Owning my story of childhood sexual abuse changed everything. Coming to terms with the horrific ways in which my trust had been betrayed made me question if God had truly walked alongside me on my journey of life. The church had always been part of my life and I never doubted God loved me, but the only way to reconcile faith and abuse was to repress the memories or blame myself. I did both until the year I turned 61. That year changed everything.
I entered therapy in the fall and as Christmas approached, I felt less than eager to engage in the holiday. I realized I had never really been eager, but I had distracted myself with brightly colored decorations and the delight of children. Believing in a God who so loved the world, but seemed to not have protected me was not as easy. I had to keep those memories hidden.
Yet, this year was different. I knew my prayers had been answered the day I walked into therapy (a terrified but determined perfectionist). By Christmas, the relationship of trust I found in my therapy sessions was truly beyond my comprehension. I had barely begun the journey and had no idea what lay ahead of me, but this gentle woman cared about me and her skill as a therapist was beginning to give me hope.
While sitting in a Christmas Eve service, I listened as Isaiah 9:6 was read. The words were so familiar, but one word came crashing through my brain like a runaway train . . .
For to us a child is born, to us, a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
Where did that word come from? Counselor? Wasn’t that like a therapist?
As the word floated in the air, I watched as God wrapped a bright red ribbon around it and tied a magnificent bow. I had asked for peace and God was beginning to give me exactly what I asked for. It wasn’t close to peace, it wasn’t kind of like it, it wasn’t someone else’s idea of what peace would look like, it was peace made just for me and wrapped and topped with a bow.
As if to emphasize that therapy, which was bringing healing, truly was a gift from God, I heard the speaker start to talk about counseling. Not the spiritual, ‘read your Bible and listen to sermons’ kind of counseling normally referred to in this verse, but honest to goodness, ‘go find someone qualified and get help’ counseling. I said right out loud, “He is not going there!” Yes he was.
And at that point, God wrote the following words on a gift tag, ‘To: Janyne, From: God’ and placed the tag prominently next to the magnificent bow.
I had probably read Isaiah 9:6 hundreds of times on cards, heard it in sermons, taught it to children, sang it in the Messiah, and stored it in my memory—but all the time avoided the very word I most needed. I remember thinking about Jesus’ relationship to the government; how he was a mighty God, everlasting, and the prince of peace; but counselor just never seemed to fit. Why was that word there?
The truth was the idea of therapy or counseling never fit within my paradigm of religion. The religious emphasis on controlling behavior had completely obscured the joy of relationship. In my mind, a counselor wouldn’t tell you what to do and not do. A counselor would listen to me and guide me, but never tell me how to live my life—yes, suggest better ways to think and feel, but not lay down rules. I ignored the word counselor because it did not fit with what I knew my religion to be—a set of rules I had desperately tried to obey as I lived above my internal turmoil.
God was bringing the gift of healing to me. What lurked deep in my soul prevented me from viewing Jesus, that baby in the manger and the man who chose to walk among us and experience our pain, as someone who loved me enough to give me exactly what I had been putting on my list for so many years. God desired a true relationship and this could only come through healing.
God sent Jesus to be a counselor and heal the brokenhearted. That role of healing was present in my world through the dedication and skill of a therapist. God knew my levels of pain were going to require professional help. God never intended, wanted, allowed, or planned the abuse. I was never responsible for the shame created in me by the broken and evil choices of other humans. God was working for my good—always. Understanding God in this way had been a long time coming, but it is finally here. It is the gift I began unwrapping the day I walked into therapy.
It has been three very long years since I saw God tie the magnificent bow on my gift of healing. God didn’t hand me the gift already opened. My therapist and I would need to do a lot of work before I could put on the ‘healed me’ inside the box. Healing from sexual abuse—especially that which occurs in childhood only happens when the gift is opened with determination and it doesn’t always feel like a gift. This Christmas I will attend the Christmas Eve service again, clothed in the ‘healed me’ garment of peace. I will be filled with gratitude and with a determination to help other victims open the gift of healing available to them.
What a gift is given to victims when a therapist helps them open the gift of healing! God would have every traumatized person heal, but it seldom happens without dedicated professional help. It is a gift that requires work on our parts, but once opened, it will change our lives forever. All of us who have healed will forever be grateful for the gift given to us by a heavenly counselor through the skilled work of a caring and dedicated therapist.
Janyne McConnaughey, PH.D. is a retired educator who devoted her life to training teachers. She told every class that children (and adults) made sense if you knew their story. In 2014 she entered therapy to understand her own story which she knew began with insecure attachment but did not fully understand included sexual abuse in a daycare at the age of three. She calls her three years of intensive healing a ‘God Journey’ and is redeeming her personal story as she gives hope to others who have experienced trauma, especially that of childhood sexual abuse.