People have said to me, why is sexual abuse such a big deal? My immediate reaction is to wonder if the person asking that question has been abused. For how could a healthy parent envision their trusting five-year-old son or daughter being touched and sexually aroused for the pleasure and exploitation of an adult and not wonder about its impact? It takes just a moment for innocence and childhood to be lost forever, and a lifetime is spent unveiling the heart from self-protective walls. Children of abuse will never relax in their mother’s arms the same way they did before the violation, nor will they rest with the same abandon in their spouse’s embrace. The damage to the soul will eventually erupt into external realities. “The incident of shame, depression, and dissociation have been found to be primary symptoms of significant trauma, especially sexual abuse,” states Dr. Allender. Other problems often associated with sexual trauma are compulsive disorders such as alcohol and substance abuse, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, poor self-esteem and narcissistic grandiosity, and a host of stress related disorders such as intestinal problems, lower backaches, neck and jaw pain and chronic headaches.
Surprise, enlightenment, repentance, hope, and joy–all parts of my experience as I sat under the teaching of Dr. Larry Crabb during his Reach the Heart Experience. Good teachers invite, challenge, and leave you coming back for more. As he described the radical shift needed in our hearts to have authentic community and live in transforming relationships, hunger and hope were ignited with a slight bit of trepidation, knowing the cost of what lay ahead–seeing my tarnished and ugly motivations. Real community and spiritual formation aren’t pipe dreams. To give us vision for how true community functions, God reveals it through the unity and sacrifice of the Trinity–the intimate dance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we are all invited!
Scott Peck in The People of The Lie stresses the importance of naming evil. By its very nature evil confuses and deceives and is not what it seems. Unless we dig deep and name it, we will avoid seeing its reality in ourselves and others. Instead, we will categorize our lives as “good and ethical” because we haven’t committed one of the big ten sins like murdering, stealing or committing adultery. However, evil is much more insidious. This silent killer wraps its cold, numbing tentacles around our hearts, distorting our thoughts and obscuring our motives.
Whether subtle or jarring, the momentum of change shifts our balance, disrupts our routines and rattles our repose. It impacts our lives and we are never the same. Our response to change can either be to submerge into lethargy or open our hearts to the breath of life, like a screaming new born baby. Change and its ensuing chaos can be less of an enemy and more of a friend for it can heighten awareness, shatter certainty, and engender perspective, while stirring our hunger for an authentic relationship with God.
John Gottman, a premiere researcher in the dynamics of marital relationships, has a different view from conventional wisdom which says that conflicts slowly erode the marital bonds, and that teaching couples communication techniques on how to fight fair will lead to conflict resolution. While this maybe true in a small percentage of situations, Gottman discovered that “69 percent of all marital conflicts never get resolved because they are about personality differences between couples. What’s critical is not whether they resolve conflicts but whether they can cope with them.” It seems that fights and disagreements are intrinsic to all relationships, however it is couples who don’t let the fighting contaminate the other parts of the relationship that have lasting and fulfilling marriages.
All parents will wound their children. It’s a given due to the curse of living outside Eden. Yet, it is a rare gift to model encountering the enemies of our heart and how to struggle well. The redemptive lessons are immeasurable and the impact substantial when parents exhibit strength that is counterbalanced by humility and honesty. Children need strength that offers structure, the protection of limits and the ability to rest in something larger than themselves. There is no question that children will see their parents fail. The real question is whether parents will acknowledge their flawed humanity and thus affirm to their children that what they see is indeed true.
Incarnation as one author says is “God—ultimate reality, becoming flesh.” All incarnation involves saying, “Yes” and then embracing the narrow road. The manger and a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes is God invading the earth to bring incarnation to our past, present, and future. Certainly, with love’s ultimate reality comes brokenness, the washing of wounds, and like the wise men, the bending of knees—that leads to hearing the sweet melody of heaven.
Tragedy sharpens the focus of what was once obscured by the cataract of fallen humanity. Monotony, boredom and addictions are the symptoms of soul deadness. As Sir William Wallace in the movie “Braveheart” exclaimed, “Every man dies, but not every man lives.” Sacred to being given the privilege to walk this earth, is the opportunity to be emotionally alive and available to all life has to offer. Suffering is the gift least desired, but instrumental in delivering us from our numbed existence, while exposing our deepest longings–reminders of another home. The Apostle Peter writes: “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:9-11).”
My mother’s joy is now complete. With her final words, she risked sharing what was most profoundly in her heart. She was closer to wholeness in that moment than she had ever been on earth. And now she is healed. Her memory is perfect. She laughs as she freely shares her heart. She now sees God’s face and her soul is sated. She is home.
We don’t have to wait to offer our final words. We can borrow from heaven what is supernatural; God’s favor upon us. We can allow our empty ache to be filled with joy and we can speak life-giving words now.
Marriages can have their own extreme makeover. Two people meet, fall in love with the man or woman of their dreams, and eventually this culminates in the beauty of the marriage nuptials, celebrated by friends and family. The couple is then whisked off to their honeymoon vacation—carrying the hopes and dreams of an Oh So Sweet new life together. As the flower petals fall and the tail lights of the limousine fade from sight, what happens next can catch the couple by surprise.
Our suffering is not without purpose. God’s plan is what is best for us (although perhaps not what we would choose). In His mercy, we are privileged to participate in the usurping of evil and the transforming of sorrow. Yet, some redemption wait’s for eternity. However, we know God remembers and redeems every last tear. Until that time, He offers reminders found in beauty, food, good friends and sexual intimacy that whisper there is more. That more is found in God as we wait for the Great Consummation. He loves us enough to not give us what we want–what in the end will kill us. Rather, He gives us what we desire most–Himself.
Secrets by their very nature are powerful, untold realities. Their energy lies in their governance and mystery. Acting much like a rudder and sail, secrets steer human behavior while their covert nature fills and billows with potency. All families have secrets. And they serve to bind humanity together for we all share the same secrets. One classic family secret is that of the favorite child.
Phrases like the teacher’s pet, boss’s protégé, and Daddy’s little girl all smack of partiality. It is a common tool used in reality TV shows to heighten drama. Competition is fueled as one contestant is offered a privilege–be it a coveted date night with an eligible bachelor or a free pass that promises safe passage through a maze of obstacles. Partiality chooses one and un-chooses the other. To those excluded it increases the desperation to scrap and crawl to the top of the heap. Literature abounds with stories of the favored child who struggles against the hatred of their own flesh and blood. The narrative of Joseph chronicled in the Old Testament is one example.
>“It’s all about me,” my good friend Terrie laughed. “It’s always more about me than I’d care to admit when it comes to relationships.” Paul said the same thing, when he declared, “I’m the chief sinner of all” (1 Tim. 1:15). Even Socrates acknowledges, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” This brings up two important questions: How do we acknowledge our brokenness without drowning in introspection and self-loathing? And how do we pursue spiritual growth and healing without making it a remedy for our brokenness?
To wait–the phrase is tantamount to torture for me. Few trials elicit more anguish than longing for something, only to have its fulfillment impeded. Even the Psalmist states that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Ever been dehydrated to the point of wanting to pay a ridiculous price for some cool libation? How about needing to be somewhere in a hurry only to find yourself behind a driver who feels it’s their civic duty to meander slower than the speed limit? Have you ever fallen in love and yearned to have your feelings reciprocated? To thirst, yearn, and desire all have the quality of hoping for something just beyond our reach. Often, I’d prefer to be pro-active–trying to avert the uncomfortable tension of an anticipatory situation. So I play “dodge the slowpokes” at the grocery store by detecting the fastest bagger and checkout clerk, only to be derailed by a customer who wants to write a check or has an item with no price.
Everything is turned upside down. Life is the opposite from what it should be — what we deeply long for. We are catapulted from the secure, soothing cadence of a mother’s heartbeat to startled breath, bright lights and cold air. By design we adjust to our new environment with insatiable curiosity, exploration, wonder and awe. Moments are magical, days longer than 24 hours, dreams so profuse it would be easier to capture all the stars in the sky. Imagination turns clouds into animals, raindrops into pearls and sunbeams into rays of tiny dancing ballerinas. For the child the simple becomes sacred. Fairy tales, magic wands and ruby slippers speak of the hope, dreams and desires that live inside each of us – a sacred hope that lies beyond this world.
I turned to say goodbye to my parents and gazed into their tender, loving and sad faces. I had received their blessing, yet their devotion to seeing my dreams come true would come with a piercing price—the sorrowful severing of the umbilical cord that bonds parent and child together. We embraced through the tears and for a moment time was suspended. I felt like a little girl who was suddenly struck with a panicked desire to call the whole thing off, unpack the car and say, What was I thinking? As the consequences of my decision came hurtling into focus, the fact that I was the last to leave the nest, but the first of my three siblings to relocate only inculcated the thought to reverse course and stay. Adding to the pressure was the uncomfortable prospect of having to admit defeat and move back home, if this adventure went up in flames. What helped stay the course that day was an intuitive Yes that marked the dreaming, praying and planning phases and resonated through every minute detail. I hoped a larger sovereign plan was afoot. Standing there that day in the surge of emotions was a glorious and honorable rite of passage; I was being lured away from the only family I had known into the mystery of larger open waters.
We are all closet narcissists with varying degrees of Ben in us. Narcissistic Personality Disorder parallels so closely the human condition that it gives an enlightening view of the enormous struggle mankind has with self-absorption. Deplored in all cultures, egocentricity is the nature of young children and considered a stage teenagers grow out of, however it is viewed as disgusting in adults. Its main features are grandiose self importance and overestimation of talents and accomplishments; intoxication with fantasies of brilliance, power, beauty, success and ideal love; view of self as special and only understood by other superior individuals; craving for admiration; sense of entitlement; interpersonal exploitation; hypersensitivity to evaluation of others; lack of empathy; jealousy; and arrogant behaviors and attitudes.
Christianity Today talked with Dr. Larry Crabb–well known author and speaker–about Christian counseling.
CT: What’s the first thing you would suggest to Christians who want to become counselors?
CRABB: The first thing I’d suggest is that they ask themselves what they fundamentally believe about the root purpose of counseling. What are they trying to accomplish when they sit down with a client who is anorexic, in a bad marriage or whatever. What’s their root thinking when trying to get a girl to start eating again or a marriage straightened out. All are worthy ambitions, but they must be secondary.
Our highest purpose as human beings isn’t to try to make this life work. It’s to reflect the character of God–of our Creator, Savior and Lord–in the middle of a life that doesn’t work. About the first thing Cain did after God judged him and told him he was going to wander around the rest of his life was to build a city. The implication was–forget this wandering stuff, I’m going to build myself a city and make my life work. God says in Hebrews that he’s ashamed to be called the God of a people who are looking for a better city than the one they’ll ultimately have in heaven.
CT: Is it wrong for Christian counselors to ask God to take away the pain in their clients’ lives?
CRABB: The Bible says our primary focus is to glorify God. If you have any compassion at all for your fellow man, of course you want to relieve the pain. But there’s a danger that god will become someone to be used rather than Someone to worship. He becomes useful for putting your life together–the way you want it. The tricky thing is, there’s nothing wrong with wanting your life put together. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a good marriage, enjoying your kids and managing your money in a faithful way.