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River in Valley (c) Lynda Bernhardt

+++++ religious triggers +++++

One question that many abuse survivors wrestle with is where God was when the abuse was happening. Considering that God might have been the only entity aware that the abuse was happening, and assuming that He had the power to stop the abuse, then why didn’t He?

A reader left a comment with these kinds of questions on my post, Christmas After Child Abuse: O Holy Night. Her comment prompted me to write about this topic.

Like most abuse survivors who have held onto some sort of faith, I wrestled with this question for years. I had already been through another challenge in my life without leaning on God (when my father passed away), and I had been through the challenge of infertility while leaning on God, so I knew that having a faith to lean upon made things easier. However, as I faced flashbacks of horrendous abuse, I repeatedly questioned where God was during all of this.

I have learned that the best way to get answers from God is to take my questions directly to Him. I do not need a middle-man like a pastor to give me the answers: I can get my answers directly from God.

One of my answers was that God never promised us a life free from abuse. In fact, Jesus was very clear that life would be difficult:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

It is right there in black and white in the Bible: “In this world you will have trouble.”

Many Christians like to believe that they will be spared pain if they do the right things and lead a “good Christian life,” but that simply is not biblical. Jesus was crucified, and most of his disciples were martyred. So, there must be a purpose to our lives that runs much larger and deeper than being spared from pain.

Also, Jesus’ first job description was as the binder of broken hearts in Luke 4:

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

He was quoting Isaiah 61:1, which says:

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

So, I believe that God’s role is not to prevent tragedy from occurring but to bind up, or heal, broken hearts. In our anger, we child abuse survivors sometimes lash out at God and blame Him for our abuse when He was not the one who abused us. I believe that He sobbed as He saw how our abusers chose to use their free will and grieved ever creating mankind.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Pink Flowers (c) Lynda Bernhardt

++ religious triggers ++

The Good Shepherd was tending His flock. In the middle of the night, bandits came and kidnapped one little lamb. They wrapped barbed wire all around his little body and stuck sharp objects all over him, then left him for dead. When the Shepherd woke up the next morning, He noticed immediately that His little lamb was missing and searched high and low for him.

As He looked out over the horizon, he saw his wounded little lamb ambling toward Him, pain evident in his every step. The Shepherd began to cry as He saw what these evil men had done to His beloved lamb. The Shepherd ran to the lamb, but the lamb was frightened of Him and wouldn’t let the Shepherd touch him. Even if the Shepherd had forced the matter, removing all of the shrapnel at once could throw the lamb’s little body into shock and kill him. So, the Shepherd respected the lamb’s wishes, walking silently beside him as he wiped away tear after tear.

The lamb slept for days and, when he awakened, it was like it had all been a bad dream. But when he got up to play with the other lambs, his footing wasn’t as strong, and his stamina couldn’t match the others. He believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with him and tried hard to compensate for his flaws. Meanwhile, the Shepherd watched, his heart breaking for his wounded little lamb.

Time passed, and the lamb’s wool grew, covering the shrapnel. From the outside, the wounded lamb looked no different than the others. But everything was harder for him because the barbed wire and sharp objects continued to cause him pain. But this is all he remembered of his life now, so he didn’t even know that the pain wasn’t normal.

The wounded lamb continued to berate himself, hating himself for not being like the other lambs. So he worked harder so that he could keep up. The other lambs never realized how taxing it was for the wounded lamb to play and graze with them. But the Shepherd knew. While the Shepherd loved all of His lambs, there was a special place in His heart for this little one who had endured so much and still fought to be like the others.

Gradually, the wounded lamb started to trust the Shepherd. And as he did, sometimes he would even let the Shepherd carry him when the pain became too great. All the wounded lamb saw was that he was too weak to keep up with the other lambs. All the Shepherd saw was that this precious little lamb stayed close to His heart.

Shearing season came, and the fleece that covered the shrapnel was removed. The wounded lamb saw his reflection in the pond and began to cry hysterically. How could he be so ugly? How could he be so wounded? All of the other lambs were beautiful, even without their fleece. The wounded lamb hated himself even more.

The Shepherd held the wounded lamb close and removed a piece of shrapnel. The lamb cried out in pain. As the Shepherd held the lamb close to His heart while rubbing salve into the wound, the lamb started to feel better. As this first wound healed, the Shepherd held the lamb again and removed another piece of shrapnel. Again the lamb felt intense pain followed by relief.

Over the next few months, the Shepherd continued to remove the shrapnel, always holding His little lamb close to His heart. The lamb thought it was so unfair that the other lambs didn’t have to endure this pain. But the Shepherd knew that this little lamb was receiving a precious gift that the other lambs never chose to have — special one-on-one time with the Shepherd. The wounded lamb’s pain drove him into the Shepherd’s arms again and again. The healthy lambs didn’t need this comfort . . . or at least that is what they thought.

Eventually, all of the shrapnel was removed, and the once-wounded lamb’s fleece grew and covered the wounds. He felt more “normal” than he had in a long time. He no longer had to work so hard to keep up with the others.

When sheering time came around again, the once-wounded lamb went to see his reflection in the pond. This time, instead of being shocked by shrapnel, he was saddened by the scars. He looked nothing like the other lambs. He lamented that he would never be like the others — that even after healing, he was, and always would be, different.

The Shepherd heard him crying and came to see what was the matter. He held His little lamb close and dried his tears. Then, He said, “No, you aren’t like the other lambs. You are different but in a wonderful way. You are a survivor. You endured trauma that these other lambs couldn’t even imagine, and you are the stronger for it. Unlike you, those lambs don’t know that they cannot be broken. They don’t know how great it feels to be healed because they were never wounded like you were. They don’t know what it is like to work harder because they have never had to. And they don’t know what it’s like to seek the comfort of my arms, and be held right here next to my heart, because they never needed me in the way that you did.

“I think you are the most beautiful lamb in my flock. Every scar on your body tells a story — the story of hope and faith and renewal. It tells the story of how broken a lamb can be and the level of healing that I can provide. Your scars provide hope to the next lamb who is hurt — that you were wounded but that you survived. They show that you are no longer in pain.

“You are so precious to me. Your scars make you even more precious. You have a special place in my heart because of who you are.”

The once-wounded lamb grew up into a sheep who provided so much inspiration to the entire flock. He knew from experience that he could never be broken and that the Shepherd was always there, waiting to love him and hold him close to His heart. His scars remained a testament to the power of healing and the resiliency of the spirit.

I tend to view myself as the lamb, but God views me like the Shepherd. I see the ugliness — He sees the beauty. From God’s point of view, I am a precious little lamb He wants to hold close to His heart until all of my wounds are scars.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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