This article is written in response to an article by Clifton Inman in the September issue of Gospel Advocate. In reference to helping those who have been victims of child abuse brother Inman writes, "We desperately need help from those who have 'been there' to cause us to understand." I have "been there." I share my experiences with you in the hope that others may be helped as I have been helped.
Most abuse is not done openly. If a child does get up enough courage to talk to a teacher or other adult, generally the parent is confronted. The parent denies any abuse and makes some excuse that the child is just trying to get attention or that he is misrepresenting the facts to achieve his own ends. Generally it is the adult who is believed. The child may then be called on the carpet by the very one from whom he has sought help--and the abuse at home gets even worse. And since his abuse has been denied, he thinks it is the same in all homes. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.
Now the child sees no way to turn. He struggles alone to survive in any way he can. He may become withdrawn. He may become belligerent. He may behave in socially unacceptable ways. He is still a child. He thinks as a child. he cannot see where his thoughts and actions will eventually lead him. And most tragically, he can see no end to his situation. When you are seven, eighteen seems like a trillion years away!
Each situation is different, and each individual is different and responds differently. I "survived" by building a wall around myself and not letting anyone get close to me. And it seemed that every time I did soften some and let my barriers down, I got hurt.
Yes, I eventually married. My husband even became a denominational preacher. By then I was trying to the best of my knowledge and ability to serve our Lord. I tried desperately to lay aside the past as taught in Philippians 3:13-14. My husband tried to help. When I failed he thought I simply was not trying hard enough, that I did not love him enough to try, and that I did not have enough faith in God. I found myself hurting even worse--and still no way out. By the time my husband died I had lost all confidence in myself and in my fellow man. I trusted no one.
A few weeks later I became acquainted with brother T. Pierce Brown. He taught me the truth and baptized me properly. I had no confidence in him as a man. I simply believed the scriptures he pointed out.
Brother Brown knew nothing of my past. He saw a grieving widow who was created in the image and likeness of his Lord and who needed comfort. That was a new concept to me. I was supposed to comfort others, but it never occurred to me that anyone would want to comfort me!
Some time later, sitting in a darkened room on the verge of suicide, thinking no one cared anyway, I remembered that brother Brown did care. And I realized within myself that if I ever came that close to suicide again I would go through with it. I knew I had to have help from others. I dreaded the stern lecture which I knew would follow, but I told brother Brown what had happened. Instead of a lecture I received compassion! And he emphasized the positive point that I had NOT gone through with it. Do you note the difference?
He taught me that I was a victim, not the cause, of the abuse. He taught me that I was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27), with the privileges and responsibilities thereof. The idea of having any privileges was a new concept to me! He began to build up my self-esteem. Any effort I put forth, no matter how insignificant the results, was accepted. No matter how hard I had tried to please my parents or my husband nothing I did was ever acceptable. Brother Brown seemed to take joy in anything I did. And he began to teach me new ways of looking at things and new ways of coping with problems.
Gradually he won my trust. But before I could trust anyone fully, I had to prove their love. Subconsciously I would do things that I thought would disappoint him. When I did that which was contrary to scripture he would firmly, but gently, correct me. When I did that which disappointed him personally, he never lectured me nor told me how much he had done for me nor how much I had disappointed him. Instead, he distinguished between the person and the action. Yes, my action had disappointed him. But he was not disappointed in ME. That is an extremely important point to remember when helping others.
After I had learned to trust brother Brown I began to extend that trust to others. I asked for and received the help of my elders. They took the same positive approach. They never lectured nor condemned me. Yes, I had to prove their love in the same way as I had brother Brown's. But always they expressed their love, understanding, and compassion.
Surprisingly, those who have been in the front line during combat seem best able to relate to my experiences. I still have "flashbacks" from time to time. A Viet Nam vet recognized what was happening to me and taught me how to cope with them. He assures me that in time they will abate.
A child who is abused is constantly under fire. Sometimes it is "enemy" fire. Some children may be caught in the crossfire of their parents. But mostly they are fired on by those whom they most love. There is little, if any, shelter. There is no place to hide. He may try to blend in with the furniture so he will not be noticed. But always the shells find him. All he can do is dig in and wait for the battle to cease. A trillion years is a long time to wait.
Long after the battle is over, the trauma will remain. You can help with your love, understanding, and compassion. No, you DO NOT know the pain a victim of child abuse experiences. But you have felt pain. You DO NOT know the sense of betrayal he feels. But you have had a friend let you down. YES, YOU CAN HELP.
If you were abused as a child, help is available. Seek out any elder or minister in the church of our Lord. If they cannot help you themselves, they will assist you in obtaining help. BUT IT IS YOU WHO MUST WANT THAT HELP.
Sandra F. Cobble
Published in The Old Paths Archive