That’s how the stories usually begin… that’s how they usually come tumbling out of mouth of a woman sitting beside me. The story is actually prefaced with: Can I talk to you? And after I say, Of course, hot tears seem to well up in the eyes of the one who desperately needs to tell someone — someone who will listen, someone who will understand, someone who will care.
[ Because of something I might have shared there in a talk or because of the “safe-feeling” of the setting – maybe it’s after a Bible study, a Ladies’ Tea or at a Women’s Retreat – I think women know they can talk to me; they know I will listen, they know I will understand and they know I will care. What they might not know (or believe) is that not only will all those things be true, but I will also pray with and for them. I’m so glad for these opportunities. I marvel how the Lord’s continually brought to mind many women I’ve talked with over the years. And though I might’ve forgotten their name – I still remember their stories, I still remember their faces and still care that they shared their stories with me. And I pray for them. These opportunities are some of the ways the Lord has shown me that what the devil intended for evil, God intended for good — for my good and His glory. ]
And so, their story usually begins something like this: I’ve never told anyone this before, but when I was eleven (or what ever age) my step-father (or uncle or brother or neighbour or family friend, etc.) sexuallyabused me. I didn’t know it was sexualabuse at the time, but he told me not to tell anyone… and I knew it was wrong, but I was so scared and I knew there would be trouble if I told anyone… but I can’t live with this secret anymore. This secret is killing me. I just can’t keep this in anymore.
Even if she told one person initially, she’ll usually remain pretty silent after that. Maybe only ever just hinting at a problem. Because the fear remains. And then shame moves in and brings along shame’s traveling companion: guilt. She wonders how could that have happened? And then she resolves, that will never happen again! But she remains silent. That silence lasts for years — creative coping mechanisms sort of carry her through; she learns to adapt to fear and insulates herself from further abuse… she becomes adept at stuffing her emotions, masking them or pretending they don’t exist. Lots of denial, lots of shame, destructive habits and character issues. Doubt and fear become second nature and, generally speaking, it will be a long time before a girl or woman will ever divulge what happened.
And for most of us, sooner or later, a breaking point washes over us and we find trust in someone and can finally say: I’ve never told anyone this before but…
And there’s some strange comfort in the telling. It’s not the same smug wielding of power that comes when a child says: I’m telling! to a sister or friend who took the last cookie or whatever. It’s a different — a freeing revelation — one that looks fear in the face and says: you cannot hurt me anymore. It’s one that takes that secret and blows it to pieces, saying: It’s out… the secret’s out. The secret isn’t secret anymore.
And after the telling… after the woman’s straightened herself in the chair, wiped her tears and has taken a deep breath, she looks up and, maybe for the first time, experiences a small bit of relief — knowing that : now someone else knows and now someone else cares — finally, someone understands. I totally understand. And, truth is, lots of “someone’s” understand.
At this point, I usually ask the woman (if she’s married) if she’s candidly talked with her husband about this. And, actually, such is usually the case — women have usually at least told their husband. But if not, I always suggest that’s the next person to talk with and I pray with her that by the grace of God, she will do that right away. I always feel like I wish I could somehow convey to a husband, in advance, hey, your wife’s got a very, very heavy burden to reveal to you… you already know deep down that she has some deep seated hurts – some wounds and scars that need attention and healing. And you’re going to need to be ready to bear this burden with her…but I don’t and so, with trust in the merciful Lord, I mentally give the matter to Him.
If the woman is not married, then the matter is wholly different — and prayer for wisdom and understanding is the first measure to take. And then, very special attention to working out with her, talking her through the revealing, through the facing of the truth — to parents or whomever is ‘responsible’ for her care.
In the end, I sure pray she will carry through and will be believed when she says, I’ve never told anyone this before, but…