Friday, August 31, 2012
Repenting after Sexual Assault
For any who have not followed my blog, I was in an abusive marriage. In that marriage, I experienced emotional, spiritual, and even mild physical and sexual abuse. Through a long process guided by my relationship with my God, my relationships with my family, and serendipitous divine intervention, I was able to heal.
So I plead with you to hear what I'm saying, and not only what you expect to hear. I have been a victim myself, so I know something about healing. If you are someone who is currently caught in the dark whirlpool of emotion that comes after assault of any kind, especially sexual assault, please know that I do not judge you in any way. I've been there. I know that you share no fault in the hand you have been dealt. But it is a hand you have been dealt, and it is up to you to shake off the last chains that your attacker has put on you. No one else can do it but you.
Those of you who do not believe in God may find my advice less helpful. But I can promise you that in my faith, I have found healing. Take a second look. Through Him, you can find the strength that you lack right now.
I read a comment recently criticizing a bishop's counsel to a young woman who had been raped to repent. It was dismissed as victim blaming. While the bishop may not have been giving that counsel in the right spirit, I have found healing only through repentance. But I think a better understanding of repentance is necessary to access its power when you have been hurt so deeply.
Repentance is commonly thought to be a ceasing of sin. As children, we are taught to 1) realize you've done wrong, 2) confess the sin, 3) make reparations, and 4) never do it again. This outline is right, in its way, but it explains an understanding of repentance fit for children. There is much, much more to repentance than only ceasing to do wrong.
Repentance is the process by which we bring our will into alignment with God's will. We don't repent only because we do something wrong. We repent because in our mortal lives we have become separated from God. As we repent, we draw closer to Him. Repentance includes purifying ourselves from sin, yes, but it also includes drawing closer to Him, relying on Him, getting to know Him personally.
There are few people who feel as separated from God as victims of a crime, particularly abuse or sexual assault. Who needs that closeness with their Heavenly Father more than those who have been betrayed by closeness?
So what are the steps for this part of repentance? In short, they are all the seminary answers: pray, read scriptures, attend Church meetings, etc. But if we look more closely at these things, rather than shooting them off flippantly, we will see how much power is in these things.
I have had nights where I have knelt to pray, and had no words come to me. All I could feel was pleading, reaching out for His love, desperate to feel like I was not alone. Some nights, I felt nothing. But other nights, I could sense His love and concern for me. I felt His angels around me, loving me, weeping with me, wrapping their arms around me and protecting me from evil. I have felt them walking with my daughters, leading them to make good choices, choices that will protect them from deception.
Scripture reading is hard for me, now. When I was younger, I pored over the scriptures in minute detail. I've read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the other scriptures from cover to cover. Yes, even the "begats." I hungrily devoured everything I could glean. But now, I often find myself reluctant to read regularly. There is just so much to take my attention. But when I do open the scriptures, I am often struck with a new insight to my life.
Scriptures are records of God's dealings with His people. As I read them, I come to know Him, know His wisdom. I have been given tools to better handle the times I feel alone, when I feel challenged by some commandment or other, when I have been thrust into situations through no fault of mine, but through the wickedness of others. I have learned when to speak and when to be silent. When to defend myself and what I love with everything I have, and when to submit.
When the Spirit speaks to me, it is often through phrases that come from scripture, even if I don't recall the exact reference. This teaches me not only the primary revelation, but also gives me faith that I am not the only one to face my particular types of trials.
The scriptures connect me to thousands of years, hundreds of generations of humankind. Their hopes, their pain, their faith and growth are all wrapped up in those pages for those with eyes to see. The people in scripture are real to me, and because they are real, I am able to move forward with confidence in the Lord's plan. I have been given a larger perspective than my own little box, and the pain I feel is shared throughout humankind.
Going to church is hard for me, never harder than right after I was a victim. But I am a stubborn soul, and I solemnly promised myself and God that I would not take the easy route, not avoid the company of those who knew me for the failure I was. So I went, single with young children, so tired and frustrated at times that I wanted to leave and never turn back.
But as I attended church, wrapped in a shell of my own disappointment and anger, I found that other people, women, began to reach out to me. I found opportunities to reach outside of my own little box and serve, to offer a hand of strength to them when they needed it. It is in attending church that I truly learned charity, the biggest secret of the Gospel.
Connecting ourselves to others of God's children is the best way to feel Him. As we act in His stead, we channel His power. And that power is the true power in repentance.
So I urge you, who have found yourselves with a life you didn't ask for, victims of someone else's mistakes, to repent. Turn to Him, and He will heal you.