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When I Can’t Let Go of My Hurt

Written By Hazel Casimier, USA

I was mid-conversation with my mom when she dropped the latest story on me.

I had thought we had passed the phase of accusations. I had thought that it’d been long enough that my grandmother would want to let go of whatever she was harboring against me. I had thought maybe we could one day, preferably soon, be over this phase of hurtful words and further destruction to the relationship.

Now stories were being repeated again to another family friend. I’d “stolen a sweater from her.” Then, as this particular story goes, I felt bad about it and left money on my grandmother’s Bible. A $100 bill to be exact. Here I was once again, hearing accusing words that pierced me to the core.

The latest accusation reopened the wound, yet I laughed out loud. Not because it was hilarious, but because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I laugh because I know that what is being said is the farthest thing from the truth. I laugh in front of those who tell me the stories, but I know it’s only a cover for the pain that I feel—pain that she feels the way she does, that she has those thoughts in her mind, that she’s so convinced of everything in such a distorted way.

I laugh, but in my heart I wish and pray with everything in me that things were different. I laugh, but I know that the words flowing from her mouth stem from some sort of pain she experienced long ago, a pain that has nothing to do with me. I just so happen to be the lucky duck that her emotions and pain are directed towards.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard it, and I know it won’t be the last. Yet each and every time, it affects me all over again. It leads to a period of questioning myself: “What did I do to make her feel this way about me?”, “Is there something wrong with me, that she doesn’t want a relationship with me?”, “Why do I even pray about this when the situation only seems to get worse?”

This has been going on for years. And in the past, I have allowed it to take up a significant part of my heart and mind, and I let it affect my emotions—severely. Many times, I lost my appetite, lost sleep, and cried tears. It was difficult for me to grasp because I simply didn’t understand why our relationship is this way.

The last time I saw my grandmother and tried to have a conversation with her at my brother’s wedding shower, she wouldn’t even look me in the eye, let alone talk with me. She doesn’t acknowledge my birthdays any longer. It’s as if I’m just out of her life completely. The sad thing is, it’s not as if we live hundreds of miles away. She lives right in our front yard.

I’ve contemplated going over, and came close to it so many times. I’ve thought of writing a letter to her. I’ve prayed about it, through it, and still do, about what steps to take, about whether our relationship will ever be okay again.

Each time I’ve almost gone, I knew it wasn’t the right time. So for now, day by day, all I can do is pray and trust that in the right timing, the Lord’s mercy and restoration will break though.

 

Trusting God for Healing and Restoration

The days tick by, and though I see no actual improvements, there are subtle signs from the Lord reassuring me that He has it under control. Last year, everywhere I turned, Romans 8:28 was shining through the darkness. God is working everything together for good, even if it doesn’t seem like it, even if it doesn’t make sense, even if it hurts right now.

Slowly, I began to understand that God didn’t want me to worry, He didn’t want me to get anxious or saddened about it. I was yearning for an earthly relationship, but He was drawing me into a deeper relationship with Him. He didn’t want me to think about or question what He was doing, He simply wanted me to trust Him, and to focus on Him, rather than my struggles.

I went out for a run that Monday evening, and rather than dwelling on the emotions that were creeping in, I turned to the One who knew my heart, my struggles, and everything that has transpired and will transpire.

With one foot in front of the other, I simply continued to say Jesus’ name with each step. I was at a loss for words to pray, but I asked God where He was in all of it. I took a break to walk, and as the sun shone through the tassels on the cornstalks, God reminded me that He was there, He was everywhere. He has never not been in the situation, and He wasn’t going to start missing out now.

Later that evening, I flipped open my Bible, and it happened to be the book of Job. I read about how everything was stripped from Job, yet he continued to praise the Lord. Aren’t we challenged to do the same? Sure, things might be different than I had hoped or prayed for, but the Lord was still in it, and so I will praise Him for the beauty He continues to create in my life.

It is a daily choice to praise God and to not dwell on the hurt. And it does require a strength that I’ve found only the Lord provides. It’s something I must seek diligently, consciously, and fervently.

When the tough days come and I long for that relationship I’ve yearned for since childhood, I have to consciously choose to focus on the Lord’s plan. And sometimes it takes continually saying His name in order to reflect on the very blessings He’s sent my way, and to trust that though it doesn’t make sense, He’s filling the voids and providing in ways that He knows my heart needs.

Whatever hurt you’re going through, you’ve been through, or that you’ll eventually walk through, take His hand and trust Him. Don’t let the pain, fear, doubt, or regret take up too much of today. There’s beauty in every moment and every season, and He isn’t going to leave it as dust. He can use the ashes and mold them to form the most beautiful masterpiece your eyes have ever seen.

Surviving Sexual Assault: How I’m Learning to Forgive My Abuser

It wasn’t just the way her hands crept onto my body, and the sinking dread of knowing it was about to happen again.

It was the way she spun her stories afterwards, to justify what she did. How she’d mock me for being wrecked, or guilt me by claiming I led her on, or paint herself as a victim who had no one else to love. Or how she’d tell me I wasn’t a good Christian if I didn’t give her another chance.

It was also the way her narrative would always win. I didn’t dare report her for ages. She was in her 40s, a respectable senior church staff. I was in my early 20s. Who would believe me over her?

It was how she was still framing herself as the victim of this situation even after she was fired for sexual misconduct, when I finally reported her five years later.

The assaults left no physical scars. My rage and bitterness felt like the only tangible signs I had to demonstrate that something terrible had happened to me. If I just forgave her, was I telling everyone that the injustice didn’t matter?

 

The God Who Sees Me

My refusal to forgive my abuser stemmed from a deep cry to be seen. I needed to know that God grieved when I had been violated to fulfil someone else’s selfish lust. I needed to know that I was worthy enough to have my suffering acknowledged.

I needed to know Him like Hagar did (Genesis 16:1–13). As a servant, sexually exploited, carrying her master’s child, abused by her mistress, and forced to flee to protect herself, she was the definition of an overlooked woman. Yet after her encounter with God, she proclaimed, “You are the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

In two powerful ways, God showed me that He saw me too. In the first, I was reading Elie Wiesel’s Night one evening, an iconic memoir about how Wiesel survived the Holocaust as a 15-year-old boy. His piercing words had me grieving over how much the Jews had to suffer.

Then, a distinct thought surfaced, if I could feel this pain over an injustice, what more God? Inexplicably, I could now imagine the anguish God must have felt over what had happened to me.

A few weeks later, I was meditating over what it meant that God was a perfect Judge (1 Peter 2:23). I’d started by imagining myself presenting my case before Him, and then paused, unsure of how the scenario would unfold.

To my surprise, the scene continued in my mind’s eye. The omniscient Judge, who saw the situation more clearly than I did, answered immediately, “Yes, it is as you’ve said.” And He continued, “And the penalty of her sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Before I could gasp at the harshness of the sentence, I saw Jesus step up to say, “And I will pay it.”

The whole scene was over in five seconds. But it was enormously liberating to realize that I would never have to plead for a perfect Judge to believe me. Nothing escaped His eye. Suddenly it no longer mattered what narratives my abuser continued to tell. God knew the truth and before Him, every lie would eventually amount to dust.

I no longer wanted to cling to my pain in a bid to be seen. I saw that I already was.

 

Forgiveness Does Not Short-Change Us

But it still troubled me that Jesus took the full brunt of her punishment. I knew that conventional Christian teaching would remind me that I, too, am a sinner forgiven by the finished work of the cross. Having received that grace, I ought to extend the same grace to my abuser.

I simply couldn’t resonate with that. Grace for her didn’t feel like justice for me. I wanted her, not Jesus, to feel every bit of the pain that she’d inflicted so that she’d know what her actions cost me. I feared that if I canceled what she owed, I was never going to be repaid.

But thinking that her suffering would compensate her debt would have been like getting a billion rocks back for the billion dollars she stole. Her suffering wasn’t going to make my life rich again, or add any intrinsic good to my life. Only God could do that.

When Jesus died for our sins, that wasn’t the end of His story. God powerfully resurrected Him and allowed Him to conquer sin and death (Ephesians 1:19–22). That same resurrection power was placed in me when I believed in Him (Romans 8:11).

By being in Christ, the ‘deaths’ that her sin caused in my life (James 1:15) did not have to be permanent. Not the death of my sexual or emotional wholeness. Not the death of my trust or my mental health. Not the death of years of my time from being trapped in a manipulative dynamic. This life after death was only possible because it was Jesus who bore the consequences of sin, and not her.

As psychiatrists Henry Cloud and Stuart Townsend write, “To forgive means acknowledging we will never get from that person what is owed to us. […] Let it go, and go get what you need from God and people who can give.”[1]

By wanting me to accept that Jesus paid her debt, God wasn’t asking me to erase my past. He was asking me to choose a better future. To borrow theologian Miroslav Volf’s words, the resurrection power of the cross meant “that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim.”[2] The assault wouldn’t have to be the last word on my story.

Where I thought forgiving my abuser would end up short-changing me, God showed me that it would enrich my life instead. He paid her debt so that I didn’t need to wait in vain for something she could never give. I could now be free to turn to Him to “bring me back to life” (Romans 8:11).

And He did. He provided me with a therapist who helped me chip away at the PTSD for eight months. He brought me to a new church community, strengthened my healthy friendships, and gave me meaningful work and volunteering opportunities. Most importantly, He rebuilt the foundations of my faith to show me that He is worthy of my trust.

It was slow, and at times arduous, work. It didn’t look like much was changing from day to day. But as I look at my new life just a year on from learning to forgive her, I can see what a good, healthy and peaceful life He has already built for me. Even though I didn’t get anything I wanted from her, I realize that I hadn’t needed any of it to thrive.

 

ForgivenessAn Ongoing Choice

That is not to say I don’t still feel rage from time to time, especially when I’m hit with a PTSD trigger or yet another realization of what the assaults have cost me. But as I keep choosing to forgive, it gets easier to release her from her debt and turn back to God for what I need in the moment. Perhaps there’ll even be a day where I can forgive her purely because I want to extend grace to her, and not because it benefits me.

For now, I know that forgiving her doesn’t mean covering up, forgetting, or rewriting the assaults. God has seen them; He will work through what has happened in His own just way and in His own time. Instead, forgiving her means that I can see more than my pain and brokenness: I can see a life beyond the assault.

 

Endnotes:

[1] Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2017), 292.

[2] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation (Nashville, Tennessee: Arbington Press, 1996), 124.

 

Editor’s Note: This article is the second of a three-part series on sexual assault. Read the first part, “Surviving Sexual Assault: How I Learned to Forgive Myself” here, and look out for the final part, “Surviving Sexual Assault: How I Learned to Forgive the Church”.

When I Was Offended By My Church

Written By Crystal Brockington, USA

I couldn’t believe that they actually mailed me a letter.

When I had completed the Small Group Leadership Training several weeks earlier, our Campus Pastor had informed the class that at the end of the training, some of us would, unfortunately, be receiving a letter stating that we were not currently fit to be small group leaders. I brushed off the possibility.

After all, I was already on the worship team and part of the young adult leadership team. I had done exceedingly well on the biblical knowledge exam that all potential leaders had to take. I also had one of the church pastors as a character reference. Several of the people involved in the decision-making process had even prematurely congratulated me on my new small group!

So, imagine my surprise when I read the letter thanking me for my time and interest, wishing me the best, and noting that I did not meet their criteria.

I was devastated to hear that I wasn’t leadership material—so devastated that this rejection was a major contributing factor in my decision to leave that congregation several months later.

I had been rejected before. We all have. Rejection is a part of life, but it was hard to move past the offense I felt.

Here are four things that helped me to grow through the pain of rejection, instead of simply feeling bad about it.

 

1. Grieve the loss

Being considered for a promotion, whether at our job or in the church, can be exciting. The evaluation process often stirs up thoughts and conversations of what we wish to accomplish. This can cause us to become emotionally invested in the possibilities.

In my case, I had prayed quite intensely for the local college students that I had hoped would be discipled through my small group. When I wasn’t permitted to lead the group, I needed to grieve the loss of the possibility.

While it is true that missing out on an opportunity, going through a break-up, or even making life transitions may feel different from grieving the loss of a loved one, these are still moments in our lives that warrant grief.

Our feelings of sadness or disappointment are valid. We can acknowledge them as we release them to the Lord.

 

2. Let go of offense

It hurt that my church hadn’t chosen me, and I was offended that they mailed me a letter to inform me.  I perceived the mailing of the letter to be a disregard for my value—surely there was a more considerate way to handle the situation?

Since I felt devalued, it started to color how I processed my relationships with leaders in my church. One relationship in particular, was highly affected. In hindsight, this person hadn’t actually done anything to wrong me, but through the lens of offense, I had allowed him to become an enemy within my heart. Offense had blinded me to this leader’s good intentions, commitment to my growth in the Lord, and genuine biblical love for me.

Several months after leaving my church, I was able to reconcile with this leader, but it was only possible because I released the offense. I had to forgive him and the church at large, for the ways that their actions had wounded me, even though they hadn’t apologized, and even though they never intended to hurt me in the first place.

Christ commands us in Scripture to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39). When we walk around with offense, we are holding something against our neighbor, and this is contrary to love. Offense keeps a record and creates a debt. But love, according to Scripture, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, and keeps no record of wrong-doings (1 Corinthians 13:5).

In Christ, our offenses against the Father are covered, and the debt they create is canceled. Therefore, we should follow His instruction and gracious example when dealing with those who have created the debt of offense within our hearts (Matthew 18:32-33).

 

3. Surrender to the process

Sometimes we don’t receive a position or promotion because we simply aren’t the best candidate or right for the position. Other times there is no logical explanation. In my case, I was not ready to lead. While I was “qualified” on paper and had met the written requirements, Scripture told a different story.

God takes leadership seriously, and so did my church. This congregation held small group leaders to the same standard as other church officers. Leaders, by nature, set an example of living biblical Christianity and also come alongside members of the congregation to do the same. For example, among other things, Scripture dictates that deacons are to be respectable, sincere, honest in their pursuits, and deeply rooted in their faith (1 Timothy 3:8-12).

If I am honest, in that season of my life, I didn’t measure up to God’s standard of leadership. I was frequently late, I was easily offended, and I lacked peace and joy. This didn’t negate the things that I did well, and it didn’t mean that I should have been disqualified from other areas of leadership and service that I was already active in. However, it did indicate that there was still space for me to grow.

If we are able to let go of the offense of being shown our shortcomings, we can partner with the Lord and the people around us to intentionally grow in these areas until we are the leaders that Christ has called us to be.

 

4. Remember that it is God who exalts

No matter how qualified, gifted, or charismatic we are, God is ultimately the one who exalts us to positions of leadership. He is much more concerned with our character and development than He is with our resume or reputation.

Even in seasons of denial or rejection, we should honor God by stewarding well the influence that He has already entrusted to us. Consider Joseph (Genesis 39-45) and King David (1 Samuel 24:1-7), who both navigated a process as they experienced incremental promotion. Scripture is full of emerging leaders who are going through a process, working through offense, and growing in humility as they walked in God’s plan for them. We are in good company, as we do the same.

 

Moving From Guilt to Freedom

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

My heart was tense. I kept remembering the recent conversation with my former church leader. I had explained to her my decision to leave for a new church,* and apologized for letting her down.

But she was visibly upset, and directed hurtful, accusing words at me. After that conversation, I tried texting her once a week, but her reply was always short— “I’m fine. Thank you.” The last time I texted her, she stopped replying altogether.

This leader had been a great help to me during my discipleship journey. I remember when she first brought me to the church five years ago. I was facing some complex family issues then, and she was one of the persons who directed me to God and showered me with love.

I grew spiritually in that church. I was grateful for the comfort they provided, and I made a promise to stay faithful to the church and to eventually bring my family there for worship. But that never happened, and now with my departure, it won’t be happening at all.

I felt helpless, and God seemed so far away. I was so consumed by that feeling of helplessness that I woke up one Sunday morning, and didn’t feel like worshipping God. But I figured I should at least go to church and listen to the sermon, so I eventually dragged myself out of bed.

 

The Bondage That Held Me

As the worship leader led us to begin singing the song “No Longer Slaves,” I remember praying, “Lord, show me what is hindering me. I just want to worship you.”

God brought to light my guilt over leaving my previous church. While it was not necessarily wrong for me to leave, I felt guilty for not fulfilling my promise to my former church leader.

I had also raised my voice during the discussion with my church leader. I was defensive and somewhat bitter as I explained my reasons for leaving. Hence, I was guilty also for taking offense instead of seeking peace (1 Peter 3:11, Matthew 5:9). I should have answered with gentleness and respect (Proverbs 15:1), thus keeping a clear conscience. Instead, I sinned, and in turn, led my church leader further into sin also.

As we continued singing, I became immersed in the lyrics: I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. . . We’ve been liberated from our bondage, we are the sons and daughters, let us sing our freedom. . .

I found myself lifting up my hands as we sang. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled how the Lord had rescued me again and again in the past. Though I have faced many tough situations, the Lord has always carried me and walked me through my darkest moments.

At the end of the song, I felt as if God were speaking into my heart, “Don’t hold onto the guilt of leaving anymore. Look at My redemptive work on the cross. Lay down your burden; I will carry it. You are no longer a slave. You are mine. Be set free.”

 

Where Freedom Is Found

As I shared my worship experience with a trusted friend, she pointed me to Romans 8:1-4. If we are in Christ, there is no condemnation; the Spirit is life-giving and sets us free from the power of sin and death. No matter what mistake we have made, Christ has died to set us free from condemnation. As long as we put our faith in Him, His sacrifice on the cross justifies us. No human work can do or undo this justification.

When we live according to the Spirit by faith, we can repent, experience Christ’s forgiveness, and move on by His grace even if the person we have wounded has not yet forgiven us. Our flesh is weak. We do things we should not. But there is power at the cross. At the same place where God freely offers forgiveness when we ask, there is a redemptive work that empowers us to live differently—to let go of guilt, and focus on leading a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way and bearing fruit in His kingdom (Colossians 1:10-12).

Through the worship on Sunday morning, God taught me to focus on the power of His cross—even in our confusion and brokenness, it brings both healing and direction for a way forward.

Though my former church leader has yet to forgive me, I know that God already has. Because I am set free from the guilt, I can now pray without hindrance for my church leader to also find healing at the redemptive work on the cross. I continue to pray for the eventual reconciliation of our relationship.

 

* I do not encourage changing churches lightly. No church is perfect, and generally we should remain in our home church and seek to grow spiritually there, encouraging and supporting one another to grow in Christ. However, if you do feel led to move on to a new church, it should be done only after careful consideration, a period of prayer, seeking the Lord through reading His Word, and counsel from mature Christian mentors or church elders.