Last month brought considerable attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse when actress Alyssa Milano’s call for victims to post “me too” took social media by storm.
Since this campaign my mind has been preoccupied with what it means to raise children in a world where harassment, and especially sexual abuse, is so common. It’s far too easy to get lost in the dark places in my mind when I think about sexual abuse at all, let alone when it involves children. Dwelling on that subject is something I need to actively work to shun. But there’s a balance too, right?
I also need to actively think about how I will protect my children, how I will help to make this world safer for them. These big, awful issues require a delicate balance between pragmatism and trust. How do we maintain trust and fight the demons of anxiety and fear in a world that is so patently unsafe for innocence? How do we have the trust that allows us to parent without consuming fear?
On the practical side, I see a lot of good happening. I love that books and articles on how to teach children safe boundaries are becoming so common (for example: http://adrielbooker.com). I love the growing awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse, and the support for those who choose to speak of their experiences. I love how many discussions I’ve already seen and been part of that brainstorm methods for broaching these difficult and critical conversations with children.
I feel that I now have the resources and, most of all, the awareness of what to look out for in a way that just wasn’t considered a few decades ago. And yet it has still happened to so many children, and I know it will still happen to many more. And this fact can leave me cold and cause me to feel more cut off from the Lord than anything else.
But He’s still there – of course He is. No matter what happens to anyone’s body, the Lord is always safeguarding his spirit. I have to cling to that reality. But it can be pretty hard. It can be so very hard to believe that the Lord is present when the most innocent and defenceless beings are touched by such a perversion, and hurt by those who should be protecting them.
“From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
I come back to this quote often. When I look at these issues close up, they consume me. I am lost in anger, and despair, and a terrible, crippling fear for those I love. So the only way out is to look higher, to look beyond myself and my ability to control events. Even my ability to protect people I love, in particular my children. Sometimes the discussions and the resources and the planning around how best to prepare my children to protect themselves is a rung on the ladder that raises me up from this scary place. But even that isn’t enough.
Children from good, safe homes, with loving, aware parents are abused all too frequently. I was. So, awful as it is to recognize, I have to find my peace with the reality that I actually cannot stand between my children and this evil. I can do a lot to prepare and protect them, but I just can’t control the events of their lives. The ONLY thing that can truly anchor me is that the Lord is in control, even when awful things happen. The Lord is holding each one of us, especially the little ones. He is holding and cherishing our spirits. He is warding off every bad thing that we allow. He is guarding our souls. That truth is the rock that is higher than I.
But it’s hard. And I imagine that it will only get harder as my daughter grows older. I want to do everything right. I want to teach her boundaries and self confidence and self worth. I want to bludgeon off anything that would shatter her beautiful innocence. I want to make sure she will be fine always. But I’m not in control. And it is better that I’m not, even though that could mean my child gets hurt. That’s a bitter truth to stomach. Of course the Lord is incapable of willing harm to any one of His children, but He is also incapable of sacrificing one person’s free will in order to prevent external harm.
It all comes back to the fact that the Lord is working with eternity. The Lord is safeguarding our spirits and He will not let ANYTHING happen to us that damages our eternal spirits and the chance to choose eternal happiness. And it is my job to have faith in His plan, my job to trust Him. And when doubts and fears arise, even when they are so very real, I am called to shun them.
And of course we are supposed to do all we can to protect our children, anyone, from abuse. And I think we are getting better and better tools to do that and the Lord wants us to keep working to improve these tools. But even more than that, He wants us, He wants me, to keep looking to the higher truths, the eternal truths. He wants us to find the anchors in His Word that give us a reason to keep trusting in the face of so much that is wrong.
“Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’”
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
This is my process with this hard and uncomfortable reality, what’s yours? Parent or not, I think harm to children is something most people find very hard to swallow. How do you make your peace with it? How does the Lord answer the cry of your overwhelmed heart? What are your anchors?