You cannot judge book by its cover, but you can begin to learn a lot from its opening statements. In this book, the Holcombs begin the first chapter by saying, “If you have suffered as the result of sexual assault, this book is written to you and for you – not about you. What happened to you was not your fault… You should not be silenced… You do not have to pretend like nothing happened (p. 15).”
These statements speak to the common fears and lies associated with sexual abuse. The authors begin where their readers begin. They know and care deeply about their audience. While many biblical counseling books discuss sin more than suffering and emphasize prescription over description, this book digresses from that trend.
As with any book worth reading on sexual abuse, this book is hard to read. It speaks of stories that most of us would prefer to never think about. The words of Amy Carmichael are worth considering to remind us why a book like this can be both disturbing and edifying, “Those who know the truth of these things will know that we have understated it, carefully toned it down perforce, because it cannot be written in full. It could neither be published or read… but oh, it had to be lived! And what you may not even hear, had to be endured by little girls (p. 228 in Things As They Are).”
In the first section of the book, the Holcombs use the category of “disgrace” to capture the essence and explain the effects of sexual abuse. The vividness of their authorship does an excellent job of displaying how this category serves to capture the experience of sexual abuse while, at the same time, preparing the reader to understand God’s grace as essential to the healing process.
In the opening chapter, the Holcombs seek to capture the contrast of disgrace and grace:
Disgrace is the opposite of grace… Disgrace destroys, causes pain, deforms, and wounds… Disgrace makes you feel worthless, rejected, unwanted, and repulsive… To your sense of disgrace, God restores, heals, and re-creates through grace. A good short definition of grace is ‘one-way love.’ This is the opposite of your experience of assault, which is ‘one-way violence’ (p. 15).”
The second and third chapters do an excellent job of defining sexual abuse, describing the impact of sexual abuse, and summarizing the key research on the subject. At this point the reader gains great confidence that the author knows me (if he/she has experienced sexual abuse) and that the authors have invested their lives in knowing my struggle. For a reader who has been silenced for most of his/her life and likely spent the rest of it hiding, those are powerfully important messages.
Chapters four through nine seek to capture six experiences of sexual abuse: denial, distorted self-image, shame, guilt, anger, and despair. Each chapter is introduced with a four to five page case study that sets up the discussion of each struggle.
This section begins to speak slightly more at a counselor’s level than a counselee’s. The description of the experience, discussion of alternative explanations, theological insight, and application are excellent. However, there are two aspects that (for this reviewer) make this book more valuable for the counselor.
First, the depth of empirical research and theological discussion may lose a reader who is overwhelmed by their initial experience(s) of abuse and the post-trauma that emerges from considering the subject again. Because of this, a strength of the book may get it caught between audiences (counselor and counselee).
If giving this book to a counselee, the counselor may want to offer the following points of advice:
- Read the book slowly. You may have a spike in emotional disturbances as you read a book on sexual abuse. This is normal, but can be alleviated by not trying to finish the book quickly. [This is general advice for any book on the subject.]
- Read the book twice. The first time do not try to understand everything. Get the big picture the first time. If something feels deep, know that you can come back for it the second time. This is a book that goes as deep into the cross as it does into your pain and that is hard for anyone to digest in one reading.
Second, the material seeks to dissect the individual experiences of sexual abuse rather than charting a journey through those experiences. It is often hard for a victim of sexual abuse to pull apart his/her emotional experiences. This book does a good job of labeling the “baskets” of experiences. Each of the six experiences are described well enough to serve as a stand alone resource on each subject for teachers (regardless whether the subject being addressed is sexual abuse). However, for the reader seeking to be taught how to “sort the laundry” of his/her experience they may desire more process instruction.
The richness of this book would make it an excellent resource for someone well into their recovery who wants to understand what God has been doing all along the way. Even if their recovery was found through a secular counselor or the “school of hard knocks,” I believe they would be able to trace the hand of God in their life with the quality of writing and scholarship in Rid of My Disgrace.
I am personally excited to see books like this one being written by biblical counseling authors. I pray that God will bless not only the ministry done with and through this book, but that God will use it to inspire more of its kind.
This review was originally posted at The Biblical Counseling Coalition site. I would heartily recommend the BCC as a resource to find information about the best resources on Biblical Counseling.