“The adults were so into talking they had no idea what the kids were doing,” Rachel said, pausing to take a sip of her coffee before continuing. “That’s when it would happen.”
“What would happen?” Sara asked.
“When he would pull me into the bathroom and touch me,” Rachel said while turning her head away from Sara. Her eyes glazed over, clearly remembering what happened behind those closed doors.
“That’s why I hate Christmas,” Rachel continued, searing her eyes upon Sara with great intensity. “Every year it’s like I have to relive the same nightmare with the same people who failed to protect me. Why in the world would I ever call that ‘merry’?!“
As an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you might find yourself identifying with Rachel’s fury and holiday disgust.
Our Christmas celebration–from a Christian perspective–involves focusing on the birth of Christ Jesus. Without His birth, none of us may claim hope, joy, and peace because sin ravages our soul without His birth, death, and resurrection.
Again, I am not a counselor. All the same, I’ve struggled every holiday to allow my heart to be tender.
Practicing vulnerability and allowing others access to my heart during the holidays felt as stupid and dangerous as putting toothpick in my eyeball. I would never do that.
Self-protective sin alienates our soul from connecting with the Spirit of God. Yes, it may make us feel safe, but is it really safety? No, it’s distrust in our Savior.
Just like pursuing joy through pain, we need to begin this holiday season with fervent prayer.
Beg Him for graciousness on your behalf while trying to figure out how to proceed into the holidays without sinning or without getting sucked into unhealthy patterns.
Check out Psalm 57:
Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
2 I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
3 He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me. Selah.
God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.
Think it through.
Do you really need to go? Consider the length of your stay; must you stay the entire time like you have in the past? What kinds of interactions with others trigger you to explode? Have an anxiety attack? Withdraw in silence? Will it be safe for you and/or for your family?
Maybe these questions seem a bit forward, but thinking through them beforehand prove life-giving.
Psalm 57 continues:
4 My soul is among lions;
I must lie among those who breathe forth fire,
Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows
And their tongue a sharp sword.
Unfortunately, far too many of us can identify with David’s sentiment.
Make a plan.
Just thinking through the scenarios won’t cut it when you’re in the moment. When you’re at the table and that same family member places his hand on your thigh–just like you knew he would–what are you going to do? What will you say? Under what circumstances will you choose to leave?
What about when the conversation steers into the sexually vulgar?
If your normal response is an awkward chuckle, consider keeping a solemn facial expression and then walking away without a word.
Feeling more bold? Think about responding with a short, loving rebuke, “I’m not sure that joke honors the spirit behind Christmas,” and then walk away without saying another word.
Observe ways to love.
Yes, thinking about loving in the midst of pain sounds absolutely dreadful. That is–in our own strength.
If we attempt to love in our own strength, we will feel the burden of the command. In contrast, if we love with the love God supplies while abiding in His love and in His word, then loving our brother–though trying upon our carnal flesh as it may be–will not prove burdensome.
Beginning to love with Christ’s love–especially in the context of family and past abuse–takes prayer, more prayer, time, and practice.
You won’t get it perfect every time.
And, sometimes you will foul up badly.
All I know is that when we feel the burden of loving a brother, it merits well to pause, reflect, and redirect our energies upon resting, persisting, and adhering to Christ’s love.
Where does one start?
Continuing in prayer, ask the Lord before, during, and after the celebration event to highlight His fingerprints on the situation. Give thanks for any strength you were able to exhibit.
Openly praise Him for clear thought, for quick word responses when normally you stumble, and for opportunity to be kind, loving, and gentle beyond your ability.
He is always praiseworthy.
Occasionally, we need a little encouragement to see it.
Psalm 57 finishes with a praise:
9 I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to You among the nations.
Lord, as each one of us enters this challenging time of strained relationships and dark memories that stir up powerful emotions, I plead upon Your love and grace that we might grow this holiday season.
Abba Father, help us to feel the safety and security of walking in Your Spirit as we grow into a stronger disciple. Keep us and our families safe. Guide and direct our steps. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
What’s your next step?
When will you set time aside to think through your holiday gatherings? Who might you safely process this with? What’s your game plan? Will you need to have an emergency exit? Until the festivities begin, spend time relishing in the protective nature and character of the Lord.