Q&A: Sexual Assault and Abuse

Introduction

We received an email from a woman who shared with us some of her painful story of having been raped. In order to protect her privacy I will not quote her email, but she was asking why we hadn’t spoken more about this topic on our blog seeing as so many women have endured similar experiences and also how to develop a healthy sex life in marriage after enduring painful sexual experiences like this.

The primary reason that we do not have more articles devoted to this topic is because of the three current authors who write here, we have not experienced this. I have attempted to speak to women who have experienced sexual abuse of various sorts to see if they could give some insight into this for our readers, but understandably so it is not an easy topic to be interviewed about and I respect how difficult it would be to talk about when you know that your answers will be read by thousands.

So even now I hesitate in knowing where this article will go, but I prayerfully step out and invite the Holy Spirit to be our guide as we discuss this sensitive issue. I may not know the pain of having been sexually abused, but I know the One who knows us both and His Spirit is in me so I will gently step out and hopefully give some wisdom about this very important subject.

A Picture of Marriage

Married sexuality can be complicated even without the painful circumstances of sexual assault and abuse so what do we do when we come into marriage having experienced these things? How do we position ourselves so that married sexuality can be what God intended it to be when our purity was stolen, our sexual boundaries were disrespected and people who were supposed to protect us, didn’t? I think one healthy position to take looks like this. You and your husband and God standing in a circle. You are firmly hanging on to the hand of God and the hand of your husband, and your husband is hanging on to the hand of God and, of course, you, too. This community between you does a couple of things. First of all, it allows the wisdom and heart of God to be with your husband so that he can speak truth to you. It is very important for husbands who married a person who was sexually abused in some way to have a heart connection to the Lord. More importantly, though, this circle firmly connects you to the Lord and your husband.

The Trust Factor

If you have been broken because of a known or unknown person violating your authority over your own sexuality, for a healthy, strong marriage bed to be available to you, it will be important for you to be able to trust your husband and God. So that is where I would encourage you to begin. Ask yourself, “Do I trust God? Do I trust my husband?” And if you come to the conclusion that you don’t then do not allow that to fill you with self condemnation and guilt. All the Lord needs in order for redemption to be released for us is honesty. We need to be honest with ourselves and honest with Him. Trust isn’t something we can force ourselves to do. It builds as we get to know people. Many times in the Bible, the Lord tells us to test His character. He is not insecure about who He is so He invites us through relationship to see if He really is who He says He is.

One of the strongest points of distrust for those who have been abused in some way is, “Where were you when THAT happened, Lord?” And that is a very fair question. I would encourage you to not be afraid to ask Him that. I spoke with one young woman who had been assaulted and she shared about how God answered that question for her and it was a very healing moment for her. The Lord, in the way that only He can, took her fragile heart in His hands and spoke truth to her. After years of psychotherapy because of the assault, 10 minutes of asking the Lord this and other related questions about it brought her amazing healing. I do not believe God causes any of our suffering and I used to wonder why He stood by and seemed inactive during painful situations in our lives. I invite you to join me in the journey of asking God why questions. As long as our heart’s motivation in asking is because of a desire for wisdom from Him, I have seen His pure delight at answering all my why questions. While I don’t believe that God caused your abuse or allowed for a redeeming purpose, now that it has happened, if you give Him the freedom to He will not waste the opportunity to bring His awesome restoration and redemption. I hope the distinction there is clear. Rather than approaching Him believing that he was standing there endorsing the act/acts so that you could one day become a stronger person for it, He was standing there weeping and hoping that one day you would come to Him so that you didn’t have to carry the wounding all your life.

Now trusting your husband could be difficult for a different reason. Your husband is imperfect and it is unreasonable to put your trust in the idea that he will never disappoint or fail you. So where should we put our trust in this case? If you have married a man who is devoted to becoming like Jesus, you put your trust in the process of sanctification in both of your lives which ultimately brings us back to trusting the Lord since He is the one who empowers us by His Spirit to become holy. You trust that even if your husband fails you, that he still fundamentally desires to love you as Christ loves the Church.

If you have not told your husband about the abuse I would encourage you to do so. Because it effects married sexuality so strongly, he likely already knows that something isn’t right and if you can find the courage to talk to him about your past it would help to bring insight to him so that he could be an advocate and support to you. Ask him to respect your boundaries on how many details you feel comfortable sharing and be clear with him if he has a “fix it” tendency, that you are not asking him to make this all better. He needs you to be clear with him about exactly what you are looking for from him.

The Forgiveness Factor

For the sexual relationship in your marriage to have deep intimacy, I need to take the time to talk about the importance of forgiveness. What does forgiveness look like when there has been no repentance on the part of those who abused you? What does it look like when the anger, sadness and fear inside you is so strong that the weight of it crushes you? What does it look like when having been a victim of sexual assault or abuse feels like a core part of your identity?

As I said, I haven’t needed to process forgiveness for this particular grievance, but I have had to process forgiveness for other deeply painful situations and abusive relationships. Without going into all the details, the example I had for an earthly father was very poor and so I have gone through years of forgiveness over what I witnessed during my years growing up. When our hearts are wounded so deeply, forgiveness isn’t usually a one time thing. The pain gets exposed in layers sometimes and all God asks is that with each layer, we come to Him and ask Him to lead us through it.

I am not sure whether or not this is an understood concept or not, but in case it isn’t I want to take the time to outline what forgiveness is NOT. It is not saying that what happened was okay. It does not require you to trust the person who abused you or to have relationship with them. And it does not mean that what you experienced didn’t matter.

What it means is that you give up to the Lord your right to avenge the wrong doing. Did you know that by not forgiving them you keep them bound up in the chains of their sin? That may sound good to have so much power over them after what they did, but the problem is that it keeps you in chains too, and you are also chained to them. What it will do is continue to allow the situation to have power over the freedom of your soul and it will have a direct influence on how you look at your husband. So hand those chains over to Jesus and place the cross of Jesus between you and those who abused you. Then your healing can begin.

The Healing Factor

I would really encourage you to draw close to the Lord in this process of forgiveness and healing, and I want to introduce a concept that may or may not be familiar to you. About 10 years ago I learned how to ask the Lord specific questions about my painful memories and how to invite His truth to them. The result is that as I have found more and more freedom from the pain of those memories, I have also grown a very intimate love relationship with Jesus. When He speaks his truth to us, the lies we believed about those situations are broken.

It is very easy for satan to submit lies for truth when we are faced with a painful situation. Lying is what he does best and so he takes every opportunity he can to rob us of truth by twisting our perception of what is happening in our lives. We are most vulnerable to this when we are in the midst of emotional trauma. Some common lies which get planted through sexual abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • “I am not worthy of love.”
  • “I am ugly.”
  • “I am bad.”
  • “I am alone.”
  • “People are not trustworthy.”
  • “I am guilty.”

Can you see how these lies would interfere in a marriage relationship? Sometimes the lies we come to believe have a portion of truth to them and we need to invite Jesus to those, too. Now, there is no exact formula for this process of listening the the voice of Jesus for healing so the best thing to do is just follow His lead. If you can find a local ministry that does this sort of prayer counselling, it would be really good to be able to do this with someone else, but you can certainly do it on your own too.

I would encourage you to sit down in prayer with Jesus and ask him to come into that memory with you. If it was not a single occurrence, but happened on an ongoing basis, ask Him where He wants to take you. If it is too painful to go to a memory of the abuse, ask Him to take you in your imagination to a “safe place.” Common safe places are the scene of Psalm 23, mountain tops, His throne room… it’s endless. So just spend some time being with Jesus in that place. You can ask Him all sorts of questions and some good questions to ask him about the assault include, but are not limited to:

  • “Jesus, I know you never leave me, so where were you in this memory when I couldn’t see you?”
  • “What were you doing?”
  • “What did I believe about this?”
  • “How did you feel?”
  • “What is your truth for me about this memory?”
  • “Would you plant that truth in my heart and seal it?”

These questions are about relationship so stay on each one until you have peace from Jesus about those things. He wants to release the power of what He did on the cross for the salvation of our whole beings; body, soul and spirit. It takes a lot of courage to approach Jesus with these memories and it is a great risk to leave it with him, but once you have processed a layer of your pain a great ending question is, “What is your promise or gift for me?” He wants to do more than just take away your pain. He wants you to thrive in the essence of who He has made you to be. If you can trust Him, He will do more than you can imagine to bring you through this and to free you from having to carry this pain.

If you can not locate Churches or ministries in your area that have a focused ministry in this sort of  prayer, I still would encourage you to seek out biblical counsellors or Christian sex therapists (American Board of Christian Sex Therapists) to help you process and gain perspective about the abuse. There are also some really amazing faith-based support groups and ministries that have been set up to help women who were victims of rape or sexual abuse. It’s just taking that step to find out what is out there that is scary, and understandably so, but with so many women having endured this and with many of them coming out the other side healed, those women have been able to reach out and now help other women who are where they were.

Your road of healing is going to have a “God fingerprint” that is unique to you. Your story is different as is your personality and walk with Him. Trust Him, and let Him lead you to a healed and restored heart.

The Marriage Bed Factor

The reason why all that I have said is important is because the process of becoming free from the wounding of your past allows you to have the freedom to give yourself fully to your husband, and it also allows you to receive love from him without having to hold a caution sign over your heart. The two of you will both be free to enjoy the intimacy in marriage if you are not living as a victim of your past.

As in every other hurdle in marriage, it will be very important for the two of you to learn how to communicate well. Be sure that you remain committed to pursuing respectful conversations without allowing your past to have authority over how you behave and respond today.

I know that this is not an easy process, but I do firmly believe that if you stay connected, as in that circle picture above, to your husband and the Lord that you are going to be able to have a thriving sex life with your husband. That’s what redemption is all about. It’s taking the trash that we experience in our lives, whether we chose it or it was thrust upon us, and coming out on the other side of it shining. And you know, where you have overcome, you then have the authority to release that freedom to others too.

I hope that what I have shared is helpful and if you disagree with me or your heart can not receive it that you would extend grace to me. I have vulnerably shared some of the most intimate aspects of my love relationship with Jesus and I pray that it will be released as a seed of hope that grows into freedom in your heart, like the woman in the picture on our homepage. So ladies, please share whatever you can in the comment section. This is a safe place for you.

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