By Frank Sauer
My best advice to anyone seeking God’s will in healing is to be aimless, like I was aimless when I happened upon a brochure that changed my life. I came to my faith journey through a remarkable series of grace-filled events.
It all started when, from the ages of eight through twelve, I was sexually abused episodically by our family dentist, then, on my sixteenth birthday, by a teacher/coach at a Marianist school was I was a boarder. No other human being knew of these happenings until I was 62; I am now 69.
The day I found the brochure that changed my life, I hadn’t been to Church in over 30 years. About six years ago, a friend urged me to go and just sit in a church. So I did, on a beautiful Friday afternoon in September, for about three extremely uncomfortable minutes. Then I got up to leave through the same door I entered, but it wouldn’t open.
For the next 20 minutes I walked aimlessly throughout the Nave of the church, thinking why was I there and how could I get out. Somehow, I remained oblivious to the fact that I was pacing past multiple doors with lighted exit signs above and “panic” bars, which would instantly unlock them. Finally, I went back to that same door and tried it again. This time I pushed and it opened, demonstrating the God does have a sense of humor in even the most mentally difficult of situations.
I came back out in the Narthex, but this time…. I gazed just in passing at a small opened-space memorial wall of about 100 brass plates. Each inscribed with the name of a baby who had died. My eyes immediately focused on one —“Rose”— the name of my mother, then 92 and terminally ill in Chicago.
After my eyes cleared of tears, I saw against a further wall a bookcase-like piece of furniture that I think is standard issue in every Catholic church vestibule in the world. It was stuffed full with pamphlets, bulletins, and brochures. There was one pamphlet that caught my attention. It was in color. In fact, it was the only item in color, and dead center on the center shelf.
It was the life of Father William Joseph Chaminade, the 18th century priest who had been the founder of the order and boarding school where I was abused! There was the only copy of the brochure there, with absolutely no logical reason for having been left in that Catholic church at that time— except one, for me.
Reading it, my crying turned into sobs. When I could see again, what came into focus was a small poster taped to the wall at eye level, to the left of the edge of that bookshelf where that brochure had been. I had not seen the poster coming into the church. It was announcing an all-day retreat for survivors of sexual abuse, sponsored by that diocese and personally hosted by the Bishop. It was to take place in eight days’ time.
So, eight days after these events occurred, I was sitting at my first survivors’ retreat, knowing no one and saying nothing.
Here is what I have learned since that day.
We are ALL healing! Right now! If you are a survivor, by reading this, it means you have gone beyond surviving; You have chosen to heal. Healing takes time, energy, persistence, pain, more patience, and faith. Faith that you can and will get better.
Yet, when grace-filled events happen to you—and they will— it is very important you understand— there are no “magic bullets”. The fact of the abuse will not change. But you can heal the damage and come out stronger. Healing is ultimately about trusting again. Trusting yourself, trusting others and trusting God. That is what was destroyed by the abuse—trust.
When those grace-filled events that happened to me six years ago I wasn’t instantly healed. I still hurt emotionally and spiritually. There are still ups and downs on a regular basis. I still get mad at the abuser; I still, at times, get mad at my late mother, for not protecting me; I still mourn the loss of what my life might have been like without the abuses. And, occasionally, I get mad at God.
But mostly I get still mad at myself for not “just getting over it” and “moving on,” for not telling someone when my abuses were happening, and especially, and irrationally, for letting the abuses happen! I still feel shame, although I bear no shame in what happened. I still feel blame, although I bear no blame in what happened.
I am telling you this because these feelings are OK. They are normal. They are to be expected. Don’t think of healing as climbing out of a deep hole; think of it as going around and around a monopoly board made up of all those thoughts about your abuse that intrude into your daily life. Healing occurs every time you are on one of those stops. Each time, it will frighten you a little less, and eventually not at all.
At the beginning of this article, I wrote that someone urged me to go and just sit in church. She is a former work colleague and a personal friend who started me on this journey. Through God’s Grace, it was she I first chose to trust—to share my trauma, and my feeling of shame and blame, via email, asking for her prayers. She wrote back: “It is now time to heal and forgive yourself, for Jesus already has.”
Aimless really isn’t. You just can’t that God’s target all the time is you.
Frank is devoted husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, friend, retired IT professional and current entrepreneur. Supporting other survivors in his diocesan program, he is the survivor of clergy abuse and a guest contributor to The Healing Voices Magazine.