I spent most of my life living behind a wall of self-protection. If I was just big enough, strong enough, smart enough or angry enough, I might be able to keep people away, especially those who had power to hurt me.
I came to know Jesus as a young child, but assumed He was on the other side of the wall. It’s not that I thought Jesus was among the ones who could hurt me, but I knew that my hidden heart was not very pretty. I thought that I was too ugly inside for anyone to abide with me, even Jesus.
I wasn’t doing a great job of living life, but at least I protected myself from being hurt. But I wasn’t even doing a good job of self-protection. The very things that I thought would protect me—my size, my intelligence, my anger—seemed to make me prime targets for others’ cruelty. Even the ones who tried to love me were often turned off by my perceived “strength” and self-reliance.
But God, in His mercy, kept pursuing me as much as I would let Him.
In my early twenties I started going to a church that spoke of the mercy and love of Jesus in a way that I had never heard before. Jesus died to show me a merciful love that triumphed over judgment. I felt so awful about myself that I assumed God had deemed me unworthy. Through the loving words of an amazing pastor and powerful worship that ushered in the kingdom of God, my heart began to open up to the mercy of God.
This amazing and personal love of God was tremendously healing. I grew in my confidence that God loved me and that I was worthy of receiving love from others. A wonderful, godly man became more than a friend; we married and started a ministry.
We had our first child and life was good. But the Lord was calling me to face a part of my life that I had ignored for over two decades. At the age of four I was raped by a very distant family member. Immediately after the assault I felt the need to not upset people by letting others know what had happened. It was at that moment that my wall of “protection” began to be built.
So twenty years later, through good counsel and the support of good friends, I began to understand the damage done to me by another’s sin. That single act had determined how I viewed life: If I didn’t protect myself, no-one would. The wall kept me hidden but didn’t bring comfort. It allowed me to seem fine on the outside. But when I was hurt, in even small ways, the wall only served to make me even more aware of my “bad” self.
I began to see that I didn’t register accurately the ways in which I had been hurt. I just assumed that bad things happened to bad people; I deserved what happened to me, even the abuse. If only I had been nicer, stronger, better, nothing would have happened to me.
What I held onto was unforgiveness toward my abuser. I knew the Scriptures about forgiveness, but they didn’t apply to me. How could I forgive someone who had hurt me that badly?
One Sunday a pastor came up to me and asked if he could share a picture the Lord had given him for me. He saw my heart, divided in half by a dagger. The one side was vibrant and full of life, the other side black and withered. I knew the dagger was my abuser resulting in the black side, and the vibrant side the part of my heart the Lord had healed. I did not want a divided heart; I wanted a whole heart, full of life. I knew that the only way to rid my heart of my abuser was through forgiveness.
The Lord showed me a picture of myself. I saw how I had hidden my heart behind a wall, but I saw for the first time how I had allowed the abuser to live within my heart. Each time I made a decision of self-protection I empowered the impact of his sin upon my heart.
I was tired of carrying around the weight of another person’s sin. I wanted it gone. Forgiveness was the means of freeing me from sin and wounding. It wasn’t easy, but I chose to speak words of forgiveness to the person who had sinned against me. With each word of forgiveness I felt vulnerable to him again, but I began to see the blackness of my heart lighten.
One day I was praying with a friend. She looked at me and said: “The Lord is so proud of the job you have been doing protecting your heart, but He knows how tired you are of doing this alone. He wants to be your protector. Will you let Him?”
These were words of mercy and understanding. Rather than condemning me for walling myself off, the Lord knew I had done the best I could to protect myself! He wanted to carry my burden. More than anything, He wanted to carry the weight of the wounder who lived inside my heart.
I knew that the only way to find release was through forgiveness but the idea of “completely” forgiving my wounder terrified me. The Lord asked me if I was willing to give him one brick of the wall at a time.
So I began a process of forgiving. The prayers were not elaborate, but simple. “I forgive the man who abused me.” “I forgive again my wounder.” As each brick was dismantled, the prayer became easier and was more deeply felt. At first anger arose, as it was my main source of protection. Then I came to understand that my anger had stopped me from seeing the Lord’s anger over what had happened to me. Jesus rebuked the disciples from keeping children from Him; He didn’t want me kept from His side! I wanted to be by His side and became willing to let Him have my anger and this evil man.
The anger gave way to grief. It was in my grief that I found the comfort of the Lord. Through His cross I was able to give Him the deepest words of forgiveness.
In His graciousness, the Lord revealed to me His agony at Calvary. The weight of my sin and wounding caused Him to feel the burden of separation from God. His cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” echoed the cry of my heart under the weight of another’s sin.
Jesus uniquely understood the weight of my abuse. He responded to others’ sin by forgiving them. He was only asking me to do what He had already done.
At the cross, my pain and hurt finally had a place to go. Deep words of forgiveness allowed me to release the man who had sinned against me. Forgiveness supplanted the dagger in my heart. And forgiveness allowed the Lord to become my protection. The wall I hid behind was no longer needed; the Lord became my high tower.
“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—from violent [people] you save me.” (2 Sm 22:3)