This past week I had the privilege of sitting in a meeting with my church and the Samaritan Safe Church organization. I call it a privilege because not many of us have the opportunity to be a part of the discussions which could make our place of worship safer for the children who attend. I learned so much in those three hours and left feeling more impassioned to help the abused and broken.
There was one piece of education in particular which felt more like a piece of armor. In the Christian faith we talk a lot about forgiveness and how everyone deserves a second chance. We use verses like Mark 11:26 which says, "But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." (AKJV) Too often we impose that expectation on people who's souls aren’t ready to bear the magnitude of forgiving their perpetrator.
When we ask an abuse survivor to forgive their perpetrator it’s not the same as asking a healthy adult to forgive someone who may have made a snippy comment at them. Those types of forgiveness are not equal. Asking an abuse survivor to forgive their rapist is not the same as asking a person to forgive a friend who lied. Those violations are worlds apart and yet in Christian communities we expect the restoration of those relationships to look the same.
In many churches we hear the phrase “forgive and forget.” What I learned in this meeting was that not only is the mentality of forgive and forget un-biblical, but it directly goes against what God expected in the Old Testament.
You see, whenever the Israelites did anything notable - whether a huge mistake, a massive victory, or a moment when they had experienced the power of the Lord - they built a monument or an altar.
Build a monument so you never forget.
Build a monument so you always remember what took place here.
Build a monument so the generations who come after you will know what happened in this place.
It seems clear that God doesn’t want us to forget what we have endured. Because when we forget and move on, we become more susceptible to the same mistakes and traps. (Please hear me - I am NOT calling our abuse our mistake. It is the mistake of those who had the power and knowledge to stop it, yet didn't.) He wants us not only to remember, but to pass on that wisdom to the generations after us.
Yet oftentimes, Christians want us, as abuse survivors, to forget. Our pain makes them uncomfortable so they need us to "move on." They want to let go, therefore, they expect/need us to do the same.
Bible verses are twisted and manipulated to suit a comfort level. James 1:19 (ASV), “...let every person...be slow to speak, and slow to get angry...,” has been taught that God doesn’t want us to ever get angry. Anger never brings about anything good. (I recently heard this exact statement from the pulpit.) So when survivors get angry at our abusers and those that did nothing to protect us, there’s more shame heaped on us due to our "un-Christlike anger."
Our anger isn’t un-Christlike! Our bodies have been violated and we have every right to be angry and devastated by the degradation. This would be obvious, though, if the church had built a monument in remembrance of every abuse survivor who, during the process of healing, recognized that anger was a part of their journey toward wholeness.
There’s a verse that tells us to turn the other cheek when someone hurts us. (Matthew 5:39, NIV) "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.") Are we supposed to believe that as a person violated and disgraced through abuse we’re supposed to remain silent and allow it to continue so that we can "suffer for Christ"? Of course not! And we would know this if our churches would build a monument to remember those domestic violence survivors beaten to death while they were instructed by clergy to keep praying for their spouse.
If only they had built a monument...
We’re told to be as wise as serpents, but serpents don’t become wise by forgetting who their enemy is. They’re always aware, always on guard, always ready to defend their territory and attack their enemy. Yet Christians don’t treat human predators like that. They think "this time" it will be different. They’ve changed. They’ve repented. Christians readily believe the offenders without being educated about predatory mentalities; that is not wisdom.
I have a personal monument to remember where I came from and what I’ve overcome. It hangs in our home to remind me of the strength and voice I now have. My husband gave me a sword engraved with the words "SPEAK TRUTH" on it. My wholeness makes me prepared for battles I was never able to fight before and my sword is a reminder of that. It is my monument.
Dear abuse survivor, the world is going to tell us to let go. It’s in the past. We’re holding onto something that’s over. And I know you probably want nothing more than to forget what happened. I understand the nightmares that overtake us, forcing us to relive the horrors. But Someone much greater than us has told us the opposite; we need to remember.
Don’t ever forget what happened so that you never return. But even more importantly, so that the generations after you do better! Don’t ever let someone convince you to forget. It’s in the remembering that we have power and strength to continue. It’s in the remembering that we change the generations after us. It’s in the remembering that we are able educate and equip those in our lives.
It’s in the remembering that we see just how beautiful our lives are now that we’ve fought the demons.
My dear friend, create a monument so you always remember just how precious you are and that you never deserved to be abused.
In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD near its border. It will become a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the LORD because of oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Champion, and He will deliver them.
Liria Forsythe is the founder and president of Speak Truth Ministries. Her blogs are her reflections of her experiences in the aftermath of her past abuse as well as how she chooses to thrive now.
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