Tuesday, May 31, 2016

An Idol

In the 1985 film Plenty, Meryl Streep played the role of Susan, an Englishwoman who worked with the French underground during World War II. The story is set 20 years later. Those years after the war provided the only meaning in her life. Everything before and after focused on her wartime work.

Here’s another example. When I was a pastor, by invitation I occasionally sat in on AA meetings at our church. One thing bothered me about a few of the more than 40 regulars. Some of them were dry alcoholics.

As I understood the term, those individuals hadn’t touched alcohol in years, but their behavior hadn’t changed. They were essentially the same as they had been when they joined.

James, the leader of the group, talked to me after one meeting and shook his head. “We know. We love them and we try to help, but some of them have made sobriety an idol—even a disdained one. They worship at the shrine of their abstinence and never leave.”

Much later, Gary Roe used the term in referring to sexual molestation.

We can elevate what happened to us and empower it with responsibility for everything that happens in our lives. Abuse can define us and control how we react to any situation.

What happened to us affects every relationship we have—even when we’re not aware. Molestation is probably our saddest, most devastating life experience.

We can choose to heal, to move forward, to receive help from other survivors, turn to God, or get counseling. Or we can keep going back to then.

As awful as our experiences were, healing means moving on and refusing to allow the trauma of childhood to define us in the present. Otherwise, our thoughts and actions go back to, “When I was abused . . .”

We don’t say the words, but the experience can still define us. That’s when abuse becomes our idol.

What is happening in my life illustrates what I believe takes place in the lives of most survivors. The effects of our trauma continue to manifest themselves. There will always be people and events that trigger our abuse-meters and send us reeling.

But we keep on and we remind ourselves that healing is a lifelong journey. To see it as anything else sets us up for disappointment and discouragement.

Or worse. We make an idol of our pain.


Andrew J. Schmutzer said...

Thanks for another stimulating topic. But it brings mixed emotions from me. Several realities seem to clash here, amid a broad appeal to "move on." Most survivors will "walk with a limp" for the rest of their lives--acknowledging that limp is not the same thing as making an idol of it. Or, to follow my metaphor, is the limp to be ignored? I understand that the dominant mode today is to take pride in one's powerlessness. I do recoil at this, too, since everyone today is a "victim" and this actually diminishes the reality of abuse-type suffering.

So I make a distinction between the abuse that DEFINES me and abuse that SHAPES me. One is a label, the other is a sober description. How we speak of our abuse (even the verb tenses) determines if we're still on the battle field or have walked away from the battle--with shrapnel in our leg. Regardless, anything capable of drastically altering one's life is worth a serious memorial, but may it never become an idol.

Cec Murphey said...

Very insightful comment, Andrew.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This article and Andrew's comment both hit.

I have made an idol of my pain, even of my abuse as sick as that is. Making an idol of it has protected me from having to look at the depths of damage. Has protected me from admitting how pronounced the limp.

As that idol is getting torn down, my eyes are opening to the true damage. I am finding that the damage that has hurt and caused the greatest limitations is the self-inflicted damage of pride that says "I'm doing 'OK'. I can handle this. God and I are enough. Etc."

God help me to not worship the scars, but also to honor the little boy, now the grown man, who is learning to walk in spite of them. And to honor and worship my God who makes this healing possible.

Jesus said...

Hi Andrew,
Your comment is a statement that is so hard to say in words and you have said it with clarity in such a short few sentences. Am sure we all could write a book on our subject but that would be going back and worshiping survival in someways to me though most of my elderly life, I have found it habit to write everything down, thoughts, emotions,etc.
I too became a Christian too and have a book by Father McClung - Intimacy with God.
I have found intimacy the hardest thing to deal with, since in married life i have never wanted to initiate intimacy and is the hardest thing to do. Am making note of your comments and as apart of honoring God who took me from the deepest pit (acting out abuses) and drowning in my own blood. I now decree the blood of Jesus over my wounds and know that He will take me home, knowing that our short time here will be nothing compared to eternity where we will have uninjured souls and a new body.....

Blessings along the journey
Anthony S