(Welcome guest writer Sue Magrath! She is the author of the book, Healing the Ravaged Soul: Tending the Spiritual Wounds of Child Sexual Abuse. She is a native of Washington State and currently lives in Leavenworth. Her many years of working with survivors of child sexual abuse as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director led her to write this book, sharing a side of abuse that is rarely recognized or discussed.)  Names changed.
One More Time By Sue Magrath
Child sexual abuse is a silent and insidious cancer that eats away at the lives of its victims. It is conducted in secrecy and perpetuated in silence. Victims are often admonished never to speak about what is happening to them, and these warnings are often accompanied by threats of violence if they ever dare to tell someone about the abuse. Unfortunately, this silence comes at a cost. The enormity of what a victim has suffered and the impact of the abuse on their lives grow and thrive in silence and secrecy. When abuse is not spoken about, healing is not possible.
A pastor acquaintance of mine recently told me a touching story of healing that speaks to this issue of silence. Years ago, Claire  was conducting a movie theology group in her congregation. During one gathering, a film that portrayed an abusive marital relationship was being viewed by the group. Gradually, Claire began to notice that the behavior of one of the young women in attendance was becoming more and more agitated. During a break, the pastor drew the young woman, Debra, aside and asked her if she was okay. After much hesitation, Debra finally shared that she had been raped by her grandfather when she was a young girl. Claire listened and validated her distress over the content of the movie, then invited her to come by the church office the next day to talk more about this traumatic event.
Debra did come to Claire’s office and told her story for the first of many times. She shared with Claire that she had never told another soul her narrative of abuse. Debra had kept this secret for many years until the impact of a movie’s portrayal of sexual violence unleashed her own painful story. This began a ritual that went on for several years. Debra would stop by Claire’s office and ask her if she had time to hear the story again. Claire would always respond with, “One more time.” Ultimately, it took forty times before Debra was able to purge herself of her trauma and receive the gift of listening that led to healing. She eventually married, had children, and went on to live a normal and happy life.
The fact that Debra told her story forty times strikes me as a vital part of her healing. The number forty figures prominently in biblical narratives. The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, and Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for forty days and nights before beginning his earthly ministry. Certainly, the wilderness experience is an apt metaphor for the bleak and barren aftermath of child sexual abuse. It takes a lot of wandering to find your way after the trauma of abuse. It takes time. The experience may feel like fasting, where there is no sustenance or nourishment for body or soul. And the desert is a lonely place, often with no signposts to tell you where you are or where you’re headed. You can take a lot of wrong turns in the wilderness. And often, something that looks like it might be an oasis turns out to be a mirage. This makes it hard for survivors to trust anything that looks like hope. They might turn away from people who offer help, fearing that it will just be more of the same disappointment or abandonment they’ve suffered in the past. But Debra’s experience with Claire offers hope for something new, something that opens the floodgates of suppressed emotions that hold one back from healing and restoration. It is in the sharing of the story, the breaking of the silence, that healing can happen.
So, if you are a survivor of child sexual abuse, find someone to tell your story to. Tell it again and again, until you don’t need to tell it any more. Let that person’s caring and nurturing spirit help you heal. And if you are someone whose vocation or relationship leads you to walk with those who have painful stories to tell, listen! Listen with compassion. Hold their story gently, offering no advice or platitudes, only your deep sorrow over their suffering and the assurance that they didn’t deserve what happened to them. Be patient, for it might indeed take forty times. And remember that sometimes, when you think you can’t listen any more, you’ll find, with the help of God, that you can do it one more time.