I recently read the book Unbroken (spoiler alert) by Laura Hildebrand. This amazing book is the story of Louie Zamperini an Olympic runner who later became a prisoner of war during World War II. His story of overcoming suffering is one of the worst and best stories I’ve ever read. Louie’s survival was a true miracle. His determination and strength played a huge part in keeping him alive and sane. Louie set a record in his time for running a mile in 4:08, despite the fact that his fellow runners cut his shins and spiked him in the foot.
Louie Zamperini was a hero, because no matter what, he kept on running.
But later in life, something took Louie down. Mutsuhiro “Bird” Watanabe was a cruel and evil prison guard in Japan. He singled Louie out abusing him in the worst ways over and over again. For many years following the end of World War II, Louie awakened from terrible nightmares about The Bird. He also suffered terribly from PTSD and became an alcoholic. He was overwhelmed with anger and hate and the desire to kill The Bird.
According to Hildebrand:
The Bird had taken his dignity and left him feeling humiliated, ashamed, and powerless, and Louie believed that only the Bird could restore him, by suffering and dying in the grip of his hands. A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder. (1)
The root word for dignity is worth. Louie’s dignity was stolen from him by The Bird. Abuse does this to a person.
Reading about Louie’s loss of worth, gave me insight into my own story. Several years ago my husband and I went to a counselor, because he was suffering from his own PTSD as a result of being physically and mentally abused as a child by an alcoholic father. The first thing his counselor had us do was take the Myers-Briggs personality test. In discovering both of our personalities he was able to determine how to best help my husband and I overcome what he was suffering. He was also able to give my husband a sense of dignity and purpose by helping him understand better the person God had made him to be.
Reading how Louie lost his dignity and seeing how my own husband has struggled with a sense of self worth, helps me to see some of the root causes of my own struggles. After I took the personality test at the counselors office, I began researching my own personality.
I’m an INFJ. This is the rarest of personality types. This type is sometimes called Protector or Counselor. According to my web search famous INFJ’s include: Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Michelle Pfiefer, Mother Teresa and on the darker side, Hitler, Marilyn Manson and Osama Bin Laden. I think I’ll scratch the last three. My fascination with personality types I believe comes as a result of deep desire to understand who I am. Every time abuse occurred as a child my dignity was stolen a little more. I became what my abuser wanted me to be. That meant holding my act together and pretending the abuse wasn’t happening. That also meant doing things right and not upsetting my abusive father. As a result, I didn’t who I was. I wrote fictional novels in an effort to escape the pain in my life. I was even ashamed of what I wrote, hiding it under my bed from my parents. I thought my dream to become the next Stephen King was ridiculous. I had no idea that being a writer is part of who I am. My adopted father’s abuse communicated to me that I was just someone put here on earth to be used by him. As I think back over those years the only thing I remember him saying positive about me was that I was pretty.
When I began counseling with my former pastor, he said he wanted to restore my dignity and lead me down the path towards God’s deliverance. He told me I was beautiful, bragged on my writing, singing, and ability to encourage others. His words gave me a tremendous sense of self worth. I didn’t realize this was all part of the grooming process. Later, the lack of boundaries and mixed messages I was receiving from him would just keep me in a lost state of not knowing who I was. Just as Louie had turned to alcohol to numb the pain of all that was lost, I became addicted to this relationship, depending on my former pastor for any sense of self worth.
Louie Zamperini wanted no part of religion. He only went to a Billy Graham crusade because his wife and friends wouldn’t leave him alone until he did. When Rev. Graham called for people to pray and come forward at the end of the service, Louie was headed towards the nearest exit when God stopped him dead in his tracks. All of a sudden, he was bombarded by memories of being lost at sea. Louie had promised God during those desperate times that if He’d get him out of his circumstances alive he’d serve God for the rest of his life. This reminder of his promise to God restored Louie’s purpose. In heeding God’s call on his life, Louie’s dignity was restored. He went home that night and poured out all of his alcohol. Later he would help other troubled young men find their own dignity. Though Louie had suffered hard and lost so much of his life, in his final years after rediscovering who God said he was Louie really lived. Louie died in July of 2014 in his 90’s. He ran marathons and even skateboarded up until his final years. God rest his soul.
Louie Zamperini’s story is a tremendous testimony of the fact that God is the great Restorer of our lives.
He brings glory from our pain.
He brings beauty from our ashes.
He brings good from the evil we suffer.
Because of God’s work in my life I’m no longer that ashamed little girl who believed her only purpose in life was keeping her abuser happy, nor am I dependent on anyone else to give me a sense of self worth.
I belong to God. He’s called me just as he called Louie to live out that calling. When I believe this, my dignity is restored and my shame and self condemnation die. When I doubt it, I stumble and fall. It’s all part of the process. But through it all, I God is with me. And I am getting better.
The hardest thing to do is to wait in this process. I am constantly reminding myself that I didn’t get where I am in a day, and I’m not going to be healed in a day. As a matter of fact, I may always struggle. But even in that there is the the knowledge that His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses.
No matter what, just like Louie Zamperini, we have to keep on running.
Running…toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14.
Running…with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder 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. Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV
Running, because one day our unseen hope will be revealed when we finally see His face and know that our labors have not been not in vain.
(1) Laura Hildebrand Unbroken 2010