Where was God when I was Abused?

I have a dear mentor who says the challenge to faith that touches and confuses her most is this: “Where is God when children are being abused?” She doesn’t ask this due to personal experience of abuse, but simply as an imperfect, loving mother and grandmother, and compassionate mentor to many, many struggling human beings over many, many decades. This woman, who’s considered a strong woman of faith and a respected Christian leader, still struggles with this question. When it’s raised, her generally confident manner is suddenly clouded by a facial expression of deep sadness — maybe even a hint of anger. As a survivor of childhood abuse myself, I take comfort in knowing she “gets it:” the deep confusion and pain of abuse.

Another favorite mentor of mine is gifted in many ways, but especially in the ability to sit with great pain and not break. (Perhaps it’s not so much a gift as a learned discipline? I don’t know.) Because of her deep trust in a God who understands, loves, and heals, she has been able to witness my deep emotional and spiritual pain, PTSD, and the parts of my soul I can’t describe with words. So when I dissociated or cried hysterically, she breathed and prayed, often in silence. In silence, because I often couldn’t tolerate hearing her pray out loud in those moments.

One way this mentor had found healing for herself was though “healing prayer.” With this approach, a person remembering a painful past event in their life is asked to consider this question: “Where was, is, God in that moment?” The hope is that healing will happen as the memory is re-written with the understanding that not only is a loving God present now, but has been present all along — even in those worst moments themselves.

Well. This is all fine and well. But the thought of exploring this question for me fills me with…sadness, anger, and emotions I’ve never tried to put into words. And honestly, I’m not sure that I will ever put words to them. Why? Because I experienced moments in my early childhood in which things went from bad…to worse…to unbearable. But you did bear them somehow, you say? Yes, yes I did. How? By going away.

I’ve written about dissociation, the clinical term for “going away.” In a nutshell, dissociation is a severe “shutting down” of the brain and body on a psychological level. If you’ve ever been in a bad argument with someone, you can relate just a bit. You know that moment when the person says something so hurtful that you feel your face and mind go a little blank? The other person may then say, “Hey, I’m talking to you! Don’t tune me out!” Or maybe you’ve been on the other end of this scenario and can picture someone tuning you out. Dissociation is simply a more extreme version of this ability of the human psyche to protect itself from pain it perceives as too threatening or overwhelming.

So if my mentor-friend asked me to go there — to picture Jesus or God in the middle of one of my painful memories of abuse, I would probably scream, at least internally. Why? Because she would be asking me, in a sense, to enter into a moment my brain decided a long time ago to escape mentally, for the sake of my own survival. This is quite difficult for trauma survivors partly because our brains often never fully recover the details of those moments in which we mentally “went away.” But for the parts of the abuse that we can remember — often way too vividly — the idea of picturing Jesus or a loving God being present in these memories only adds to the pain, at least for me. “You want me to do what?!” I would cry — if not aloud, in the silence within.

You see, the biggest question we survivors have for God — whether or not we believe in God — is the very question you are now asking us to answer. “Where the heck was God when I was being damaged so badly? When I almost died? When my soul did die? Did God allow this to happen? If God is all-powerful and good, then why, why, why didn’t God stop or prevent the abuse? Why did God remain silent, absent to us in our moments of greatest pain?”

For some of us, this gets at the crux of why we don’t believe in a personal, all-powerful, good God at all. We decide that if God wasn’t there back then, then God isn’t here now either — and if God does exist, God certainly isn’t both all-powerful AND good. It just doesn’t compute.

Perhaps those of us who do believe in a God who is Goodness and Love itself will be asking these questions for the rest of our lives. I often haven’t asked them consciously, in literal words, but my soul sometimes screams, sometimes whimpers the questions.

This afternoon was no exception. As I stood with my church family singing songs of praise and hope, I wasn’t asking the questions. I actually felt more hope and gladness than vulnerability or distress. So when the revelation came, it hit me like a load of bricks I had totally missed before.

I felt a little light-headed as a result — whether from my epiphany or the effects of a large vanilla latte I’d just consumed I don’t know. But the answer felt somehow…true. Could it be?

I’m not even certain this was a revelation from God at all, though I think it might be. It went something like this:

Anna, I was indeed there when the horror was happening to you. I was the one that covered your eyes, that covered your body, when that evil monster was attacking you. I was the face of your ‘going away,’ when no one else came to save you, when you couldn’t face the monster yourself. I was the one who arranged the memories your brain stored, far away from your conscious memories. I’m the one who guarded those memories, and who decided when and how much you needed to remember. I’m the one who closed the lid again after you had remembered enough to heal.

Why didn’t I change the law of man’s free will long enough to stop your abuser from doing what he did? That’s a different question altogether. What’s important for you to know right now is that I didn’t abandon you, that I didn’t ignore your cries, and that I didn’t just ‘stand by and watch it happen.’ I was there, I heard you, I trembled with rage, and I intervened to protect your soul from death.

As for the monster who did that to you? Oh, justice will be served, one way or the other. I did not forget. I will not forget. 

Lord, have mercy on us all.

thawingout

I am a Texan-born Bostonian who wants to understand how we get through hard things in life (aka trauma) using spirituality, meaningful work, life-giving hobbies, connection with other trauma survivors, friendships with non-traumatized people, animals, etc. I am a hospice social worker (LCSW) and I have a bunny named Nadia.

21 Replies to “Where was God when I was Abused?

  1. Such events in life seem to show us who and what God truly is. Perhaps it’s enough to know that you are not alone.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sally! Ah, yes…knowing we aren’t completely abandoned down here is a pretty good start. Being human is hard, isn’t it? Hugs to you!

  2. Thanks Thawingout for your wonderful post. Yes, this is a really tough one for many. For me, I believe that man was created with free will, so there is no way that the divine can prevent man from making horrible choices. However, that loving force is there for me as I seek to recover. I don’t believe in coincidence – for me it is synchronicity. An example of all that is good in the world. I believe that meeting you and my SIA support group are examples of that synchronicity! In peace.

    1. Thank you for reading and passing along some thoughts, AR! I love that I can always count on you for feedback! It’s encouraging to me.

      Free will…yes. Even though I didn’t get in to that per se in this post, it’s an important idea to keep in mind. Thankful for the healing you’ve experienced…and for the healing to come for you!

      Hugs.

  3. Thanks Anna. I’m reading a book by a popular author that deals with abuse. I know she stopped believing because of her attack. It’s an excellent question with a difficult answer: “I was right there.”
    I’m praying for our continued healing. May we continue to experience the hope that is in Christ Jesus.

    1. “An excellent question with a difficult answer….” Touché!

      Joining you in your hope for continued healing for us all, Natasha! Courage to you. And thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. It’s a very profound question that I think any believer who is empathetic will ask at some point in their life, even if they personally never experienced the horrors of abuse. I would think that if there truly is free will, than God can not or at least will not intervene most times. I personally see life on Earth as being part of a game, in which a wager between the light and the darkness was made to see which side would eventually come to dominate the planet. Due to probability some people will have mostly pain-free, careless lives, while others will suffer and bleed. The silver lining in this bleak worldview is that ultimately, we have a choice to use those painful experiences, regardless if they belong to us or not, to help others that may be overwhelmed by what they’re currently going though or have gone through; and therefore, make the world a better place than it was yesterday. Thanks for the interesting and thought provoking post Anna.

    1. Hey, Alex! It’s nice to hear from you! Hope you and your little bro are well.

      Thanks for throwing your thoughts back after reading my post. I agree that there is a battle going on in this world between the good and evil, the light and the dark. And in a way, the same battle goes on within each one of us, too. It’s a messy planet full of messy human beings! =/

      I do think there is a God who is the source of all that is good, and Who is saddened and angered to see his children suffering at each others’ hands. And I believe that just as God is good, God is also the source of the healing and the “making the world a better place” that you spoke of. I trust God will — and is — making everything right, but man, in the meantime, it does often seem rather bleak down here!

      Anyway, no pressure to agree, of course. Some of our experiences do seem to support the idea of a more distant or helpless god, so I can imagine where you are coming from, I think. Thank you for striving to be healing and light in this world! Courage to you in the journey.

  5. The broad question “Does God meet us in moments of deep suffering?” is a question Christians need to keep asking and reflected upon, over and over, without ceasing. Not because we’ll ever know the precise answer, but because in repeatedly asking we might just develop a modicum of ability to better know and love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in humanity. You’ve reminded me of this today.

    Thank you for sharing, Anna.

    1. Thanks, Lee, for the thoughtful comment! I appreciate what you wrote about continuing to ask this question…even if we’ll never arrive at a precise answer. It’s easy to feel a little silly asking a question that is as old as time, ya know? So much easier to just assume there is no answer, or that because so many people have asked this over the ages (think Job, for example), it’s futile to ask it now. And yet these questions hang, haunt, maybe even inspire us sometimes towards compassion, as you said. So thanks for jumping into this miry bog with me and your other brothers and sisters!

      Hugs to you. Was good to see you the other day!

  6. I was also a victim of mentally, physical and sexual abuse with I was 16, had a older boyfriend and didn’t know of any better, I didn’t realize at first what he was doing, if my parents talked to me about these things and how you can get hurt very badly if not careful it might have all been avoided, but although I’m angry and sad about the life events that happened, I might have walked a different path and walk blindly not knowing about the monsters out there. I’m now married to a wonderful man, I have two daughters.. The guy who did this to me, to me and loads of other girls, his gone, if the devil took him that night or if God took him to hell himself I don’t know, but I got a chance to be in this world, he lived only a short 29years and had nothing to show for

    1. Hi, Natasha! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! Much appreciated.

      And thank you for sharing a little slice of your story and experience of being abused. So sorry you went through this! I know what you mean about how we can learn and grow into stronger people through this kind of experience. I just wish the world was a better place in which none of us would need to learn about the “monsters” out there, as you said.

      I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “the best revenge is a life lived well.” So thankful you are doing just that! Courage to you.

  7. I have been watching you. You really take hard topics and explain the simple way. Love your article. Look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for sharing the true gospel through your blog.

    1. Vijay, thanks so much for the encouragement! What you said…that is what I try, hope, to do. And glad you’ve felt the light of the “true gospel,” as you said, shining through! Thanks be to God.

  8. Thawing out. What a perfect description for a heart that has been cold and stilled for far too long and is, after so many years, finally thawing out from it all. Your name describes me, and your words have made sense of my questions. Beautifully written, and the testimony of your words will bring healing to those of us who have been walking wounded, and a hope of one day walking healed.

    1. Sylvia, I can’t describe how much your words mean. Thank you! Thank you for reading and for encouraging me in my writing. As you can imagine, it’s not always easy to be me or to write about this stuff. So that’s why it means so much to know that something I’ve written connects with you and can be a part of your healing, too. Hugs! And keep up the courage…and thaw 🙂

  9. Yes ma’am! I knew ya had it in ya! I was starting to think you were all doom n gloom til that last part. Your soul is just too bright for it to last tho – I knew after the first couple paragraphs of yours that you were not somebody who was a ‘doom n gloomer’.

    Me – i never bought into all that “Where was God when … yada yada, blah-blah” crap myself – not that i got anythinga against those types – i just got better things to think about. I know, lucky me, right?

    Well, I used to consider myself a Christian and I got respect for the Evangelicals, I feel about em like my mother who introduced me to my father in this lifetime. But I’m just off to bigger n better things now and wish mom well just don’t have a deep down itch to go visiting her all the time – know what i mean, Vern?

    So, i guess my biggest challenge as a child was trying to escape from the enveloping love of my father who always wanted me to do what he wanted me to do – eh, it’s my challenge in this lifetime – preserving my independence against steep odds and I think I’m starting to get the idea why.

    Wow, this is a truly obscenely long post – sorry 🙁

    So let me finish it up – let me echo something you almost said at the end – I have always believed the saying “God’s wheels of justice may move slow – but they grind exceedingly fine”. And yano i just don’t think God is like frail or anything – I think when a Lt. Dan comes along (Forrest Gump reference) and tells the storm “Blow you SOB, blow” I think God is like really cool with that. Like me with my kids, it’s kinda like – cool, they do have a voice. 🙂

    1. Hey, Marshall! Thanks for reading and throwing out your thoughts back!

      Your description of my questions as “Where was God when…yada yada, blah-blah crap” and what you said about having “better things to think about” — wow! How do you REALLY feel about this question?! 😉

      I can appreciate what you said about the challenge to preserve independence after experiencing the self-centered “love” from your dad as a child. I wish on-going healing and growth for you! And may we both find that sweet spot – where it’s not us against the world but it’s also not that yucky experience of enmeshment with others.

      And I love Forrest Gump and I agree with your point about Lt. Dan’s moment of making peace with God! Sometimes this moments don’t look peaceful…but they lead to health and even peace on the long-run! Ah, Lt. Dan…he was the best…

      1. Quote “Your description of my questions as “Where was God when…yada yada, blah-blah crap” and what you said about having “better things to think about” — wow! How do you REALLY feel about this question?! 😉” unquote

        Well … hmmm maybe you’ve hit upon one of the reasons people don’t naturally gravitate toward me – haha – I guess yer never to old to learn sumthin.

        This is the truth OK – I never thought about that coming from you – I thought of it as some cliche that people throw at you (and many others) and you were just recently finding a way to break thru it. In my book that I just finished I had a character whose husband threw a version of that at her and I thought she had a real good answer for him. He isn’t a bad guy – he just refuses to see spiritual causes for anything in this plane of existence. She (silently) wins that argument but it is going to take a long time past my first book to chip his veneer. Some people are just like that. 😉

        So, come on – really – step into the light kid, yer better than that – you know the people who say “Where was God when … yaketty yakkety, blah blah” – you know they just have a problem with perspective – short term brain constipation or sumthin like that. You know this, right?

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