Written by Tracy Keen
If you are a pastor or discipler of the Gospel, more than likely you have come across a person who has been hurt in their life, and I mean hurt. This kind of hurt can take years to overcome and sometimes leave lasting emotional, spiritual, and physical reminders of what happened to them.
Let me tell you the story of Jennifer. Her parents divorced when she was young and she was left in the care of her mother who had a temper. Jennifer’s mom had a tight hold on Jennifer and would often resort to slapping and yelling in order to get Jennifer back in line.
During her time in high school, she had a low view of herself and her body image so she resorted to bulimia as a quick fix for her weight problem. When Jennifer’s father left, he left for good and an uncle in the family attempted to fill the void in Jennifer’s life.
His way of filling the void was more for his selfish sexual desires than for the welfare of his niece. When Jennifer was old enough to move out, she was more than ready to leave and she moved in with her boyfriend, Mark.
Eventually Jennifer and Mark married but mostly because she was pregnant with their first child. When she brought home her new baby, she noticed a change in her husband. That’s when the domestic violence charges were filed.
At her end, Jennifer decided to join a church. At the church, she was told how much Jesus loved her and how He wanted to save her. Jennifer decided her life was about as broken as it could ever be because of things people had done to her.
She decided to try Jesus to see if He could somehow fix the mess in her life. Fast forward a few years and Jennifer has now turned her back on the faith and is more hateful toward God than she has ever been.
The ambiguous soul
Even though this story is fictional, it is taken from a composite of what some of your friends are currently experiencing. There are people like Jennifer who are hurting so much they just don’t think they can make it through one more day.
The sins of others have worn them down and they are so broken they don’t believe their life can ever be put back together. They may turn away from the faith for good or they may turn cold in their hearts but still remain part of a local church.
So what does a minister of the gospel do for a person like this? Before we can answer that question, we must ask another one: What kind of brokenness is it that Scripture speaks of that leads to salvation?
The Bible makes a clear distinction between Godly sorrow that leads to repentance and worldly sorrow that leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). Think of the difference in the repentance of Judas and Peter or the parable of the two lost sons (Luke 15:11-32).
I am not saying she is like Judas or the elder brother in Luke 15. Not at all. I’m saying there is a repentance that is effective and a repentance which is not.
Jennifer brings a delicate situation to us that needs to be carefully untangled so she can be cared for effectively. This means you must go beyond what her abusers did to her.
When you are dealing with a person like Jennifer, the first thing you need to understand is that she is hurting and her hurt is real. Trying to make her forget her pain or somehow relive it will not help her in any way.
Her pain is something that has to be worked through and it can be done. But working through her pain should not be the only goal. This is not the only obstacle she must overcome.
Jennifer has two problems. The first, she has been on the receiving end of much abuse and hardship and that is the problem that is obvious.
The second problem, which is not so obvious and where you must tread carefully, is she is also the victim of the modern gospel. She has a heart issue in more ways than one.
Jennifer needs a heart that is healed from the sins done to her, but she also needs a heart healed by Christ for the sins she has committed, which are not connected to the abuse.
The complexity of sin
In comes the struggle when dealing with a person like Jennifer. It is unbelievably difficult to counsel or help a person who has had so many sinful things done to them.
The reason for this, simply put, is because it is hard for them to see their own sin in addition to the sins done to them. Their focus is on others for obvious reasons. Even writing about their Adamic condition outside of the abuse can be an affront to the abused.
Think of the story of the woman at the well. When she met Jesus at the well, He confronted her about her sin, not the sins done to her by her many different husbands (John 4).
When the woman tells Jesus she wants the water, so she will not be thirsty anymore, Jesus immediately asks her to go get her husband, addressing the issue of her heart. He drew the issue back to her sin because He was dealing with her, not those who have sinned against her.
This is why a gospel that is centered only on the love of God and does not address the sins of the person is going to fail a person like Jennifer. She may come to God looking to be loved and accepted, which she will, but she will not be helped comprehensively.
So she comes to God confessing all the sinful things people have done to her. She admits to Christ how she is broken, about as broken as any person could be when they have been abused. She sees no future for her life and truly wants God to put her back together.
Counseling beyond the abuse
But here’s the problem, Jennifer was never helped to see her sin that put Christ on the cross. So when she comes to the cross, she comes with a list of sins committed against her.
When she leaves the foot of the cross, nothing has truly changed because now she sees herself not as how God sees her, but as someone better than those who have wronged her.
So what did Jennifer walk away with if it wasn’t Christ? Just an empty form of religion that often times leaves a person worse off than before. When dealing with a person like Jennifer, there are some things to keep in mind.
- Salvation is the work of God. We are to lead people like Jennifer to the cross.
- Sanctification is a work of God. We are to water and plant, trusting the LORD to give the growth.
- A person like Jennifer will need time to be able to separate her sin from the sins done to her.
- Pray, pray, and pray some more.
Prayer is our opportunity to share with God what is on our heart and an opportunity for us to be quiet and reflect on what the real issues are. When counseling an individual like Jennifer who has been broken, hurt, or abused, prayer is a must.
It allows us to agree with God that situations like this are beyond our help and we need Him to intervene. Prayer will help you to discern the heart of the matter and to discern any true changes taking place in the counselee.
Time is what a person needs who has been on the receiving end of other people’s sins. They need time to be able to heal from the hurt. This is not something that should be rushed.
Sometimes their healing may take years. Sometimes not. In the end, there should be no timeline expectations placed on the person. The timeline for change has to take place on God’s schedule.
Salvation for a person like Jennifer should be our utmost desire, but we have to realize we are not the ones who are responsible for this change. We are responsible for telling the truth with regards to our sinful condition before God and the hope He offers.
In Jennifer’s case, she will have a very difficult time seeing her sin and not the sins of others. Yet, when a person comes to the cross, they bring nothing to recommend themselves and they stand in judgment for their sins alone, not the sins of others.
Sanctification for a wounded person means, in part, they need to focus on the smaller sins. At this point in their life, they can only see big sins like sexual abuse, domestic abuse, etc.
There is a tendency in all of us to minimize our sins, but for an abused person, there is the danger of comparing their sin with the sin of the abuser. They need to be reminded how they need to compare themselves with Christ, which will cause all of us to fall short (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Once that truth is understood, how we all fall woefully short of perfection and we all need to repent and put our trust in Christ, then true brokenness can take place in the life of a wounded individual. The kind of brokenness that can lead to true salvation and lead the individual to true and lasting healing.
Written by Tracy Keen