I have the privilege of serving in a ministry which provides help for women who, as children, suffered verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, and/or spiritual abuse. Because of the abuse they endured, many come to us struggling in their relationship with God. This is especially true if the abuse occurred in families who attended church.
Imagine what it would be like for a little girl who suffered frequent beatings and had to sit by her abuser in church with her scars and bruises carefully covered. Imagine what it would be like for a young girl whose view of herself was shredded by harsh words she heard at home and then had to sing songs about the love of God she believed she would never be good enough to possess. Imagine what it is like for a young girl who sits in church with parents who refuse to meet her basic needs causing her to feel invisible and overlooked even by the God to which she prayed who didn't provide either. Imagine what it would be like for a little girl who sits in a pew, knowing she will go home with a parent who will threaten her life again and again while the other parent stands idly by. Imagine what it would be like for a young teen who is forced to sit in church, listening to sermons taught by a pastor who robbed her of her innocence. Imagine what it is like for a little girl to be shamed by parents so legalistic grace was nonexistent in the home.
When we are dealing with women who've suffered greatly, we don't offer meaningless platitudes, because those sayings may make us feel better while rubbing grains of salt into deeply wounded hearts. We also don't shame them for struggling to trust God, because their ability to trust authority figures was broken when parents tainted their view of God through their actions and their inaction, their words and their lack of words. We don't tell them to simply get over it, because to do so would inhibit them from ever developing intimacy with the Savior who so wants to have a deep, meaningful relationship with them.
When we begin working with victims, we often have them draw a picture of where God was when they were being traumatized. Those pictures often reveal how they feel about God, but are too afraid and too ashamed to say it aloud. Some draw God without ears revealing that in their heart of hearts they believe He turned a deaf ear to their cry for help. Some who have taken on the shame that belonged to a perpetrator often draw God without eyes because as much as they wanted Him to rescue them, they didn't want Him to see them in their shame. Some draw God without arms, because He didn't stop the painful events and, as children, they wondered if God was less powerful than those wounding them. We give the ladies many opportunities to express feelings, ask hard questions, share their dark thoughts about God, and the confusing emotions that come with life that doesn't seem to matching what they think the Scriptures say. We don't try to answer their hard questions because we don't really know the answers. Nor do we rush them to trust, because they first have to acknowledge and express their unbelief, their misunderstandings, and their mistrust of God before they can change. We know the enemy has done everything he can to distort the image of God and he has done everything he can to destroy the hearts of children when God was calling them to Himself.
After they've had time to express their pain and their confusion, we begin to talk about Jesus and His life here on earth. Because of their pain and confusion, many never spent time processing what it would have been like to be the Savior who Isaiah called a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. They haven't taken the time to think about Him being a Savior who left glory, taking on the limitations of a human body that experienced human physical hunger and physical pain and who walked among people, experiencing hatred and sin perpetrated against Him. They haven't taken the time to realize that He, like them, was harshly and unfairly criticized for crossing social barriers to minister to Gentiles, to women, to children, to the ill, to the poor, to those broken by sin, and to those captured by demonic spirits. Many haven't thought about Him as being a Savior that was, like them, accused of being crazy. Many have never considered how Jesus might have been emotionally impacted when He, like them, was misunderstood, lied about, mocked, and hated.
Many haven't put much thought into Jesus' time in the Garden, where He withdrew with three of His closest disciples to pray. Many didn't realize He told His friends His sorrow was so deep He felt like He could die, only to have the words fall on ears that didn't seem to comprehend what He was saying to them. They haven't contemplated the anguish He experienced that was so deep He sweat big drops tinged with blood, a feeling they experienced to some degree growing up in a home filled with rage, chaos, terror, and abuse. Many hadn't considered how alone He might have felt when He found His closest friends couldn't even stay awake to pray with Him, much like they felt when they told and no one helped. Many hadn't truly realized He, too, had experienced betrayal as a disciple lead authorities to Him. Nor, had they considered what Jesus might have felt when all of His friends deserted Him and His closest denied Him thrice. Many hadn't reflected on what it would have felt like for Jesus to bear the sin of all of mankind--each and every ugly, hurtful, and hateful sin in His body.
Even though many know in their heads Jesus was beaten and crucified, they haven't considered the impact of this truth on their lives. As we meditate together on the Story of Calvary, they begin to understand Jesus gets their pain, because He went through similar pain for them. They begin to realize the love He had drove Him to take on their sin as He bore God's wrath against it. They begin to understand He gets the feeling of being degraded because He was stripped of His clothing and hung on the cross, naked and exposed. They begin to grasp that He understands the pain of being
physically wounded through violence and the emotional pain of having others
blame them for things for which they weren't responsible. They begin to hold onto the fact that the Lord understands the
heart-wrenching grief and the sorrow of being rejected by those who were supposed to love us the most. They begin to accept that He knows what it feels like to
have those closest to them turn their backs on them when they were facing horrible pain and great fear. They begin to see He understands their feelings associated with being
oppressed and the feelings associated with suffering the pain and consequences of others' sin. They begin to trust when they realize Jesus even understands the feeling of feeling forsaken by the God who could have protected, but didn't, for He cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Over the years I, like them, have come to realize Jesus is the ultimate example of what it means to suffer well. He never lost sight of the fact He was loved by His Father even though people hated Him. He stopped believing His life had godly purpose even though others declared it didn't. He always fulfilled His God-given purpose even when others tried to stop Him. He always chose to obey His Father even when it meant He would greatly suffer. He always maintained integrity, even though others around Him lost theirs. He always lived out of His true identity as God's Son even though others claimed He was a son of Satan. He chose to put aside temporary comfort for eternal good and He chose to endure the pain of the cross for the joy set before Him.
I have also come to realize that it was His eternal perspective that allowed His suffering to reveal to us the width, the breadth, the heights, and the depths of God's great love. We are living in perilous times and Christ told us we would suffer if we followed Him. Because of this we want to remember in our suffering others may be drawn to the Savior. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, our suffering fulfills its purpose and accomplishes sanctifying work as it draws us into a deeper relationship with God who can meet our deepest needs.
Even victims who come face to face with the traumatized Savior can truly grasp that His trauma was the ultimate expression of God's love for them and that kind of love cries out for a response of deep abiding trust which allows wounded souls to find healing and deeply thirsty hearts to be satisfied by the love of God. A Savior who has suffered much understands pain. A Savior who has suffered much is a Savior deeply wounded souls can trust.
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!