You can be a victor through Christ.
Worthless, unlovable, undesirable, insignificant — all identities I used to live under. I remember sitting on a dock one night with my small group leader just a few years ago. He and I recently started meeting one on one. I felt comfortable enough to open up to him, so I shared something I'd been struggling with: I never could truly accept that people loved me. He asked if I believed he loved me, and I admittedly said no. Jokingly, he acted like he would push me into the lake, frustrated that I wouldn't accept or acknowledge his love. The problem didn't reside with him, but with something I had ignored and minimized up to that point — sexual abuse.
Between the ages of 9 and 10, an older teenage boy sexually abused me. The residue of these events kept me from receiving love. Little did I know, the encounters would shape the person I became, how I interacted with people, and how I viewed others and myself in the years to come.
Reality of Impact
For 14 years I completely ignored and discredited the abuse. It didn't impact me. I couldn't even call it abuse, because part of me enjoyed it. I felt just as responsible for what happened, and it proved best to keep it hidden away. All of that changed when I began seeing a counselor about two years ago. I quickly glossed over the abuse as if it had no bearing on my life, and he responded rather oddly. He pulled the break on the trolley of my minimalist ramblings and seemed concerned and troubled. His sympathy shocked me. He posed that the abuse did in fact influence how I viewed others and relationships.
As history dictated, I shrugged off this notion as nonsense. He reacted too sympathetically. He didn't know what happened. But I went along with his conclusion — after all, he donned the counselor role. I began reading about sexual abuse and its effects. We began to delve deeper into my problems, and it took only a few sessions for me to finally admit — I was sexually abused. The impact of reality left me emotionally and spiritually paralyzed. Embracing the brutish truth that what happened didn't evaporate with my willful ignorance, but in fact marred my identity and relational being, spiraled me into depression.
Most mornings became torturous. I only wanted to stay in bed, keep the curtains drawn and hibernate in the darkness. Crying happened instantaneously with no hope in sight. Is there anything else God? That's what I'd ask. Why would such a loving God allow all of this to happen to His son, leaving him confused in his sexuality, skeptical of other people and unable to trust?
I didn't want to go to God. It seemed like all He did was disappoint. Tired of being hurt, I chose to handle everything on my own. Going down this path only led to more depression and hopelessness. No light seemed to be visible.
Relationship's Double-edged Sword
By turning inward — escaping people and their potential to reject or hurt me — I inadvertently turned away from the opportunity for healing. I had been wounded, defiled and abused in relationship, yet only in relationship would I find healing, restoration and freedom. The clarion call I heard from my counselor became this: "Take risks!" All my teenage and young adult life I ran from risk. Risk proved to be too painful. How could I trust anyone when I'd been violated? The challenge seemed ridiculous, promising only to bring the all too familiar result of hurt and rejection.
But thankfully I took my counselor's encouragement and began to truly invest in a friendship with my small group leader. I knew he planned to leave roughly six months after we met, which made me apprehensive to really try. I'm so thankful I did. God used that friendship to burst through the walls of my protected heart. I released my self-protective desire to control and allowed my friend to get to know the real me. As a result, we grew to be the best of friends. I consider him the most influential friend in my life to this point, and he'd say the same about me.
I allowed him to "affect" me. I allowed him to love, challenge and hurt me as all people will do eventually. He even showed through his extroverted nature that my skepticism of all people proved baseless. I found the power in thinking of others over self and the richness that comes with that. When the six months came to a close, I had no problem telling him what would have been so hard to say a year before: "I'm really going to miss you. You've meant so much to me, and I hate to see you go."
Before this friendship, I could never utter those words. I couldn't let anyone know how much they meant to me, because that would give them the power and control to hurt me. But I released those words to him with sincerity and the freedom of knowing I didn't need control with him. I finally believed in and received his love. In that freedom I met with my counselor the day he left and cried tears of joy for the times we had together and the growth I found. That friendship was worth the risk. Finding peace and freedom to open up and receive and give was worth the risk.
Relationship distorted my world at 9 years old, but relationship transformed, healed and restored my true self 14 years later.
A Risk Worth Taking
If sexual abuse taints your past, you know the devastation it wreaks. I used to look back on the 14 years of pain with regret — the friendships I could have had, the life I might have led. I missed out on a lot of living because I lived as a victim, passively going along in fear, instead of living as a victor, proactively taking risks with courage. Taking risk when you've been damaged creates anxiety and a battle within. We sabotage ourselves when we see the healing master — God — as untrustworthy, and the healing agent — relationship — as the enemy. The very thing you need and desire deep down happens to be something the old tapes play repetitively in your head: You can't possibly get this, because you're not worth it.
But you are worth the Son of God dying so that you may live. No one is greater or better than the other. To break free from the lies, we must walk in the truth of who God says we are and take risk with others. It's only through relationship we find freedom and restoration. God meets us where we are and goes with us in those scary places of relating and building friendships. He met me where I lay in desperation and provided me with exactly what I needed.
I don't have trite or pat answers to give you on why God allowed the abuse to happen. But I do know He was there in the midst of the enemy taking away my innocence, value and dignity. He mourned for what could have been. But He didn't let me stay there. He took me from that broken life to one of healing and freedom. Though He did not stop my abuser He does understand my abuse, rejection and humiliation.
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV) states, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Christ Jesus doesn't sympathize with us. He empathizes with us. He understands and takes on our own feelings of insecurity, fear of rejection, and pain. You may be in a place I stood a few years ago, unable to really believe God cares. But you can trust the One who was violated and abused on your behalf. What the enemy takes away, the Lord can and does restore. My life is a testament to that.
I'm living a life that's a far cry from that night I sat on the dock with my small group leader. Back then I couldn't envision the life I'm leading now — filled with confidence, the ability to affirm and build up others, and the ability to receive and accept love. The skepticism is gone, and I've been freed to love others. Sometimes I still struggle, but God's grace is enough to help me continue to walk in freedom.
We can't control the life given to us or many of the things that happen. But we do have the choice in how we respond. We can wallow in the past or stunt our own growth, or we can contend for restoration. Life after sexual abuse doesn't have to be broken and filled with darkness. You can be a victor through Christ — healed and fulfilled by His grace and the community of His body. That is most definitely a risk worth taking.
The Focus on the Family Help Center counselors are here to listen and pray with you, as well as provide guidance and resources. Arrange to speak with a licensed Christian counselor at no cost by calling 1-855-771-HELP (4357) Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Mountain time. Due to high call volumes, it may be necessary for you to leave your name and number for a counselor to return your call.
Copyright 2012 Chris Stump. All rights reserved.