The Dirge Before the Dance: Learning to Lament Child Sexual Abuse
by Hannah Estabrook
It’s an odd thing. Jesus wept. Job wept. David wept. Jeremiah wept. They did it openly. Their weeping became a matter of public record. Their weeping, sanctioned by inclusion in our Holy Scriptures, is a continuing and reliable witness that weeping has an honored place in the life of faith.
If this is the case, why are many Christians, of all people, embarrassed by tears, uneasy in the presence of sorrow, and unpracticed in the language of lament? It certainly is not a biblical heritage, for virtually all our ancestors in the faith were thoroughly ‘acquainted with grief.’ And our Savior was, as you know, ‘a Man of Sorrows.’
Perhaps we have been left to wonder if Anyone is listening to our lament.
In the movie, Forest Gump, Jenny takes Forest by the hand and runs as fast as their little legs will carry them away from her drunken, molesting father. They come to a hidden place in the cornfields, her dad’s voice spewing her name in the distance. Jenny and Forest kneel on the ground. She prays,
“Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far, far away. Make me a bird so I can fly far, far, far away.”
Yet, in this fictional film, God did not make Jenny a bird. And she did not fly far, far, far away. So too, in the non-fictional lives of many sexual abuse survivors who prayed and pleaded in faith that God would stop the abuse…
He did not rescue. He did not prevent or intervene. He allowed it.
Is Anyone listening?
This reality is confusing and excruciating enough, but when an abrasion like sexual abuse is kept hidden, or left unattended, infection spreads.
Although C.S. Lewis encouraged us to “lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us,” we live in a Christian world that commonly prizes perpetual victory. And when it comes to the lengthy process of grieving over the evil of abuse and rape, many survivors receive slogans that drip with move-on-and-get-over-it sentiments.
People have been trying to silence victims of abuse for centuries. In 2 Samuel 13, we read that after Tamar was raped by her brother, she “put ashes on her head” and “tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.” Her agonizing grieving process had begun, when her other brother Absalom found her and quickly shushed her: “Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart!” A grieving victim of abuse will benefit when her loss can be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, and socially supported. Tamar did not have that, and neither do many victims today.
Because the struggle of faith is a battle of the heart, as well perhaps, as a struggle to regain meaning, it is important that the abuse survivor is encouraged to allow his or her feelings of anger against God to be given expression. The greater danger for the survivor of abuse is that those emotions will remain underground. If they remain concealed, too often, they surface in other ways and choke the believer’s life and faith and freedom to love.
Expressing rage at God is actually an expression of great trust and faith.
Only a child who feels safe and is secure in her parents’ love can say that she hates them …it affirms in its own way the goodness of God.
The hope-filled purpose of lamenting prayer is not so we stay stuck in the sludge and muck of wrestling, weeping, crying and blaming God. It is so that we go beyond. The language of lament spoken by survivors to God the Father is crucial because it is the passageway through suffering that leads to the sweetest of worship. We don’t have a lot of modern day examples of this, but thankfully, the Word of God is teeming with stories of men and women who kicked and screamed, wrestled and wept, argued and pleaded, and eventually, waited and worshipped. People who held fast to the belief that a dance with the Savior would one day follow the dirge.
Hannah Estabrook, MA, PCC-S specializes in trauma healing as a full-time mental health therapist in Columbus, Ohio. She is co-author of the book Beyond Desolate: Hope Versus Hate in the Rubble of Sexual Abuse, and enjoys speaking to women on a variety of topics such as body image, sexuality, and healthy relationships.
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