Sexual healing does not usually happen in a day or so. That would be unusual. It is usually happens as you intentionally walk a long journey towards it. It takes effort, time, and doing whatever it takes to make it happen. The journey may not be quick, but it’s worth every effort you put into it.
Psychotherapist Susan Forward says, “Revealing a major trauma …is just the beginning. …People sometimes find so much relief in the initial revelation that they leave treatment prematurely. When the initial euphoria wears off, the patient is still struggling with unresolved conflicts. …Emotional purgings need to be experienced repeatedly…”
Psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck puts it this way: most abuse survivors “are simply seeking relief. When they realize they are going to be challenged as well as supported, many flee and others are tempted to flee.”
The lack of understanding on the part of fellow-Christians with regard to the length and depth of this healing process is often a frustration to the survivor determined to discover permanent wholeness. As one survivor testifies:
“I find only too often people think you are living in the past when you speak of it …People say, “You should be over that by now.”
A Time for Sexual Healing
Healing can be instantaneous for some. Many testify to spiritual moments that hastened them toward health, allowing them to bypass certain developmental steps. But most of the time, healing is deliberate and orderly. It helps to keep in mind the analogy of physical healing. While a scratch or a sprained ankle heals relatively quickly, the multiple injuries caused by a terrible accident can take months, if not years to mend. The impact may have shattered bones and torn internal organs.
First come sessions of delicate surgery. The patient is not whole when wheeled out of the operating room. Then comes a long period of recovery: the slow knitting together of flesh, muscle, ligament, the multiplication of new cells, the removing of the old, traumatized ones. Both the wounds inflicted by the accident and the incisions made by invasive surgery must heal.
Healing takes time. Often the expectation for quick healing from the effects of early child sexual trauma is unrealistic. It is just as simplistic as thinking: Why do I have to have this tumor removed? Why won’t it just go away? Why do I have to take penicillin for double pneumonia? I hate medicine. Won’t I get better if I just get plenty of rest?
Some survivors want to get well without cooperating with the natural healing processes which the Divine Healer has built into the human psyche.
Motivation for Sexual Healing
Damage from early child sexual abuse, from incest, is often enormous. It is also reparable. Perhaps that needs to be repeated. It is also reparable. But there must be an attitude of help-seeking on the part of the wounded one. Jesus still asks us, as he asked the paralyzed man beside the pool of Bethesda, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6) In a very real sense, it is up to us.
I asked a sexual assault counselor how I could motivate a woman to come for help. “Women like this have had so little control of their lives. That is why it is important that they act autonomously in seeking help. All you can do is tell them of the help available. And then offer your support in getting to it. Then they must act on their own behalf. If they don’t we can’t help them anyhow.”
God usually does not help us toward health until we take one step. He requires one action, which indicates serious decision, serious desire to be well, on our part. We must seek healing at whatever level we are at —even if we can offer no more than a faint, desperate gasp, “Oh God, help!”
Cooperative Leaning Toward Health
We begin to walk, crawl, creep, and strain toward the light, going past a Christian friend’s house, going to a Bible study, seeking out a pastor, attending a women’s conference.
At some point, the individual must commit herself to the rehabilitation process. The lack of this commitment is like the child shaking his head at the teaspoon of medicine, clamping his mouth shut, spitting out the tablet, or purposefully gagging while swallowing the capsule. Without a cooperative leaning toward health, we are like little children still waiting for someone to do it for us, to take care of us, to make it all better. God does it with us and works through others on our behalf, but we must take some initiative toward health on our own.
In The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck assures us that deciding to seek counseling or psychotherapy is one of the hardest, yet most courageous and significant decisions an individual can make.
The Determination Factor
After physical injury, atrophied muscles must be exercised. Rebuilt limbs must be painfully stretched and flexed. Sometimes nervous signal systems must be re-patterned in order for the body and brain to coordinate. Whenever world class sports events are shown on television, there is the inevitable story about the championship athlete who last year suffered a terrible injury, or broke a leg in a skiing accident. “We thought he would be scratched from this season’s competition,” some newscaster invariably comments.
The cameras then focus on scenes in physical therapy rooms showing the determined skier working out for hours on weight machines under the hovering attention of a medical sports therapist. They are building again the traumatized bones and muscles. To the whole world’s surprise the athlete appears in this year’s skiing circuit. The bones are better than ever.
Determined Action Towards Sexual Healing
This determined action is what we must bring to the search for emotional wholeness. We must learn to grit our teeth and say, “I will be well.” We must expect that God will become the surgeon who excises the malignancy of the past which threatens to spread in our souls. He will use many means in this operation —Scripture, the inner light of the Holy Spirit, loving Christians skilled non-Christians, groups of incest survivors, and the offices of the church. Healing, no matter in what form it comes, is always a part of his plan for us.
And after this holding of hands, this task which requires the rich interplay between human love and divine intervention and help, we grit our teeth and say, “I will be well, so help me God.”
God is also the Divine Therapist who oversees our rehabilitation. His hand is available for us to squeeze when the pain becomes unbearable. God makes sure if we trust ourselves to Him that we won’t be plunged into therapy more demanding than we can possibly sustain. But He also insists that if we are going to compete in the circuit of life’s championship experiences, we must sweat, strain, and work out under his rehabilitation program.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, RSV)
At first glance, these verses may seem discouraging to the survivors of early child sexual abuse. They are hounded by self-blame and self-hate. They also immediately fixate on the negative phrases —”the unrighteous will not inherit.” As a result they actually miss this Scripture’s tremendous positive implications for survivors.
In the moral confusion of a sexually perverted Corinthian society, Paul gives powerful hope. “And such were some of you, but you were washed (made clean). You were sanctified (set apart as holy for God’s special use). You were justified (made as though you had never sinned).” No one who wants to be whole, to be restored, to remember innocence again is beyond the circle of God’s healing power. And such were some of you. As one person testified:
“I was molested and raped as a child. I’ve been into drugs, drinking, etc. All my life I have felt dirty and worthless and no good. And I was told that all my life. I’m middle-aged and I’m still feeling this. I’m going to group counseling and that has helped. But I need to know how God sees me. I’m crying out to God for help.”
Sexual healing comes when the abuse survivor learns how to put herself in God’s way.
This article comes from the book, Child Sexual Abuse: A Hope for Healing, by Maxine Hancock and Karen Burton Mains, published by Harold Shaw Publishers. Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print so you may find it difficult to locate it. But we want to thank the authors for putting it together. We’re sure it has ministered to thousands of people. And through this article it will continue to help those who suffer from the devastation that sexual abuse has caused in their lives.
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