I want to share three things that I believe God wants victims of sexual abuse to know in order for them to heal. I believe that God wants us to be made confident of these things, because he wants so badly to heal us. If you are a victim of sexual abuse, please understand that these are probably not the only things that God wants you to know. I am however, confident that if I never understood any of these three things, I would not able to completely heal.
1) It is a Big Deal
“Please” I pleaded, “It’s really not that big of a deal. I promise. He might not even remember.” It was just the three of us on the bench outside that night; everyone else was in the auditorium listening to the speaker. Sitting between them, I could feel their focus on me as they hung on to my every word.
Deliberately, she responded, “Yes it is, Christi. It’s a very big deal.”
I’m not going to try to explain to you why sexual abuse is a big deal; I don’t think that is something that needs much convincing. One can simply read the word “abuse” and shudder. Yet when we are the ones who have been used in such a way, the word “abuse,” seems much too dramatic for us. We think of abuse and get an image of violence and complete horror- which is sometimes the case, but most often, sexual abuse leaves no visible mark. Tragically, sexual abuse is very easy to hide and does not have to be violent. It is however, gradual, progressive and sometimes looks completely innocent. Abuse, defined by the Oxford dictionary, is “the improper use of something or someone.” If you were used improperly by someone for the sake of their own sexual pleasure, you were sexually abused- regardless.
That is an extremely difficult reality to face and an even harder truth to accept. We don’t want to believe we were violated in such a private way. It is easier to discredit what was done to us, than it is to feel a loss of dignity. So we admit things like, “He isn’t a bad person”, “It wasn’t all the time”, “It could have been worse…” These thoughts lead us to believe that what happened wasn’t a big deal. And yes, maybe it could have been worse, he or she might not be a bad person, but that does not mean that what happened to you was not significant. What was done to you was real, it was destructive, it was intentional and it should never be overlooked.
It is especially difficult for us to acknowledge our abuse as a big deal when our wounds were inflicted by someone we trust, care for, or even love. There is a grieving period that goes along with this revelation. We begin to understand that our abuse was indeed intentional, that our trust was shattered and that we’ve experienced a deep betrayal. We feel foolish and used, and we are heart broken. During that time, all we can do is grieve- and that is okay.
We’re reminded in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that there is a time to mourn and a time to cry. Let that be freeing for you, friend! Feel the freedom to mourn; mourn what you feel you lost, weep over the scars you are just starting to see, cry over the pain you are beginning to feel. Let it all sink in. Help yourself understand what happened to you. Feel your hurt that you have been hiding for so long. For you, friend, are not weeping because you are weak, but because you are starting to heal. You see, you can not heal from your hurt until you know your hurt, until you see it for all that it is and make the choice to surrender it, to let your Creator do with it whatever he has planned. I believe wholeheartedly that God wants you to know that your abuse is a big deal, because you are a big deal to him. Jesus said in John 8:32 that the truth will set you free. So how can we ever be set free if we don’t acknowledge what is binding us? How can we receive restoration from God when we won’t admit to being broken? How will we ever heal if we deny that we were hurt?- that we were abused.
For God, it’s about a lot more than just accepting what was done to you and moving on. No, with God, it’s much more purposeful than that! Instead, it’s about taking his hand to lead you to healing and then to much greater things, things that are far above anything we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), things that you can not do with him, until you allow him to heal you! So yes, it is a big deal. Understand that it is a big deal not only for your sake, but for the sake of his glory. You are loved, precious, and honored in the eyes of your Savior (Isaiah 43:4), anything done against you is a big freaking deal. Why? Because you are a big deal.
2) It was Not Your Fault
It’s almost funny how we can be hurt in such a devastating way and truly believe that we had something to do with it. The first few times I explained the details of all that had happened, I felt an incredible amount of guilt- false guilt. I would say that, “I went over to him. Whenever he called me over, I didn’t want to go, but I did, and I shouldn’t have…” I thought that some how I contributed to my own abuse. I took responsibility for things I did and did not do. And even though I obviously knew I did not carry all the responsibility of what happened, I felt I carried some, which lead me to believe an outrageous lie; that it was also, indeed my fault.
In 2 Samuel 13, we’re told a story about a girl named Tamar. Tamar was King David’s daughter, and even being a beloved, virgin, princess, she fell victim to abuse in her own household. Her story began when her brother, Amnon, took notice of her. Amnon was tormented by his obsession with his sister and he hated the fact that he could not sexually have her. One day, Amnon told his friend about his feelings towards his sister, and the two men came up with a plan of how Amnon could have Tamar.
I want to pause here, and point out the very important fact that Amnon planned what he was going to do to his sister. It makes sense that Amnon needed to make a plan of how he would be with Tamar, because he knew that she would not give him her consent.
Tragically, Amnon’s plot was a success; he was able to get Tamar into his room by pretending he was sick. Once Tamar neared her brother, he grabbed her and said, “Come lie with me, my sister” (2 Sam 13:11). Though Tamar resisted and tried to reason with her brother, We’re told in verse 14 that “he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.”
As outside readers with an objective view on this story, we do not question who is at fault here. Obviously Tamar’s brother is to blame for Tamar’s assault, and Tamar is clearly the victim. We see that upon realizing his attraction towards his sister, Amnon did not choose to seek repentance, but instead chose to feed his obsession. We then note that Amnon made a detailed plan of how we would assail his sister. And finally we see that Amnon followed through with his plan even after Tamar made it clear that what he was doing was against her will. We know who is to blame, and even more importantly, we know who isn’t to blame. Why then, do these convictions seem to change when it comes to our own stories of abuse?
I get that everyone’s story is different, and I do not want to suggest that all situations like this are cut and dry. We need to understand however, that there are always things we feel we could have done differently, and even when that is true, we are still not to blame. Think of it this way; suppose Tamar felt partially at fault for her assault she might say things like, “I should have seen it coming. I could have tried harder to escape. I should have yelled louder. I didn’t have to get that close. I never should have gone in his room…” But even if she “could have” and “should have” done things differently, it doesn’t change the fact that she was preyed upon, that she was sought out and then completely used against her will for the sake of someone else’s pleasure or gain.
The same is true for you, friend. Although your experience is distinct, and even if you could have done things differently, you need to realize that you did not bring it upon yourself. You did not ask for it. You did not deserve it. At times, I still want to tell myself that I should have known better and that I could have stood my ground, but to what end? You see, I had to realize that what I could or couldn’t do did not change the fact that they intended to use me, and had the influence and the power to do so.
During my initial time of healing, the Lord kept bringing me back to Hebrews 12:1-2 which tells us to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance the race that was set before us looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The Lord showed me that by taking fault for my abuse, I was not allowing him to free me; therefore I was totally limiting God’s influence on my life. I learned that God never wanted me to be hung up on my past regardless of what I had done, or what someone else did to me. He does not want us to wallow in our past shame and keep confessing it over and over. Instead, God wants us to be able run alongside him on this incredible adventure that he has planned for us long ago! And he will show us how to lay aside every weight and sin. He will graciously teach us how to despise our shame and look to Jesus. And when we do, we know that we are perfectly and completely loved- there is nothing much sweeter than that!
3) God is Still Good
There is a question that all humanity has been trying to wrap their minds around for a long time; “If God really loves us, why does he let bad things happen?”-classic. My version of this question would be more like, “God if you love me, why did you let them abuse me?” I thought; “If I believe in God, then I know that he is powerful, and I know that he is able to prevent certain things from happening. If he knows what people are thinking and what will happen before it ever comes in to play, why then, did God let this happen to me? Either he isn’t who he says he is and doesn’t love me, or he simply isn’t out there at all…”
Sorry to disappoint you, but I still don’t have an answer to this question. It’s frustrating to try to be in a deep relationship with your Creator and not know why he let you hurt. Even now, I still don’t have a straight, logical explanation, but I do know know that he is good. In Lamentations 3, We get a beautiful description of God’s character in the midst our despair. I can relate to the author in verse 20 when he says, “My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.”- I continually remember it. Don’t you? I hardly live a day when I don’t think about what was done. But the prophet does not finish there, he goes on to say, “But this I call to mind, and therefore have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:21-24).
So just because the Bible says God is good, faithful and merciful, it still does not answer the question of why he lets bad things happen to good people. But truthfully, he doesn’t let bad things happen to “good” people, because who on this earth is “good?” We have to realize that in the eyes of a perfect God, you are just as guilty and screwed up as your abuser. We need to understand that from the beginning, we were the ones who brought brokenness into the world. It is totally our fault that we experience hurt and shame (not to say that your abuse was your fault, but we were the ones who brought sin into the world). We need to stop blaming God for the brokenness of this world when he was the one who died to save it! So yes, He does allow bad things to happen, but only because of him, do we have an opportunity for redemption. God allowed it, but he did not delight in it. He certainly did not want it to happen to you. He loves you. In that same chapter of Lamentations, we read that “the Lord will not cast off forever, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of man.” (Lam. 3:31-33).
Sometimes as Christ followers, we just have to admit that we don’t know what God is doing, but we know that he is good. So we allow our faithful God to do whatever it is he needs to do in order to get the glory. I love Romans 8:26-28 where it says that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This shows me that God sees me. He is the only one who can truly empathize with me and he promises to make it good!
In time, if we allow God to have this hurt, and if we choose to trust that he is good, we will see the beauty from our pain. Maybe then we might have an idea of why we suffered the way we did, but if we hold on to our frustration and anger that it happened at all, we will only ever be a victim. Friend, God does not want you to be a victim of anything but his grace. He wants you to know victory and overcome every hurt and sin. So trust that he wants to be good to you, and let him! What other choice do we have if we want to be completely healed?