“I know you’re never going to believe this, but that was the best pap smear I’ve ever had!”
I know, right?! Who on God’s green earth actually says that?
*** Let the reader beware. Before you read any further, I want you to know I’m not going to elaborate on details of the exam. Having said that, I will share honestly about the emotional experiences of gynecologic exams.***
So back to the story.
While waiting in the office for my annual appointment, I noticed that the practice was switching to another, larger medical group.
When it was my time to go back, I asked the simple and obvious question. “Why did you go with this other group instead of the one with which this building is affiliated?”
“We felt this new group focuses more on women’s overall health and takes more initiatives in women’s health,” my doctor replied.
The wheels started spinning: Great idea. Women’s health. More initiatives.
Without thinking, a question slipped out of my mouth.
“Speaking of women’s health, in what ways does this practice make accommodations for women who’ve been sexually abused?”
The question mark was still hanging in the air, and I thought, “my word, Krista, what has gotten into you?!”
The next thirty minutes dialogue carried on about women’s health, the need for annual exams, and the anxiety the needed exam can cause for an abuse survivor.
I don’t know about you, but I vividly remember my first exam.
My male doctor, following protocol, had a female aide in the room, had me get get ready, and then attempted to carry on casual conversation while preforming the examination.
The failing mustard color of the room still lingers in my mind as I recall my entire body clenching, my heart racing, my breath moving shallow and quick, my vision tunneling with darkness.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to say stop. I wanted to run and never ever stop or go back to that place again.
It wasn’t the stirrups that I wanted to run from.
No, it was that dark bedroom, that small bathroom, that corner in the basement when my perpetrator violated me. Those memories were guilty of tormenting me during the examination.
During the recent conversation with my doctor, I mentioned, with curiosity, a sudden thought that dawned on me.
How many women who have been sexually abused fail to get an annual exam as a result of their abuse?
Don’t get me wrong. I know no one enjoys those exams. Your everything is exposed. And it’s no one’s cup of tea.
For the abuse survivor, though, it’s more than the annoyance of being exposed during examination. It’s the awakening of the deep and dark trauma that we’ve put to sleep in order to keep going about our day-to-day.
In similar fashion, spiritual examination of the deep recesses of the soul tend to trigger comparable physical and emotional responses within the survivor.
I know I’ve said this before; I am not a professional counselor. Yet, from my experience in my own healing and from my coming alongside others in their healing, I have witnessed, first hand, the same look of fright upon a woman’s face when asked to share and go deep spiritually.
Exploring the extent of our spirituality exposes the very depths of who we are and lays bear the realities of who we believe God to be.
The truth is, He has already searched the depths of our being, and He has known us (Psalm 139:1). Even still, uncovering our hearts to the very Maker of them feels just like climbing up into those stirrups, at times.
So, as I discussed annual exams with my doctor, a joyous hope stirred within me.
Maybe by speaking up, another woman may not have a panic attack every year for her exam.
Maybe by speaking up, doctors all over will start to make changes and invite those who’ve been abused to come in–maybe for the first time–to get a check-up.
The reality is many gynecologists aren’t trained, educated, or informed about the lasting effects of sexual abuse, even though one in four of their patients carry this millstone into the exam room.
Likewise, many Christian communities aren’t trained, educated, or informed about the taunting and encumbering effects their fellow sisters of faith bring with them during their time of fellowship and worship.
Thinking more about a spiritual examination with the Great Physician, a joyous hope stirred within me.
Maybe by speaking up within the church, church leaders and communities will begin educating themselves and equipping their body of believers to learn how to come alongside and minister to their very own, who suffer in silence.
Maybe by speaking up within the church, women will learn to find the safe and the trustworthy to help them make that appointment with the Great Physician for their spiritual examination.
So, yeah. I told one of my dear friends about how it was the best exam ever. I meant every single bit of it.
What’s your next step?
How about that annual exam? Is it time to pick up the phone? Consider sharing with your physician any anxiety you may experience in the exam room. If you have a good physician, your doctor will want to find ways to accommodate your fears and lessen your anxiety.
As for the Lord, the Great Physician, He’s ready and waiting for you to pick up the phone, too. He’s waiting for your call.