Friends, I know you are probably expecting a “mitzvah” post today. I’m sorry I just don’t have one in me right now. Halloween puts me on edge every year, though I am not exactly sure why. I’m emotionally treading water here and hoping November 1st will come quickly.
I have big plans for November. I recently completed the rough draft of my book Touching His Robe: Reaching Past the Shame and Anger of Abuse and in November I will begin the revisions and polishing. For today I have decided to share an excerpt of the first chapter. Enjoy!
The Jaws of Hell
I looked at the “safety card” in my hand. It was divided into sections: suggestions for coping, kind words from friends, and phone numbers including the suicide hotline. I folded it and put it back in my pocket. It wasn’t enough. Questions reverberated in my mind: Am I God’s Orphan? Did He push me off the train, or just turn away and leave me? I told myself it no longer mattered because I had a plan, a suicide plan. Like Job, I cursed the day I was born.
But it had not always been this way. As a teenager with two alcoholic parents, there was one night my parents didn’t bother to come home. I lay awake frantic that they had either been put in jail, or they were in the hospital. Prayer got me through the night and I began to know my Comforter. From Arizona, where I was born, through my experiences in Venezuela, Alaska, Utah, and Washington, He was my Guide. He led me to a wonderful husband. When a miscarriage at 12 weeks broke my heart, He mended it. When death also claimed a teenage niece and nephew, He wept with me. As my husband’s business failing, subsequent job layoffs, bankruptcy, and foreclosure dropped me to my knees. He was my Staff. When life-threatening health issues frightened me, He calmed the troubled sea in my soul. Truly He was my Bread of Life.
Then, memories of childhood sexual abuse began to surface. I became acquainted with a pain that surpassed anything I had experienced before. And I felt utterly alone. Where was my balm of Gilead, my Savior now? I could not feel Him. I became angry. How could God allow this to happen to me, and why had he forsaken me when I needed him the most?
I grieved the loss of this relationship along with the pain of the past. I turned to the church seeking comfort and answers, but well-intended messages of forgiveness only increased my pain. If I were a better person, I thought, I could forgive. Shame, like a black mold, filled me until one day when I did feel the Savior reaching out to me I turned away from Him. I saw myself as an emotional leper. “Unclean, unclean,” was my heart’s mantra. Without Christ, I was adrift. For a short time, I considered atheism and yet He had been too much a part of my life to let go.
Does this sound familiar to you? Have you felt alone and forsaken? If you have, you are not alone. These feelings are common among survivors. There are examples in the Bible of others who felt forsaken. The story of Job could be our story. Job had done nothing wrong and yet suddenly the jaws of hell gaped after him. Christ, who is our example in all things, was innocent and yet on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”
My abuse started when I was about four and continued for several years. I understand your pain. If I could I would just sit with you and listen to your story. I would hear your pain in as much or as little detail as you want to tell it. And I would say I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. That should not have happened.
But I can’t sit with each of you, so I will do the next best thing. I will share my story, and how I found Christ again. What Christ whispered to me through the scriptures He says to all.
In this chapter, we will talk about the jaws of hell, the feeling of being forsaken, and feelings that cause us to feel this separation. Through the rest of the book, we will talk about scriptures that can help you not only overcome those feelings, but feel a deep closeness to the Lord.
When the Jaws Open
What does it mean to have the jaws of Hell open after you? We can track the phrase back to medieval times. In the Vercelli Homilies (prose believed to date back to the 10th century), Satan is compared to a dragon swallowing the damned. The image was used in medieval art as well. “Hellsmouth”, the entrance to hell, was portrayed as the gaping mouth of a monster. This image was common all over Europe and continued until the end of the Middle Ages. Usage continued later in renaissance theater. An entry would be painted to appear as hell’s mouth and during morality plays actors playing demons would dramatically drag sinners to their doom. Eventually, they simply called any trapdoor on the floor of a stage the hellsmouth. In Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, they called the entire space beneath the stage “hell” and the choir loft the heavens.
The idea continues to intrigue men’s minds. The term jaws of hell can be found in many current day song lyrics. But what does all this have to do with us?
Generally we think of separation from God as being due to our sins. But what if as Job we are separated from God, during a time when we need Him most, through no fault of our own? Could this not be truly called the Jaws of Hell?
Shame is a huge obstacle for us survivors of abuse. Almost immediately as my memories began to resurface, I was overcome with a deep sense of shame. I felt like a rotten apple. People told me the abuse wasn’t my fault. Logically I knew they were right and yet still, I also felt deeply that I was full of worms, invisible to the eye, but spoiled just the same.
Shame did not come into my life alone. It brought a companion, anger. Anger was a really uncomfortable visitor because as a child I had never been allowed to express it. As the spark of anger grew into an inner bonfire, I had no idea how to extinguish it.
Anger whispered terrible things to me. “If God really loves you, why did He allow this to happen?” I knew all the Sunday school answers about why God allows bad things to happen to good people, but those no longer seemed sufficient. This was not a philosophical question, but a deeply personal one.
With the return of my memories, I lost something else–trust. Trust is huge issue for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Most abuse occurs by someone the child knows; a family member or friend of the family. When we are hurt and betrayed in such a grievous manner by someone who was supposed to help us, we learn not to trust again especially authority figures, even God.
A Door Opens
Thus far I have painted a very dismal picture, but there is hope. One day, I told my spiritual leader I could not bear the thought of the Savior approaching me with outstretched arms. I preferred to have rocks fall on me rather than face him.
He pondered that for a moment and then said, “Remember the woman who came to Jesus and touched His robe? Maybe you could do that . . . just touch his robe.”
The words resonated within me like a perfect chord on the piano. Yes! Even though I was full of hurt, mistrust and fear, there was a part of me that yearned for the once close relationship I had shared with the Savior. Perhaps I could just reach out and touch His robe.