Cruelty, Abuse, and the Road to Forgiveness
by: Dianne Skye
Dianne has a PhD in counseling and is a retired teacher. She currently lives in Rincon, Puerto Rico, with her husband, Charles.
Forgiveness … what a powerful, dynamic, overwhelming force! It totally blows my mind that through the supreme ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, forgiveness was extended to me — the chief of all sinners.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I found myself in a physically, emotionally, and sexually perverted marriage. I was crippled with low self-esteem, desperate to feel loved and understood. My “Christian” husband abandoned the sanctity of marriage and became a serial cheater — even with sisters in the church. Our divorce and its aftermath were devastating. I sought comfort and guidance in the caring environment of the church community for my three beautiful brown interracial boys and myself. I knew the truth; I knew that my spirit was warring against God. Controlled and compelled by my flesh, however, I found relief and release elsewhere in all the wrong places. Laden with fear and loneliness, I gave in to compromise, and I lost the war with Satan’s messengers.
As I struggled with my sin, Abba continued tugging at my heart and never allowed me to feel at peace or without the burden of guilt. In retrospect, I am so thankful that I never became numb to my own sin even though Satan continuously replayed the condemning tapes in my head, trying to convince me that acting out sexually was living my authentic self and that God really did make me this way — unable to be alone, unable to resist my urges, unable to be pure.
With each offense, I desperately sought forgiveness, begged God to change me, and pored over His Word to find strength to say “no” to the passions that left me empty and full of self-hatred and shame. Somehow, it didn’t occur to me to call on the Spirit’s help. Deep inside me, I assumed I must have totally quenched the Spirit with my willful sin so I kept on doing it all my way.
I desperately desired help for this war that continued to rage inside me. A kind elder of the church always made himself available to listen and counsel me. I went to a Christian counselor outside of the church, and I had a brother in the church who came alongside me with tough love. This brother warned that I was endangering my relationship with God if I continued in this pattern of sin. He had the boldness to tell me that I should picture his face on any man that I dared to engage with in sexual sin. He was sure that his image would deter my actions. He waited outside my home to express his disapproval and remind me that God disapproved as well as I returned late at night from my deviant escapades. I knew he loved me and that God was showing His love for me through the consistent caring of this brother in Christ. He was holding me accountable to God.
I struggled, and I just couldn’t get it right. I was simply addicted to the idea that I couldn’t live or breathe without being held, touched, or loved. My whole world had been so miserably distorted by Satan’s perversions through my dad and my abusive partners. I simply hated myself for it; yet, I remained stuck in a cycle of addictive sin. My distress, loneliness, and perceived pain propelled me to consistently reach out to an addictive agent. In my case, it was a relationship that always included physical touch. This action temporarily anesthetized my pain but almost immediately brought on great self-hatred and deep sorrow because I knew better. I knew that I had hurt God and trampled on the blood of Christ.
Despair over what my children must think about me also controlled my thoughts. I was at the point where I literally thought I was too far gone, that I had used up my portion of the blood of Christ, and I might have lost my salvation. I can remember being in a setting with a musician I was seeing and praying that Christ would not return at that moment. I was sure He wouldn’t take me with Him because I had compromised my faith so miserably. Miraculously, during that dark season of my life, God’s Word was still dwelling in my heart, teaching and convicting, and my Abba was relentlessly chasing me. I know that so many people were praying for me. My sweet mother prayed for me every day of her long, long life.
Slowly, I was able to surrender my will, my weaknesses, and my bondage to sin and self to the will of Jesus. This process involved taking a fearless inventory and honestly assessing the abuses I had endured. I had to consider how these dysfunctional relationships with the most important men in my life had shaped the person I had become and the image I had of myself. The patterns of behavior I had established were the natural consequences of being validated as a sex object and belief in that lie rather than belief in the truth of who I was in Christ. I had to connect the dots and figure out why I never “felt” forgiven when I tried so desperately to repent and why my behavior didn’t change.
I had to acknowledge my fears and resentments and stop blaming the perpetrators. Although their actions toward me exacerbated my pain, I could not blame them for the choices I made to reach for an addictive agent rather than Christ to suppress and heal that pain. As a victim of abuse, at times I felt like my overwhelming pain gave me the right to seek relief through any means necessary. I had to address my own shame and guilt and release my dad and former husband from any blame for my sinful condition.
It was simple. The bottom line was that I had to forgive in order to be and to “feel” forgiven.
I had to release both my dad and my former husband from any responsibility for my own behavior. Matthew 6:14-15: “But if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” So I started the process of forgiving.
As an artist who is a very visual learner, I started by visualizing both my dad and my husband as little children who in reality suffered sad and somewhat abusive childhoods. My dad’s parents died when he was very young, and he was raised by older siblings who were alcoholic. It was easy to imagine that he was molested and abused as a vulnerable little boy. I started recalling stories he told me of the experiences that shaped who he was as the Dad I knew and loved. I began setting my heart and mind on the good things that I knew about him, and the memory of the negative and disgusting experiences began to fade into the shadows. My blame and disgust was transformed into compassion and grace.
Forgiving my former husband was more difficult, however. His abuse extended far beyond me to our three beautiful biracial boys who lived with and still live with a perpetual “Father Hunger.” They were emotionally abused, used as pawns, separated and confused. They witnessed him with several other women, were not protected from his drastic life change of drinking and drugging, and were forced to see him abuse me when he broke into our home during the divorce separation. Words cannot describe the anger and outrage I had toward him for the trauma he caused our sons. And I will honestly admit that it is still an ongoing process.
At the time we were divorced, our boys were ages 7, 6, and 4. They are now 45, 44, and 42. They still have “Father Hunger” and desperately seek in their hearts his attention and approval. I see this desperation actively in my oldest, whose life has been ravaged by bipolar mental disorder. My middle son, who was the most emotionally abused by his dad, struggled for years with addiction and incarcerations. Praise God, he is devoted to God and studying to be a Gospel preacher, although still incarcerated. My youngest son, successful by the world’s standards, struggles with deep-seated anger and the after-effects of opioid addiction due to the many injuries incurred playing college football with the Gators. He, too, longs for the loving and consistent relationship with his father that has been virtually non-existent. By sharing their experiences as their mother, I always hurt when they hurt. I have had to continually surrender them to Jesus and continually forgive their father for the part he has played in their disrupted lives.
To initiate forgiving my former husband so many years ago, I practiced the same type of visualization as I did with my dad. I pictured him as a beautiful black toddler crying out for comfort from his mother as he was sternly placed in his crib, lonely and inconsolable. His mother had borne twelve other living children and was not affectionate. She often scolded me for rocking my babies to sleep or nursing them for a couple of years. I pictured him lonely, afraid, and desperately seeking attention, affection, and love. I visualized him as an innocent toddler who became a product of a depraved and punishing environment. Seeing him in that setting, my heart softened and I was able to release him into God’s hands. I shared that visualization with my boys so many years ago, and together, we wrote a letter of forgiveness to him. We never sent the letter, but it served as a symbol for what took place in our hearts.
The drama and consequences of his cruelty and abuse didn’t end with our initial forgiveness, however. As years passed, instances arose that called for my surrender and continued forgiveness that could only be accomplished by God’s Spirit working in me. Forgiveness is a process and Satan likes to remind us of the pain, the anger, the resentment, and the hardships caused by his agents. But I can truly say that through God’s power working in me, I have forgiven and hold no ill will toward this man. In fact, I feel compassion and empathy. After all, he missed out totally on the lives of our three amazingly unique boys in whose lives God is always working. They have taught me and blessed me, and I am forever grateful to have lived life with them.
So, there it is. That’s what I had to do to finally, and I mean finally, forgive myself and embrace the complete forgiveness that God extended to me through the blood of Jesus. By forgiving those who had hurt me most, I can accept God’s grace and forgiveness and embrace my true identity in Christ. He is transforming me daily. I will be 70 years old in a few weeks, and I know He’s not done working on me yet. There are times I still struggle with low self-esteem and the feeling of unworthiness, but daily, I feed on His Word and grow in the acceptance of who I am in Christ: a new creation, forgiven and free.