anabaptist women) and was published in December 2016.  Since the DOP Winter Issue 2016 is no longer available, I am sharing it here for those of you who’d like to read it.  The article is rather lengthy, but I hope it can be blessing to someone.  It contains a small part of my own story and though I feel quite vulnerable in publishing it here on my blog, it’s time to speak out and bless God for His continued healing in my life.  I am fully aware that part of my story contains a “taboo” subject in our conservative Anabaptist culture, hence the hestitation.  But I feel I’m stifling the glory of God by doing the “normal” thing and shutting up about the ugly stuff when there are so many hurting people who need to hear that there is hope and healing through Jesus Christ.  I may share more in the future as the Spirit leads.  May God receive all the glory, for this isn’t really “my story” – it’s His story.  A story of redemptive beauty emerging from brokenness and pain.

 

Pain.

We are familiar with that word.  Most of us have experienced it at one time or another in our lives.  There are many kinds of pain – physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional.  We talk about emotional pain like grief because we know what it’s like to lose someone close to us.

But I’d like to draw your attention to a different kind of pain.  Most of us know of people who’ve experienced it.  Some of us have experienced it first-hand.  But few people talk about it.  Few people know what to do with it. Most people don’t know how to find healing for themselves, or how to help someone else find healing. Sometimes, it isn’t even acknowledged as pain.

I’m talking about sexual abuse.  Sexual abuse is a full-blown epidemic in most Anabaptist communities across the globe.  The numbers of victims in our churches are not much different from the general population. According to statistics, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be abused by age eighteen. (These numbers are on the conservative side.  Most conservative counselors say the statistics are much higher in some communities.)

If you have experienced this kind of pain, you are not alone.  You are not crazy.  It was not your fault.  No matter what the voices in your head tell you, the truth is you are not trash. You are not ugly.  You are not worthless. You are not beyond hope.

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I once was a little girl who felt broken, ugly, worthless and dirty.  I felt like a rosebud that someone tried to pry open before it was time to bloom.  My innocent childhood was snatched away from me.  I wondered if I was normal.  I even asked my mom if I was a virgin.

Subconsciously, I knew something had happened to me.  But I had no memories of the abuse.  In fact, I remember very little of anything before I was ten years old.

When I was 21, I married a wonderful man who is better than my wildest dreams, Ben.  It was on our wedding night that I realized I had been raped years before.  It was physically impossible for me to have a sexual relationship.  I was devastated.  Hurt.  Here I was, a young bride who wanted to give everything to my husband, but I couldn’t.  My body was remembering the trauma, even though my mind had blocked the memories.

Ben and I contacted our premarital counselor who suggested that we see a doctor to make sure that I was physically healthy and able to have a sexual relationship.  A few days after our honeymoon, I was examined by a kind doctor. The invasiveness of the pelvic exam was like experiencing the rape all over again.  Everything inside of me screamed, “Stop!  Let me go! Why are you doing this?”   The pain was so unbearable I thought I would pass out. Then came the dreaded question, “Have you ever been raped?”  The doctor explained that I had vaginismus, which is when the body remembers trauma and causes muscles spasms to occur as a way to protect itself.

For nearly twelve weeks, I faithfully performed the exercises the doctor had prescribed.  I cried.  I prayed.  I was an emotional train wreck.  My husband never made me feel like I should just “brace up” or “get over it”.  One day, as I was reading the Bible, I came across the story of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.  Hmm, I mused. Jesus healed people instantly back then.  Maybe we should ask Him to heal me.

So I asked my dear husband if he thinks God cares about sex.

“Of course,” he replied.  “I think He does.”

“Do you think He cares enough to heal me?”  I asked timidly.

“Why don’t we ask Him?”

So we prayed.  It was just a simple prayer.  I didn’t “feel” any different, except I had peace.  But in that instant, God healed my vaginismus! It was gone!   (Thank you Jesus from the bottom of my heart!)

The next year was a difficult one for me.  Though I had experienced physical healing, emotionally my heart was an open wound.  I began to have flashbacks of the abuse.  My first flashback happened in a dingy cabin while we were camping with our church.

I had just laid down for a nap.  As I stared up at the rafters, I suddenly became a little girl again as I tried to distance myself from a man.  His eyes reminded me a vulture eyeing his prey.  I immediately curled myself into a fetal position and began to heave deep sobs that had never been released before.  I shook, moaned and writhed on the floor for a few minutes. My mind screamed with sheer horror at what had happened many years before.  The mental anguish was just as painful as the actual rape.  My husband held me as I wept.  I was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.  I felt like I had been run over by a train.  In a way, I had.

Flashbacks are hard to describe. Usually something triggers them. Sometimes they are more of a body memory than an actual mental memory.  They leave you weak and vulnerable.  In those moments, I felt like a little girl who needed someone to protect me.  I wanted to hide.  At first, it was hard for me to realize that I was having a flashback, simply because I couldn’t “feel” anything.  But Ben learned to read my eyes.  He’d say, “Ann, are you okay?”  And I would burst into terrified tears.

“So,” I hear you asking, “how did you find healing?”

In some ways, the answer is simple. Jesus.  In other ways, the answer is complicated. Healing is a journey that takes time.  Sometimes years.

First of all, we have to acknowledge and accept what happened. This is an important step.  You simply cannot find healing for pain you refuse to acknowledge.   Childhood sexual abuse involves much more than “just” rape.  It includes inappropriate touching over and under clothes, the exposure of a child’s body, exposure to porn or adult nakedness, using force or trickery to make a child to perform sexual acts, inappropriate sexual comments made to young children and any kind of vaginal, oral, or anal penetration.

In my case, my mind had blocked those memories as a way to survive the horror.  They simply didn’t re-surface until I was at a safe place in my life.  If you suspect that you have repressed memories of abuse in your past, I would strongly encourage you to commit it to God.  He doesn’t hide things from us that we would be better off knowing.  If He thinks you are ready to deal with things, you will remember enough to work through what happened.

Not everyone blocks memories.  Maybe you remember everything, but you don’t want to deal with it.  It is hard to face the pain.  It hurts.  But you really can’t have true joy or peace by stuffing pain. Pushing away pain only works for so long.  Eventually, it will stick its ugly head up and scream for your attention until you choose to deal with it.  It doesn’t go away on its own.

It isn’t fun to face pain.  But let me tell you: It’s worth it.  It’s worth every tear.  It’s worth every flashback.  Please don’t fight it any longer.

Grieve. Grieving is another step in the healing process.  After you acknowledge the pain, you will likely be very emotional.  After all, your innocence was stolen from you.  In some ways, grieving your innocence is like grieving a loved one who walked away from God.  Innocence can never be returned after it is gone.

Everyone responds differently to grief.  Some people need to talk about what happened.  Others need to write or journal.  You will have days that you do more crying than smiling.  You will feel really good one minute and the next you will burst into tears.  And sometimes you won’t even know why you’re crying.

During those time of intense grief, bring your pain to Jesus.  Climb up onto His lap.  Rest your head against His shoulder.  Tell Him exactly how you feel.  He wants to carry your pain.  Let Him do that for you.  Spend time in His Word.  Mediate on it.  Talk audibly with God.  Ask Him hard questions.  Read good, wholesome books.  Take walks.  Find someone you can trust who is willing to listen to your heart anytime of the day or night.  Your heart is an open wound, so give yourself a lot of grace during this time.  Take care of yourself.  And don’t rush the process.  Take time to grieve.

Renounce the Lies.  Women who have experienced sexual abuse often face many lies that are deeply rooted in their soul due to the abuse they experienced as children. Some common lies are: “I’m worthless.”  “I’m ugly.”  “It’s my fault.”  “God doesn’t love me.”  And so on.  Identify the lies you are believing.

Once you have identified these lies, renounce them.  Use the Word of God to fight them. There is great Power in the Word! (Hebrews 4:12).  Stand in front of the mirror and speak Truth to yourself.  The devil cannot stand the Truth.  Share your struggle to believe truth with people who will stand and fight with you.  Write the Truth (opposite of the lie) on a paper and stick it on your closet door where you will see it every day.  Or write the lie on the bottom of your socks, and then “tramp on that lie” all day long.  Visuals like this have helped me to break the bondage of lies in my life.

And now for the most important step in healing from sexual abuse: Forgiveness.  I have no idea what comes to your mind when you here this word, but I’d like to explain what forgiveness means to me.

I’m not talking about forgetting what happened to you.  I’m not talking about giving the person who abused you a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  I’m not talking about trusting the person who broke your trust.

It makes me sad to hear of churches and individuals pushing “forgiveness” on the victim in order to protect and hide the sin of the perpetrator.  That is not true forgiveness.  I’m sorry if that kind of emotional and spiritual abuse is part of your experience.  You probably want to scream when you hear this word, and I don’t blame you.  But please, keep reading.

True forgiveness is something that is impossible without Jesus.  In order to forgive, you need to realize your own sinfulness and accept God’s love and forgiveness for you.  Without this, it is totally impossible to truly forgive your perpetrator. When you realize that your sin is really no less sinful in Gods eyes than theirs, it makes it easier to choose forgiveness.

Forgiveness means that I accept what happened.  It means I choose to deal with the consequences of my abuser’s sin with a cheerful heart.  It’s saying, “Ok God, I choose to be okay with the flashbacks.  I can’t help what happened to me, but I can choose my reaction to it.”

Another aspect of forgiveness is taking responsibility for my reaction to the pain.  Because we are human, we respond to pain by becoming selfish and bitter.  Forgiveness means that we repent of bitterness.  It means that we choose to say “Yes, what he/she did was terrible, but my bitterness is hurting others too; so I choose to repent of it.”

Forgiveness is not a one-time deal.  You may need to forgive your perpetrator 100 times a day.  That’s fine.  When Peter asked Jesus, “How often should I forgive my brother?”, Jesus said, “Until seventy times seven.” (Matt. 18:21-35) Let me translate that in terms of working through sexual abuse.  Every time you think about what happened and you feel that familiar bitter spirit begin to rise within you, FORGIVE.  Don’t wait.  Do it right away.

If you struggle with flashbacks, forgive the minute the flashback is over.  You don’t even have to remember who it was that abused you.  You can still forgive them.  Do it every time you remember.  I will be honest with you: Forgiveness is the only way to deal with flashbacks. They are horrible experiences.  But I have found so much healing in forgiveness.  The prayer I often pray is as follows:

“Jesus, today I choose to forgive (name) for the pain he/she caused me when he/she (what they did to you).  I choose to forgive him/her and release him/her.  I don’t want to hold this against him/her any longer.  Please have mercy on him/her!  I will accept the consequences of his/her sin. Will you forgive me, Jesus, for being so focused on myself and bitter toward him/her?”

If you want to find healing, but feel powerless to choose to forgive, ask God to help you.  He doesn’t want to see you stuck in bitterness.  He is more than willing to give you the power you need to make that hard, but important, choice.

No, forgiveness is not easy.  But it is necessary if you want to find healing and peace.

And finally, don’t waste your pain by keeping silent about the healing that God is doing in your shattered heart.  Tell someone.  Look for opportunities to help someone else find healing from sexual abuse.  Don’t forget how it felt to be the little girl with a battered, bleeding heart.  There are so many people who need to hear about the redemption Jesus brings to broken little girls and boys.

I have asked God, “Why?  Why me?”  I think it’s okay to ask questions.  But don’t demand an answer.  Job asked God “why” too.  But God never answered his question.  It’s not that God didn’t care or didn’t hear.  Believe me, He does!  He cares about what happened to you.  But because His ways are so much higher than ours, our minds cannot always grasp the plans He has for us. (Is. 55:9)

So do I know why I was raped and abused? No.  But there’s one thing I am choosing to believe: God has a purpose for everything.  Even for a little girl who was brutally abused by men who professed to know God.

Has the healing journey been easy?  No.  Is it worth the pain?  YES.  A thousand times, yes.

Dear sister, if you’ve experienced this type of pain, please don’t try to stuff it in or pretend it’s not there.  There is hope, healing and redemption in Jesus Christ.  You don’t need to stay a victim to your past.  Remember, He loves you.  He wants to carry your pain.  He specializes in giving “beauty for ashes”. (Is 61:3) “…And with His stripes, we are healed.” (Is 53:5)

 

*statistics are from “11 Facts about Child Abuse” by dosomething.org.

Cried Dry

Have you ever experienced the kind of gut-wrenching pain that leaves you completely breathless and weak?  You know what I mean –  when your heart literally feels like it is being cut into hundreds of pieces?

I have.  I’ve even wondered if I was going to physically survive the emotional pain.  Death looked like a welcome relief.

I was given the following poem by a friend of mine who is quite familiar with emotional pain.  I am still in awe at the beauty and simplicity of the words.  My friend so graciously granted me permission to share it with you.

 

“It seems to me that sometime

The world must be

Cried dry.

 

That tears cannot flow forever

Even from humans

Like I.

 

But tears have a way of passing on-

Recycled by generations gone.

 

But someday God will wipe away

All the tears from

Our eyes.” *

 

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Photo credit: myria.com

 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for that day.

 

*The author wishes to be anonymous.  Please do not copy this poem without contacting me first so that I can get permission for you from the author.  Thank you for understanding.

A Biblical Response to Sexual Abuse in the Anabaptist Church – Part 2

Relating to Victims

This is Part 2 in a series of posts on a Biblical Response to Sexual Abuse in Anabaptist Communities.  Please take time to read Part 1 here.

So now that we have established a biblical response to the perpetrators of sexual abuse, let’s think about how we should be relating to the victims.

Statistics tell us that 20.5%* of the people in our churches are sexual abuse survivors.  If you have a church of 200 people, approximately 41 of those people are struggling to heal from sexual abuse.

That is over 1 in 5 church members.  Yet, we hear almost nothing about sexual abuse.  We don’t talk about “such things.”  Often, we don’t even know who the victims are or how to help them.  And sometimes, if we do know the victims, we shame them instead of believing them.  We betray their trust instead of helping them heal.

And then, we wonder why “some people” suddenly want nothing to do with church or God.  We wonder why there is rebellion among youth.  We wonder why people leave.

If we understood abuse, these things would suddenly make sense.

That’s why I will continue to speak up.  I will not be silent.  We need to start digging into this mess, because many lives are at stake.

Victims of sexual abuse are some of “least of these.”  They’ve been torn apart by “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Not only have their hearts been ripped apart by “good” church members who’ve abused them, they’ve also been ripped apart by church members who believe the perpetrators.

I believe that the Anabaptist church has the potential to be a good place to heal from sexual abuse.  But first, we need admit that we have a problem.  We need to understand what sexual abuse does to a victim, and what we should be doing for that victim.

What the church needs to understand about the effects of sexual abuse:

  1. Sexual abuse affects a person spiritually.

When God created us, He made us sexual beings.  God designed the sexual relationship to be a beautiful picture of how He loves us, His bride.  He wanted it to be in the context of marriage only. But the enemy loves to distort that beautiful image.  His goal is to steal, kill, and destroy.

Sexual abuse does just that – it steals a person’s innocence, kills their spirit, and has the potential to completely destroy a person if not dealt with properly.  As a result, the victim’s view of God is severely damaged, particularly if the abuse happened by someone they trusted or someone who claims to be a Christian.  Sexual abuse opens the door for all kinds of spiritual bondage.  Countless lies and addictions stem from abuse.

Sexual abuse has the potential to turn a Christian into an atheist.  I believe that sexual abuse is one of the ways the devil is snatching the souls of our children. Whether we realize it or not, we are in a battle for their souls.  And we need to start fighting instead of pretending there isn’t a problem.

crying-girl

  1. Sexual abuse affects a person emotionally.

When a person becomes a victim of sexual abuse, a part of them “dies” inside.  They may laugh a lot or be the class clown but if you were to see inside their heart, you’d be staring at a bloody mess.  Some victims “stuff the pain” as a way to survive.  It looks good on the outside, but sooner or later, it will come out.  They may hardly ever cry or show emotion.  Others cry all the time and have trouble functioning in daily life.  Either way, the abuse they experienced is affecting them, and they need help.

Anxiety and depression are very common among victims.  They fear everything and everyone.  They don’t trust anyone, even safe people.  They view themselves as dirty, ugly, and worthless.  They don’t think they are worth your time or love. They push love away because to them, love hurts.

  1. Sexual abuse affects a person physically.

It should be no surprise to us that emotional and spiritual problems sometimes affect people in physical ways.  This is very true in sexual abuse victims.

The constant fear and anxiety that victims live in sometimes produce unexplainable headaches, back aches, and stomach aches.  Bowel and bladder issues and frequent UTIs are common. Nightmares and vivid dreams of entrapment are part of life for many victims.

There is so much more that could be said about the effects of sexual abuse.  I only skimmed the surface to help us realize how it wrecks relationships in the lives of its victims – relationships with God, the church, their family and their friends.

So, what should the church’s response be to the victims of sexual abuse?

  1. Believe them instead of blaming them.

Besides helping a victim find healing in Jesus Christ, this is, hands down, the most important thing we must do for victims.

When a victim discloses sexual abuse, believe them.  I am horrified by some of the things that are said about victims in some of our Anabaptist churches.  “They are just making that up because they want attention. Besides, abuse doesn’t happen to Christians!”  Worse yet, sometimes similar statements are made to the victim’s face.

And then, to top it all off, we blame them. “Why didn’t you yell?” we ask the victim incredulously.  Or “You should’ve tried to fight!”  To a victim, these kinds of responses shout one thing: “It’s all your fault.”  The problem is, we don’t talk about abuse.  Therefore, we don’t teach people what to do in a bad situation.  How are they suppose to know what to do if we don’t talk about it?

Be assured of one thing:  Responses like the ones I mentioned above do serious damage to an already wounded heart, to the point of suicide in some cases.

“But people sometimes lie about sexual abuse, don’t they?” you ask.  Yes, it happens.  But it’s actually not as much as we think.  Most sources agree that the percentage of false allegations is around 2-8%** of reported abuse.  There are people who feel it’s much lower than that in our Anabaptist circles due to two things: (1.) The 2-8% was based on reported abuse; studies indicate that only 40% of rapes and abuse are reported.  Thus, the 2-8% is not a very accurate number. (2). Anabaptist people are taught from little up to be honest and tell the truth.  Therefore, the true number of false allegations in our churches is probably less than 2%.

Another reason why we struggle to believe victims is because their stories are vague and the details “change.”  Instead of writing them off as liars, we need to understand what trauma does to the brain.

All abuse is traumatic.  But the younger a child is when abuse happens, and the worse the abuse is, the more a victim will tend to disassociate from the experience.  They may not remember what happened to them for years.  They may remember a little but not many details.  They might know something happened, but have no idea who abused them.

Have you ever been in a traumatic car accident?  Do you remember all the details of the accident?  Do you remember the car coming toward you and the crashing sound of the metal?  In the case of a very bad car accident, a person sometimes doesn’t remember anything for a few hours, days, or weeks surrounding the accident.  It is much the same way with abuse.  Just because a person can’t tell you exactly where they were at, who abused them, the severity of the abuse, or how many times they were abused, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. 

There was a rather sickening study where a perpetrator filmed his abuse encounters with children.  The authorities confiscated the abuse videos and asked each of the victims to tell them what the perpetrator had done to them.  They were amazed at the response of these children.  The majority of them downplayed the severity of the abuse.

Often, when abuse allegations surface, the preachers or the child’s parents go to the perpetrator and ask them if they abused the victim.  Sometimes, the abuse is confessed. (I admire those people!) But too often, the perpetrator says, “No.  I would never do something like that!” And so, the matter is dropped.

Let me ask you this:  What else is the perpetrator supposed to say?  Folks, if he/she has the ability to somehow defy their conscience and abuse an innocent person, then they definitely can lie about it too.

I say all that to say this: When someone (child or adult) admits that they were abused, believe them.  There is a 2% chance or less that the allegations are false.  If you do have any qualms about believing a person’s story, seek the face of God and ask Him to bring the truth to light.

  1. Protect them.

After we believe them, we must do everything we can to protect them.  Remember, their world is no longer a safe place.  The incident must be reported. (See Romans 13:1-5; Eph. 5:11, 1 Peter 2:13-15).

But protect them in little ways too.  People who’ve been victimized once walk around with a “target on their back”.  They often are victimized again.

I’ve seen far too many victims leaving the church because the church is not a safe place for them.  The perpetrator still sits in the pew, Sunday after Sunday.  Maybe he/she even teaches Sunday school.  Or maybe the perpetrator is one of the preachers.  At any rate, being in the presence of one’s abuser is not a “safe place” to a victim.

I know of no place that is more safe than the lap of Jesus Himself.  If we are going to be the hands and feet of Jesus, then church is going to have to be a safe place.

  1. Grieve with them.

Take time to grieve with the victim.  Grieving is hard.  No one should have to grieve alone.  A sexual abuse victim often grieves alone simply because abuse tends to be such a “hush hush” subject in our circles.

Grieving the loss of innocence is a little like grieving for a loved one who walked away from God.  Once it is gone, it’s gone forever.

Think about the things that you wish someone would do for you if you were grieving.  Maybe they just need a card or a journal, or a listening ear.  Maybe they need a few hours of silence at a coffee shop, or a weekend get-away.  There is so much we can do for people who are grieving.

      4. Love and affirm them.

Sexual abuse victims need someone to show them what true love looks like.  They need to be showered with affirmation.

They need to hear things such as “I believe you.” “What happened to you was not your fault.”  “You are loved.”  “You are clean and pure.”  “I will walk with you.”  “I will protect you.”  “I will do everything I can to help you heal.”  “You are brave and full of courage.”

When someone in church has a bad car accident or has an extensive surgery of some kind, we do very well at caring for their physical needs.  We take a meal, babysit their children, help them financially, visit them, etc.  We all “pitch in” and help them in their physical affliction.

How much more we should be doing this for sexual abuse victims.  Think about it: They may be “fine” physically, but emotionally they are bruised and broken. We need to be doing all we can to make their load easier.  We need to care for them and their families.  We need to love them well.

      5.  Help them find healing.

But how?  Is there hope?

YES!  A thousand times yes!

Jesus is the Master Healer. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Is. 53:5)

In my own journey, I’ve found that forgiveness is the key to healing. (Read more about my journey here.)

Now please, I beg you to keep reading.  Please, victims, “don’t write me off” yet.  And the rest of you, please don’t “run away” with “forgiveness.”  Let me explain what I mean.

Forgiveness is not forgetting.  Forgiveness is not trust.  Forgiveness is not forcing the victim to “forgive” so that there are no legal consequences for the perpetrator.  Forgiveness is not “shutting the victim up” to protect a family, church, or business image.

That is not forgiveness.

Forgiveness is making a conscious choice to be okay with the struggles I have today because the of the abuse.  Forgiveness is choosing to take responsibility for my reaction to the abuse.  Forgiveness is choosing to forgive every time I feel bitterness rising in my heart when I think about the abuse or the person who abused me.

That, brothers and sisters, is forgiveness.

Healing and forgiveness are so intertwined in the healing process that it is hard to separate them.  You cannot forgive without some measure of healing.  And yet, you cannot heal without forgiveness. They go hand-in-hand.

Though I am of the firm belief that healing comes when we forgive, I believe that every victim needs to make that decision for themselves: “Am I going to continue being a victim or am I going to let God make something beautiful out the ashes?”

God doesn’t force us to do anything.  He doesn’t force us forgive.  We shouldn’t force anyone else to forgive either.

       6.  Remember that healing is a journey. 

We tend to forget that.  Healing from sexual abuse takes time.  Years.  Sometimes even decades.  Some people may never fully recover.  This doesn’t mean they didn’t forgive or that they haven’t found true healing.

Some people never fully recover from car accidents either.  Does that mean they haven’t healed? No.

If you feel incompetent of leading someone to Jesus and helping them forgive, there are Biblical Christian counselors who lead people to Jesus every day in their offices.***

In conclusion, the consequences of doing little or nothing to help sexual abuse victims are huge.  Victims who haven’t dealt with their abuse often end up becoming perpetrators.  They sometimes become atheists.  They have a much higher chance of becoming prostitutes.  They are at risk for committing suicide.

Jesus has some sobering words for us in Mark 9 verse 42: “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

I can’t think of a better way to offend a child than to (1) sexually abuse them and (2) to refuse to believe and protect them.  It is serious stuff, brothers and sisters.  God does not deal kindly with those who hurt the innocent and vulnerable.

The church doesn’t have a very good track record when it comes to dealing with sexual abuse – both on a perpetrator level and victim level.   I shudder when I think of what God must think of the stories I hear nearly every week about the church’s response to victims.

We, as the body of Christ, have a responsibility to help the lambs whose spirits have been murdered by “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  After all, we are His hands and feet.

And if we truly know Jesus, we will reach out to sexual abuse victims. We will believe them.  We will love them.  We will care for their broken hearts and spirits.

May God give us wisdom and courage to relate to them the way He would.

 

*https://lmpgnetwork.wistia.com/medias/nu6djwfyob

**Statistics from http://www.nationalreview.com

***Freedom Hills Ministries (Ohio), Grace Haven Ministries (Indiana), LIFE Ministries (Pennsylvania), Door of Hope Ministries (North Carolina).