Thursday, January 22, 2009
Spiritual Warfare and Sexual Abuse
A psychiatrist sent Mary to me. As we talked, I saw a despondent woman with a deep sense of failure and low self-esteem. I quickly learned she took a heavy dose of Thorazine every four hours to control an inner rage that churned inside like molten lava in a ready-to-erupt volcano. Her family was often subjected to outbursts neither she nor they understood. Her doctor sent her to me because he thought I could help her solve the root problems that drove the rage. Though I always try to be compassionate and understanding with people who hurt deeply, I also am fairly straight forward about exposing the crux of the issue. There is little point in dancing around the subject when a direct question can lay out the real problem. Thus, I chose to plunge in and ask Mary what she was angry about. Her blunt answer made me gasp. She said, "My stepfather. My mother married him when I was three years old. My mother worked nights. Shortly after their marriage, he began to molest me." As she revealed more of the history, Mary clearly showed me she had suffered greatly at the hands of this man. At such times as a counselor, one wishes he had the power of the courts and the justice system to deal with people like this stepfather. But all I had was Mary and her broken heart. I probed more and suddeny she exclaimed, tears in her eyes, "When I was a teenager, he raped me many times." Sometimes barely able to speak, so emotional was this conversastion, I finallly let her talk with ony minor interruptions and questions. That's often the best way to help such people. She concluded, "I am a believer in Chrsit, but I still want to kill my stepfather. The only thing that keeps me from blowing his head off with as shotgun is my seven-year-old daughter. If I murdered my stepfather, my daughter, who is fatherless, would go into foster care and likely suffer the same kind of abuse I have suffered." As Mary talked, I becan to get a picture of the real problem that gripped her. She was believing a lie that Satan often uses in such circumstances, a lie that usually leaves the soul bankrupt and the heart deeply wounded. She believed that her stepfather had destroyed her life. Mary reinforced that insight when she told me, "I feel dirty, trapped, worthless." Because of what her stepfather had done to her in word and in deed, he had made her feel not only that she wanted what he had done, but that she had also deserved it. But even this did not satisfy him as he repeatedly pounded into her the idea that she was worthless and useless and would never do any better in life if she didn't let him continue his assaults. He became the mouthpiece of Satan as he subjected her to more lies about her value as a person and her potential as a woman. The result was a desperate need for affirmation, which he was only too glad to give in the form of more abuse. This woman was definitely involved in spiritual warfare. The primary battle was not emotional but spiritual, for Satan was using her stepfather to give lies about her person, lies abut her great worth as God's created and loved child. Yet Mary's spiritual battle may not be obvious to readers; the enemy is subtle. He does not like to reveal himself frontally if he can come in a back door and conk you over the head without you realizing who did it. In this case, Satan had attacked Mary through many means. First, he had incited her stepfather against her. Second, he made her fear telling the truth. Third, by various lies he had enslasved Mary to her past and made her unable to let go of it and thus find freedom. As a counselor, I could not change her past or her stepfather. But I could help her take back the ground she had lost. That meant dealing with her present feelings of anger and worthlessness. Such feelings-of brokenness, of uselessness, and of being tainted and rejected by God-are probably the chief way Satan destroys Christians today. We cannot change the past, and the past so influences our present that we find real living impossible. This is the essence of spiritual warfare. It's not some hyperventilated idea of demon possession where a person's head revolves 360 degrees a la The Exorcist. Rather, it's the subtle, day-by-day feeding of lies into our minds, which we begin to believe and finally swallow wholesale, locking us off from a closer relationship with Christ. Often it makes us feel Christ has rejected us and wants nothing to do with us. As we talked, the question foremost in Mary's mind soon became apparent. She asked me through tears and a abject sense of personal rejection: "How can God love anyone as defiled as I am?" It's at such points I wish I could take such people and wrap them in the arms of Jesus and tell them, "He loves you just as you are and will always love you." Unfortunately, it doesn't work as easily as all that. Yes, Jesus loved Mary and would always love her, but often accepting and assimilating that love takes time and spiritual growth. I told Mary without hesitation, "God loves you perfectly, and no stain or dirt in your life can change that." I then turned to various Scriptures about the love of God and His power to cleanse even the worst sins-none of which she'd committed-and told her that Christ died to free her from this noose of Satan. As her heart softened in the glow of the idea that God could love one like her, I gradually turned to what I felt was the deeper issue and the one crucial to her own escape from the pit Satan had dug for her. I said, "I believe the root problem here is that you need to forgive your stepfather the same way God forgave you. I know that sounds difficult, even impossible, but God will give you the power to choose to forgive your stepfasther. If you are willing, I believe it's the key to your freedom from this anger. Mary said, "I know I am a believer in Christ and I know the Lord forgave me of all my sin when I was saved." But could she actually forgive her stepfather? It seemed incredible to simply by fiat forgive this man who had wreaked such havoc and damage in her life. But what else was there to do? Blow him away with a shotgun? That would only lead to worse problems. Hate him and revile him to his face? Again, it might satisfy for the moment, but in the long run it wouldn't solve the deeper problem. Just forget it? That was impossible. Forgiveness was the only route out of this hell. As we talked on, Mary began to visualize what the Lord was asking her to do. I watched as her face and expressions showed that a severe battle raged inside her mind. Truth and error cannot coexist, so they will fight against each other like lions in a pit. Even as I watched, I was praying that the lion of truth would win over the lion of error. I said nothing for the next twenty minutes as Mary pounded her fists into the chair. She screamed over and over again, at me, at God, at the lies the devil was hurling into her mind at that moment. "I don't want to forgive him; he destroyed my life." Again I wanted to show Mary that the arms of Christ beckoned, and to have her take refuge in Him. However, when the soul is doing hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, it's often best to simply listen and pray, as though the person were one's own precious child fighting for air. The screaming and pounding went on for a long time. Graduallly, her body covered with perspiration, Mary stopped and stared at me, vacant-eyed, but for the first time her face showed as glimmer of hope. I just whispered, "Give it all to Him, Mary." As if finally gripped in the arms of the Lord Himself, Mary chose to pray: "Father in Heaven, I choose as an act of my will to forgive my stepfather of everything..." Over the next minutes she listed unspeakasble abuses I could not repeat if I wanted to. Her lone voice in my office went on an on, as if Jesus Himself stood before her, reaching out and embracing her as each horrible deed was revealed. At the end, she said, "I release my stepfather to you from my heart. I turn him over to your wise justice. Father, please forgive me for my bitterness, anger, hate, and lack of forgiveness. Please take back the ground that Satan gained in my soul. I choose to live joyfully, despite the fact that there will still be results of his sin against me. I trust you. In Jesus' name, Amen. Tears burned in my eyes as I listened. Then tremendous relief gripped my heart. I felt that joy every Christian counselor experiences when they see someone released from the prison of anger, hatred, and Satan's steely bonds. To my astonishment, Mary looked up and exclaimed, "I feel peace, Dr. Copley, real peace, All the rage seems to be gone. It doesn't always happen that way. Sometimes the genuine sense of peace rises gradually, like the coming dawn after a long, dark night. But in this case, I sensed Mary's feelings were genuine. God had released her from her prison and given her the eagle's wings of true freedom in Christ. Over the next few weeks, with her doctor's permisson, Mary stopped taking her medication. Five years later she continues to grow and excel as a believer. Over our next few sessions, I encouraged Mary to read the Scriptures daily and to keep a journal of the thoughts the Lord had impressed upon her heart. I also suggested she list any special blessings thsat came her way along with her daily struggles. I asked her to consider becoming part of a church and getting joyfully involved. She did all of it and is a free woman today. It sometimes seems simplistic to some. To forgive her step father was all that was needed? No; actually Mary would still have moments of doubt and anger. She would still have to battle the lies that Satan tried to hurl into her mind despite her act of forgiveness and submissionto Jesus. But that simple regimen of God's Word, prayer, journaling, and faithful church involvement was a key to Mary's survival and inner healing. It's often the surest prescription to health in a severe battle with the devil. I believe Mary, like many who come to Christian counselors for help, had become a victim of Satan's lies. He had lied to Mary repeatedly about everything, from deserving the abuse to thinking about merdering her stepfather. She was trapped in those lies, not believing she could ever escape. Though she had not seen her stepfather in years, she still felt influenced and overwhelmed by him. She believed he had ruined her life. Thus the first lie the enemy used on Mary was "Because of the abuse, your life is destroyed and beyond hope." Satan knows that if he can keep us focused on our pain, we have little or no time to focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth that can heal us. Mary believed that she was an inferior, worthless, and rejected person. She also believed no decent man would ever want her. That was all changed as she learned the truth-about God, His love, and His power to transform her. A second lie the great deceiver used on Mary was "You are unimportant, a mistake' you should never have been born." People who feel deep rejection and worthlessness often fall prey to this lie. Mary beliieved she somehow deserved what happened to her. Thus, she hoped only for revenge. When the Holy Spirit brought God's truth to her heart, thought, she began to understand that through Him she was not trapped. When she was a child, Satan had used the words, manipulations, and physical superiority of her stepfather. This kept her from trying to escape by going to the authorities (which were not as sensitive to these things as they are now), by telling her mother (who may not have believed her-another device of Satan), or by simply fighting back. But now as an adult, God was able to show Mary the way out. Her life was not ruined; He had a wonderful plan for her. Rather than being inferiour, she saw she was "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). Rather than seeing herself as the sick, needy one, she realized it was her stepfather, not her, who was the enslasved one. By forgiving him, she was able to release all rights of revenge to God. Truth conquered Satan's lies and she was set free. I use Mary's case as an example of how Satan binds us and grinds our hearts into the dust. He is not content merely to stop us from witnessing or living decent Christian lives. No, his malice is so great that when he finds a truly vulnerable soul, he enjoys taking his hatred of God to the limits, and thus beating that child of God into the ground until he or she is little more than pulp. But even then, God refuses to let Satan have his way. He steps in at various points, leading us to the truth that will set us free. I find that God always brings good our of bad. If we will trust Him, He will repair our lives, take back the lost ground, and make us live in His truth and freedom forever after. That will make whatever pain we have suffered a faint memory in the annals of time as we spend eternity in the loving presence of our Lord who does all things well. Spiritual warfare like this happens every day in the lives of God's people. Your situation may not involve something as severe as sexual abuse. But I submit that you probably believe some lies of the great deceiver right now that keep you experiencing the fullness of God's power and love. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.