Last summer, on a car ride through the rural roads of North Carolina, I caught a glimpse of an old farmer with his mule plowing a field. It was an image out of yesteryear that forced me to slow down and take a second look. The heat that day was intense. An all-encompassing dust cloud swirled around the pair as they trudged forward, determinedly plowing the dry field together. I watched them only for a short while, but their image has stayed with me as a poignant reminder of how difficult life can be to navigate, particularly when the ground is unforgiving and hard to overcome.
In dealing with the recovery groundwork of sexual abuse, its surface is often desert-dry. Most victims have buried the shame of their abuse as deep as possible in hopes of never addressing it again. There are years of built-up decay kept in place to guard our fragile hearts. The truth is the issue sits just below the surface raising its ugly head throughout the years to torture and defame us. We tell ourselves we have it under control, but often we battle with it every day.
I refer to this silent internal battle as “limping” through life like a soldier returning home from war.
Most victims compensate for the negative impact sexual abuse has caused in their lives. There are a multitude of behaviors we might unknowingly choose to put in place to hide or protect ourselves. I personally relied on a heightened sense of fear as an early warning system within me. When I sensed trouble, real or unreal, I would shrink back. If that tactic failed, I would try avoidance or sympathy. I made most of my decisions based on fear, believing it always spoke truth to me. I saw it as my protector. I now know that it kept me from the experience of living my life to the fullest. It was my yoke of slavery that cheated and controlled me.
Even though the sexual abuse was not my sin, its negative impact drove me to choose sinful, self-protective ways rather than godly ways. All sin serves to separate us from God and destroy our hope. The burden of its yoke is heavy and feels as if it will never leave us, but the truth is Christ came to set us free.
The freedom we receive from Christ is a freedom from the constraints of sin in all its various forms, both those sins we commit, and the ones committed against us.
An Uncompromising Trust in God
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NASB).
There is a personal calling to each of us in this passage of scripture. It cries out for us to take the steps necessary so that this life-giving exchange of burdens can take place. Sexual abuse has a mental, physical, and spiritual impact on us that must be dealt with in order for us to move forward in our lives.
Recovery takes developing an uncompromising trust in God, a heartfelt desire to live free, and a determination like the farmer not to let the field sit idle.
God’s desire for each of us is to live free from both the traumatic impact of sexual abuse and the limitations it has produced within us.
When God led me to address my abuse, I had a wall of resistance ready and in place to fight against it. I had accepted Christ in my early forties and experienced some miraculous relief from torturous flashbacks I had suffered with on a daily basis. I believed the absence of these flashbacks was healing enough for me. From my limited perspective, I thought God had done all he could do this side of heaven to restore my life. What I did not realize was that my healing process had only begun to take place.
Early on in my Christian walk, there was a desire in my heart to share with others about the transforming power found in accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. I realized this calling in my life and I sought out training to become a lay-counselor. I began teaching others to understand their identity in Christ and my walk with the Lord was increasingly rich and active. I was satisfied with the restoration I had experienced so far and it was beyond me to conceive or consider there might be additional healing in store for me.
As time passed, I knew there was an after-effect of the abuse that continued to cause residual struggles and seasonal depression for me. I had grown to accept it as a part of life that had to be endured. I believed it to be my “thorn in the flesh.” My seasonal depression happened every fall like clockwork. Each time, I would press into God by journaling about my sadness and praying for the pain to stop. Every year, I was disappointed my faith was not big enough to suppress the overwhelming sense of worthlessness and despair that had crept into my daily life. A change would come over me mentally and spiritually, and predictably I would drift toward becoming a reclusive introvert. My melancholy, as I referred to it, hung over me like a heavy cloud that would leave on its own timetable, sometimes in a few days and other times in a few months.
In 2009, I reached out for help because I wanted the struggle to be over.
I had done all I knew to do. In my prayer time, I sensed God leading me to speak with a good friend and counselor. He listened as I laid out the details of my life story and helped guide me beyond my excuses to the threshold of my pain. The sexual abuse of my childhood had finally met its God appointed time for healing.
During the counseling process, I always kept a journal by my side. Any thoughts or challenges I faced during the day were written down. I found God worked mightily through these writings, both then and now. They serve as a permanent road map for me to see each step He led me through. The writings have also left me with proof positive of his presence in the mix.
My prayer times became filled with rich moments of clarity and wisdom.
My Lake Image
One day while journaling, I had a mental image of myself standing near a lake amid a large mass of deep weeds. From the vantage point within the weeds, I could look out over the lake and its beautiful tree-lined shore. There was a clearing in front of me that led to a boardwalk where wooden planks extended out to a dock in the middle of the water. It was a peaceful picture in a quiet, serene place where I felt very safe.
The lake scene was an active image that evolved in my journaling notes. It was a safe place my counselor and I believed to be beneficial to take the freedom to explore. In the beginning, my journal was filled with entries about sitting in the weeds, standing at the edge of the weeds, even walking to the water’s edge to get my feet wet. I never felt pushed or threatened in any way to go further in the imagery than personal comfort allowed. The ever-changing vision remained with me throughout the counseling process and it helped to set in motion a sense of trust where trust had never been.
My lake image will appear throughout this study. It was a tremendous teaching tool for me that I hope blesses you in your process towards recovery. As you begin this study, ask God to show you a safe place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to begin processing your own sexual abuse issue. As you prayerfully place yourself before Him, you may find you have a trust issue with God. Be honest about it. He can handle it. His desire is for you to come to Him as you are, troubles and all. He knows your heart and is ready to listen. A sense of trust may begin to develop for you just from sharing your doubts and concerns.
Throughout time, God has consistently led His children towards hope and healing. His efforts are as endless as the waves of the sea that continually reach for the shoreline. In the first chapters of Joshua, there is an account of God’s people being led to the land He had promised them. One declaration was repeatedly made for the reassurance of those who were following his lead; be strong and courageous because your God is with you. That same reassurance applies to us today. I encourage you to take your first steps to honestly seek out God’s presence in this process. I know He will give you the insights and encouragement you need to begin your walk towards recovery. Remember, you are not alone; we are in this together.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6 NASB)