Updated: Feb 17, 2021
We ALL have them. "Ghosts" or memories, things that have followed us from some distant memory that emerge from time to time as they attempt to hold us in bondage. "Don't forget..." they remind, "you can't have healthy relationships" they taunt.
Other thoughts scream at us: GET OVER IT!! STOP BEING A VICTIM!! Then quieter, if you really loved God you wouldn't be thinking about this or the more toxic: if God is real, then "why did He allow...?" The problem, these are all statements of feeling. And while we are very much a people of feels, it doesn't define Truth.
When I was just 5 years old (pictured left) I was sexually exploited by the husband of a babysitter and her son. I think about what 5 year olds did back then, play with cars in the dirt, play cops and robbers, and dance like nobody's watching. 5 year old little boys shouldn't be introduced to pornography, they shouldn't be touched in their bathing suit areas, and most of all they shouldn't be made to feel like it's their fault. Yet, these things and much more DID happen. To this day, the smell of cigarette smoke on someone's breath or a man whispering in my ear sends a death chill down my spine. I fight the panic, and suppress the urge to shove them away.
That little boy in the picture above would struggle from the age of 5 and beyond with things like sexuality, self-esteem, and guilt from that experience. And yet, in the midst of it, I never felt like God was absent. In fact, it was that same year that I would give my heart to Jesus in a Sunday School Class at Akron Springfield Assembly of God in Akron Ohio. I sang the songs, I heard the Bible narratives, I knew God was real.
Later on another pre-teen in our neighborhood, just two years older would sexually exploit my confusion and would leave even more guilt and scars for me to deal with.
I was about 9 years old. An age when sleepovers shouldn't mean you cower in fear hoping that the boy who has, invited himself over again, would make his presence known in the middle of the night. They are terrible, but these are just memories. Incapable of hurting me now. I get to choose how I deal when them when they rear their ugly head or whispers their vicious lies that I am beyond God's help or incapable of loving anyone else in a healthy way.
Knowing that didn't keep me from being afraid, nor did it keep me from almost 15 years of keeping people at an arms length in ministry and in my personal life beyond my family. The mind is powerful and can immediately throw you into fight or flight.
In an effort to prove my healthy sexuality I would pursue unhealthy physical relationships with the opposite sex just to "prove myself." See? I'm not gay, but the reality was, I wasn't healthy. Shame is a dangerous tool of the enemy and cause us to not only hide our past, but to overreact to it. Even though I was a virgin when I got married, my ghosts gave me plenty to worry about.
When people say: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) they aren't thinking about the 5 year old, or the 9 year old me. While those words ring true, there IS no good in those things happening to a 5 year old. But what I have realized is: those things just happen. A good and loving God can be present and real in spite of those things happening. We ALL love the idea of free will, but want God to control everything and when bad things happen, it's a reminder that we have work to do. It's a reminder that there are broken people who desperately NEED JESUS. My feelings don't define me, my adoption into God's family is what has given me worth and value despite what satan wants me to believe.
When my ghosts creep up and sneer their lies, it's a reminder to my heart, there are kids out there, like you, who can benefit from knowing that God is good, God is loving, God is present, DESPITE the bad things that happen to us. God's goodness is not dependent on whether or not we suffer and because there is sin in the world, there WILL BE suffering. It all comes back to the reason why we need Jesus so desperately.
One day, Jesus will return and end all suffering. Those who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior will spend eternity with Him and He will wipe away every tear. But until then, suffering, whether it is what I've been through, caused others, or suffering that I observe others going through is a reminder that there is a very important job for us to do in telling others about the Hope of Jesus Christ and the work of making "All Things New."
Some Helpful videos on Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen:
Pastor Marks Message on Suffering
Some Helpful sites for victims of sexual abuse: