I’ve never been the victim of sexual abuse.
But I know plenty of women who have. Women who I love. Women who have cried beside me in the dark, gripped my hands hard sharing stories from the past, and whose souls wear scars they were never meant to wear.
When I saw the headlines about the recent sexual abuse report, like you, my heart revolted and sank all at the same time. Like you, the narrative running through my head went something like: This should not be. Not now, not ever, especially not in the church.
Yet here we are. In a place none of us in the church ever wanted to be.
How are we supposed to respond? What are we supposed to say not only to a watching world but to women we love who have been deeply wounded and hurt?
To a watching world, we say, “I’m sorry. We are sorry. The church was never meant to act this way. Please don’t let the actions of deeply flawed and fallen human beings define who you think Jesus is, what He does, how He treats women, or what He tolerates. The church needs healing, restoration, and redemption, beginning with me, and we want to learn to act in a manner worthy of Jesus and treat women as the image bearers of the living God they were created to be.”
To women who are hurting, we say, “I’m sorry,” as well. “We are deeply sorry for your pain, pain that no woman should ever have to bear. And as the church, we want to become a safe place for women to heal and flourish as the people God created them to be.”
In the midst of all the sorrow and pain, can I humbly offer you these words of hope as well? Although I have friends who have been deeply hurt by sexual abuse, they have not allowed themselves to be defined by it.
Let me say it again a different way: while I know women who have been sexually abused, their abuse does not define them, own them, or identify them in any way.
My friends remind me of the young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego we read about in Daniel 3:26-27 who were thrown into a burning fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to an idol yet whose lives were spared: “Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.”
Sexual abuse is like walking through fire. It scorches and singes the soul. And many of its victims carry the scent of smoke on them their entire lives.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
And I say that with as much tenderness, empathy, and compassion as I can. I cannot imagine walking through the soul-searing pain of sexual abuse; but the women I know who have and have allowed Jesus to walk with them as the fourth person in the fire have emerged without even smelling of the scent of smoke.
Was the journey of healing hard? Yes. Did it take a great deal of remembering, confronting, speaking, saying, telling the story to empathetic listeners, and then having the courage to hear it through a totally different lens? Absolutely. Healing did not come overnight or with the wave of a wand. But it came. And these women are some of my heroes of the faith. They are some of the bravest, most confident, beautiful, bold women I know – women who took Jesus at His Word and allowed His presence to be greater than the presence of any perpetrator from the past.
So I want to offer this hope to you today in light of such devastating news: if you have been through the fire of sexual abuse, it doesn’t have to define you, and its scent doesn’t have to linger on your life.
And really, that’s my challenge to us as the church today as well. Our challenge is not to stop short at the #MeToo movement. Although helping and encouraging victims of sexual abuse to remember, identify, speak out, and voice their pain is important and essential, actually, to any movement forward, we can’t stop at saying #MeToo. We must go one step further and say #WithYou.
“With You. I’m with You, Jesus, in the fire, allowing You to heal my wounds, heal our church, and heal our hearts. I’m with You and will trust Your love to help me remember my past, restore my present, and rebuild my future. I’m with You, wherever You want to go.”
And that’s because with Jesus is where the healing is.
With Jesus is where the scent of smoke is lifted.
With Jesus is where the scorching heat and shame from the fire is cooled.
With Jesus is where the wounds we hide become scars that speak and testify to the unfailing mercy and grace of a good God did not withhold the fire from His very own Son but “gave Him up for us all as a ransom for many.”
As we walk with Jesus, He takes all of the trauma, pain, and shame we bear and carries it Himself so that we don’t have to anymore.
Sexual abuse may have happened to you, but it doesn’t have to define you. Only Jesus defines you, and His healing is total and complete, creating confidence, joy, boldness, and courage, every single time.
As the church, we must learn to turn the lights on and face the ugly sin of sexual abuse that exists in more places and more people than we would care to admit. We must learn how to be empathetic listeners who heal with our posture and our words instead of wound.
And we must learn to let Jesus be enough for us as well. We must let Him dig deep into each one of our personal stories and pain, remember our past, and allow Him through His word and His presence to restore our souls and rebuild our lives, our families, our churches according to His definition of what the Kingdom of God is and should be.
May His prayer in this process become our own: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven….And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-10, 13).
For Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. May our lives as your church reflect that reality well in a broken, hurting world. Amen.
To start your own journey of healing, consider reading my story and my daughter’s story in Restore: Remembering Life’s Hurts with the God Who Rebuilds, and then working out the details of your own story in the companion Bible study and workbook. Summer is a great season to breathe deeply, reset, and let your journey of restoration begin!