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How God blessed me even in the storms of child abuse

It was all I ever knew. The screaming, the threats to harm me, the pain. My food intake was restricted. I was kept from the outside world. I believed all this was normal. I believed I was hopelessly wicked. I didn’t tell anyone. There wasn’t anyone to tell and no reason to ask for help. This was life as I knew it and if I wanted it to be good, I had to be a better person. That’s just the way it was.

Then my eyes were opened. I slowly learned that my life was not normal; in fact, it had been riddled with abuse. There was a scary world out there I hadn’t known. People acted very differently from what had been my normal. I was dumped into a culture totally foreign to mine.

The more time I spent with Christians, the more I learned that my life hadn’t been how God intended for a child to live. God never approved of the grudges held against me that made my soul burn with overwhelming guilt and terror at my sinfulness. God didn’t approve of the horrible abuses I suffered at the hands of my parent. I wasn’t the property of my parents, to do with as they saw fit. I was the dearly loved child of God.

God never willed this upbringing on me: one filled with emotional, verbal, physical, and spiritual abuse. The scars were numerous and deep. No, he hadn’t willed this life for me, but he allowed it to happen. Why did he allow it? That is a deep question that may never be entirely answered, but I have seen the good he brought out of the awful mess of my childhood.

Would I have the faith I have now, if I hadn’t had to wrestle with pain and fear? Would I have the great hunger for God’s Word if I hadn’t been deprived of the truth for so long? What about my appreciation for forgiveness? Would I take it for granted if it hadn’t been withheld from me for so long and in such painful ways? I don’t know.

Certainly there are many who knew the truth their whole lives and cling to it with great strength. I have examples of that in some good friends of mine, but some people fall away after growing up in the Word. I know that I see God’s grace and forgiveness as precious blessings after feeling I was without them for so long.

Then there’s the understanding I gained from my past that I wouldn’t have if I had been raised in a God-pleasing way. I understand abuse survivors. I have received a gift of extreme empathy from my struggles that drives me to help hurting people. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Do I wish I hadn’t been abused? Do I wish I had a normal upbringing? There are times I think about what it would have been like to grow up without abuse. I still have difficult struggles because of what I endured. Life would be much easier if I didn’t have these struggles. While it never should have happened, I gained too many blessings through the abuse to wish I had never had this experience. My empathy for others, my faith that grew through my trials, and other great blessings came from what I went through.

If God gave me a choice to go back and either relive the awful abuse I went through and have a strong faith, or live a normal, carefree childhood and fall away from God, I would choose to go through the abuse all over again. God knew what he was doing in allowing me to endure abuse. I’m honored he chose me.

Due to the sensitive nature of this article, the author’s name has been withheld.

Freedom for the Captives is a ministry that equips the Body of Christ to protect children and empower abuse survivors. The website is freedomforcaptives.com.

 

 

 

What do I say to a sexual assault survivor?

Sexual assault terrifies those who have been victimized, leaving them frightened, depressed, ashamed, confused, and angry. Survivors are impacted sexually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I have ministered to women and men, young and old, who have experienced this type of life-changing trauma.

Here are some suggestions for pastors (and others) who want to say and do the right things for someone whose safety and dignity have been violated in this way.

  • Pray with—and for—the survivor. Ask what they would like you to pray for. After you have spoken to God on their behalf, tell them you have done so.
  • Use Scripture to proclaim God’s comfort and encouragement, such as Psalm 34:18-19: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”
  • If the event is very recent, addressing safety and other immediate needs are top priorities. If the victim is a minor, comply with laws pertaining to mandatory reporting of child abuse. If the victim is an adult, provide information about facilities that specialize in treating such trauma. (Contact a Christian counseling agency, domestic violence shelter, or law enforcement to learn what resources are available in your community.) Offer support as the adult survivor decides whether they want to contact law enforcement. Help them to develop safety plans. Respect their decisions. They are likely feeling quite powerless, so it is important to empower them to make their own choices whenever possible.
  • The ministry of simply being present is powerful. For many survivors, trust has been shattered. A pastor can be a source of comfort and offer hope that trust can be rebuilt with others. However, be sensitive. If a male committed the assault, the survivor may not feel at ease with another male, not even a pastor. Be very thoughtful about any physical contact: a hand on a shoulder, a hug, or even a handshake may not be well received at such a time.
  • Empathetic listening is key. You don’t need to have all the answers. Responses don’t need to be eloquent. Gentle, loving affirmation and validation is often what is desired most.
  • Not every sexual assault survivor will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but some will. Encourage the survivor to seek, or help them find, Christian counseling with a mental health professional who has specialized training and experience in providing trauma-informed care.

Many survivors report that they have never heard their pastor address sexual assault in a sermon or Bible study. Imagine that you had been violated in this way. What a balm for your aching heart and mind and spirit to hear your pastor talk about how God hates abuse, how he is a God of justice, and how he is close to the brokenhearted!

May God bless your efforts to bring hope and help to sexual assault survivors.

Sheryl Cowling is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Board-Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress, and Board-Certified Professional Christian Counselor. She provides counseling services at WLCFS – Christian Family Solutions in Germantown, Wis. Her church home is Crown of Life, Hubertus.