I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For years I struggled to believe that the spiritually abusive relationship with my former pastor was good. I reasoned when I was with him that every good and perfect gift came from above, so certainly the pleasant emotions and relief I felt with him meant that it was good. I refused to recognize even when the negative consequences began to surface that the relationship was more like an addiction to cocaine than it was something good, and for the next several years my desire to be with him would consume me and leave me feeling lifeless.
The truth was I couldn’t bear to believe that my relationship with him wasn’t good, because that might mean the lie I had believed about myself for most of my life, that I was bad, might be true, and the shame of that was more than I could bear. It is incredibly painful acknowledging my struggles in this area. I despised myself for thinking something bad was good. And I even find myself despising myself when I long for good things that are really good. I am starting to realize that a long time ago I made my longings an enemy and vowed not to feel things or desire anything good, because I believed that would keep me safe.
Yesterday for the first time in a while, I felt a sense of joy in my heart, because a friend had emailed me with some encouraging words. I smiled and even laughed. I also went to church for the first time in months, and the message actually encouraged me. I found myself wanting to sing How Great Thou Art. Emotions tingled as the song played, and I thought of a conversation between me and my husband earlier that morning about creation and the peace that comes with just listening to the birds and enjoying nature. In the song, I was reminded of the greatness of God in all of creation and what a gift it is to us; a gift that causes us to long for His goodness. But strangely enough, experiencing this desire caused a disruption in my soul.
Dan Allender says in The Wounded Heart it is common for sexual abuse survivors to despise their desires.
I once asked a woman who was raped by her father and later by her husband to define the essence of her struggle in life. With a biting snarl and a caustic tone that communicated strong hatred (betrayed only by the sadness in her eyes), she said, “If I could only rid myself of my hunger for a man, I could be happy.”Her words might be elaborated as follows: “If I could only find a way not to hunger for relationship, if I could deaden my soul to what I was made for—the longing to be pursued, embraced, known, and enjoyed—then I could live without sorrow.”Her enemy was her longings.
I recognize in my own life how my longings have often become an enemy. As I look back over the years , I see how I have deadened my desires in an effort to protect myself. My earliest memory of this happening began at a very early age. I was dressing in my adopted father’s clothes to get ready for bed. He liked for me to dress in a certain pair of shorts. I remember hating my body and feeling like a piece of trash as I climbed into his bed. When the abuse began and my body experienced pleasure, I came to believe that there was something very wrong with my desires and determined it was me. It communicated to me that I was sick and shameful person. So I learned over the years to numb myself and treat my longings as the enemy.
But I discovered that no matter how hard I tried I could not turn my longings off. I needed to feel something. I coped with masturbation, feeling relief from a few moments of pleasure, followed by immense shame. My hatred for myself and for my longings only grew.
I hated my longings, because I believed they brought out the worst in me and in others. Even after becoming a Christian and experiencing the love of God there were times I despised even my passion for Him, because I believed somehow it would result in bringing about more shame. When negative circumstances and relationships began to spiral out of control in a church we were attending, I wondered if somehow my longings were to blame. Friends I cared about left the church, and I questioned my role in their lives. Did my own longing for fellowship with then somehow contribute? The thought of this question brought about confusion and great pain.
Then the abusive pastor entered the picture. He told me I brought out the good in him. He said he loved me, and I was special. It caused me to feel again. And it felt so good. The longings in my heart all of a sudden didn’t feel bad anymore. Therefore, the shame began to die, too. I decided maybe I wasn’t bad. I believed it was safe to feel again. Then he told me he loved me in ways that he shouldn’t. And the shame came back, and over the next ten years I’d fight to convince myself that the relationship I had with him was good even though what we were doing was not good, because if it wasn’t good then it meant once again that I’d longed for the wrong thing and brought out the worst in someone else. It meant I was bad. And that knowledge was just too much for me to bear.
But thank God I began to hear the Gospel through ministries like Keylife and Tullian Tchividjian . For years I listened to the truth that Christ was my righteousness, that He wasn’t angry with me, and that because of His death on the cross all God saw when He looked at me was Jesus. I began to identify with this truth and the shame began to die. My longings for the destructive relationship with the pastor began to die as well, and I longed for the relief of a relationship with Jesus.
Thank God since that time He’s been healing me from so much pain. He’s been untangling lies I’ve believed about myself for most of my life, one of which is that my longings are not bad, nor am I.
When I read a letter from another person in ministry yesterday that communicated I actually brought something good into his life, I felt good and it scared me a little bit. Last week when my counselor told me I encouraged her and that I was special, I longed to believe her, but I was afraid. Why was I questioning the motives of the people who were telling me good things about myself? Why was I worried that they didn’t mean it? Certainly my heart longed for their kindness and care for me. I also longed to know that I mattered to them. And I realized these longings were triggering the message inside of me that said my longings were bad, and on a subconscious level I believed sooner or later that somehow they’d see how bad I was, too. I considered my 75 year old friend’s kindness again. He’s close to the same age as the pastor who abused me. Old enough to be my father. Will another train wreck happen if I allow myself to long for good? Am I damaged goods for life? Or is it OK for me to feel good about what he says and allow myself to accept the fact that he cares and means what he says without an ulterior motive. And what about my counselor saying I’m special and someone she cares about? Is it all a lie? Do I need to run before I believe it? Before I allow myself to really feel love for her or anyone else? Welcome to my world.
But the Spirit of God in me is saying no this isn’t right. I am not bad. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am His, and He has only good for me. Jesus said the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. And His Love is good. It’s not something we have to hide in the dark or lie to protect. It lives in the light. In Him there is no darkness at all. His perfect love casts out all fear.
He created us to long for goodness and love. We are made in His image and He calls us very good. Therefore the longings He placed in us are very good, too. The problem happens when we search to find good outside of Him. It started with the Fall, and it’s been happening ever since. Adam and Eve looked for good in the wrong place, and listened to the lies of the serpent in the garden, resulting in sin and shame, and a journey away from God’s original intent for good. So our longings for good are not bad. It’s finding good in the wrong places that is the problem.
For a sexual abuse victim, it’s almost impossible to separate good longings from bad. Our bodies were abused and felt pleasure. How is it that there was any enjoyment in something so sick? I believed it was because I was bad. But this was a lie! My body was created to enjoy pleasure not to be abused. The problem was never me. The problem was the evil that motivated my adopted father to abuse me. The problem was the evil that motivated my former pastor to abuse me.
Evil despises our longings for good. In my case, evil has tried to convince me that my longings for good are bad. For a long time I have believed him and vowed not to desire the good God has for me. But this a lie and a stronghold Satan set up a long time ago to keep me from experiencing God’s love through other people. Evil wants me to believe that I am damaged goods who will only bring harm to others. Evil wants to crush me with shame. Evil wants me to fear relationships and love. But God will not allow it. He has pursued me like the Hound of Heaven that He is and He hasn’t stopped. He wants me to know that my longings are not bad. They are good – very good. He has graciously placed others in my life who are showing me His love, and I am so very thankful, and I am going to take what they are offering.
Father, I acknowledge that my desires are good, that you gave them to me, and it is safe to love others with your love and receive their love. I revoke any vows that I have made not to long for good. I will trust in You. Because You are Great and You are Good and I was created to bring You glory. Heal my heart and my mind and deliver me from the lies and strongholds of the evil one. You are my righteousness. I have been made clean. It is Finished and I belong to You. And I long to know You more, and I know this is good…In Jesus Name, Amen