Jennie (not her real name)
Recently in Australia there was great controversy about signs that appeared outside churches reading: "Jesus loves Osama" with the message that anyone, if they turned to Christ, could be forgiven. In that context, my friend asked me to consider writing an article on my experience of forgiveness and childhood sexual abuse.
When she asked me, I thought about it for about 2 weeks before sitting down and putting pen to paper. To write about what happened to me - could I do it? Was it going to be too painful? Too difficult? Too impossible? Had I really even forgiven the perpetrator of the abuse?
For a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I am permanently scarred. I have never had a proper sexual relationship - I have never even had a boyfriend. I have been on one date in my entire life! While the prospect of sex one day with my future husband is very appealing, it's also incredibly scary. I have been scarred and my whole perspective on human sexuality shaken.
When you are 8 years old, and are stimulated sexually, you never recover. Ever. You might go through years of counselling, as I have; you might see it ultimately as something that led you to Christ, as I have. But you are always, permanently, irretrievably, scarred. You never recover. Not in this lifetime.
So how can I forgive the one who did this to me? Who, when I was a small girl, violated me in such a way that it seems I will never, ever be a complete, normal sexual being again? Who has caused me to cry out in despair to God: WHY? Why did you let him do this to me?
The awful thing about my story is this: it was my brother who did it to both my sister and me. He is only a few years my senior - a child himself when he hurt me. A boy who went through many schools, who grew up being shuffled from one place to another. Who had violent, abusive, manipulative, and selfish parents. I know those parents, they're mine too. He was a boy desperately seeking affection, love and care from someone. From anyone. Even from me.
So I see my brother as both victim and sinner. He was sinned against yet he also made choices. I try really hard to forgive him. I try really hard to maintain contact with him. His life is such that he is punishing himself day after day with the way he lives. His life is so destructive that he'll probably be dead soon.
Forgiveness is something I have to keep working at. At times I realise that I have to start forgiving all over again. I won't pretend I don't have disgust, anger, mistrust and fear when I'm around my brother. I do. But I have in equal parts and even more: pity.
When I do see him, I feel uncomfortable, and I try hard not to be alone with him. I'm too scared to confront him and too scared to talk about it. Even thinking and writing about it has brought back vile and sickening nightmares. But I do realise that he is also a victim. And I want to forgive him. And I think I have in part.
So, do I then blame my parents? Do I blame the ones who neglected him to such an extent, and me to such an extent, that they allowed this to happen? No, I don't. The reason for that is that they themselves are to be pitied. My father, to this day, is still a proud, haughty, arrogant and snobbish man. He is intelligent, but he lacks friends. He has a miserable marriage and difficult relationships with others.
My mother, bless her generous nature, brought me up the best she could. She wasn't perfect at it - in fact there are many things about her that are far from perfect and our relationship is still deeply flawed. But she did the best she could. My sister and I were both extremely affected by the abuse, and I have never had the close relationship I desire with her, but she and I have at least talked about it which I'm so glad about.
So who do I blame then?
The thing is, we are all human. My brother - he is human. My father - he is human. My mother - she is human. My sister - she too is human. They're all, like me, fallen creatures of God. Creatures who do evil things. The problem with blaming is that I'm also to blame. After all, wasn't it I who, upon reaching the age of 11, asked my brother to go to my sister instead? I was afraid of getting pregnant. Wasn't it me, who took out my violent rage on my sister by hitting her? Wasn't it me who... I could go on.
I'm a fallen creature too. I've done really bad things to other people. Maybe I haven't sexually abused anyone myself but I have my guilt. I can see my failings. My sister and I have reconciled and I have apologised to her for "passing my brother off" to her.
The thing is though, I've been forgiven. I have been completely washed clean. I have been completely made right before God. All my sins, as a child, as a teenager, as an adult, have been taken away by Jesus Christ. They have been washed as far away from me as the sunset is to the sunrise. I am forgiven by He before whom I will one day stand.
So that is how I understand forgiveness. Everyone needs forgiveness. I want my brother to have the same forgiveness, and not be wracked with guilt, with his life in a mess. I want my father to understand forgiveness, and know what it is to not be guilty any more. I want my mother to turn and seek forgiveness. I want my sister to forgive and to want forgiveness. And I want to be able to completely, totally, forgive them all.
So how can Jesus forgive Osama? Because Jesus forgave me, for "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5).
Edited by Malcolm Williams on behalf of Outreach Media