By Maura Preszler | Founder of Made in His Image
For most of my life I’ve wrestled with the questions, Where is God in abuse? What’s He doing while it’s happening? What’s He thinking? What’s He feeling?
Last night I read an article about how Pope Francis met with five adult survivors of sexual abuse by priests while he was in Philadelphia. I’ve always loved Pope Francis but was really touched that he would do that. Most people just ignore it, as if it never happened, as if not talking about it would cause it to go away. I was moved that Pope Francis desires to expose the evil of abuse for what it really is – evil. He is the Vicar of Christ and is leading his people by example, not just by words.
I continued to read the article and his words penetrated my heart so deeply. “I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused them grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.”
I started crying. “God weeps.”
I said it over and over again. Maura, this is where God is in abuse. This is what He is doing, this is what He is thinking and this is what He is feeling. He is weeping. He is weeping for His precious children. He was weeping for you. He was weeping for you Maura. I wept. If I could go back and tell my younger self anything, I would tell myself that God was weeping for my pain.
I use to think, could I have done something to make it stop? Why did this happen to me? Was it my fault? Could I have fought back harder. It must have been because I was weak, if only I had been tougher. Maybe it was because I was bad?
It’s okay to think those thoughts initially. My doctor use to say that such a response was only normal. But it’s important to claim these thoughts for what they are.
These are nothing but lies, from the king of evil. The devil. And we need to recognize that so we don’t dwell on it. What I have learned in my journey of healing is that God gives us free will and while He doesn’t will evil to happen, He allows it because He will not take away our free will. It is up to us to decide how we will use this gift He has given to us, some use it to harm others (abuse) others for good. While abuse is always evil, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. Because God has given us free will, He could not physically stop your abuser from hurting you, because that would have been going against His very nature as God. He does not force His children to make the correct choices in regards to our freedom. While God desires nothing more than your protection and safety, He can not force people to follow Him. Therefore, because of our fallen nature, evil is prevalent in the world.
Pope Francis continued to say, “The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret. Abuse survivors have become true heralds of hope and ministers of mercy. We humbly owe each one of you and your families our gratitude for your immense courage to shine the light of Christ on the evil of the sexual abuse of children.”
And this goes for all abuse survivors. And I want to challenge you to bring abuse to the light. The horrific evil of abuse must be exposed and not remain hidden in the dark. It must be brought to the light, no matter how hard that is. Left in the dark, it festers and becomes an uncontrollable monster covered in shame and self-hatred, which leads to mental illnesses and at times suicide. Although very difficult, exposed to the light, justice can be served and true healing began. Because in the end, a person can either own the abuse or it will own you. And this is why abuse is oftentimes generational, because it becomes a learned pattern. And when someone is exposed to abuse at a young age it becomes a learned behavior for them and when provoked or stressed they revert to the only behavior they know – abuse. And so it repeats itself, generation after generation.
But the time is now to fight for freedom. To fight for your recovery to fight for your future. The only person that can change your future is you. Yes, abuse is horrific and there is no excusing it, but you don’t have to let it define you. There comes a point in life where you need to decide, you need to make the choice to be a survivor, and not a victim. You need to move on. You need to start your own life free from the shackles of being a victim. Yes, the past will still haunt you from time to time, but you need to make the choice not to dwell on it and to focus on the positive.
The truth is, you are stronger than what happened to you. You need to take control, set up boundaries and practice saying no. This is your life – own it. Contrary to what negative stereotypes may tell you, you are exhibiting tremendous courage and strength in seeking professional help. It might not feel as if you are, but you are. Your vulnerability, bravery, determination and perseverance will shine through the darkness, it simply takes time.
Five years ago I left the east coast to start a new life in Nashville, TN because of abuse. It was hard. It was really hard. But I can tell you this, I never looked back. And I’m so grateful for the journey, because it has and continues to teach me my worth. Trauma therapy was exceedingly challenging, but no matter what I promised myself I wouldn’t quit. I had no money, I worked up to three jobs at once to pay for the medical care I needed. Every time before I went to therapy, I would close my eyes and picture my wedding day and I knew unless I did this for me, I would never be able to be in a healthy relationship and get married. I would picture meeting my future children for the first time and all that I would teach them. I would picture our family – free from the chains of abuse. Three years after that, I met my husband, and three months ago we were married. And before I walked down the aisle, I thought of all those therapy sessions and was in awe of God the Father’s faithfulness. I cried tears of joy and walked down the aisle to meet my husband. And this would not have been possible without therapy and without owning my past.
I challenge you to be a solider for Christ, walk with Him to Calvary and as you fall along the way, ask for the grace for the cross to be placed squarely on your shoulders as you rise again. Choose to see beauty despite what has happened in your life, or how others have wronged you. Forgive, pray, ask for grace and seek beauty in the ambiguity of life.
Such is the rule of our warfare. We advance by yielding; we rise by falling; we conquer by suffering; we persuade by silence; we become rich by bountifulness; we inherit the earth by meekness; we gain comfort through mourning; we earn glory by penitence and prayer. Heaven and earth shall sooner fall than this rule be reversed; it is the law of Christ’s kingdom, and nothing can reverse it but sin. | John Henry Newman
P.S. You are enough.