One might imagine the emotional burden and shame associated with childhood sexual assault. Adding to it is the sometimes sterile behavior within the body of Christ, creating an even deeper, longer-to-heal wound.
By sterility, I mean, a unity that is barren, unproductive.
Jesus talks about loving one another; confessing our sins one to another; and sharing the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even the ends of the earth. Believing that all desire this, I expected the church body to be filled with compassionate, tender, sensitive, and gospel-centered believers eager to point me and others to Jesus for healing, restoration.
Instead, as an adult, I found militant guardians of lilac-scented Bible studies, where no one mentioned any substantial struggle for fear of ‘stinking up the ambiance’; or I found lame, debilitated responses—“I never would have thought you had been abused. You seem so normal.”
And you know? I’m guilty, too. I know I have participated on both fronts of sterility in achieving oneness within the body of Christ.
Thankfully, God has taught me much through those heartaches, and He has created a rather small community with whom I can bare all and know I am still loved, no matter how dark or dirty. And thankfully, God is reteaching me how to be welcoming to others as they reach out to me.
So it is with great conviction I share the following active ways you or your community can express love to those who have endured the unspeakable. It’s not an exhaustive list, and I am, by no means, a professional counselor. Again, this is straight from my healing journey, and I share it with hope that it promotes healing, not further silence.
- Listen, as you pray that the Spirit would guide the ears of your heart.
Active listening requires a fully engaged mind, heart, and spirit. When a girlfriend opens her heart to share the deep wound of the past, recognize that you are standing on holy ground. For real. Unless you, yourself have suffered a deep trauma of some kind, you may overlook the courage necessary to speak.
Invite the Holy Spirit to open the ears of your heart so that you may hear her and Him, as He guides you in your listening, speaking, or silence. Allow Him to be your barometer, not your fears.
- If nitty-gritty details surface, don’t flinch.
Depending where your girlfriend may be in the healing journey, there may be a need to share some of the details. The brutality, perversion, and sheer evil some have suffered haunts even the strongest of believers. Yet, our Savior, who dwells within each of us, bore even these sins upon Himself at the cross.
Allow your heart to ache, to grieve with your girlfriend, but ask the Lord to strengthen your countenance not to flinch. I have often evaluated a flinch to solidify the lies with which the enemy assaults me: “See, no one wants to hear about your problems; you should have kept this to yourself.”
- Ask gentle questions.
Ones that draw out the reason or need to share. This may not require asking about the nitty-gritty details.
Some questions that have assisted me over the years look like this:
- How long did you carry this burden alone?
- In what ways have you seen the abuse impact your relationships? Your faith? Your daily life?
- How do you know when it’s safe to share with others about the abuse?
- Where have you seen God or His hand prints throughout your healing journey?
- Assure God’s love for them.
Again, depending on where your girlfriend is in the healing journey, she may not have a solid belief in the nurturing and tender love of God. Direct her to the truth of who God is through the Word. There’s no need to bust out the Bible and spend an hour Bible-swording on the matter. Instead, gently recount those verses of God’s love, evidenced through the person of Jesus, and why they have been important to you and your faith. Share that part of your journey.
- Assure Your love for them.
You may have known this person for years and just learn this chapter of her life. Maybe this is a new relationship. She’s terrified what she has just shared will freak you out to the point of no return. Affirm what it is that you like or enjoy about her.
- Pray with her.
Depending on time and location, it may not be feasible to pray together on the spot. If it is, jump on the opportunity, and pray love, joy, peace and healing for her heart. If not, agree to pray for her and, then, do it.
Great spiritual battles take place around those who choose to speak up, to trust Jesus for healing, and to rely upon the body of Christ for support. She has just entered a great battle by speaking. Protect her in prayer.
- Follow up.
Don’t freak out. You don’t have to create a weekly appointment, unless you want to and your schedule permits it.
Following up with a card, letter, Facebook Private Message, text message, postcard, or a telephone call. Ask the Lord for direction with this. He’s creative beyond measure. Maybe it’s following up by watching her children while she seeks out professional counseling or through a meatloaf meal or some other form of service.
- Ask Permission Before Sharing
Just because she shared her story with you does not mean that she’s okay with you sharing her story with others. It is, after all, her story. Like I said before, what she shared with you is sacred. Regard it as such when talking with others.
As Christians, if we’re honest, active love like this ought to be present in all of our conversational encounters, should they not?
While we’re talking honesty, how do you measure up? Where do you struggle in showing active love? Is there healing that still needs to take place within your heart, enabling you to love actively on those around you?
What’s your next step?
Keep your eyes open this week. My guess is that the Lord will give you opportunity to practice, as will I.