So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The Jews of Jesus’ day were in denial about their slavery – their literal slavery to Roman rule and also their spiritual slavery to wrong beliefs. This second one, far more than the Roman prefect who managed their corner of the world, was the central point to Jesus’ entire ministry. Jesus wants to release us from the bondage of denial. First, that He might save us. Second, that we might experience the freedom that only comes from the truth.
However, denial is a strong opponent. It whispers that lies are reality and desperately tries to create a fantasy world with the broken pieces of our heart. But in the beginning, it hurts so much less than pursuing the truth revealed by Jesus. Why? Why is denial such a strong pull and how do we avoid its embrace when we face terrible pain?
First, acknowledging why denial can provide an initial wash of warmth is important. Our own bodies use a form of it – called shock – to allow us to function immediately after tragedy. Denial allows our mind to adjust to the news that is simply too terrible to take in all at one time. We must ease our way into the loss, the impact, the pain. That’s ok.
What’s not ok is living in that initial moment. And as our minds begin to adjust and absorb the truth of our new circumstances, denial becomes a monster. It requires feeding and careful handling. As people who carry the imprint of the infinite God, we crave the truth. Because denial stops us from grasping the fullness of our reality, we begin to undergo a form of mental perversion in order to sustain the illusion. Plus, there is an immense amount of energy required to look at a situation and say to ourselves, “Everything about this says such-and-such but that’s not what’s really going on.”
For people suffering from the fallout of sexual abuse, it is incredibly easy to succumb to denial. We desperately want to rationalize the actions of our loved one in order to mitigate the pain. I wanted to do this for so long. Asher didn’t really understand what he was doing. He didn’t honestly mean to hurt us. The abuse in his own past forced this perversion into his life. The boy who was abusing his siblings is not the son I know. He made that mistake but he says he will never do it again, and I’m sure he means it because he cries every time we talk.
So many of those statements carry a sliver of truth but none of them truly address a necessary question: what happened and why? The objective answer, while agonizing, is quite simple: Asher sexually abused his younger sisters and brother. He did this because he has sin in his heart and believed it was his right to take what he wanted even if it hurt others. That’s it. When you strip away all the qualifiers, you are left with the truth.
But how does that truth lead me to freedom? This is where I believe people get caught. Acknowledging the truth is hard enough but jumping from the truth to freedom feels nearly impossible. I also believe that Jesus’ words teach us that without abiding in Him, that leap truly is insurmountable. Certainly, we may enjoy greater mental health when we eschew denial. But we will never enter into freedom by staring at cold, hard facts alone.
Freedom starts with belief. [Jesus said to the Jews who believed him…] I believe I need a savior. I believe I cannot save myself. I believe Jesus is that Savior and that He loves me. I believe He sacrificed Himself on my behalf and I believe that sacrifice is sufficient. And like I said earlier, the first chain of denial Christ must break is the one that keeps us in eternal darkness. He must save us.
Second, Christ desires that we experience truth’s freedom. I step closer to freedom when I confirm I am truly one of Jesus’ followers. [If you abide in my word, you are truly one of my disciples.] Abiding in Jesus’ word includes study, meditation and reflection, and prayer. Abiding renews my mind and allows me to better understand God’s perspective. I soak up the words of my Savior – love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Loving God with everything means we press into His character. Including God’s inability to lie. He is gentle, tender, merciful, and utterly truthful. Pursuing Him requires us to look at our own lives through His perspective and see the world as it really is. That includes asking the hard questions about difficult experiences and not shying away from the answers.
Third, when I seek to understand the true answers to my difficult questions, and I’m abiding in God’s word, I am met with freedom. […you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.] Remember, this is not freedom from the harsh realities of painful circumstances. Like the Jews Jesus spoke to, He did not release them from the immediacy of Roman rule. But a deeper, more authentic freedom that lives only in the soul is birthed.
Because I know that Jesus loves me to the uttermost, I do not live in shame or humiliation. I no longer need to lie to myself about the depravity of Asher’s sin. I am not afraid of Asher or his journey through this nightmare. I do not require any of my children to act in a certain way to prove that God is good or that I will be alright. I can establish and maintain healthy boundaries with my son.
I can do all this because I have the freedom that comes from the truth.