“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…” Matthew 5:44 KJV
Who is your enemy?
When I was a child, I was sexually abused by an extended family member.
I don’t know when it began.
But I know when it ended – the day he died, when I was ten years old.
I remember hearing the report that he had suffered a heart attack and was gone. I went back out to play in the woods near my home, feeling nothing. Suddenly the emotions welled up within me, and I sobbed until there were no more tears. I got up, walked home, and for almost five years remembered nothing of the abuse.
When I began dating, the memories came back in flashbacks and nightmares. My mind had completely shut out the abuse and fused a string of normal, healthy times into a seemingly coherent set of happy childhood memories. I was frightened and confused by the flashbacks, but as I began to accept them, they fractured my idealized childhood.
I was ashamed and alone.
I knew I was the victim, but I was afraid of the reaction I would get if I told anyone in my family the truth. My abuser had threatened me and lied to protect himself, and I now believed those lies. I convinced myself that he was dead, and it was in the past. I buried the pain.
But as a result, every area of my life suffered. I rebelled against everything and broke all the rules. In time I hit rock bottom and my world fell apart. I wanted to die, and I cried out desperately to God.
God met me there.
In that moment, the Holy Spirit descended and wrapped me like a blanket. Nothing had changed in my circumstances, and I was faced with the consequences of my actions. But from that day forward I would never doubt or question the peace that surpasses understanding because I experienced it, the night God met me in my pain.
Eventually I told the truth to my family. Just as I expected, everyone around me was wounded by the emotional debris.
Some were angry, others afraid. Some just could not cope with the truth. One cousin felt guilty… I was not the only one. She had offered to babysit but was too afraid to tell my parents the truth about who he really was. I’m not sure anyone would have believed her anyway.
I was more fortunate than most and my mother, deeply grieved by the abuse, set her pain aside to help me to get the counseling that I needed.
Telling the truth was terrifying.
But when I did, I learned the power of salt and light to clean and disinfect a wounded heart. I learned that forgiveness is not a onetime event, but a continuous process and even a benchmark of a healthy life. Forgiveness was difficult because the object of my rage and hurt was already dead. I couldn’t confront him to experience healing.
Instead, I was given a very helpful coping exercise. I was asked to visualize my abuser. This was a very difficult step because facing him even in my heart and mind was frightening. I was then asked to choose between two buttons.
The first button would simply incinerate him. Before my eyes he would cease to exist. My personal rage begged for this choice but it was not assuaged.
The second button would cause him to be spiritually broken, to truly realize his sin, repent and be forgiven by my SAVIOR, Jesus.
It took me a long time and much prayer before I could press the second button even once.
I would later learn that once was never enough. I still face emotional repercussions of that abuse. The rage returns.
Each time, I must go back through the exercise until I am able to press the second button.
Each time I am asked by the LORD to forgive, to love my enemy.
Not for his benefit, but for mine.
My abuser was not my only enemy.
My fear and insecurities were also enemies which I must daily hand back over to my SAVIOR, Jesus.
The emotional armor I created to protect myself was also an enemy. It had two parts. An anesthetic shield and a sword of rage.
They both had to be removed so that the wounds could drain and be healed.
It is tempting to take up again that comfortable shield that numbed the pain. It slips on easily and fits like a glove. It clings tightly to my heart and mind, but it tears the flesh and reopens wounds when I try to remove it in times of peace… when I attempt to feel again.
Pink Floyd expressed it very well in “Comfortably Numb” but that is another post…
Suppression of my anxiety, hurt and anger created a well of personal rage, raw unprocessed emotion. Nurturing these emotions I often allowed them to boil over and scald those I perceived as a threat. Too often innocent bystanders were wounded in the overflow.
Refusing to release this emotional armor was poisoning me.
I despaired of ever moving on with my life. Sometimes, I still do but have learned that I must daily exchange my anesthetic for a Shield of Faith and my rage for a Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
My personal rage is different than the righteous anger related to the crime of my abuse. Writing this post, sharing my story, this is righteous anger over something that angers God. The abuse of the innocent. It brings healing to me and hopefully to you, the reader.
Part of the happy childhood that co-existed with the abuse included my acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Savior.
But the abuse did not end when Jesus came into my heart.
I see and hear pain that others overlook because I have been there.
While I was still an enemy of God…
HE had mercy on me…
through the death of his own Son…
HE made not only my forgiveness possible but HE chose me as His own child.
Because of HIS Grace I can forgive my own enemies, too.
The forgiveness God requires of me is yet another gift to me.
It frees me from the chains of the past and allowed me to experience the abundant life promised in His Word.
Who is your enemy?