Thursday, September 3, 2009

Unit 5 Lesson 5, A Biblical Example

God speaks the truth even when it is ugly. The Bible records examples of sexual abuse and family dysfunction. Amnon, one of King David's sons, sexually abused his half-sister Tamar. He pretended to be ill to lure Tamar into his room: "He took hold of her and said to her, 'Come, lie with me, my sister.' But she answered him, "Don't, my brother. Don't force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don't do this wicked thing.' ... But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her." (2 Samuel 13:11-14)

Tamar reported the incident to one of her other brothers, Absalom. Here was Absalom's response: "Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart." And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom's house, a desolate woman." 2 Samuel 13:20

It seems that the pattern was no different for a dysfunctional family in biblical times than for a family in the present. The problem for victims is also the same - when they remain silent, the become desolate. Discussing your abuse does not mean getting up in church or another public place and announcing to everyone that you have been sexually abused. It does mean that you need to tell your story in a safe, supportive environment.

Sometimes recognizing a safe place to tell your story can be very difficult. Take some time to write in your journal about the image or description of a safe, supportive environment for you.

You might have described a place where you can talk, cry, never run out of tissue and never be judged... You deserve a place of rest, peace and relationships to cushion the harsh reality of abuse.

When Samuel said that Tamar remained in her brother's house and was desolate, he was saying she was forlorn and lonely, without friends or hope. Abuse so often leaves the victim without deep friendships and without hope. Often the victim is forced into isolation, feeling friendless and in great despair.

Do you identify with Tamar? If you have felt isolated and in despair, describe your feelings in your journal.

Read the entire story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:1-20 in your Bible. (If you do not have a Bible, you can look the scripture up on After you have read the entire story, respond to the following learning activities based on the characters in the story.

What kind of attitude about himself and human sexuality do you see reflected in Amnon's frustration over the situation with Tamar? Note all that apply:
  • He was self-centered, only interested in what he could do to her.
  • He considered Tamar as an object, not as a person.
  • He was angry because he was used to getting his way.
  • His idea of sexuality had nothing to do with emotional intimacy or genuine love.
  • Other
You could have chosen any or all of the responses. Next Amnon followed the evil advice of his friend Jonadab. Amnon planned and prepared to rape Tamar. He pretended to be ill and asked David, who was his father and his half-sister Tamar's father, to send Tamar to care for him.

Read the following scripture:

So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, "I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand." David sent word to Tamar at the palace: "Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him." 2 Samuel 13:6-7

Not only did Amnon plan to rape Tamar, his father unknowingly but directly contributed to the rape. How do you think Tamar might have felt towards her father as a result?
  • Betrayed, "He set me up for this."
  • Angry, "This is his fault!"
  • Frightened, "I don't dare tell my father what happened."
  • Bewildered, "What can I do?"
  • Other
Journal about your feelings about David in the story.

Remember that Tamar was not objectively reading these words on paper. She was experiencing the hurt and shame of sexual abuse. Whether or not Davide understood the consequences of his actions, the fact is that he contributed to her sexual abuse, and he did nothing to correct the situation after the rape. Tamar certainly could have felt all of the feelings above and more.

Next notice in verse 15 that after the rape Amnon hated Tamar. He increased the violation by blaming her and sending her away. Still worse he called a servant - thereby assuring that others would blame her - and he had Tamar thrown out of the house.

Remember that you are not responsible for any part of the behavior of a person who abused you. Do not use this activity to excuse or to blame but simply to understand. Describe why you think Amnon suddenly hated Tamar.

We cannot know another person's thoughts or motivations but one explanation seems probable. Amnon knew that what he had done was wrong. Rather than accept responsibility for himself, he shifted the blame to Tamar.

Have you experienced someone treating you like Amnon treated Tamar - first sexually abusing you and then blaming you for the abuse. If yes, describe how it felt to be blamed.

The next injury for Tamar resulted after the rape. She went to her brother Absalom. Absalom's response was typical of many family members of sexual abuse victims. The messages that Absalom sent to his sister were: "Keep the secret. Don't let anybody know about the family trouble. Don't shame the family by talking about this."

"Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart." 2 Samuel 13:20

Write what you would like to say to Tamar instead of the dysfunctional message she received from her family.

As survivors of sexual abuse ourselves, we would all like to tell her that she was not to blame and that she needed and deserved to talk about her feelings with safe people.

Spend a few minutes in prayer. If you can, thank God for providing a safe place for you to openly share your experiences. Thank Him for recording the story of Tamar in scripture so that you would know that you are not alone in the betrayal of sexual abuse Honestly share your feelings with God. He will not respond as many people do. He will not say, "Don't take it to heart." God will listen and will patiently walk with you toward healing.

Working through these family issues is painful and will probably continue to be so for a while. If you feel desolate, betrayed and alone, reach out to someone who can help you. Find a support group in your area, stay plugged in to this blog, and/or meet with a counselor - even when it seems more difficult to work toward healing than to stay away. You need the support, and God wants you to overcome this tragedy in your life. God intends for you to walk in joy and peace, free from guilt and condemnation.


Next week we will begin Unit 6 Lesson 1, Letting Go of Shame and Guilt. I continue to pray daily for each and every one of you. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your recovery. Many blessings to you. Enjoy the long holiday weekend!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A gift?

This post is about something I have struggled a great deal with since Friday. Realistically, I know that this is not that big of a deal and that what I am experiencing is very common for people from all walks of life, but I have found shame and failure in it. Primarily because I took a firm stand (with hands on my hips and an angry red face) years ago that I would be nothing like my mother (whom I believe suffers from mental illness and unresolved issues).

So... I saw a doctor last Friday for tightening of the chest, difficulty breathing and dizziness. I've had these "episodes" a few times a month for the last couple of years, but they've always subsided after 30 seconds or so. I was never concerned about them... But in the last couple of weeks they have come much more regularly and an episode on Friday lasted for 15 minutes. To rule out anything serious, I went straight to the doctor. After a perfect EKG and chest x-ray, the doctor gently delivered the news that it's possible that I'm suffering from panic attacks. "They can run in families" she says.

I was immediately brought to a place of shame and failure when I heard those words. I managed to remain stoic in her office, but I was crumbling inside. I've been on a mission for good mental health since I was a child!

It was so confusing too. I can honestly say that I could not be happier and there isn't anything going on that I am worried, anxious or stressed about. Why these panic attacks? The doctor explained that they can come from nowhere and be for no apparent reason; that people who are not depressed or stressed can get them. This news makes me feel out of control, and I do not like that feeling one bit.

I don't really know what to make of it all. If you'd have asked me a month ago, I could have given you a list of a few major things that were on my mind - school starting, my three year old possibly having cancer, having two of my friends lose a child, adjusting to my husband's new work schedule... But I wasn't having increased "episodes" when all that was going on. That would at least make some sense!

So, when I got home from the doctor's office I read about Panic Attacks on the Mayo Clinic website. There I read that people who were sexually abused have a higher tendency to suffer from panic attacks. I was furious to read that they could be linked to the abuse I suffered as a child. How could he take this away from me too? It made me angry to think that, after all the progress I've made in my recovery, these panic attacks could have something to do with the abuse. (But, possibly not - I don't think we'll ever know.)

As I have processed this over the last several days, my anxiety over the whole thing has decreased a great deal. I understand that, if these are indeed panic attacks, it doesn't mean that I will spiral out of control. It doesn't mean I'm going to start making a decisions that devastate the lives of everyone around me. I am not a ticking time bomb.

And even as I sit here and type, I am wondering about something I read on another blog. JMom writes about the bags God packs for us... She says that "Some things bring groans and others bring grins... but all are gifts from a loving Father." Is this a gift? I really like that idea... I'm a silver-lining kind of girl (after I get past the shock and horror), so I'm wondering right now how this could be a gift. Off the top of my head - maybe being humbled by my plan not "succeeding" (perfect, unfailing, always-on-the-top-of-my-game mental status) will grow my understanding and compassion for people with mental illness. Maybe it will grow my compassion for my own mother and bring another layer of healing. The possibilities are endless, as He is God and I'm just me...

'"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.' Isaiah 55:8

Rather than stay all bent out of shape over the situation, I am choosing to embrace this idea of it being a "gift from our Loving Father". I wonder how He'll use it.