Abandoned. Undeserving. Unloved. Leah knows these words well, and all the implications they carry.
She looked to the side, her fork paused in mid-air, her mind searching for the right words to describe what she was feeling.
“Why would God allow that? What had I done wrong to deserve what happened to me?”
We had met for lunch to talk through her story. It’s a hard story to share. A delicate one. But unfortunately, not a rare one. The statistics of children who experience sexual abuse at the hands of an adult, most often an adult they know or are related to, are staggering. What’s worse, many children experience long-term effects of their abuse years into adulthood, long after memories have faded, or have been blocked by the sheer trauma of their experiences.
This is Leah’s story.
Having endured so many medical difficulties, and no closer to any answers than when it began, Leah found herself contemplating suicide. Thoughts would come and go as sleep eluded her one night. It was just all too exhausting, and this seemed to be the only way out. The next day, her mother called to check in on her. She told Leah that both of her aunts had been up the majority of the night on the phone praying together for her, though they had no idea why they felt the urgent need to pray.
She had been to the doctor, who had encouraged her to see a psychologist to hopefully root out a deeper answer for her medical issues. Hesitant at first, Leah eventually decided enough was enough and made an appointment. Sitting with the psychologist, she suddenly blurted out, “My brother-in-law molested me when I was 10!” The words came as just as much of a shock to her as they did to the counselor. Suddenly, memories that had been held at bay for all those years came flooding back.
Leah is the youngest of five children. When she was 10 years old, her parents divorced when her father left. Her sisters were already both married as they were much older than her, and her oldest sister and her husband came to live with them, a decision that would affect Leah for the rest of her life as she experienced sexual abuse while they lived under the same roof.
She married young and became a mother at the tender age of 19. Her second child was born when she was 21. Leah decided she needed to get serious about her faith and decided to start going to church. It was difficult not having the support of her spouse though, so she was in and out of church over the course of several years. When she really dug deep though to examine why church was hard, it really came down to a deep sense of shame. She didn’t feel like she deserved to be there. She didn’t deserve the love of God being sung about and preached. She felt on one hand that it was her own fault for allowing the abuse to happen. Until one day, she was able to overcome this lie in therapy by confronting an empty chair and imagining her abuser. She knew she needed to forgive in order to move forward and said so out loud. On the other hand, she had stored up quite a bit of anger at God for allowing such a heinous act on an innocent child.
Abandoned physically by her biological father, Leah felt God had also abandoned her, leaving her defenseless against the evils of sexual abuse at the hands of a relative. They must not have loved her enough to stay or protect her. Yet, despite all that had happened, Leah repeatedly mentioned that she just knew this was all somehow for her good and His glory. Considering many people struggle to relate to a good God as their heavenly father after experiencing abandonment of an earthly father, and abuse from a fatherly figure, I asked how she perceived God as her father and was surprised at her answer, “I know with all my heart that God loves me.”
Leah understands that the sin someone else committed against her doesn’t diminish God’s love for her. She understands that as a sinner herself, she is deserving of an eternity separated from the only good Father that exists. But Leah trusts in her Father who secured her salvation through faith in Jesus. And because she believes in Jesus who loved her when she was still in sin — when she was being sinned against — Leah knows something so many find elusive: peace.
She used to question what she did to deserve such abuse. She used to question God’s love for her and why He let such a terrible thing happen to her. Her eyes turned toward me with the realization of an assurance she’d never had before. “I don’t think I’ll ever ask those questions again,” she said. The mercy of God had protected her from a worse fate, and the grace of God had provided her with the gift of faith to trust that somehow, this was for her good and God’s glory. “Maybe this is for someone else’s good too.” Leah wants her story to be one of hope for others who have experienced abuse like she did. She wants them to know they’re not alone. She wants them to know that forgiveness is essential, as hard as it is. That everything happens for a reason. But more than anything, she wants them to know that God loves them.
Abandoned? Abused? Afraid? Ashamed? Alone? There is hope! We live in a fallen world, but God is redeeming all of it through Christ. And one day, He will make all things new.
In Christ, the abandoned and lonely are gathered in.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” Eph. 2:19
In Christ, the abused are made whole.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 17:3
In Christ, the fearful have perfect peace.
“For he himself is our peace… And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” Eph. 2:14, 17
In Christ, the ashamed boldly boast in the name of Jesus.
“And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” Rev. 5:13
And one day, ALL THINGS will be made new.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”