Last week we were privileged to stay at CCBCE in Vajta, Hungary for five days. It is always a refreshing stop for us when we travel because our best friends live there. It’s a safe place. We can be ourselves, and if that means we’re broken piles of sadness, that’s ok. That is a rare kind of friendship from what I have experienced in my life.
While we were there, the director of the school graciously allowed us to teach his final class of the semester, as he had been teaching about counseling and addiction. He told us to share how God was using counseling in our ministry. We talked about a lot of different practical problems and approaches to counseling in ministry, and shared about how Jesus meets us in the dark places where sin is perpetrated against us. Afterward, there were a lot of great questions, and I thought I would blog about one that a few people had.
“My friend was abused. I’m not a counselor. What can I do to help?”
That is a really important question. I wish there would have been more time during our session to talk about that, but it was an hour long. God knows. His timing is perfect. But this blog doesn’t have a time limit, so we can talk about it here.
How to Become A Support Person
If you know someone that has experienced trauma or abuse, and you want to help them, the best thing to do is learn about abuse and trauma. There is a term for a friend that walks through the after effects of abuse or trauma with someone else. This person is called a support person. You don’t need to be a counselor in order to support someone as they journey toward healing in their life. However, there are a few steps that will help a friend become an effective support person. We are going to look at them here.
Get Educated About Abuse
The most important step is to become educated about what people feel and experience after abuse or trauma. Here are two wonderful resources that will help you on your way.
“On the Threshold ff Hope,” by Diane Mandt Langberg
“Good News About Injustice,” by Gary A. Haugen
If you read these two books, you will be so much better prepared to support a person that is struggling to trust another person. There are several mistakes that people who don’t understand trauma make quite often, and Diane Langber and Gary Haugen do a good job of dispelling myths that lead to these mistakes.
Be Willing To Feel Uncomfortable
It is tempting to tell someone you’d rather not hear about horrible things that happened to them when they make you feel personally uncomfortable. Some of the things I’ve heard made me nauseated and disturbed. However, Jesus didn’t shy away from the sins He faced on the cross. In Isaiah 63 we see that Jesus was afflicted in all of the affliction of God’s children:
“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presences saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old.” -Isaiah 63:9
Sometimes the truth is very hard to hear, but we must. If we want to be like Jesus, we must allow our own notions of what is comfortable to be shattered. Horrible, unthinkable sins exist in our world, and if we refuse to acknowledge them, we are taking away the survivor’s voice just as much as their abuser did. They need a safe, nonjudgmental place to be heard. You, through the strength imparted to you through Jesus Christ, are able to be that safe place.
Listen & Don’t Act Without Prayer
When we hear that someone has been through something difficult, our first instinct is to try to fix things for them. That instinct itself isn’t bad, it is what leads us to help others. However, we must be very careful HOW we attempt to help. Sometimes we assume jobs that God never wanted us to do. We must pray and fast, and wait on the Lord to tell us what to do in each individual case. For example, if someone has told you something in confidence and they are an adult, it is not your responsibility to tell their parents. They must decide whether or not they are ready to do that. You may also think, “If I could just do this… or that… then things would be better for them.” Be very careful! I am speaking from personal experience when I say that you must be specifically called by God to do whatever it is for that person. Our good intentions can be unwise, but only God sees the outcome of drastic situations. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t help. If someone in an abusive situation needs a place to stay and you have room, it could be that God is calling you to have that person stay with you. However, it could be that He wants you to help them find a different place to stay. You have to be sure what His will in situations like this, because there has to be accountability and safety for them and for you. Remember that anything you do should answer the question, “What is best for them?” instead of “What solution will make me feel better?”
The concept of trust fights against everything a survivor of abuse has been taught. They have usually be threatened so that they will not talk about what happened to them. Many abusers threaten bodily harm (including murder) and also tell survivors that if they say anything to anyone, that the abuser will be instinctively know. When someone has been manipulative and used power in an abusive way, it creates a tendency for the survivor to believe the abuser automatically. If you have earned the trust of a survivor, make sure you do everything you can not to violate that trust. If you want to talk to a pastor about the situation, first ask the survivor. The only time you should go for help behind their back is if they are sinning in a harmful way against someone else (such as abusing others themselves), you have confronted them about it, and they refuse to get the help they need. You should also reach out to others for help if your friend is suicidal, or involved in self-harm (purging and cutting are two examples).
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
The brain processes traumatic memories much differently than normal memories. Because of this, survivors often seem confused, or like they aren’t sure exactly what happened to them. If the person you are supporting is confused when trying to remember their abuse, remember this is normal. Please, please don’t accuse them of lying. That will set you back in your relationship, and it isn’t actually true. Survivors of abuse may also suffer from Fragmented Memory (where events are split into different memories… locations, feelings, and actions are often disjointed). This condition must be treated by a licensed counselor.
At some point in every journey as a support person, it is important to tell the person you are not qualified to help them the way they need to be helped. Survivors of abuse need to go through counseling. Forgiving their abuser isn’t enough. It is a great step in the right direction, and it pleases God when we forgive, but counseling is a very important step. You should suggest they find a licensed counselor that has experience counseling survivors of abuse. If the counselor is Christian, that is ideal. However, you cannot make someone get the help they need if they do not want to. Being pushy won’t help, either. Be patient, and continue to support them in a healthy way by being honest, and listening to them when they want to talk about the abuse. If you notice sin on their part, narcissism being the most common, it is ok to point it out in a loving way. Keep in mind that they have to work through their trust issues with God in counseling before there is usually progress in this area.
His Blood Purifies
We know that Jesus’ blood has cleansed us from our sin, but did you know the purification properties of His blood don’t stop there? Jesus’ blood has cleansed us from all sin, not just the sins we commit.
“But if we walk in light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” -1 John 1:7
This means that when we witness atrocious sin through listening to the testimony of survivors, that Jesus’ blood is powerful enough to cleanse us from the sin that our friend experienced in the form of abuse. After I talk with someone and they share hard truths with me, I spend time praying. After I have prayed for them, this is what I pray for me:
“God, I know that your Son’s blood is powerful enough to cleanse me from all sin. I pray that you would bathe me and clean me so that I can continue on now that I have the knowledge of these sins that were committed against your child. Please make me white as snow, and help me not to become bitter toward other people because of the things I have heard. Thank You for your love for me. Keep me close to You, Lord. Amen.”
Does this article stir your heart? Do you feel that God wants you to become a support person for survivors of abuse? Awesome! But don’t let that stop with you. This is a huge area of need in the church. Tell your friends what you are learning and do your best to spread awareness. The statistics indicate that 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual abuse, and 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual abuse (although this number is estimated to be underreported due to stigma about being a male survivor). That means that in a group of four girls in your church group of friends, it is likely that one of you have experienced some type of sexual abuse.
I appreciate your heart in reading this article, and I pray that God will bless all of your efforts on behalf of His kingdom and His hurting children.