(Trigger warning: subject matter involves child sexual abuse.)
As many of you know, I was sexually abused as a child. There were two incidents — one involved an old man, and the other, an older boy. The first involved being groomed by an adult, the other was the “natural” result of being consistently intimidated and bullied by this boy. Both were devastating betrayals, but in different ways. The adult said “I love you.” The boy? Well, let’s just say he used humiliation to enforce control.
I struggle with these two “incidents” every day even though they happened many years ago. I suppose with the boy there could be some form of closure at some point, but the old man died many years ago. I remember my family visiting him in the hospital. I remember squirming in a corner chair while the adults crowded around his bed and a fellow elder prayed for him. I remember looking up during the prayer and seeing him staring straight at me. His gaze terrified me and made me horribly sad — why was he looking at me when there were so many others in the room? Was it a look of fear? Pain? Was all of this my fault? He died the next day, so I will never know what that gaze meant. But I will never forget it or the way it made me feel. I will always hate hospital rooms.
So why am I sharing this part of my story? Because truth drives us to the cross of Jesus. I have been silent about this for so long that it has eaten away at my soul and destroyed much of my life. I thought I was protecting people I loved, but honestly, I was only protecting a false reality that I wanted to be true. I wanted to keep their “safe” world in tact where the old man and the boy didn’t use me for evil. Where everyone could retain “nice” opinions of each other and not face the reality of human depravity so close to home. I wanted to believe that their world was true and mine was a lie. So I was silent. Sadly, many encourage adult abuse survivors to be silent even after initial disclosures. That is wrong.
You see, for Christians to compel, or worse yet try to force, abuse victims to be silent implies (at least to me) that Jesus isn’t enough. That certain things are beyond him and his power to heal, restore, and bring justice. That if the truth is known that abusers were and are in our churches, our “religion” will be seen as a sham. And you know what? Religion in and of itself is a sham. Religious trappings, theological prowess, or maintaining a moral facade saves no one. Hiding behind these things to keep truth from being known is being complicit in evil — the very evil Jesus came to expose. The evil he came to conquer.
So I ask you, if survivors can’t tell the truth publicly and work toward trusting Jesus with our deepest hurts and most devastating feelings now, how can we be encouraged to have confidence in him for eternal life? Are we really expected to hide what Jesus already knows and promises to heal, restore, and bring to justice, if not now, then in eternity? Is the facade of a “safe” reality more enticing than a Savior who destroys the power and darkness of this exposed evil and heals and restores and redeems? Is our God capable of creating and sustaining the entire universe but incapable of sustaining and restoring us when we are honest about our humanity and the world we live in?
I struggle daily with fear — fear of betrayal and fear of authority just to name a few. But even in my fear I am confident in this — Jesus is more powerful, more beautiful, more wonderful, more stunningly glorious than any evil we will ever face. Evil cowers before him. His Light exposes and conquers all evil. Believe that. And let there be Light, people of God. Let there be Light.
Photo by Simon Wilkes on Unsplash