Posts Tagged ‘abuse’

(image from Gaudenscor)

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples when they asked (bet they regretted that one) that they had to be prepared to forgive someone who sinned against them seventy times seven (sometimes put seventy-seven times. Not sure which is more correct, but it doesn’t really matter – it’s A LOT).

There are lots of other verses about forgiveness spattered throughout Matthew and the rest of the Bible. You get the impression that it seems to be a good idea. It brings with it the idea of reconciliation and shalom (peace and wholeness) and joy and renewal and mercy and the general topsy-turvy nature of the kingdom of God.

Wonderful. Sounds like such a good theory, doesn’t it? Forgiveness seems to bring benefit to all, even the person who has to get out there and do it. And they all live happily ever after.

Only, I’m just not sure that that is always the case. What if the pain from the hurt is constant and ongoing? What if the person doesn’t recognise that they have done anything wrong? What if they act like you and your hurt don’t exist?

It seems that the jury’s out on whether you need someone to repent before you forgive them. I’m not sure either way. Certainly, it’s not a great idea to carry round a heavy burden of pain which could be laid to rest, but without any acknowledgement from the other party, sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is anywhere safe to put it. As sinners, we need God to forgive us, but the Bible is pretty clear that in order to turn to Christ, we need to repent of all the things we have done wrong.

But then if you look back into recent African history, you soon discover that the people there are good at this. They seem to recognise the value of laying down the burden which some see as being “trapped in a prison of hatred”. (see Rwandan forgiveness article) Terrible things have happened in Rwanda, to name just one country, but people have been prepared to be able to move on. So challenging for us.

Forgiveness hurts. It isn’t easy. It isn’t glamourous. It isn’t fun. And you might never gain recognition for it, because the person who sinned against you may never admit it either to you or to anyone else. They may never demonstrate any sort of remorse. Are you prepared to forgive, even without repentance?

Somehow the cross has to be central. Our burden of hurt is something we can lay down at the foot of the cross, knowing that our sins and those of the other can be met and dealt with there. Jesus died for me and also for the person who abused me. He died for me and those who have rejected me. He died for me, just as he died for everyone.

Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. And it never should. Forgiveness is just that. It means giving up our resentment against someone. It means we don’t harbour a grievance against them.

I think that the seventy times seven reflects the difficulty of this challenge. We have the choice as we wake up each day, as to whether we will forgive so-and-so or not. Seventy times seven. Surely, that’s the number of times we have to forgive each offence, seventy times seven different ones? (Though in some cases, maybe it is more than just one wrong.) It requires continual effort and grace.

It might be painful. It might feel (and quite frankly often does) totally crap. But it is somehow necessary. And the God who does not remain silent, the God who forgives us our sin, and who sent his Spirit upon us is there throughout, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Am I there yet? No. Do I want to be there? Maybe. On a good day. But I do have to keep on trusting in the goodness of God, in and through everything.

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The other day I went to a different church for a change. Also, partly because I didn’t get out of bed early enough to go the other one. Anyway, I went somewhere different.

It seemed a fairly normal service. Then the sermon started. And things got a little messy. Somehow, the preacher managed to link what he was saying to contemporary culture via the link of Jimmy Saville. As far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty bad news.

Yes, the news about Jimmy Saville broke a while ago. And yes, the abuse that happened to me was years and years ago. And through many a counselling session and many a good chat with a friend, it has been dealt with. With a few wounds along the way.

But I used to spend hours with my brother watching Jim’ll Fix It. We loved it. Jim even wrote a letter of support to my school choir once upon a time. He was a charismatic figure we all loved.

And he came crashing down from his pedestal when the news broke last year – I don’t even remember when. But then it was like someone turning the knife in the wound as day after day, I woke up to hear the headlines reporting even more allegations about him. Newspapers splashed his picture all over their front pages. He was everywhere. Truly, it was horrible.

Yes, what he did was completely wrong and he should have been brought to justice, a LONG time ago. But surely now that’s old news? The media got it very wrong, by making it be so present each day. And Fragmentz wrote a fantastic blog entry about it at the time and about being a survivor. Fragmentz – Some thoughts on being a survivor and Jimmy Saville

So when the preacher mentioned Jimmy Saville, I was angry. I didn’t need to go there again. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one there to have found it hard.

But then it got worse. Society can condemn Jimmy Saville because they consider what he did to have been morally wrong. But it considers sex outside of marriage as ok when it is between two consenting adults; something which the Bible tells us is wrong. Yes, I can see that point of view, in fact, I do believe that any sex outside marriage is not part of God’s plan for us. Yes, just because there are two consenting adults it doesn’t make it right.

However, by this time, something inside me was screaming You can’t liken sex outside of marriage to child abuse and paedophilia!!! I’m not even sure I heard the rest of what the guy said, as I was so angry. Abuse is morally wrong, and it has to remain separate from other sexual sins, simply because it is that. That doesn’t mean it cannot be forgiven, but it seemed to me like comparing the stealing of a penny sweet to murder.

After the service, I calmed down a bit. Spotting the preacher by the door, I decided to talk to him about what he said, and tell him that it had been totally unreasonable. That abuse affects something like 1 in 5 people (maybe even more) and that what he said would have been very difficult for many people to hear.

As I talked to him though, it turned out that he had no intention whatsoever of likening sex outside of marriage to child abuse. He hadn’t quite thought through what he had said enough to make the link – it had been a total accident. He accepted my criticism, said he would write it down for the future. And Jimmy Saville had also been one of his childhood heroes.

Instead of me seething throughout the rest of the day, and possibly descending into a place which I might have regretted, I felt alive. I had a life-giving conversation with someone who treated me as a valid conversation partner. And I’m hoping it made a difference for the future.

And whatever, it was another battle won for me. Another time when I didn’t descend into the dark and lonely place from where it seems impossible to escape. And I only hope that when someone gives me friendly criticism, I will be as ready to listen.

“If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” Matt 18:15

Preachers – just don’t go there with Jimmy Saville. It’s not cool, nor is it helpful. And please, read through what you have written before you proclaim it to a congregation…just in case. These things do happen.

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Today I shared my testimony with a fairly large group of friends. For the first time in a big group setting, it was unedited, uncut and unabridged. What really happened. Even the bits that are really quite embarrassing or simply just painful.

I felt as if I was laying myself bare. I’m quite happy to share my testimony normally, unless I don’t want to make myself too vulnerable with someone (mostly a pride issue with people I don’t like or don’t trust), but I haven’t really had the courage to share the story of abuse with many people.

Someone warned me afterwards to make sure I didn’t always share to that depth as it could leave me very vulnerable. But then it had been my decision to share what I did, and I don’t think I regret it.

Somehow I want to be able to be vulnerable to people, but work out how to do it without being hurt in the process. Being as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves is coming to mind, in the words of Jesus to his disciples. Something to think about, anyway.

Well. Forgiveness. It’s a big one isn’t it? Somehow, it is something that always sounds really, really simple and easy. For those little things. But then something big comes along and you realise that you have to forgive there too.

And sometimes, you see people on the news, or on a TV programme (I remember they showed us one like that in R.S. at school) where there are people who have had terrible things happening to their families, and yet they have forgiven those who did it.

But as for me, I’m still angry sometimes. Sometimes I need to be reminded that it’s not about the big, public gestures but the everyday things. The choices I make and the attitudes I take. Do I remember each and every day that I have forgiven, so I will not carry that particular load any more. Somehow I doubt it.

For me, I have to keep forgiving something massive – the abuse from when I was smaller. But also the neglect from those who should have realised that there was something wrong. Somehow, that seems harder – I mean, surely it was at least noticeable that things weren’t right? That I wasn’t eating. That I was alone always. That I completely stopped talking.

What will it take to completely let go of all of this? I don’t know.

But one thing I do know, is that I have been forgiven much as well. Maybe not as much as a child molester, but let’s face it, I can’t stand right before God by myself. I am a sinner, but I have been made clean. And I think that is where I have to start.

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A lament

Posted: March 11, 2012 in Misconceptions
Tags: , , , , , ,

 1 I am one who has seen affliction
   by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
6 He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

 7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
   he has weighed me down with chains.
8 Even when I call out or cry for help,
   he shuts out my prayer.
9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
   he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.

 13 He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
and sated me with gall.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for people to bear the yoke
while they are young.

28 Let them sit alone in silence,
for the LORD has laid it on them.
29 Let them bury their faces in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let them offer their cheeks to one who would strike them,
and let them be filled with disgrace.

31 For people are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
   or grief to any human being.

34 To crush underfoot
all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights
before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice—
would not the Lord see such things?

Lamentations 3

A few weeks ago, I heard this passage read in a sermon and I found it really difficult. Somehow the idea of God causing suffering didn’t really appeal to me. I know it says later on that the Lord does not willingly bring affliction on to anyone, but that seems to be contradicted earlier on. Life in exile was bad for the Israelites. People were killed and raped and starved and kept as captives… but God brought this on them? What sort of God would that be?

Yes, I know they had sinned. But what sin is bad enough to cause that sort of punishment? As someone who has been abused, I would not wish it on anyone.

And then at that moment, life just seemed to be very unfair. I mean, why me? What had I done? I was a child when it had happened. Maybe I hadn’t always behaved myself like I ought to have done, but this?

So I had a chat with someone wise who pointed out the difference between sinning and being sinned against. So, my abuse was a result of sin. But not mine.

And somehow, that changes everything. I can understand that that is not God’s desire. At all. In fact, He must have been having a pretty bad and sad day when it happened too. But He did not cause it to be.

And He knows that it hurts. But it doesn’t have to any more.