Throughout my time in high school I found myself in two separate abusive relationships about two years apart, each lasting somewhere around 6 months. However, it wasn’t until I found myself uncontrollably sobbing on the couch in my counselor’s office during my sophomore year of college that I ever allowed myself to admit that either of those relationships were anything beyond your typical “toxic” high school relationships. Throughout that semester I worked with my counselor through these relationships and labeling them both in a way that I was comfortable with and that felt truthful. It was difficult because part of the reason these relationships were so hard to acknowledge for what they were is that both of the men who had treated me so horribly and abused me were not necessarily bad people. I still don’t even know if I can say that they were fully aware of what they were doing. Eventually, I was able to own these relationships for what they were and this made room for me to step back and see how these experiences had impacted me on a deeper level.
When my counselor first asked me how my relationships with men had caused me to change how I viewed God, I told her that I didn’t think they had. Obviously, these men were bad and awful and what they had done was not good and God, of course, was very good and did only good things. So, instead of confronting possible deeper issues that stemmed from these relationships, instead I chose to reflect on the way that God had provided strength as well as a way of escape in these situations and looked at it as an example of His goodness and faithfulness to me. Don’t get me wrong, those things about God were true, but I wasn’t allowing myself to face some of the more painful issues that were lurking beneath the surface of this problem. I think my counselor knew I was in a little bit of denial. I think she knew I wasn’t quite looking deeply enough yet.
As a result of feeling empowered from counseling and the work I had been doing and talking through what I had learned and how I had grown from these relationships I decided that I wanted to talk about my story. I wanted to testify to the goodness of God through my experiences, I wanted other girls in similar situations to know that they were not alone and that God is capable of rebuilding what others have left broken. I felt like freaking Wonder Woman, but with a more “Bible-Man” vibe, ready to shout it from the rooftops and lead other women to freedom and victory. I testified about my relationships for the first time at a worship event I was helping to lead and I thought to myself, “yes, this is where I start to claim authority over my past, this is where I declare victory over my past circumstances. I can finally move forward.” And I was right. But I was also very wrong.
It was as if once I gave testimony of my experience in front of others, in public, God began an even deeper process of healing in my life. All of a sudden the Holy Spirit was daily confronting me with different hurts and wounds from these previous emotionally and verbally abusive relationships asking, “what about this? Have you forgiven these hurts? Have you allowed God to heal you from this brokenness?” It sucked, man, it really sucked. I thought that I was moving past this old pain, but instead it seemed like God was wanting to push me even deeper into it. I found myself wondering if this was punishment for speaking out and testifying about my past relationships. Maybe I had spoken too early or had said something that God was not entirely on-board with and now this was my consequence.
All of this turmoil and questioning came to a peak the Thursday before Easter. I was singing and leading worship with a band at a Good Friday youth rally and that night we were soundchecking and practicing some of our set list for the next day. We began going through “King of my Heart” by Bethel, a song we had done so many times before, and we got to the bridge where the lyrics are “You’re never going to let, never going to let me down,” and it’s like God just crashed right smack into me like a wave. Right in that moment God spoke to my heart and said to me, “I am not like other men in your life, I am nothing like them. I will never leave you, I will never abandon you. I am not like any other man you have known, I am altogether different.” And it was then that I saw image after image and scene after scene of different instances where I had been hurt, abused, and abandoned by men in my life and with each image I felt God saying over and over again, “this is not Me, this is not who I am, and this is who I could never be.” Y’all, when I tell you I bawled like a baby. I had to excuse myself to just go sit somewhere by myself and sort through the mess of emotions that came with this new revelation. I realized that my counselor had been right, my relationships with these men had affected the way that I viewed God. I doubted God’s goodness, I grouped Him with the other men in my life believing that maybe one day He would hurt me too, but God needed me to know that He was nothing like the men I had known in my life. More than that, it was impossible for Him to be like the other men in my life. He is someone so much greater.
That night, God provided healing for my heart where I did not even know I needed to be healed. I believe that the process for this healing began when I was willing to testify to God’s faithfulness in my circumstances and His goodness in the middle of a painful past. In 2nd Timothy 1, Paul says that the Lord has not given us a spirit of fear, “but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.” He goes on to say that because of this we should not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, of what our testimony of the Lord is in our lives.
…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…2nd Timothy 1:7-9 (ESV)
It was hard to testify to the works of the Lord the first time I spoke out about my previous experiences in abusive relationships. I was ashamed at the position I had “put myself in,” I was ashamed that I had allowed myself to have been treated so badly, and I was ashamed that my testimony did not depict a “stronger” more “put together” woman of God. However, Paul says that God has saved us and given us a holy calling, not because of what we can do, not because we have it all together, but according to His own grace and purpose. So, thanks to the grace God has given us we can testify boldly in the spirit that God gifts each of us with and through giving voice to our testimony, through our faith, God is able to provide a process of deeper and even richer healing and victory in our lives.
Your testimony might not have anything to do with abusive relationships from your past (and I pray you don’t know that hurt). Maybe your testimony is about something different that is also difficult and shameful. Maybe it is something that still hurts you and is painful to reflect on. I want to encourage you to reflect and start doing the hard work of allowing deep inner healing to start in your life. Hold on to the knowledge that His grace has always been enough, even when it hurts, and when you feel ready, ignore and reject the shame that tries to keep us trapped where we are and allow the healing work of testimony to do its job in your life as well. The healing does not always look like we think it should in the amount of time we think it should do its job, but the scars heal up so much better when we allow God to administer grace the way He does best.
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