Speaking with survivors changed my life
4 positive reasons to talk about abuse
As I think about you, the reader, I imagine that you are probably one of two people. Either you are a survivor of abuse, which means you are most likely suffering in silence. Or you are a friend of a survivor. You had no idea that some of your closest friends are survivors of abuse. Of course, if your friend would have told you, you would have prayed with them and helped them in whatever way possible. But neither of you ever had this conversation because you didn’t think abuse was that common. (That’s why I wrote my previous post.) But now you know, and one of the most powerful things you can do is talk about this difficult topic with the people closest to you.
At first, that might terrify both of you. If you are a survivor, you are probably filled with shame because your experience embedded a lie deep within your soul. The lie is: “you are a mistake.” And that lie has kept you silent. If you are a friend of a survivor, you might feel nervous or unqualified to even bring up this sensitive subject.
I want to challenge both of you to push beyond your fears because this conversation will be a blessing to both of you.
This conversation will be a blessing to the survivor. Shame feeds on the isolation and secrecy like mold multiplying on a dark, damp basement floor. When a survivor can speak about their abuse, they might be able to see the truth: they are somebody. They were created by God, and deserve to be heard and loved, and most importantly, what happened to them is not their fault.
This conversation will be a blessing to the friend. When I started speaking with survivors I realized almost immediately that they were changing me. They were teaching me about Jesus and real love and grace. They were making me into a better pastor, person, and parent. Here’s what I mean…
How have survivors changed my life?
- Survivors have made me a better preacher. Jesus said, “I came to preach freedom for the captives.” There is no one who feels more captive than those who have been abused. I thought I was preaching in a way that set people free, but survivors have been honest with me. They have told me, “I hear what you are preaching pastor, but I just don’t think it applies to me.”
So now when I get up to preach, I imagine that I’m speaking to those who are drowning in shame and guilt. If the Holy Spirit can give me the words to let them know the love of God in Jesus Christ applies to them, then I believe everyone in the congregation will be edified.
- Survivors have made me a better counselor. Jesus said, “I came to bind up the brokenhearted.” There is no one more brokenhearted than survivors of abuse. In the past, when I saw someone indulging in destructive behaviors, I wanted to pounce on those sins. But now I know there is probably something behind the outward behavior.
Survivors have taught me to slow down and ask more questions. Drugs, alcohol, anger, and promiscuity are usually not the problem. There is probably a root cause that is much deeper. So even if I’m speaking with someone who is not a survivor of abuse, I know now to slow down and say, “Tell me more…”
- Survivors have taught me to be wise. Jesus said, “Be wise as snakes and innocent as doves.” That means you may love everyone, but you don’t need to trust everyone. Survivors have taught me how to do that.
For example, a couple years ago I was taking a young couple through a pre-marriage class. A week before the wedding, the young man told me, “By the way, you might see in the paper that I have a court date coming up right after the wedding. There was an incident involving my fiancé’s sister. I didn’t do anything wrong, but I took the plea deal to make it go away.”
Survivors have taught me to watch out for people who begin conversations with “Oh, by the way…” This case didn’t involve child abuse, but still, I told the man I still would not marry them until he made a clear confession of his sins.
- Survivors have taught me how to be a better parent. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Survivors have taught me that they were robbed of their deepest needs of love, acceptance, and security. I think about that when I discipline my children.
A few years ago I was having a really hard time with our daughter.. She was about 6 or so at the time. The whole day she was being defiant, so she sat in one “time-out” after another. But by the end of the day, I thought about what she needed most. When I tucked her into bed I told her, “My dear , today was hard, and tomorrow will be better. But nothing you did today changes the fact that Jesus loves you and I love you very much.” Like a fever that finally broke, this stone-cold girl started to cry and gave me a hug.
What is your next step?
Abuse is against God’s will and is always wrong, wicked, and damaging. But those people who have been courageous enough to tell me their story have changed my life. Now it’s your turn.
If you are a survivor…I encourage you to talk to one of your good friends. Be honest. Tell them how worried and vulnerable you feel about telling your story. Tell them how you need help and healing and prayer.
If you are a friend… you probably don’t know which of your friends are struggling with shame and guilt from abuse. You might post this blog to your Facebook page. Or you may email it to a number of your friends saying, “This post really made me think, so I wanted to share it with others.” Your friend who struggles just might see that you are a safe person to talk to. Listening to their story will help them, but it will bless you in ways you never imagined.
Take these steps today, before shame and fear keep you in the darkness. When you do, you will be blessed.
Originally published at www.pastorbensadler.com on December 6, 2016.