Do Not Despise Your Strength!

God, in Tagaytay, Philippines May 1, 2019

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The Lord spoke to me during a team meeting at the Filipino International Living Waters Leadership Training and said, “Do not despise your strength.” This might sound like a simple concept to most people, but for many of us who have endured childhood sexual abuse, it isn’t quite that easy.

It felt like I had to surrender my own strength during the abuse. I knew that if I resisted, I would be hurt. Badly. Instead of fighting the abuse, my heart “went somewhere else” while the rest of me just endured. That created the message that I was a weak coward who simply “let the abuse happen”. Since our body parts don’t know that the sensations were caused by unwanted abuse, they respond how those body parts were made to respond. This simultaneously creates the sense that we’re being betrayed by our own bodies, and plants the lie that we “like” the abuse. Since resisting the abuse would bring more pain, I began to believe that my own strength was dangerous... something to be avoided… something to despise.

When the Lord told me to stop despising my own strength, He began to unfold these dark dynamics of abuse. He also began to unfold the truth about strength. It wasn’t weakness to recognize that I would be hurt if I resisted the abuse. It was actually strength to endure the abuse and come out the other side. It takes strength to acknowledge the pain and confusion of abuse, and to bring that pain and confusion to the only one who can truly heal our souls. Jesus endured the torture and abuse of the cross. He suffered unspeakable torment for us. And He can heal us. He can give us the strength to face the truth and speak the truth. Jesus can set us free from the devastating effects of abuse.

As we learn to stand in His strength, there will be times when people who are used to taking advantage of our weakness rise up and try to come against our strength. It is then that we need to lean on Jesus, the true source of our strength, and live the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. As we experience the reality of God’s strength made perfect in our weakness, we learn to stand in Christ. He will give us the strength to persevere through the opposition and gain victory through His power. Rather than being something to despise, our own strength – really, Christ’s strength in our weakness – is something to be embraced.

My name is Dan Hitz, and I’m the Executive Director of Reconciliation Ministries. As I share this part of my journey with you, I hope that it gives you encouragement to continue to heal from the pain of your past. If you or someone you love has suffered from abuse, call Reconciliation Ministries at 586.739.5114 to find out how we can help you find healing. We offered licensed professional counseling, prayer ministry, and support groups to help you overcome sexual struggles and the trauma of abuse.

© 2019 Reconciliation Ministries of Michigan, Inc.  This article may be reproduced and distributed as long as no fee is charged and credit is given to Reconciliation Ministries of Michigan, Inc.

Considering Your Life on the Mat? - Dan Hitz

Dan has been the Executive Director of Reconciliation Ministries since 2003, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Michigan. You can read testimonies and helpful articles on recovery on the archives section of the Reconciliation Ministries website by clicking here.

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I knew that growing up with a sexually abusive, paranoid schizophrenic mother would leave me with a lot of deep emotional wounds, but little did I know until years after giving my heart back to Jesus Christ as a 22-year old man how deep those wounds actually were. During the abuse, and my mom’s progressively deeper plunges into mental illness, I became an expert at turning off my emotions. Emotions hurt. Who wants to feel pain?

My excuse for not letting myself deal with the pain after I became a Christian was that I was a new creation in Christ, and the old stuff had supposedly passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17). I used that verse to convince myself that I didn’t have to deal with the issues of the past anymore. The problem is that I was taking that Scripture totally out of context. It wasn’t addressing emotional brokenness. It was addressing the beautiful gift of justification that we are given when we accept Jesus as our Savior. Instantly, we are declared to have His righteousness. That part is a done deal through divine decree. Another one of my “favorite” Scriptures to throw back at the Lord when He was convicting me to deal with my emotional pain was Philippians 3:13. Paul wrote about “forgetting” what was in the past, and “straining” (NIV) toward what is ahead. Never mind that Paul was actually explaining that he didn’t base his personal value on his past accomplishments, I used that verse to give myself a “Scriptural” basis to keep trying to shut off my emotions. God wasn’t buying it. It wasn’t working. I kept trying. Strangely, we who live on a mat like the guy at the pool of Bethesda are good at “straining”.

Anyone who has ever tried stuffing their emotions and then been forced to take an honest look at their own heart, can guess how this went. Stuffing our emotions seems to work for a little while. Maybe even a long while. But then the emotional carnage catches up to us. Not just us, but those around us. Our brokenness seems to spread to those we care about the most. After a few years… a few decades… of stuffing our emotions, we lose the strength to suppress them any longer and we unravel. That’s what happened to me in my late thirties. I unraveled.

I was a lot like the guy at the pool of Bethesda in John, Chapter Five. “5 One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, ‘Would you like to get well?’” My first response to that question is, “Really?!! The poor guy has been lying there handicapped for 38 years and You have the audacity to ask him if he wants to be made well?” Now that I’ve walked this healing journey for many years, I have a better understanding of that question. Jesus was really asking him, “Are you willing to let Me work in your heart however I want to work in your heart to heal your brokenness?” There’s a big difference in those questions. Answering the second question affirmatively also means surrendering one powerful thing – control. Abuse survivors are not particularly good at surrendering control. We didn’t have any for so many years. In our hearts we seem to be thinking, “Now… Jesus… You’re asking me to give up the tiny amount of control that I’ve managed to grab on to?”  Jesus’ response might as well be the words of a popular daytime TV show host, “How’s that working for you?” Sooner, rather than later, I hope all of us take the risk to answer the, “How’s that working for you?” question truthfully. The answer is, “Not very well.”

It would be similar to having a long-term physical disability in the US, and Jesus asking us if we want to be made well. Our minds might start to process the cost. Sure things are tough here on this mat, but I do get a monthly disability check and a Bridge card. My housing is paid for and I do have people taking care of me. If I get better, I’ll lose my public assistance and I’ll have to take care of myself. I’ll have to get a job. I’ll have to start paying my own bills, and cooking my own food. I’m not really sure I can take care of myself. (I want to be sensitive and acknowledge that there are many people who are on public assistance with legitimate needs. I’m not disparaging them in any way. I’m just trying to highlight the vulnerability and risk that Jesus was asking the man to exercise. If you or someone you care about is on public assistance, please be at peace.)

The man’s doubts start surfacing in the next verse. “‘I can’t sir,’ the man said, ‘for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.’” (5:8) This shows the man was still looking for another human to put him into the pool, rather than looking directly to Jesus to heal him. It also shows that the man on the mat was very much aware that others were experiencing healing miracles. But not him. He’s still on his mat. For 38 years. Other people seem to catch the healing breaks. Somehow we use that as evidence that we’ll never get better. We use that pain to motivate ourselves to not even try. Trying is scary. What if we succeed? No more disability checks. No more Bridge card. We will have to start doing things for ourselves. That is frightening. Sometimes it seems easier not to even try.

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I’ve read these passages many times, but just recently noticed another facet of this account that I hadn’t noticed before. It comes out in verse eight and we see the results in verse nine. “8 Jesus told him, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!’ 9 Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!” Obviously, Jesus is the healer and the man would not have walked unless he was supernaturally healed, but the thing that hadn’t registered before was that Jesus gave him specific instructions – commands – to receive his healing, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

Following those commands takes trust. Trust takes vulnerability. It can be terrifying to trust God. In the back of our minds, we might be thinking, “But where were You back when I was being abused?” or “Why are You just now telling me to get off my mat after all these years?” Those are questions that we can talk to the Lord about in due time. He actually has answers for them. If He told us right now we might not understand – or like – the answer, but as we continue in our healing so many things begin to make sense.

Other stumbling blocks to getting off our mats include the fear that we’re so messed up that God might not be able to work through us, or we’ll screw it up somehow. Sometimes we’re actually afraid that He might heal us and then we’ll crash because He’ll want us to do things that we haven’t been able to do. We don’t actually believe that He’ll continue to equip us for life off the mat. Sometimes we’re afraid to even hope that He might heal us because He might not really come through and we’ll be even more hopeless than before.

Ultimately, Jesus asks all of us, “Do you want to be made well? Are you willing to trust me and be vulnerable to let Me heal you My way?” I pray that all of us answer that question with a yes. It may be a scared, shaky yes; but a scared, shaky yes is all He asks. It is worth it. As we trust Him, He will give us the ability to “Stand up, pick up our mat, and walk.”

As we begin to experience life off the mat, we begin to learn more about God’s heart as a redemptive, loving Father. We did experience a measure of His grace while we were living on our mat, but He has so much more for us as we step off the mat. We begin to understand how deeply He always has loved us – even in the worst moments of our lives – as He continues to restore the broken areas of our hearts. We also begin to experience the strength and abilities that Jesus died on the cross to provide for us. As we open our hearts to Him and roll up our mat, we see that He truly does work out everything – the joys and the sorrows – for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Photos courtesy of www.unsplash.com. © 2018 Reconciliation Ministries of Michigan, Inc. This article may be reproduced and distributed as long as no fee is charged and credit is given.

Afraid of God? Lessons from the Cats...

This article was written by Dan Hitz, Executive Director of Reconciliation Ministries, a member ministry of Restored Hope Network. Dan is a sexual abuse survivor and began his own journey out of homosexuality in 1984. He has served as ministry director since 2003. You can find more articles on sexual abuse recovery in the archives section of our website at www.recmin.org. Special thanks to Dan’s daughter for helping with this article and providing the pictures. Oh, and for bringing the cats to our house too!

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My daughter had a security job guarding a storage lot for one of the big three automakers. Under the rows and rows of shiny new vehicles protected by a security team and a 7000 volt electric fence, there was an entirely different world. Cats. Yes, cats. Their world was nothing like the protective world of the beautiful cars and trucks. Their world was in the gravel. Instead of the protection of the security team, they were threatened by coyotes and huge rats. Cat life was very dangerous. The cars were carefully guarded and accounted for. Great care was used to get them to their destination. The cats were a different story. They were on their own. Them against the world. And that world was deadly.

The Lord showed me a lot of lessons from the cats. Lessons that were good, yet unfortunate, examples of how the cats’ lives were similar to the life of an abuse survivor.

Enter my animal loving daughter. Somehow those mangy cats stole her heart. I remember the night she brought a bag of cat food to work because she noticed that they were skin and bones. The cats noticed the food. They were desperate. A cat’s gotta eat. Initially they didn’t want anything to do with the benevolent being that brought them the food. When they noticed her, they would run. She kept reaching out to them. They kept running. After about a week, the fluffy one decided to stop running. It let this benevolent creature touch it. Unlike the coyotes and rats, this being’s touch was comforting. It was safe at a distance.

The skinny cat thought differently. Its size suggested that life in the same gravel world was somehow more difficult for it than life for fluffy cat. It needed the food that the benevolent creature provided, but it had zero trust that this creature would be any different than the other creatures that tormented it. At one point my daughter tried to reach out to it. It freaked out and ran away. Unfortunately, while it was running from her it caught one of its paws in a fence and got hurt. In skinny cat’s mind, the creature caused the injury. The heart of the benevolent creature had compassion knowing that life would be so much better for skinny cat if he would just stop running and let her help him. There were other cats in the yard, but they stayed even further away than skinny cat.

My daughter kept feeding them – reaching out to them – to gain their trust. After two weeks, they trusted the benevolent creature enough to enter her guard shack. The door closed behind them and they were in her domain. It was different from the gravel. There was heat. It was warm. My daughter kept caring for them, feeding them. Reaching out to them. Fluffy cat dared to let her hold him. Skinny cat kept resisting. I kinda wonder if skinny cat was watching to see if fluffy cat’s trust would lead to his demise. Skinny cat learned from sad experience that trust is dangerous.

A new day came along. My daughter heard that management was changing things up at the storage lot. Within a few days they would be taking all the cats to an animal shelter. A kill shelter. The benevolent creature knew that she had to remove the cats from their familiar gravel world and take them to a strange new place, or they would die. Kinda hard to explain that to a cat. In order to take them out of gravel world, she had to place them in a cage. I wonder if they felt betrayed in that cage. After all they trusted her and now they felt trapped. And then she brought them to a strange new world of carpet, colorful walls, lights, and people. It must have been overwhelming. They knew gravel world with the occasional venture into the guard shack. Then the cage. And now this. It must have been sensory overload. Did they exercise a tragic error of judgment when they began to trust the benevolent creature?

There were other cats my daughter was willing to rescue along with them, but they ran. Leaving the familiarity of gravel world with an unfamiliar benevolent creature was too much of a risk for them to take. Their lack of trust would later prove fatal.

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I remember the first night that my daughter brought fluffy cat and skinny cat home. She led my wife and me to our downstairs bathroom where she was keeping them safe from the two dogs and another feral cat we had brought into our home several years ago. I knew the Lord had something to show me, so I just sat in the background of the room and watched my wife and daughter try to interact with the cats. The loss of gravel world and the newness of carpet world seemed to be too much for them. Fluffy cat wouldn’t let my daughter pet him anymore. We put two small bowls of milk out for the cats to drink. The fragile trust they had in the benevolent creature way back in gravel world seemed to be gone. Instead of the bright lights, warmth and milk of carpet world, they preferred to hide in the darkness under some shelves in our bathroom. They knew the parameters of gravel world. Carpet world is another story. And now there’s three benevolent creatures. Trusting one was hard enough. “Why did she bring other people here to mess with me?”

My wife and daughter didn’t want to overwhelm skinny cat and fluffy cat, so they decided to leave them alone for a while. I stayed behind. Hidden in the background. The second the door shut behind them, skinny cat and fluffy cat lunged for the milk. The benevolent creatures may be terrifying, but the truth is the cats needed the care that the benevolent creatures were trying to give them. They drank that milk up pretty fast.

Carpet world was safe, but it was unfamiliar, and trust in the benevolent creature wasn’t restored in a day. Even my daughter had to hold fluffy cat in a coat that first day lest she experience the terror of psycho kitty. My wife picked up skinny cat with another coat. Both cats were hissing at us. The benevolent creatures were patient. They just sat there holding and loving the terrified cats. They wanted the best for those cats. The cats just couldn’t figure that out.

Gradually, fluffy cat calmed down and let my daughter hold him again without a coat. Skinny cat held onto control. The benevolent creature had to continue using a coat to pick him up, but he was willing to sleep on the bed with her. As long as skinny cat was able to maintain some sense of control, he was okay. He just wasn’t fully convinced that the benevolent creature had his best interests in heart. Finally, as the week wore on and the benevolent creature found an adoption shelter, skinny cat stopped hissing and let my daughter hold him without the coat. Benevolent creatures are patient. They understand. They look beyond the hissing and see the wounded heart that needs love and restoration. That is their goal all along.

Another change. Another ride in a cage. Another loss of familiarity and fear of the new. This time carpet world was exchanged for metal cage world. Other loud, nervous animals. And new benevolent creatures. It turns out that one of the new benevolent creatures at the adoption shelter fell in love with fluffy cat and skinny cat and took them to her home. Cage world started off feeling cold and unloving. It turns out that it was actually a place of great love and compassion where the long-term solution was revealed. The new benevolent creature loved the cats as her own.

Sometimes God keeps things the same. Sometimes he changes things. He doesn’t usually ask our permission. Each time it is a new opportunity to learn the difficult task of trusting Him. He’s patient. He will wrap His coat around us and lovingly hold us while we hiss at Him. People that have never lived in gravel world won’t understand how its residents could have a hard time trusting a benevolent creature. Souls leaving gravel world can understand. Sometimes it was those we trusted – those we thought were benevolent creatures – who played the role of the coyotes and rats. Sometimes we’re afraid to leave gravel world. It is terrible. It is painful. But it’s all we understand. We don’t know how to live in carpet world. It’s hard for us to trust that cage world is only temporary and is actually a safe place while we are transitioning into another carpet world.

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Brokenness is scary, but sometimes we prefer it to the unknown. The Lord understands this. There are times when He loves us enough to pick us up out of the familiar and carry us to a new place that we can’t comprehend. We might want to hide under a dark shelf, but He feeds us and teaches us how to live in a strange new place. Sometimes those He has placed in our lives move on. One familiar source of strength may transition elsewhere and be replaced by a new compassionate face. We have to learn to trust all over again. It is during those times that we have to look beyond the immediate and see Jesus Christ, the true Benevolent Creator, orchestrating our lives. He can preserve our lives in gravel world. And in time, restores our hearts in carpet world. He understands. He knows what it is like to be abused in gravel world. Jesus Christ conquered the sin and death of gravel world, and rose victoriously to deliver us.

 

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. - 
Isaiah 53:5 NKJV

© 2018 Reconciliation Ministries of Michigan, Inc. This article may be reproduced and distributed as long as no fee is charged and credit is given.