A painful, yet sanctifying story of healing from abuse

Written by J.M. Bergman

Trigger warning: This article contains descriptions of abuse. Reader discretion is advised.

I remember thinking, If I can just get up the stairs—I can escape. I struggled against him, and he laughed as he released me. I ran, but it was all part of his game. He tackled me again and began to do what he wanted with his hands. Fifteen-year-old me couldn’t pair what was happening with the fact that I led worship with his family in church.

I grew up hearing “forgive and forget.” A painfully trite simplification. Saying “it’s okay,” then trying to forget what happened, does not heal scars. It’s been more than a decade since I broke ties with him and yet there are still uncountable instances when I’ve been alone in a room with a man, even my doctor, and felt my heart rate increasing and my gut turning. My mind shouting: He can hurt you if he wants to—get out of there!

I’ve tried to survive by theorizing forgiveness without knowing how to experience it; without knowing where to go or who to ask, or even what to ask. I’ve theorized patience too, saying to myself, In God’s time, freedom from these scars will come…just keep waiting

But I’m tired of waiting! I want to be free—now.

It’s not fair that the weight of mentally dragging him along behind me has influenced everything from trust issues with friends, church leadership and even God at times, to being afraid to go for a walk alone, and avoiding most worship music since this was the context in which we met. My prayers often start with, God, I don’t know what I’m doing…please lead me.

Someone once told me to pray every day for those I need to forgive and to keep praying until God changes my heart toward them. At first, I was terrified to even think of his name because when I did, invisible squeezing pressure would compress my chest and move rapidly through my muscles; blood would rush to my major organs to protect me from the unseen danger the amygdala part of my brain had determined I was in. 

But several years passed and the urge to pray for this abuser didn’t go away. About a year ago I finally started being able to say his name in silent prayer without causing myself physical pain; about eight months later I was able to say his name out loud. 

In recent prayers God has brought this man’s face to the forefront of my mind with accompanying reminders about the suffering I know he endured. 

And though I would never have imagined this as a possibility, I find myself praying for his redemption.

What if spiritual transformation was the key to healing our emotional scars? Imagine carrying compassion instead of fear—seeing people through a lens of grace instead of distrust. Every journey of healing will look a little different, but we as Christians are gifted with a patient and loving relationship with the Holy Spirit who is planting seeds for miracles in our hearts. All we have to do is listen to His voice and follow where He leads.

J.M. Bergman is an internationally-read author and creative content writer who has also worked in editing. She has published two novels and has written for a number of Christian magazines on topics such as trauma, grief, recovery, and wellness. Her upcoming release, a poetry collection dialoguing her journey from chronic pain to identity, will be available soon. J.M. lives in Manitoba with her husband and their exceptionally cute black lab.

Read more from the “Body and soul” column.