When I was a terrorized child I told myself, “No one knows. No one knows.” At the time this expression partly reassured me that I was unexposed, my secret life of shame was not public. I comforted myself by acknowledging this fact. There was a second, important message in my mantra. My little-girl words underscore the position I believed I was in: alone. I felt inadequate to protect myself; every day I devised a new plan to avoid my nights, and every night my plan failed.
I grew up with a firm belief in my own helplessness. Before I was 13, I’d lost more than 2700 critical battles. I concluded that the incapacity was inside of me, that I was powerless. I walked into life and approached every difficult situation like a 3-year-old. With a giant chip on my shoulder, I ran, hid, or had a tantrum to handle challenging events.
But I was not alone. And God knew. In my mother’s bedroom at night there were three of us: me, her, and God. No one else needs to verify; I have a witness. The witness who testifies against my mother has undisputed authority and provides an encyclopedic and immaculate scope of detail about her crimes. It was God who filled in all the blanks for me. No unwitnessed crime has ever been committed against me or anyone.
The most humiliating consequence of my history was that I was utterly unable control myself. I was dismayed regularly by my own behavior. I had no idea what triggered my destructive behavior. I couldn’t stop doing stupid shit. Self-help advice typically addresses externals to control the unmanageable tyrant inside. Wrapping myself in a plan, no matter how firmly I Jewishly willed it, was never going to do a damn thing for me. The attack on me originated internally, so to approach the problem externally made no sense.
The trouble is getting inside of myself. I needed a partner who could show me the truth I was unwilling or blind to see. My common prayer is, “Make me willing to see, to know.” Willing to see the insanity of what I do, willing to know the depravity of my history. God enters into the human heart as the master architect. God bustles about in the human soul with intimate expertise. God is perfectly humble, immutable, and omnipotent. Most important God can walk right inside the human heart.
Pray for this kind of service once and you will find you are served with perfect sufficiency, efficiency, and the tenderest love. My history is so ugly that there isn’t even a film rating for it. People can discuss all manner of evil from rape to suicide. These days we are all brave. Pedophiles, however, are universally detested. In order for me to begin to preside over my own life with any kind of reasonable predictability, I had to become intimate with the events that occurred. It wasn’t enough to quickly acknowledge some bits and then scamper off dusting my hands. I had to look, long, slowly, deliberately, at every single nuance of each event. The process is hard. But the aftermath is exhilarating. God is willing to look. I have to be woman enough to look too. It’s ugly. But redemption comes from turning towards profoundly frightening events with unmitigated, uncompromising clarity. And no one in this world ever has to undertake that task alone.
Sometimes someone reaches out to me because they have a child who is doing things that they as parents cannot control and cannot understand. They want to know why the faith they are so sure they gave their children when they were actually children is not holding up to the demands of their child’s adult life? The God they introduced to their child is not big enough to accommodate the issues that they describe (usually addiction). Pain is impolite. Pain is irrational. Pain makes a mess. But God is not petty, prissy, or dainty. The Lover of Souls created orgasms, tears, blood, sweat, and fists. God’s world contains ridiculous animals and absurd geographic elements. Seems to me those things and others like them are a testimony to God’s disposition.
Spectacularly messy human problems demand a God who tolerates the filth that comes out of you during healing and the filth that was done to you that made healing necessary. Redemption is neither neat nor predictable. God’s not afraid of dirty work. The goal is not to clean us up, but to set us free. I approach God with fury and fists, with threats and demands for vengeance; if God had been unwilling to accommodate me then fuck God. Never one time in 40 years has there been judgment or rejection. I judge and reject myself, but God never dooes that to me.
It isn’t what God will tolerate that limits us. God is honored to show up within, beside, and as a witness for us. The private, intimate, supremely dignifying and individualized partnership between and human being and their Creator results in indelible transformation. That which was the bane becomes the means for transcendence. You’re no longer begging for mercy, but giving it away.