Friday, April 18, 2008

Spiritual direction: recovering from sexual abuse

I'd like to share a perspective with those of you who are still struggling to recover from sexual abuse, particularly those who were abused by priests or other religious figures. Catholics in particular will relate to what I am saying, but I think anyone can understand this observation.

Believers who died for the faith are designated as martyrs. Those in the early Church automatically became members of the communion of saints. Some we know nothing about but their names. But by being a martyr we know that they were put to death for holding tight to the Christian faith during persecution to the very end of their lives, usually under extreme torture. There are categories of saints and one of them is virgins. St Agnes is an example of a saint, martyr, virgin, for example. It is important for you to know that virgin martyrs retained the title of virgin, even if they were in fact raped before being executed. In the eyes of the Church, their virginity is not compromised, even if they were repeatedly and obviously raped.

This is reflection of not only how the Church views the blessed who gave their lives as martyrs, but also of God's perception of them. When God "looks" at the soul of a virgin martyr, even if she (or he) had been raped, God sees only their virginity and chastity. If they could look at themselves in the mirror that reflects how God sees them, they would see the glory of their innocence and chastity, regardless of the pain and abuse that they had physically endured.

I mention this because I've commented that recovery from all great afflictions, but especially sexual and spiritual affliction, is not only benefited by turning to God in acknowledgement of his help, but for most people of faith it is a necessity for healing and recovery. Most victims of abuse look in the mirror and see the broken person, even on a good day. When you turn to God, though, and accept and listen to his comfort, when you look in the mirror you increasingly see the unsullied and unabused person that is the accurate reflection of God's view of you. While your mind cannot, and should not, deny or erase traumatic memories, God controls the overall picture. His view of you is still perfect, still virginal, and still innocent. It goes beyond God saying that what happened to you is not your fault. It is showing you that there is a part of you that can never be touched by even the most dreadful abuse and pain. That is the soul. Your spirit may have been darkened and broken, but your soul is as virginal and pure as it was before the abuse. This is true even if, as some of the wounded abused have done, you suffered from resulting addictions, behavior issues, or moments of acting out as a result of childhood trauma. None of those actions "stick" to the innocence of your soul, because the Lord sees the purity before and separate from the painful results of the bodily and spiritual abuse. God truly does not see, when he looks at you, the trail of damage from the moment of the abuse onward. He of course knows all that you do and have done and endured, but as he knows he is gazing at you and seeing the same pure innocent person from before all this happened. So you can talk to him and believe in him about what has happened, but his reply to you is to help you see yourself how he sees you, which is still pure and innocent.

If you can nurture your relationship with God, directly with God, with time and prayer you will start to look in the mirror and see more and more of the purity with which God sees you. This is the road to recovery and full restoration.

I hope this helps and God bless you all.