This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor JD’s sermon “Consequences: 2 Samuel 12-16” preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday February 5-6, 2011.
After hearing the life events of Tamar, many people who have experienced sexual abuse may be unsettled by the trigger of their own memories. Sometimes it is uncomfortable that Scripture speaks to the breadth of life’s experiences. Often the question emerges, “What can I do about it? How did it affect me? Shouldn’t time have healed this?” These are painful questions.
The counseling ministry would recommend the book On the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Diane Langberg and the women’s past hurts Freedom Group as resources for this struggle. We encourage the Freedom Group because, in the words of Dr. Langberg,
“Recovery—learning not to live based on the fear—must also occur in the context of relationship. It cannot occur in isolation (p. 151)… It is important to understand that you cannot figure out relationships by yourself. We learn about relationships in relationships (p. 169)… Learning to tell ‘normal’ hurt from ‘abnormal’ hurt is a difficult process (p. 170).” Diane Langberg in On the Threshold of Hope
It can be a fearful thing to even buy a book on sexual abuse. To help with this we have provided a sample exercise from the book One the Threshold of Hope. One sample cannot capture a whole book, but hopefully it will be enough to prompt you to take the next step.
Dr. Langberg asks victims of sexual abuse to rewrite the Isaiah 53 passage of the Suffering Servant as a way to help them see how Christ can identify with their suffering. She says:
“Turn what you read into a prayer. Use the word of Scripture to help you articulate your pain, your questions, your fear, your anger… Rewrite the Scripture passages as you read. Personalize them. Take Isaiah 53, and write it so it speaks about your life. Then look hard at the similarities in your life and the life of Jesus (p. 182).”
The example below is an attempt to rewrite Isaiah 53 to put the experience of sexual abuse into words. Dr. Langberg provides another example of rewriting Isaiah 53 in her book on pages 182-186. I would encourage you to read Isaiah 53 in your preferred translation of the Bible, before trying to follow along with the personalization below.
Isaiah 53 (Personal Rewrite)
1. I spoke and no one believed what I said. They thought I was a liar or a lunatic. Even when there was great reason to believe me, they refused. The truth was supposed to set me free, but it made me an outcast.
2. I was a young child. He knew and “loved” me. I was weak and vulnerable in his care. Was it my body? Was there anything about the body of a child that could allure such destructive passion? If so, I’ll hide my beauty. I’d rather not be seen than attacked. To be known is dangerous.
3. Oh, the way he looks at me now. He hates me. He looks at me, knows what he did, and despises me as his reminder. I feel like others can see it too, and reject me. When I speak people back away from me. I want comfort. I keep getting rejection. I am sadness. Grief is my best/only friend. People find it easier to pretend nothing happened and turn their eyes (literally and figuratively). I represent what people want to forget.
4. Is this worse than the cross? Is this what made you cry “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” instead of the nails? I know why people thought God had abandoned you. I have thought the same of myself.
5. You [Jesus] did this voluntarily? You bore this so we would not be alone in this moment? I don’t yet know how it is supposed to heal me, but I am amazed. I can’t get anyone to believe me and You would join me. You must want peace for me worse than I do!
6. I have run from my pain in so many directions: people-pleasing, promiscuity, cutting, thoughts of suicide, perfectionism, denial, withdrawal, and more. None of them worked, yet You bore the penalty and walked the journey of each road to buy me back and set me free. That kind of love is so foreign to me it scares me.
7. You, too, were tortured and silenced. You surrendered Your voice because they took mine. They took Your clothes too and You said nothing. You plunged fully into the depths of my pain to rescue my drowning soul. I was so silenced I could no longer call to You, yet You came.
8. People scorned You because of Your suffering. I too have been judged for my suffering. I judge myself and wonder if it was “my fault.” I want to scream, “No, I wasn’t asking for it!” You were cut off from the “land of the living.” I feel as if I walk though life with a dead soul. I hate being ostracized because of someone else’s sin.
9. I hate being grouped with the “dirty people”—hookers and sluts. But that is how I feel, dirty. I did not give myself to another, but I do not get to be “pure” and do not feel I can associate with the “pure.” But I didn’t do anything wrong. I have to believe that. It’s true. Why is it so hard to believe?
10. I don’t know how to talk of Your involvement in my suffering, God. You were not blind. You were not sleeping. Your character does not change? God, be patient with me if I skip this question for a while. I fear I want survival more than redemption right now. Work with me at a pace my soul and mind can bear. I’m trying to pray “I believe. Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).”
11. When/if I find comfort for this pain, I would gladly share it with the world, or at least anyone who would care to listen to me. Help me believe that peace is more than a fairy tale like unicorns. I long to join with Christ in His journey through suffering to life—life unshakable and impenetrable.
12. Pray for me, Jesus! Pray for me! I am beginning to realize that if I have held up under this weight for this long, I must be in “the strong.” You identified with me in my suffering. Help me identify with You in your victory over sin, suffering, and death. Instead of losing myself in the crowd, in my numbness, or in the dots on the ceiling (where there is no life). Let me lose myself in You (Life Itself)!