Recently, Jonathan Merritt wrote a stunningly honest post in Christianity Today about sexual abuse and how it affected him throughout his life. (It’s an excerpt from his book, Jesus is Better). I urge you to read the post and considering picking up the book.
Once I read the post, I knew I wanted to interview Jonathan about his story. Following is our interaction.
MD: If you could go back in time and give younger you advice in the aftermath of sexual abuse, what would you tell yourself?
JM: I’d tell myself to talk. Fear leads to silence, but speaking is the only way to stop it.
Of course, this hypothetical answer is easy to give. We don’t have a time machine, and even if we did, I doubt the 7-year old me would listen to anyone–including a future version of myself. The fear was just too paralyzing.
I received a note recently from a girl who has been sexually abused by her brother for the past 14 years. She just found the courage to speak up and say something to her parents. 14 years is a long time, and it illustrates just how debilitating fear can be in these kinds of situations.
MD: In what ways has sexual abuse marked you?
JM: I don’t know I can give a full answer to that because I didn’t begin speaking about it or processing it until more than two decades later.
The first thing that comes to mind is that it has softened me. Dealing with these sorts of experiences is like taking a meat cleaver to your heart. Whenever I encounter someone who is clearly angry or depressed or withdrawn and I’m tempted to judge, I remind myself that I don’t know what kind of weight they’re dragging with them. This allows me to take some of the grace that others have given me and throw it their direction.
MD: What has been the most effective thing you’ve done in healing from and dealing with your sexual abuse story?
JM: When I returned from my counseling retreat–one thing that was incredibly effective–I had become aware of a lot of baggage from childhood. Not just damage done by abuse, but also things from my family life that needed to be dealt with.
Every family has these sorts of hurts and scars that are often ignored, but I decided to deal with mine. So I sat my parents down and we grieved all these things together. I assured them that there was no bitterness in my heart, I forgave them for the times they made mistakes, and I apologized for the mistakes I had made.
I realized that when you allow yourself you grieve with others, it has the power to draw you together. The purse strings of our relationships were pulled tight that night and healing happened through being honest with one another.
MD: Is there hope for sexual abuse victims? Why or why not?
JM: Of course. If you’re in the midst of the abuse, healing comes when you put a stop to it.
But if you’re out of the abusive situation, there is still hope. Because every day places the event further back in your rearview mirror. Because, yes, it gets better. Because God seems to always find ways of taking the carnage and creating beauty in your life. Because it reminds you that though this messy world sucks, a better one is coming.
I’m grateful for Jonathan’s encouragement and wisdom and bravery. And I pray his story gives you hope that you can share your story in the light and find healing. Remember, an untold story never heals.