Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. -Romans 12:15
I was admittedly naive when it came to understanding the scope of my children’s pain. And I was altogether unprepared to understand the depth of their need in order to facilitate healing. I unknowingly placed expectations upon them that came from a very adult perspective towards their trauma. I assumed that openly acknowledging the reality of their sexual abuse, and clearly labeling it as gross sin, would be the first of just three necessary steps towards their complete turn-around. The second was assuring them they were in no way responsible for their abuse and Joseph and I were not angry with them. The third was to seek justice for all the victims through appropriate law enforcement so none of our children (Asher, as a victim, included) believed we thought less of this crime than we did. We believed the validation of open recognition was important for us to give to our children and that it, almost single-handedly, would create a healing environment.
And then I thought that Georgia, Olivia, and Nathan would experience overwhelming joy and freedom at the knowledge that the abuse was over. I thought they might suffer from some minor setbacks, and certainly there would be a trigger here or there, but in my mind it all made rational sense. And even when they reacted adversely to dreams or memories it would be clearly evident what their triggers were. We would simply show them the truth – that it was only a dream – and all would be well.
I was ready to rejoice. I was ready to exclaim that the pain was over and a new day was dawning. I was ready to see an instantaneous miracle occur in my children’s hearts and each of them would suddenly realize they really were safe and could get about the business of loving life.
I knew, from reading and my own family-of-origin work with a therapists in my early years, that acknowledgement of wrong is essential in forging trusting relationships with those who have hurt you. And when the wrong-doer doesn’t admit to the wrong, I knew it was all the more essential that your parents openly validate the pain so that you don’t hold on to misplaced guilt and shame. I knew this because of my own life. So, when I was faced with devastation in my own children, I felt somewhat “in the know” for how to handle their hearts.
I was wrong.
Well, I wasn’t entirely wrong. I do believe there are things that God chose to use in my own past to bring about a sensitivity and gentleness towards my children’s trauma. But I unwittingly placed my needs, as an adult survivor of childhood abuse, onto my children. I’m old enough to recognize how Jesus rescued me from a pit of shame. I’m capable of seeing my life in a broad picture rather than simply defined by my victimization. I’ve lived long enough to experience the manifest grace and blessing of a loving God. So, in my world, if my parents were ever capable of simply acknowledging my abuse, it would be just about enough to send me over the moon.
I want to rejoice – and even more importantly, I want my children to rejoice with me! I want them to begin laughing more than crying (or, more often, yelling and fighting). I want them to see the value in our family and one another more than the fear of their shame and embarrassment. I want them to experience happiness at the freedom that comes from safety.
But this is not my children’s reality.
They need to mourn. They need to cry over a lost childhood even as I pour through pictures filled with smiling faces at AWANA events and camping trips. They need to scream out their anger even as I break apart at the ongoing battle for emotional balance. They need to fight private fears even as I desperately want everything to simply be brought into the light once and for all.
I must weep with them and trust that someday they will rejoice with me.