…Continued from Part 3…
WHAT ABOUT FORGIVENESS?
Ah… forgiveness. The Christian F-word, and used almost as ruthlessly, sometimes even more so, than the F-bomb. The message it sends in the way it is often used, is not unlike flipping the birdie.
The thing is that, the F-bomb’s dreadful misrepresentation of what sex is intended to be — an expression of intimate love, not a weapon — makes intimate sexual love no less wonderful. It remains a deeply bonding act of love and intimacy. And that, in spite of it being used as a weapon by abusers.
The same is true about the way forgiveness is used and abused. It is a dreadful misrepresentation of what God intended to be one of the most freeing choices we can make. Forgiveness, when chosen by the victim without coercion, forced silence, or other religious manipulations — like the famous “you’ll go to hell if you don’t” — remains one of the most critical and beautiful steps in the victim’s healing journey.
I am asked why I don’t talk about it more in the public domain. The answer is quite simple. Because of further abuse imposed on many trauma survivors through false teaching on forgiveness, it is a topic best addressed in relationship when it comes to the intertwining with sexual abuse and victims’ healing. (This is also true of domestic violence and some other abuses of which I have less understanding). It is complex to address it in a way that is meaningful to them, so that their spirits do not shut down due to triggers and past trauma.
Sitting face to face, and speaking heart to heart creates space for interaction, exploring, inviting dialogue so that they can discover the beauty of forgiveness in safe relationship. To do it any other way is much like trying to convince a rape victim that sex is a beautiful and wonderful thing. It can’t be imposed on them. Through safety of relationship many rape victims discover safety with a spouse, and learn to love sexual intimacy. They may have ongoing flashbacks or nightmares and triggers, but in the safety of that relationship they are free to weep, to struggle and to find deeper emotional intimacy with their spouse in the process of the struggle. I speak from experience. The emotional trauma of the past was very present at various times in our marriage, and it wasn’t unheard of for me to weep in my husband’s arms after intimacy. And it was ok. It was part of the healing for him to hold me, knowing I love him deeply while reconciling past trauma to a similar act.
When we walk victims through to a place of being able to extend forgiveness, that same gentleness, that same compassion and tenderness is necessary. To avoid sexual intimacy in our marriage would have served no good purpose. To have it forced upon me would have destroyed me. To avoid the discussion of forgiveness also serves no good purpose, but forcing it on the victim for whom it has been weaponized is deadly. Inviting victims into forgiveness is a delicate and relational process. And the trust to get there in a meaningful way requires deep listening, assuring them that what was done is wrong, and that we are willing to walk gently and patiently with them.
Forgiveness is not what most of us have been taught. It is not a commitment to silence. The Bible is full of bad stories we should know nothing about if it meant silence.
Forgiveness is not a commitment to reestablishing a relationship with the offender. Some victims choose relationship, and sometimes it is healthy. But forgiveness without reestablishing relationship is possible, and sometimes the healthiest option for the wellbeing of a traumatized person.
Forgiveness is not a promise to avoid reporting crimes to the law, or keep the offender out of prison. If a victim reports to the law, in most cases — in fact, all but one that I have been involved in — it is to prevent further victimization. I’ve heard one victim say they’re doing it to get back for the pain inflicted on them. That, in my experience with victims, is the exception. The thought of more children being victimized is overwhelming to victims, and is often the thing that drives them to report, knowing they will likely go through hell all over again, in the legal process.
Forgiveness is not saying “It’s okay”, and it certainly is not a commitment to giving a ‘second chance’ that puts others in danger. And it is not overlooking the wrongs committed. It does extend grace for the soul of the abuser to be redeemed, and even wishes that redemption for them.
Forgiveness is not a one-time choice. It is a struggle. It is choosing, day after day, with every nightmare, flashback and trigger, to say, “I forgive.” It is being honest about the depth of suffering the wrong has brought, without hating the person who wronged us. It is about acknowledging truth, and the severity of the violation.
Forgiveness is saying, “I refuse to be in bondage to the offender.” It is saying, “I release him/her from my retribution and I will see no revenge.” And that is something you can do even while sitting with a law enforcement officer to report. Because reporting to the law and doing what you can to stop the violence against the vulnerable is the right and responsible thing to do. It is not at odds with forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a beautiful thing in the life of the victim. So beautiful that it should not be thrown around carelessly in such a way that it only serves to further traumatize them and increase the struggle. Through relational exchange is the best way to invite survivors into a journey of forgiveness and a place of freedom.
Leaving anyone stuck in a place of bitterness is cruel. And, sometimes, throwing teachings like forgiveness at victims without relationship or without understanding of victimization — or even forgetting out own journey and struggle to get there — does exactly that. It serves to lock them in more deeply than before because they have not yet had their pain acknowledged and have not had opportunity to grieve.
That, my friends, is why a careless command to forgive, or a thoughtless criticism of victims who we perceive have not forgiven, is never welcome in my space.
My goal is always to move victims toward healing. Jesus confronted arrogant religious folks boldly. He never did so with the brokenhearted. And until we have tended to their broken hearts, we have no business preaching at them.
Continued… (PART 5)
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger 2019
ANONYMOUS SEXUAL ABUSE SURVEY BY ANABAPTIST MEDICAL DOCTOR
Some time ago, a friend told me of a medical doctor (Anabaptist) who is doing research into sexual abuse in Anabaptist communities. To take his survey visit:
Anabaptist Medical Matters
JASON GRAY CONCERT:
NOVEMBER 2, 2019
Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster PA
CONCERT TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC: Here
NOTE: Due to the concert being the celebration for survivors of abuse,
we ask that any who have sexually abused as adults not attend out of respect
November 2, 2019: THE GATHERING, held at Lancaster Bible College, is a place where survivors of sexual assault, together with our support person(s), collectively invite God into our grief. It is exclusively for Anabaptist survivors of sexual abuse and trusted support persons to gather for a day of acknowledging the generations of suffering and sexual violence among us. We will cry out to God, together. Come as you are in your raw brokenness, if that’s where you’re at, or in your healed togetherness. We welcome you! The itinerary is simple. It isn’t about ‘who’ or ‘how’; it is about Jesus and a safe place to meet, to grieve and heal another layer, together.
NOTE: Anyone over 18 who sexually assaulted someone – whether child or other adult – is not welcome. This does not mean they are not forgiven if they have repented. It means victims should not fear being confronted with the source of their trauma on such a vulnerable day. Security guards will be present to remove any who show up and are identified as offenders by the victims.
Until August 1, 2019, registration for the day’s events includes lunch and attendance to the evening concert with Jason Gray, whose music had brought hope and healing to countless victims. Songs like “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In“, “A Way to See in the Dark“, Sparrows“, “Nothing is Wasted“, and many more speak a language we understand.
NOTE: After August 1 concert is included dependant on availability. Once concert tickets are sold out, registrations will continue until October 1 and include lunch only.
If you are able to contribute to Generations Unleashed and our work with and for victims, you may donate via PayPal or e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit Generations Unleashed Donate.