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Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Biblical and Theoretical Examination

Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Biblical and Theoretical Examination

            Childhood sexual abuse is a topic often avoided in social circles due to the discomfort it causes on the one hand, and the absolute outrage it evokes on the other.  It is the topic of inappropriate humor or brushed aside as less than evil.  Comments such as, “Oh, Uncle George is just a dirty old man” are whispered at family reunions, when what “Uncle George” has done to females in the family for generations is not only atrocious but illegal.  It is irresponsible and immoral to turn a blind eye to the devastating crime of CSA.  A voice must be given back to those whose voice – and innocence – have been brutally stolen by those more powerful.  A stand must be taken against CSA, if not to stop it from happening, then in order to assist survivors who are haunted by their experiences.  Evil is overcome by redemption, and redemption can be found if people are willing to look evil in the eye and say, “No more.”  Individuals must study CSA – the causes, the effects, intervention, and treatment – in order to become equipped for the battle against it.

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A Broad Look at Childhood Sexual Abuse

By definition, childhood sexual abuse entails a variety of characteristics.  According to Glicken & Sechrest (2003), “Sexual abuse might be defined as a sexual assault on, or the sexual exploitation of, a minor” (p. 107).  The abuse may take place only once or over an extended period of time.  It may include one or more of the following acts: “rape, incest, sodomy, oral copulation, penetration of genital or anal opening by a foreign object, and child molestation” (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003, p. 107).  CSA can also involve sexual harassment, exposure to pornography or taking pornographic photographs or video of children, and the sexual trafficking of minors.  These acts are done for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator.

The statistics surrounding childhood sexual abuse are astounding.  It should be noted that according to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2004), as cited by Hodges & Myers (2010), these statistics are an underestimation of the actual figures because children are often afraid to report abuse and due to the lack of abuse validation.  Hodges & Myers (2010) go on to reference the statistics as reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000), stating that children make up 67% of all sexual assault victims; out of those children, those younger than 12 make up 34% and those younger than six make up approximately 15%.  Additionally, in 2007 the National Center for Victims of Crime published that females are the victims of CSA three times more frequently than boys, and 25% of juvenile females will be sexually assaulted by time they reach 18 years of age (Hodges & Myers, 2010).  Foster (2014) cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2005), stating that “one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18” (p. 332).  Glicken & Sechrest (2003) report that males make up 23% of total sexual abuse cases.  Facts and figures point to the staggering truth: childhood sexual abuse is rampant in today’s society.

The existence of CSA is not exclusive, however, to modern day culture.  The bible renders accounts of sexual assault, including rape, incest, and CSA.  The book of II Samuel reveals the sexual abuse of King David’s daughter, Tamar, by her older half-brother, Amnon.  Amnon was the oldest child of David; Tamar was approximately 15 or 16 years old at the time of her assault (Smith & Chapman, 2011).  Scripture details the conspiracy between Amnon and his cousin Jonadab, who devised a plan to get Tamar alone with Amnon in his bedroom.  Once they were alone, Amnon demanded that Tamar come to bed with him.  She refused and even offered to marry him, if he would only ask their father’s permission.  Instead, “Amnon wouldn’t listen to her, and since he was stronger than she was, he raped her” (II Samuel 13:14, New Living Translation).  To make matters worse, after he raped his sister, Amnon’s so-called love turned to hate, and he threw Tamar out of his room.  Sadly, the family covered up the scandal: “So Tamar lived as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house” (II Samuel 13:20b, NLT); Amnon went unpunished by their father, and eventually, Absalom ordered the murder of Amnon.  Like many women, Tamar reaped the guilt, shame, and destruction bestowed upon her by the abuser, never receiving the love, kindness, and godly presence it takes to lead a victim to restoration, redemption, and healing.

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The Causes of Childhood Sexual Abuse

There are theories as to why perpetrators feel the need to sexually violate children.  In the cases of incest, attributing factors include “dysfunctional relationships, chemical abuse, sexual problems, and social isolation” (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003, p. 119).  Violators drawn toward children frequently do not tolerate frustration well, have little self-esteem, and need immediate sexual gratification.  Most tend to repeat their mistakes rather than learn from them.  Additionally, perpetrators of CSA have addictive personalities, little remorse for their actions, and excel at lying and manipulation (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003).  There are no age parameters when it comes to child molesters.  Pedophiles are specifically interested in sexually defiling children, believing that sex with children is “appropriate and even beneficial to the child” (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003, p. 120).

Who fits the profile of an abuser?  Men, women, fathers, pastors, brothers, grandfatherly next door neighbors, teenage boys at the park, and older girls on the school playground can all be perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse.  In other words, although it is more common for females to be abused by older males, one should not rule out men abusing boys or females sexually abusing children (Allender, 2008).  Why do offenders sexually abuse children?  Allender (2008) lists “excuses” that he believes should not exempt the individual from accountability for the crimes committed:

  • The abuser was abused as a child.
  • The abuser had a difficult background.
  • The abuser was going through a rough time with his or her spouse and was lonely.
  • The abuser drank so much that he or she was unaware of what he or she was doing.

At the very heart of sexual abuse is evil.  Ephesians 6:12 reads, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (NLT).  The intent of evil is to destroy God’s creation.  In the Old Testament, it is written, “So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, NLT).  Furthermore, God created intimacy, perfectly reflected and expressed between a husband and wife within the sanctified bonds of marriage.  Evil takes great pleasure in destroying that which reflects God’s image – mankind, and in defiling the most intimate of God’s gifts – sexuality.  The harm done by CSA causes one to despise his or her own gender or to experience gender confusion, much to the satisfaction of darkness (Allender, 2015).  As Allender (2015) describes it, “Evil delights in sexual abuse because the return on investment is maximized.  It takes but seconds to abuse, but the consequences can ruin the glory of a person for a lifetime” (p. 36).

The Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The effects of CSA do not diminish simply because the abuse has ended.  In the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, Foster & Hagedorn (2014) explain that “CSA frequently impacts children socially, cognitively, academically, physically, spiritually, and/or emotionally” (p. 538).  Victims of abuse develop coping mechanisms that can come in the form of justifying the abuse, dissociation during abusive incidents, or in extreme cases, developing dissociative identity disorder (Vieth, 2012).  The abuse is bathed in secrecy, and upon disclosure of the abuse, children may experience guilt when threats made by the perpetrator – such as being removed from the home, isolation, or disbelief – come true.  Being taught to obey adults, there is much confusion when obedience puts the child in such a deviant position by the offender.   Children believe that adults, especially those who should love them, can be trusted; CSA breaks that trust in others (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).

There is a developmental impact on children as a result of sexual trauma.  Because trauma impedes a child’s ability to control arousal levels, problems such as learning disabilities and aggression may develop (van der Kolk, Weisaeth, & van der Hart, 2007).  Allender (2015) and van der Kolk, et al. (2007) touch on a similar point: the inability of the abused child to convey affect states in words.  As Allender (2015) describes it, “Literally, during trauma, language goes offline” (p. 58).  When trauma occurs, Broca’s area – that section of the brain where language is processed – stops working or drops in activity, similar to a stroke patient (Allender, 2015).  Unfortunately, when the words cannot be formed, the images attack later in life in the form of flashbacks.

As sexually abused children mature, the damage of that abuse may be witnessed in different areas of that person’s life.  CSA creates within that individual a sense of powerlessness, helplessness, and an undying pain deep within (Allender, 2008).  If that pain is not addressed, the tendency is to adapt self-numbing habits, whether through outside sources such as drugs or alcohol, or simply through the hardening of emotions and isolation.  There is a loss of the sense of self, as well as a loss of the sense of judgment.  “Sexual-abuse victims have learned to doubt their own feelings” (Allender, 2008, p. 126).  The adult victim of CSA often loses any hope for true intimacy, for strength, or for justice.  Life is marked by ambivalence, which can further lead to depression, sexual dysfunction and addiction, compulsive disorders, and physical complaints (Allender, 2008).  Biblically speaking, this makes sense: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12, NLT).

The spiritual effects of CSA vary.  In one study, it was discovered that children were spiritually injured, so to speak, due to the abuse they had experienced (Vieth, 2012).  These children encountered “guilt, anger, grief, despair, doubt, fear of death, and belief that God is unfair” (Vieth, 2012, p. 261).  However, not all spiritual effects were negative following sexual trauma; the same study showed that survivors prayed more often.

The Intervention of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Intervention and possible prevention of CSA begins with educating both children and adults.  CSA education can be shared within schools, churches, and community centers; however, the education is only as effective as the accuracy of the information.  Unfortunately, there are myths regarding CSA that can cause more harm than good.

Although “stranger danger” is an important rule to teach children, the facts show that perpetrators of CSA are more likely to know the child personally than to be a stranger.  In fact, CSA occurs only 3-10% of the time at the hands of a person the child does not know (Foster, 2014).  Programs should teach the pervasiveness of known offenders, as well as explain the warning signs of a possible abuser and the grooming tactics that violators use.  It is crucial to teach that people who commit childhood sexual abuse vary, “in which most are known by their victims, trusted by their family, and do not have a criminal history” (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014, p. 552).

Another falsehood is that most sexual predators are adults.  Studies have revealed that adolescents commit 33% of episodes of CSA (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).  Adults should be aware of certain characteristics of juvenile offenders, such as delinquency and impulsivity.  In addition, adolescent offenders are often former victims of CSA; therefore, intervention is important for both the victim and the perpetrator.

Correspondingly, there is the myth that children can stop the abuser from attacking by utilizing tactics such as yelling “stop” or running away.  One should never expect a child to be able to impede the plans of an offender bent on molestation (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).  To put that belief within a child can do more harm than good, especially if he or she is unsuccessful at stopping the abuse.  Self-blame for CSA is already common; to put the expectation within children that they should have been able to avoid or prevent that attack of a pedophile would heap mounds of guilt upon the already existing fear, anger, shame, and grief.

Programs that educate adults and children about CSA can help intervene and prevent childhood sexual abuse.  When taught about safety and healthy sexuality as opposed to victimization, the bonds between parents and children can be strengthened.  This leads to trust, which boosts the chances of disclosure, lowers a child’s self-blame in the case of CSA, and promotes children’s self-efficiency (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).

Treatment of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Once the safety of the child is established and medical attention has been provided (Glicken & Sechrest, 2003), it is imperative that a victim of CSA is not left untreated for the psychological, emotional, and spiritual ramifications of trauma.  According to Glicken & Sechrest (2003), “Appropriate treatment and careful case management can often lead to successful outcomes and frequently end the multigenerational cycle of abuse” (p. 122).  During crisis intervention, it is critical that the victim be reassured that he or she is not to blame for the abuse.  Because of the complexity of CSA, other members of the family may require counseling as well.  Any fears of disbelief, punishment, or revenge from the abuser must be addressed; as aforementioned, the child’s safety must be of top priority.

Therapists working with children who have been victimized by sexual abuse must remember that trust has been broken; therefore, it may be slow going in gaining that child’s trust (Foster & Hagedorn, 2014).  Empathy toward the child’s worries can help to put the victim at ease.  Counselors may support children to express their hesitancy and anxieties, share information about therapy, and reassure them that what they are feeling is common.  It is important to be proactive when it comes to relieving the fears of the victim.  In addition to educating the child, it is vital to advise the parents or caregivers about the counseling process.  By letting them know the challenges that accompany counseling, it can prevent them from removing a child too soon if symptoms appear to worsen before improving.

One effective method of counseling is Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT).  This is “an evidence-based treatment approach that is structured to include child-only sessions, parent-only sessions, and joint family sessions” (Foster, 2014).  This type of therapy is conducive in meeting the developmental needs of the victimized child.  The focus is on symptoms related to trauma, such as fear, anxiety, and depression, in children ages three through 18, using gradual exposure.  Per Foster (2014), the eight components of TF-CBT are as follows: psychoeducation and parenting skills, relaxation skills, affective regulation skills, cognitive coping skills, trauma narrative and cognitive processing, in vivo mastery of trauma reminders, conjoint child-parent sessions, and enhancing safety and future development trajectory.

From a Christian perspective, Vieth (2012) provides guidelines in ministering to a victim of childhood sexual abuse.  First, if the child is older, or if this is a case where an adult has come for counseling when processing his or her own CSA, put judgment aside and do not focus on the victim’s sins.  It is not uncommon for the lives of abuse survivors to be tainted by drugs, alcohol, divorce, crime, sexual promiscuity, or mental illness (Vieth, 2012).  Quick judgment and harsh rebuke will push the victim away.  Instead, love should be poured upon the survivor of CSA, putting the gospel into action and standing with the broken.  Isaiah 61:1b reads, “He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed” (NLT).  God wants his people to comfort the victims of childhood sexual abuse, releasing them from the fear and captivity of their trauma.

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Survivors of CSA must be shown Christ’s empathy (Vieth, 2012).  Victims may question the goodness of God.  The counselor can explain that the offender disobeyed God’s commandments.  Victims need to know that Jesus understands maltreatment, emotional abuse, and physical abuse, as portrayed by His journey to Calvary.  Sharing scripture about Christ’s love for children may reassure the survivors that God does care about them.  In Mark 9:37, Jesus said, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me” (NLT).  Regarding the harm of children, Jesus said, “It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin” (Luke 17:2, NLT).  Luke 18:16 reads, “Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children’” (NLT).  If the Lord cares so deeply for children, then those in the Christian community should provide the care and protection needed when one of God’s little children has been abused.

References

Allender, D. (2015). Healing the wounded heart: The heartache of sexual abuse and the hope of transformation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Allender, D. (2008). The wounded heart: Hope for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Foster, J.M. (2014). Supporting child victims of sexual abuse: Implementation of a trauma narrative family intervention. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 22(3), 332-338. DOI: 10.1177/1066480714529746

Foster, J.M., Hagedorn, W.B. (2014). Through the eyes of the wounded: A narrative analysis of children’s sexual abuse experiences and recovery process. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 23(5), 538-557. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10538712.2014.918072

Glicken, M.D., & Sechrest, D.K. (2003). The role of the helping professions in treating the victims and perpetrators of violence. Boston, MA: Person Education, Inc.

Hodges, E.A., & Myers, J.E. (2010). Counseling adult women survivors of childhood sexual abuse: Benefits of a wellness approach. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 32(2), 139-154.

Smith, R.P., & Chapman, C. (2011). II Samuel. In Spence, H.M.D., & Exell, J.S. (Eds.), The pulpit commentary: Ruth, I & II Samuel (Vol. 4) (pp. 1-637). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.

van der Kolk, B.A., Weisaeth, L., & van der Hart, O. (2007). History of trauma in psychiatry. In van der Kolk, B.A., McFarlane, C., and Weisaeth, L. (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body and society (pp. 47-74). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Vieth, V.I. (2012). What would Walther do? Applying law and gospel to victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 40(4), 257-273.

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My Theology of Suffering

The following is part of a paper I wrote for one of my crisis counseling courses.  To be honest, God spoke directly to my heart as I penned the words.  I pray that your heart is touched as you read.  Thank you for taking a glimpse into my world today.

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Suffering is rampant throughout the world today.  One cannot turn on the news without witnessing stories of lives torn apart, whether by seemingly small-scale events or national disasters.  Some are “acts of God,” such as Hurricane Katrina.  Others are man-made, such as the attacks on the United States that occurred September 11, 2001.  While there are some who cling to faith in God during traumatic incidents, many – even believers in Christ – question God’s reasoning and possibly His existence.  In spite of the difficulty in comprehending both the presence of pain and the existence of God, both are very real.  It took one act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden for suffering to become reality, yet trials are not without purpose.  Suffering strengthens individuals.  Tribulations point toward the need for redemption.  Pain can draw us closer to God.  Heartache creates compassion for those in need.  Humanity can find hope in that although we suffer now, one day Christ will return to redeem the world and His people, and we can share in His glory forevermore.

The bible teaches that God is good.  There are 61 verses in the bible that reference the goodness of God.  One such verse is Psalm 119:68, “You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees” (New Living Translation).  Christians are fond of proclaiming to one another, “God is good,” which generally evokes the reply, “All the time!”  Yet it is evident that a good God coexists with suffering in this world.  This coexistence forces individuals to develop their own theology of suffering.

From early in life, humans discover the existence of suffering in this world.  Whether just or unjust, people experience pain due to their own mistakes, the actions of others, or what some consider to be acts of God.  The reality of evil in this world causes many to question the very existence of an all-knowing, all-loving Creator.  Diane Langberg (2005) states the dilemma of “two irreconcilable realities … what is one to do with the rape of a child and the reality of God?” (p. 419).  Yet ever since Adam and Eve committed the first sin, humanity has suffered – and God still reigns.

However, it is not merely people who suffer.  According to Dan Allender (2001), the earth suffers due to disease, death, and decay.  Additionally, until Christ’s return, humanity aches: “We also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23, New King James Version).  God suffers as well.  Not only did Christ suffer on our behalf, but God feels our every hurt and sees our every tear.  All of this pain is not for loss.  Paul told the Roman church that, “… we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:16b-17, NKJV).  Believers have the hope that although there is suffering now, Christ is with them, and they can look forward to future glory with Him as well.

It is through suffering that God strengthens His children.  Psalm 66:10 reads, “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined” (NKJV).  The poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes that we must “lose things” before we can know kindness (2016).  Suffering gives us hearts of compassion for others in this world, that we may touch their lives with the love that God has bestowed upon us.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (NLT).  Humans will never understand this world. The earth will never fit picture-perfect ideals because this world is not heaven. Realistically, man’s ideals do not always honor God.  Man’s ideals often create isolation from those who are viewed as different. If the world were perfect according to people’s ideals, there would be no need for serving others.  There would be no need to reach out to the helpless, the hopeless, the grieving, or the suffering, and without that, how in the world could individuals ever become more Christ-like?  How would mankind ever experience God’s loving mercies?

Jesus Christ is the epitome of God’s goodness and love.  He became God incarnate, that is, God in human form or in the flesh.  Jesus was God’s one and only Son.  His entire life was spent serving God.  Everything He did was for God’s glory, and He gave God that glory.  He was obedient, even to the point of crucifixion upon the cross.  God sent His own Son to be beaten, tortured, mocked, spat upon, degraded, and murdered.  Loving parents would never even consider sending their child into a situation such as that.  Indeed, God is not an ordinary Father, and Jesus was by no means any ordinary Son.  As previously stated, Jesus was God.  John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (New International Version).  When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, fellowship with God was broken.  Humanity could not restore that relationship on its own.  Observing mankind throughout the ages and even today, many believe they do not desire that fellowship.  Still … God wanted it.  God wanted restoration and redemption, and the only way for that to happen was a perfect sacrifice.  The only sacrifice good enough was God Himself.  God chose to send His Son – His perfect, glorious Son – because He loves people.  Mankind is blemished with sin, and yet God believes each person is worth dying for.  The Creator of the universe left the glory of heaven to come to earth in order to not only die and rise again for the redemption of this sin-stained world, but in order to experience the utmost in human suffering so that He knows how human pain feels.  Jesus knows what it is like to cry out to the Father during suffering, as seen in Matthew 27:46, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (New American Standard Bible).  He feels the anguish of suffering souls, and He is by their side, crying with them.

It may take an undefined amount of time, but the day can come when those who have suffered loss can look back at their traumatic times and name the beauty that God brought from them.  The bible describes such beauty in Isaiah 61:1-3:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. (NLT)

Suffering depicts the gospel.  Pain points to Christ’s suffering on the cross.  If He would have only died and not been resurrected, there would be no hope.  However, He did rise again, and when people invite God into their suffering, hope becomes possible.  If people are wounded simply for pain’s sake, it is like leaving Jesus on that cross without completing His purpose.  Yet, if individuals allow others into their redemption stories, hope is offered via the ministry of presence and the relief of not being alone; someone else truly understands.  The empathy that occurs is genuine, and when that authenticity is perceived by another agonized soul, it can bring comfort beyond measure.  The healing God did in the life of one who suffered is witnessed up close, and at that point, survivors of trauma join Christ in stepping on the neck of evil, taking what was meant to harm and using it for something good.

In the end, Jesus promises to put an end to suffering upon His return.  Revelation 21:4 reads, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (NLT).  Suffering, while not enjoyable, serves a purpose today.  Praise God the day will come, though, when all pain, grief, sorrow and tears will be gone forever; Christ will make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

References

Allender, D. (2001). Suffering and glory. In Clinton, T., Hindson, E., & Ohlschlager, G.   (Eds.), The soul care bible (pp. 646-647). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Langberg, D. (2005). Adult survivors of sexual abuse: Trauma, treatment, and living in the truth. In Clinton, T., Hart, A., & Ohlschlager, G. (Eds.), Caring for people God’s way (pp. 409-443). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Nye, N.S. (2016). Kindness. Retrieved from https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/kindness (Original work published 1952)

The Truth About My Body Image

I’ve been married three times, and it’s only been through a recent Bible study (Made to Crave) and God’s revelation that I’ve come to realize how much my body image affected my past relationships.  (I will note that like the author, Lysa TerKerust, I am very thankful for a husband who loves me JUST AS I AM, “tankles and all”!)  I married my first husband a year out of high school.  We were young, we were naive, and I’ve only just recently accepted that although the mistakes I made in that marriage were my choices and my responsibility, his addiction to pornography fed into the lies about myself – and caused me to seek affection and acceptance elsewhere.  I was overweight when I met my second husband (who was a total rebound and ours was a relationship that was based on nothing but lust – and when that dies, so does the marriage), and I was so happy that he wanted a “curvy” girl.  A few years into our marriage, I lost 50 lbs. and by society’s standards (and his), I looked great.  Most people confused me for my daughters’ sister instead of their mom.  Ego boost.  But the diet pills and restrictive dieting and obsessive exercise couldn’t last forever, and after a bought of depression, I gained it all back.  And then some.  And then some more.  Over time, I went from being 5’1″ and 125 lbs. to over 200.  There are many deeper, darker problems we had that I won’t go into, but what killed me was when my husband told me he was no longer attracted to me.  That pushed me to do what?  Eat more.  I topped the scales at 221 just before I left him.

After my divorce, I got back to church, I went to a Christian support group, and I ran back into the arms of Jesus.  I was saved at 13 and spent my teenage and part of my first marriage trying to serve Him, but I pushed Him away to find happiness in areas that left me empty.  However, He never left me.  He was calling me to come back to Him.  I did, and later I met the man who I cherish now as my husband.  He loves me unconditionally, something that has been an adjustment after feeling like my worth was tied to my appearance, whether that was true or not!  Sadly, there are (too many) times that Steve has had to hear the self-destructive lies that still float around in my head, and he does his best to remind me of how beautiful I am. He often says, “I wish you could see yourself through my eyes.”

HOW MANY TIMES DOES GOD SAY THAT TO US??  “I wish you could see yourself through my eyes.”

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I’m not sure I can come up with a reason for why God made me the way He did – but Psalm 139 says I was fearfully and WONDERFULLY made.  I must trust – and find my beauty – in Him.

Determined

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Dear God,

Today, I just want to thank You.  So many times I come to You with my list of requests.  I know You want me to pray to You, to ask of You, to seek You – and I praise You for always being there.  I know You hear my prayers.  I know You answer each and every one, whether it is yes, no, or wait.  Thank You for knowing what is best and giving me the faith and the strength to carry on, no matter what.

Today, though, I come to you in worship and praise.  Thank You for placing within my heart the desire to be #determined this week.

  • Determined to spend more time with You in Your word and in prayer.
  • Determined to be obedient to You by eating what is right for my life at this time.
  • Determined to seek You when Satan whispered so many lies, trying to make me fall.
  • Determined to show humility, grace, love, and support in my marriage.
  • Determined to share Your promises with others.

I know I am not perfect – but You are.  I know there are times when I am weak – and that is when Your strength is made perfect.  I know I am nothing without You – and that in You, and You alone, there is victory.  Thank you, my Father, my Lord, my God, for being You.

I love You!

In Jesus name, Amen.

A Raging Battle

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good.  So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love God’s law with all my heart.  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? — Romans 7:15-24, NLT

I love food.  Period.  For as long as I can remember, food was not only a part of my physical sustenance, but a part of my emotional existence.  Can you relate?  Did you also grow up in a home where cookies made the hurt feel better, or where ice cream melted away a broken heart?  I ate to celebrate special occasions; I ate because I was bored.

Being an active cheerleader in high school, these unhealthy choices didn’t seem to make a difference in my physical appearance.  I stayed slender no matter what I ate, although in the back of my mind, I worried about being overweight.  No … let me change that … I worried about getting fat.  The dreaded “F” word, with all of the ugly degrading connotation behind it.  My best friend at the time struggled with bulimia and anorexia, and she was thinner than I.  Put two and two together – if she thinks SHE’S fat, well gee, I must be too!  Diets and extreme measures were never my style, though, and I simply silenced those thoughts with another mouthful of deliciousness.

The results of those poor choices never caught up with me until after I got married.  I went to college for one year out of high school, and instead of gaining the “freshman fifteen,” I actually got into the best shape of my life due to the required PE class.  After one year, though, I left college to marry my high school sweetheart.  My physical activity went to zero, and my food intake went to “two very young adults eating pizza most of the time,” as my (now ex) husband worked for Domino’s.  On a young couple’s budget, free pizza worked our perfectly for our finances, if not for our health.  Three months after marrying, I became pregnant with our older daughter, and the excuse to eat was justified!  In fact, my doctor warned me a few months into my pregnancy that I was gaining too much weight.  After the appointment, with tears in my eyes, I bought a Snickers bar and said, “He’s a man. He doesn’t know what this is like.”  I gained 60 pounds with that pregnancy.

I lost the weight from my first pregnancy just in time to get pregnant with our younger daughter.  I was much more careful this time, incorporating daily walks into my routine and not gaining as much weight as I did previously.  After her birth, I didn’t worry about my weight at all until one day in the bathtub.  I caught my reflection in the overflow drain and started to cry.  Never mind that I’m quite sure those things are like fun-house mirrors, distorting the curves terribly; I was fat.

Thus began the ups and downs of my entire adult life and the battle with the scale.  Throughout my twenties and thirties, I took every pill and potion, went on every diet, bought every workout video and destroyed my metabolism.  Looking back now, not only do I regret the money I wasted, but the emotional damage I did to myself – and I am quite certain to my daughters.  You can only hear your mother degrade herself so many times before it becomes ingrained into your mind too.

So let’s fast forward before I tell my entire life story.  Condensed version: food was my best friend and my worst enemy, and my priorities for losing weight over the years were totally out of whack.  For that matter, my LIFE priorities were out of whack.  If I want to be truly honest with myself, my body issues combined with food addiction played a part in the ending of my first and second marriages.  Not the only part, but definitely buried deep in there somewhere.

Years later, God is still on His throne, and once I surrendered my heart so that He could be King of my life, things changed.  My struggle with food as lord over my life is still a raging battle.  This is where I can totally relate to Paul in his letter to the Romans.  Why do I do what I know is not good?  I love God, and I love being obedient to Him!  Can there be victory?  Will a day come when I desire to honor Him in EVERY part of my existence, not just in the parts that are easy?  I get so excited when I read verse 25 of Romans 7!  Remember, verse 24 asks that pertinent question, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” Who provides victory?  “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25, NLT).

When my focus is on Jesus, things fall into place.  Jesus is to be my Comfort.  Jesus is to be the Focus of my celebrations.  He is the One I should turn to when temptations arise, when boredom strikes, when frustrations prevail.  Being healthy is an admirable reason for getting that vicious cycle of food and guilt under control.   Wanting to live longer so I can enjoy my grandchildren is not wrong.  Even the desire to feel confident isn’t such a bad thing.  However – all of those things pale when compared to honoring God.  He created us.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.  You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  –Psalm 139:13-16a, NLT

I realize the battle to put God first in all areas of my life is a lifelong one.  I also know without a doubt Who holds the victory. God’s mercy, grace, strength, and peace give me hope through it all.

Changing My Perspective

You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,” nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate;” But you will be called “My delight is in her,” and your land, “Married;” For the LORD delights in you, and to Him your land will be married … And they will call them, “The holy people, the redeemed of the LORD;” And you will be called, “Sought out, a city not forsaken.”  Isaiah 62: 3-4, 12, NASB

Is that passage not beautiful?  The promise of these words … God’s words … stand so joyfully on their own that I am tempted to say, “Amen” and call it a post.  My tiny, insignificant insight appears so meager in the light of God’s love.  Yet it is because of His love that I have any insight to share.  It is because of His promise that I have a message.  It is because of His redemption that I have hope.

He wants me to offer that hope to others.  Yet, I feel incredibly unworthy.

And Jesus said to him, “If you can? All things are possible to him who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”  Mark 9:23-24, NASB

This has become my prayer: “I do believe!  Help my unbelief!”  I struggle daily with the knowledge that my history is beyond tainted.  The battle rages in my heart and mind between the TRUTH God has put before me and the past I long to put behind me.  Doubts plague my mind.  If my life is on display for the world to see, what if they only see what I used to be?  What if they judge?  What if they don’t understand?  What if they just don’t care?  What if they believe I don’t deserve God’s mercy?  (What if I don’t believe it?)  I have heard the cliches such as, “God can take your mess and make it a message.”

What if I don’t want Him to?

Wow.  That is what it boils down to … am I willing to allow my Savior to use my story?  Once again, my eyes are opened to these words:

It’s not about me.

It’s not about my mistakes; it’s about His forgiveness.  It’s not about my disgrace; it’s about His grace! It’s not about my terrible, heart-wrenching, ridiculously wrong choices.  It is about Him. It’s about Jesus. It’s about the cleansing work He did in my life. And friend, if He can forgive me, He most certainly will forgive you.

Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion.  Isaiah 61: 7a, NASB

We do not have to feel humiliated any longer by the sins of the past.  God has forgiven us.  He makes all things new.  If we trust Him and hold tight to His promises, then we have no choice but to surrender our lives to Him.  Willingly.  Completely.

I am no longer forsaken.  I am a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD.

Unfailing Love

There was once a time

When I walked with God

And talked with God

And thought that all was well.

Maybe it was youth,

Maybe it was pride,

But I fell for Satan’s lies –

And I no longer walked with God;

I no longer talked with God.

I threw it all away.

Where was God in all of this?

Where was He while I drifted

So far away from the God of my youth?

Did He abandon me?

Did He stop loving me?

No.

My God and my Redeemer

Was waiting for me.

I didn’t see His face

But I felt His presence,

Even when I didn’t know

It was Him.

He knew the mistakes I had to make.

He knew the choices I had to choose.

He knew my life had to become a mess

In order for me to fall to my knees,

And hand the broken pieces back to Him.

Oh God, thank you for your unfailing love!

Thank you for your grace and mercy!

Thank you for taking my failures

And using them for Your glory.

Thank you for not giving up on me

When I had given up on myself.

Thank you for sending Your Sweet Spirit

To nudge me, to move me, to guide me

Back into Your arms,

Back into Your will.

Use my life, dear LORD,

As an example of grace:

So undeserved,

Yet so beautiful, and so very

Very real.

Amen.