I don’t ordinarily follow up – at least this quickly – to a piece I have written, but I can’t help myself this time. A beautiful woman with a courageous heart reached out to me in response to my piece called, “Raped. Robbed. Repent?”, and I just knew in my heart more needed to be said on the subject the Lord had placed on my heart to bring up – specifically on the subject of repentance when it comes to survivors of sexual violence.
Some people might call me a fool for thinking of repentance as a gift from God, and others might call me crazy for believing a survivor of sexual violence would be blessed through repentance, but I have my reasons both according to the Bible and based on my own experience.
Why do I see repentance as a gift? Because He loves us so much that rather than allow us to spend our lives without a relationship with Him and be destined for eternity in hell because we cannot be in His presence because of His holiness and our nature as humans as sinners, He sent Christ to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins to give us the opportunity to repent, believe the Gospel and receive the promise of everlasting life – not to mention to enable us to have a relationship with Him right here, right now, on earth through faith in Christ and a life committed to following Him. Because of HIS LOVE and HIS MERCY and HIS GRACE, He gives us the gift of repentance so that we can be redeemed from our sins and their consequences. That’s how much He loves us!
But how can repentance be a gift for a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, of incest, of rape, etc.? Why should people like myself repent at all given I was a victim at the expense of someone else’s sins? Let me be ultra clear. A survivor of sexual assault is NEVER to blame for the crime committed against her or him. The survivor is NEVER the cause. The survivor is NEVER responsible for the perpetrator’s crime. NEVER!
But many survivors, like myself, have two issues that require repentance and God’s mercy:
1. I have had sin in my life for decades that had NOTHING to do with the sexual abuse, but I used the sexual abuse as an excuse to hold onto that sin that needed to be repented of.
2. I responded to the sexual abuse in part by developing patterns of sin that were clearly sins against God. And I used the excuse that because I had been a victim, I should be able to allow myself to sin in these ways without any consequences.
While the perpetrators of sex crimes WILL be held accountable by God for their crimes, I also came to see that I would be held accountable for my sins.
Here are some examples of my sins, and why they are sins:
1. Self-mutilation: Harming myself is a sin against God because as a believer in Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Spirit lives inside me. God created me, and God does not want me to harm myself.
2. Anorexia: Trying to starve myself to death is a sin against God because I am harming His Creation, and He loves me!
3. Being in destructive, unhealthy, ungodly relationships with men, and I confess I was in many! This is a sin against God because He created relationships between men and women to be loving, beautiful, and for sex to be a blessing in the context of a marriage between a man and a woman.
4. Rage and vengeance: I am sad to say that my anger and rage came out at numerous people through the years. This is sin because God teaches us to love and forgive, not to seek revenge, vengeance, and harm others with our words, deeds, or actions.
I have also struggled with numerous sins throughout my life that had NOTHING to do with being sexually abused, and yet felt justified in holding onto them because I could not in my mind get past what had happened to me.
Repentance in the Bible is about being genuinely remorseful about our sins against God, about realizing they are wrong, and about committing to make a change.
So long as I continued to hold onto my sins for dear life instead of to learn to hang onto God for dear life, the only thing I was doing as far as having been sexually abused is concerned was to perpetuate the pain, the hurt, the heartache, the brokenness, and all the other horrors that go with the aftermath of sexual abuse. When I finally became a genuinely committed follower of Jesus Christ and developed a habit of repenting daily when I fall into wrongdoing, ever thankful for God’s forgiveness and patience with me as I learn to live according to His ways, my healing from the past truly began. Oh, and how beautiful it is! But my healing is nothing whatsoever in beauty compared with the phenomenal beauty of the relationship with the Lord I have discovered since I sincerely committed to learning how to live the life He planned for me.
Long ago, I heard it said that we all need to clean up our own sides of the street. To this very day, my main perpetrator has never repented as far as I know nor acknowledged his wrongdoing to me. Yet I have been given an indescribable freedom, a healing beyond my wildest dreams, and a joy-filled life beyond anything I could have conceived of because I turned away from what happened and turned to the Lord.
I had to clean up my own side of the street regardless of what my perpetrator would ever choose to do or choose not to do.
I now finally understand that I am NOT to blame for what was done to me. But I am responsible for how I choose to live my own life. And now I am learning, day by day, how to live the godly life that results in having a breathtakingly beautiful, intimate, personal relationship with the Lord and a life I could never possibly have imagined – especially as a survivor of sexual abuse. I am no longer walking in the horror of my past. I am walking with my hand tucked firmly in the safe and loving hand of the Lord, and my heart forever loved by the one to whom I give every ounce of glory for the love that fills my heart.