This post is part of our series on walking with God in suffering. Learn why we are focusing on suffering in the introduction to the series.
Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Perhaps you found yourself in a dark place, wounded, alone, without much hope and wondering if death would be better than life? I have felt all of these things. During childhood, I was sexually abused by family members, and given away as a sexual plaything to my father’s friends. His violent temper kept me silent, and the truth of my desperation would not be known by others until I moved away to college and tried to go on with life. I was now free of my parents' physical clutches but I still felt covered in darkness and deeply wounded by my parents’ brokenness and sin. Though the abuse stopped, I had been utterly betrayed by those who should have cared for and protected me. I was unsure that anyone was trustworthy, I carried deep shame that actually belonged to my parents, and my sense of self seemed inextricably linked to being a sex object to be used as others saw fit. My journey out of darkness was only just beginning.
Sadly, my story is far from unique. Many of the people that I have served through my work with CRM are on similar journeys. They have been profoundly wounded as children by other people’s evil and then go on living from that chaotic and deeply broken place, with no understanding of God’s grief at what was done or God’s love for them.
Consider the following scenarios: if you witnessed your dad pummeling your mom weekly for your whole childhood; if your uncle got you high when you were seven, and your neighbor introduced you to injectable drugs when you were ten; if you regularly stole food because your mom spent all her money on drugs while you went hungry. What would life be like once you became an adult? What would you believe about yourself and others, about right and wrong? How would you make your way in the world when your sense of “normal” was so ragged and frayed?
Can someone so profoundly wounded move from darkness into light? In my case the answer is yes. For me the way out included personal and professional interventions from many people: Therapists who were wise, gentle, and compassionate. Spiritual directors who listened deeply and lovingly and prayed for me consistently. Several congregations that loved me into the Kingdom of God and called out my gifts. Pastors who knew how to shepherd, who knew enough about suffering to listen and love me as I was. And friends who listened and who wept with me as I grieved, and celebrated with me as Jesus’s love slowly took hold of my mind and heart. The mystery of the incarnated Christ came to me through the hands, feet, hearts, and prayers of these faithful Jesus followers who loved me no matter what.
Today, I am the one who mostly listens when others speak of their wounds. There is great giftedness in offering a prayerful, receptive, compassionate presence to others; it is God who will meet them in their own Garden of Gethsemane or Golgotha, it is God who saves and redeems. We may not be trained therapists but we can choose to come alongside—loving, praying, and supporting while God works within.
As I have walked with many people and listened to their stories sometimes people say, “I don’t know how but you seem to really understand my suffering.” Though I rarely speak of my own journey to the people God has given me to care for, God has ultimately used that which was intended for evil in my life for his good in other people’s lives.
I don’t know why my suffering lasted so long or why God didn’t send someone to rescue me when I was still a child—profound suffering often leaves behind painful questions. I have learned that my faithfulness to God cannot be contingent upon when or how much God chooses to answer the hard questions that remain. Even though my childhood and early adult years were profoundly marred by darkness, God has been faithful. Slowly, steadily for 30 years I have been and am being re-ordered, recovered, restructured, resurrected, and redeemed by Jesus Christ. The self that should have developed as a loved and cherished child is being restored, remade in the image of Jesus Christ, and profoundly shaped by the practice and prayers of the Church. And even as I still tend to my own wounds, I can also offer the self-dying love and hope of Jesus to others who need him just as much as I do.
I pray in this Lenten season as you consider the way of suffering that Jesus walked, that you might hear him inviting you toward healing and transformation. If there are wounds untended in your life I pray that you will find a way to bring your wounds to Jesus, for he will receive and love you.
Jesus’s death left his faithful followers shattered and confused. After resurrection, Jesus went lovingly and without reproach to meet with them and tend to their needs. Thomas, the women in the garden, the men on the road to Emmaus, all were received by a loving, compassionate Lord. And so too this same hospitable, gentle Lord comes to meet us where we are and he knows just what we need. Don’t travel alone, and don’t stay in the dark. Ask God for the courage to move toward his light. Jesus drank deeply of the cup of suffering, he understands more than we know, and his scars can meet ours. And somehow, by his woundedness, we can be made whole.
And, if you know others who have suffered deeply, go out to meet them—gently, lovingly, walk with them, listen deeply, love fully, and pray. Pray that they will have the courage to heal, that you will have the courage to stay with them, and that God will do the necessary work within you both. Amen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: These experiences and reflections are shared by a CRM staff member who has chosen to remain anonymous.