Those of us who experienced abuse in childhood or marriage – whether verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, or any combination thereof – often struggle with feelings of inadequacy, self-criticism, self-hatred, doubt, fear, and even self-condemnation. We need to remember that Jesus bled and died for us, too. He was with us through those times, holding us up with His hand, because He loves us. He knows how we struggle to reconcile the concept of a loving, caring Father with the examples we were exposed to. He is aware of how it skewed our thinking and caused us to struggle more than others with seeing Him as One who accepts us as we are, not the way someone else thinks we should be. He hears our cries in the darkness, is fully cognizant of our tormented minds, and stands with us as we battle the forces that would cause us to get so mired down by the treatment we endured that we would even give up on our hopes and dreams. His will for us is victory, confidence, and the assurance we are His chosen children – not in spite of, but sometimes even because of our scars. We are fighters. We survived sometimes hellish circumstances, things we never told anyone else, and we came out on the other side with a tenacity and a strength known only by those who endure this kind of hardship.
What you have been through has made you especially capable and competent at ministering to others in pain. You know what it’s like to be afraid to speak loudly, to draw attention to yourself, to be an individual, and you can see it in others. The compassion engendered by your experiences was given to you for a reason. It’s not just there for you to acknowledge, but it’s been given to you so that you can minister to others who are going through or have been through similar circumstances. Someone who has never been abused can feel sorry for what a survivor is struggling with, but they just don’t know how it feels. You know because you’ve been there. You recognize the downturned gaze, the self-deprecation, the avoidance of personal talk, the attempts to be invisible; they are as familiar to you as your own skin. I can recognize an abused woman or child a mile away. It shouts the story in how they walk, carry themselves, talk, and even dress. The scramble to pacify, the constant need for reassurance that they’re good enough, the reluctance to speak about what they’re enduring is like red graffiti on a white wall. Because you’ve been there, you see what others don’t. You get them. This gives you an unique opportunity to minister to them from experience, not just what you’ve been taught in a class, read in a book, or heard second-hand.
We often look at the struggles in our lives and ask God, “Why is this happening to me?” The question itself isn’t as important as the reason behind asking it. We can have one of two attitudes when posing this query:
- Why me? What did I do to deserve this? How can a loving God allow anyone to endure such trauma?
- How is this trial preparing me for my calling? What can I learn from it? How can I apply the strength I gained coming through this experience to benefit the kingdom of God?
How we look at living as a human being in a world full of sin affects our response to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Unfortunately, being finite often leaves us seeing only our immediate situation; it’s like viewing a quilt from the point of view of a single piece of fabric or listening to a symphony from the third violist’s chair. We can’t see our lives like God sees them. We simply aren’t created with that capability. This is where faith comes in. We have to choose to trust Him to lead us through what will shape us into the person He intended us to be. Sometimes this means walking in darkness, trusting Him to guide us. It may require us to lay down things we want to do or be in order to receive His best for us, even if we don’t understand it at the time. For abuse survivors, this kind of trust can be really difficult. Victimization can lead to a whole mess of thought processes capable of interfering with letting go of what we think is good and right. We may fear more than just the loss of control, and justifiably so; vulnerability has betrayed us in the past, and we are leery of yielding that kind of power to anyone else, even God. In fact, it may take us much longer to learn to put our confidence in His desire for our good. This explains, in a way, why the faith of those who have suffered abuse may be much stronger; for us to get to the point where we can yield our will and desire for self-protection to someone else requires a decision not reached without much internal conflict, and one that will not be easily challenged or abandoned. I may at times doubt my ability to do what God has called me to do, but I am never dubious about His love for me. In fact, it has been the only thing I had to hold on to more than once. In the middle of everything I’ve been through, He has been the constant I could rely on – even when I was so mired in misery I wondered if I should just give in. This knowledge has been my anchor, my rock, my confidence when everything else was falling to pieces around me. I am sure of this: no matter what I’m going through, I am never alone. I may not be happy, healthy, wealthy, or successful in the eyes of the world, but God has a plan for me that will bring Him glory no matter how weak or frail I am, or how many times I fall.
No matter what anybody else tells you, what and who you are is exactly what and who you were created to be. You may have made mistakes, or fallen, or rebelled….but God knew all that when He created you, and He loves you anyway. Don’t let those lies imprison you. Remember, He knew you before He laid the foundations of the world, and He would not have you be anyone but who you are. Never forget that.