Your worth—recovered spiritually
I WAS SPEAKING with a grandparent the other day who was in great anguish of heart after learning that a grandchild had been molested for several years. The family had contacted the proper authorities, but that wasn't doing anything to help with the surge of emotions that was tearing them apart. It was difficult for them to think about how to help the child. The anger, fear, disgust, feeling of betrayal, and sorrow were hindering their efforts to assist the child in this time of great need.
One of the challenges to helping people who have suffered in this way is the conviction many have that abuse leaves life-long mental scars. Often it harms one's sense of self-worth and prevents the formation of healthy relationships.
A spiritually-based form of help starts from an opposite basis than a psychological one. It recognizes that God's child is created permanently pure and undefiled. This assures us that the great Shepherd, the God who is Love and Spirit, can wash us all clean. One of the promises found in the New Testament is that this Spirit makes all things new. Jesus taught that we can, that we must, be "born again"—and have an entirely new sense of identity.
It is encouraging to read about this, to assert it even. But how do we bring this into our life? If we've suffered abuse, how do we regain a normal, healthy feeling about who we are? How do we restore our feeling of self-worth?
For many people, an important first step is to declare their innocence. Many who have suffered from abuse accept the terrible suggestion that they must be at fault. Consciously—or unconsciously—they believe that they "brought this upon themselves," that there must be some depravity within them that enticed others to abuse them. This must be overthrown. It's an unjust, cruel suggestion. Instead, they need to declare, "I am not guilty; I am not at fault"—and so be willing to fight and prove their innocence.
A child, even a teenager, is very impressionable. Children respond to the people and the mental atmosphere around them. When this atmosphere is harmful and perverted, the child can be easily influenced by these things. But the perverted thoughts never originated with the child. They were imposed from outside. The better a person understands this, the easier it becomes to recognize and declare his or her God-given innocence. One can declare, "I am not someone else's sexual fantasy; I am the work of God."
A psalm says, "Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture" (100:3). God's child is naturally good: totally, completely, absolutely, permanently good. God's work cannot be defiled or injured. God and God's work are eternal. When we begin developing the habit of identifying ourselves as God's work, as God's child, we are waking up to our innate purity and wholeness. This is a spiritual habit that is a type of prayer.
Divine Love helps us see ourselves in a new way.
Something else that often assails one's sense of self-worth is the feeling that he or she has been damaged—emotionally, physically, psychologically. This is countered spiritually, by the fact of God's enduring love. In the book of Jeremiah, God says, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee" (31:3). A human friend may be able to surround us with a sense of safety and love, but most of the time, this isn't enough to change how we feel inside. This is one of the great differences between human affection and the love of God. Divine Love helps us see ourselves in a new way. God doesn't love us in spite of our flaws; God knows nothing about flaws. This isn't because God is ignorant. It is because God could not make something unlike Himself—something unlike good. That is why divine Love can waken us to our own flawless, perfect, whole goodness. This is our nature—what God loves about us. This is what God preserves in us. It is something we simply cannot lose.
As this dawns on a person's thinking, years of pain, self-hate, anger, fade away. In this way, people discover that the substance of their being or their identity is unharmed. What a joy to find that evil, literally, has never touched them. The eternal spiritual substance of their life still glows with goodness. They are still flawless in the sight of God.
Science and Health makes a point that is enormously helpful in getting the right idea of who we are: "Man is spiritual and perfect; and because he is spiritual and perfect, he must be so understood in Christian Science. Man is idea, the image, of Love; he is not physique" (p. 475). As mentioned earlier, Jesus emphasized the importance of being born again. What this entails is gaining a view of the nature and character of God's work. This is the spiritual view. It is discovering what it means to be the work of God. Our whole sense of worth, our entire self-image, changes as we discover that we have been formed and preserved by Spirit.
This is what offers hope to the person tormented by abuse, past or present. The writer of First John makes the point this way: "When he [God] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure" (3:2, 3). The more we discover about the nature of our Maker, the more we discover about ourselves. Nothing can build self-esteem and self-worth as much as this, for this spiritual understanding proves to us that we are whole and wonderful in God's eyes. And so we become wonderful in our own eyes.