As an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I needed a safe person to talk to. It turns out that the person I believed was a safe person was actually abusing me. My husband, who is also an adult child of an alcoholic trusted this pastor and turned to him for help and was severely betrayed. The confusion we’ve both suffered as a result of this has been horrendous, and it hasn’t gone away even months later. The fact that certain leaders who I went to for help in getting out of the relationship called the abuse an affair and minimized the abuse made it even more confusing and so difficult to trust anyone.
My husband and I have been wrestling with this for months. He has declared over and over again, “We both wanted help and to do the right thing, but we were abused even more.”
We recognize that dwelling on the past too much is harmful. We know that we need to continue to gradually move forward dealing with the grief, the fear, and our lack of trust one day at a time and ask God to help us.
Every day we battle things like anger, denial, hypervigilence, or wanting to control things all in an effort to protect ourselves from anymore harm. Sometimes the sorrow of all that we’ve been through feels like it will crush us.
A couple of days ago my husband told me he was battling suicidal thoughts. Later the same day I started to feel the same way. Two hurting people trying to help one another sometimes results in more pain. Things got very dark. But thank God for my counselor and for His grace in getting us through.
One of worst things about all of this is the loneliness and not being able to find the courage to trust anyone. But after this horrible day we knew we had to try to continue to reach out to others in the community. We also realized that we need to not get so lost in all the hurt.
One small step we are going to try to take this week is to go to a special service at the church we’ve been attending where a counselor is coming to talk about healthy relationships in the church. Lord knows that is something we desperately need and I appreciate that the church has gone to the trouble to bring in a professional. For us that feels about as safe as it can get.
I pray to God He’ll bring us to the place soon where we will be able to see just as Don Miller says in his book Scary Close that the are more “lifeguards than there are sharks,”in the world, because not so long ago we felt like we were in an ocean full of sharks. I know in my head that God has not called us to live in fear. I know this spirit is not from Him. But I also know that He understands our pain and is gently leading us with His love. Every small step of faith we take in trusting Him is like another mountain of fear falling into the sea.
As I’ve been writing this I see His hand already. A lady from the new church sent a text reaching out. She has no idea what a difference that makes. Maybe one day soon I’ll get to tell her.
Once again I’m reminded how important we are to one another. How God didn’t intend for us to be alone. How He intends for us to know His love and reveal it in our relationships as we function as a body.
I’ve come to realize His love isn’t neat and dressed in Sunday best. Rather it’s messy, risky, and impossible without Him. There are lifeguards and sharks in the church. Sometimes I’m a shark. Sometimes I’m a lifeguard. We are all a walking contradiction in much need of grace. And grace is the best gift we can give one another.
The worst pain we’ve suffered has been when grace was lacking. I also recognize it is the lack of grace that contributed to the ongoing abuse. My former pastor told me a hundred times if you ever tell anyone no one will understand and that he’d be deposed. He was right.
But what if he’d known he could mess up and get help. What if the expectations hadn’t been so high? Would it have made a difference? Maybe, maybe not. However, I do know that a lack of grace definitely fosters an abusive environment. I cannot see his heart, but I’d have give anything if things had been different. What if the church had taken the time to understand more about abuse and give me the grace of understanding? What if they’d not been so determined to fix things as quickly as they could on their own and let me decide when I wanted to tell my story to others? What if they’d allowed me to keep my job? What if they hadn’t thrown my sin up in my face and treated me with the same grace they’d want if they were caught in their worst secret? For our family it would have made a huge difference.
But the what if’s are not possible now, however I can look at those questions and apply the solutions to situations in life that I face from this point forward.
I can give the same grace that I didn’t receive from some. I can take the risk to love others again. I can choose to not be overwhelmed by the same fear that caused others to harm me. I can do the hard work of forgiveness continually, because Jesus forgave me. Because His grace is the greatest gift we’ve been given and grace is the best gift we can give to one another and the world.