Over the years I’ve walked the walk alongside survivors of childhood abuse in various ways. Either as a moderator for an online forum hosted and ran by a national charity (the forum has been closed a good few years now) or as a member of an organisation that was survivor led and facilitated conversation and support for those affected by abuse, working online, offline and at festivals such as Greenbelt. I’ve been around the survivor of childhood abuse community for a while. And most recently, over the last few years the surviving rape one too, having experienced the trauma of that almost 7 years ago.
And I’ve been around the church for quite some time too, on and off. Since I was a teen and I first walked into one, drunk and desperate to get them to kick me out to prove that all christians were intolerant. Ive had an up and down ride with the Christian faith, and with churches, managing to succeed in being asked to leave one as a late teen after much rebellion and eventually hitting the Pastor after he behaved and acted incredibly inappropriately hence my mistrust of most men in christian leadership/authority.
So anyway when it comes to the church/Christians/abuse/survivors I’ve clocked up a bit of experience.
Ive heard a lot of stuff. I’ve sat and heard a lot of stories. And I’ve heard a lot of how people especially Christians who are also survivors feel there is no place for them within a church. The church.
And I’ve been able to empathise with them. Its a feeling I’ve known all to well too.
Today I was reminded, yet again, just how badly the church often responds to people who have been abused. How incredibly wrong its gets it. Be it from pure ignorance or in some cases plain arrogance and black and white narrow mindedness.
And how damaging it can be.
I’ve had many things said to me over the years. Stuff like –
‘if you really are a Christian then your memory would be erased, literally’
‘if you really are a Christian then you are a new creation and the past no longer exists’
‘god made all this happen to you so good can come of it, and it will turn into good – eventually, just stop dwelling’
‘just forget about it’
‘just focus on God and don’t think about it any more’
and much more …
As you can see Ive focussed on just a few of the things I and countless others have been told just regarding ‘forgetting the past’ which is what I am focussing on right now. I could rattle off hundreds of other statements I’ve had thrown at me regarding my salvation and forgiveness but thats for another time …
So back to the above … back to the ‘erasing our memories’ theory. Previous leaders I’ve had in the past, previous Christians I’ve come into contact with would have me want to believe that if I cannot ‘simply forget the past’ then I am not a Christian. Or that I am in the wrong. Or that I am not living abundantly. Or or or … or many other things. I could be here for the next 24 hours recalling some of the things I’ve had said to me over the years.
And now I have no idea where they get this notion from. I struggle to understand why they think you could just forget. Perhaps its because they have not had the same experiences? Perhaps its because their understanding of pain and trauma is very different to mine, or someone who has been abused. Perhaps they blindly accept what people above them tell them and go with it …
I don’t know, but what I do know is that I don’t believe Jesus erases the past. Why? Well, because He didn’t erase His own did He?
Something that first struck me properly this year over Easter. That when Jesus rose again on the third day after his death on the cross that involved nails piercing his hands, thorns on his head and slashes in his side He appeared to His disciples and SHOWED them His hands, and His side. Why would He do that? Why show His hands if there was nothing there to show? Later on, in John 20 we are told that Thomas disbelieved what the other disciples were telling him when they told him Jesus had returned, for he had not been there with them at that time. He said ‘unless I can put my fingers where those nail holes were, and put my hand into his side then I can’t believe’. Eight days later Jesus came back, and showed Himself to Thomas. The bible tells us Thomas then reached out to see His hands, and His side. The wounds of Jesus. And Thomas believed.
Jesus came back. WITH the wounds. With the holes in his hands. With the gaping side.
Why? Because they tell the story. I bet every single one of us has scars somewhere, physical or deeply hidden emotional ones that tell a story of our life. Some of us have a few. Some of us have many. But scars tell a story. Of something happening. Very rarely do we bare scars that have not come without pain. I imagine in fact nearly all of them come WITH pain.
And so Jesus’ scars on His back, on His head, on His side, and on His hands tell us His story. His story of the cross. His pain.
He didn’t come back with that story erased.
We see through the Bible that Jesus kept those scars. Going into Revelation 5 John writes ‘Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders’.
Jesus took those scars with Him to eternity. As @kellymoore777 said to me earlier on twitter – they are part of His royal robe.
And I believe we will take our scars to eternity with us too.
There is no erasing of the past.
My scars tell my story.
My scars are also starting to tell His story too. The story of healing and restoration that can only come through Him.
Scars are wounds that have healed. Are healing. And so I believe there is also hope to be found in baring scars. Because it tells of a story of pain, of open wounds, which have closed. Which does not mean we don’t remember what caused those scars in the first place, or the tangible pain we have felt when they occurred. It does not mean we do not sometimes go back to a place of feeling that pain. But there is hope in the healing of the wounds. Hope in the wounds of Jesus. That whilst He still carried the scars of His suffering, He still came back. He still had victory.
And I’m holding on to that. That, with His scars, that tell His story He has the victory.
And we can have the victory with Him too, WITH our scars.
And I don’t say that in a blasé way, I really don’t.
I live with scars. Many scars. Physical ones. And emotional ones. And I’m on a journey of really understanding what it means to carry those scars as a Christian. And I’m learning what it really means that Jesus himself was scarred. For me.
And its not easy.
But I just want you to know, if you have ever been told that you are not good enough, or that God does not want you, or that you cannot be a Christian if you do not ‘forget the past’- that is NOT the truth. It is so so far from the truth.
The truth is, as I am learning, painfully at times, that we can come before God as we are. With our scars. With our past. And whilst He will work within us, within our pain and scars, He will never expect us to ‘forget it’.