How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Ps 119:103-5)
My walk as a survivor of child abuse (including clergy sex abuse), has at times been dark and difficult to navigate. God’s Word–Holy Scripture–has been a light in the darkness. I have come to rely on Scripture in the easy and joyful times and also during challenging and sorrowful times. In the pages of Scripture I have come to know a God who loves me unconditionally and perfectly. In healing miracles of Jesus I see a God who tends to the needs of the hurt and wounded. In the Psalms I find the prayers I cannot voice. In the persons of Scripture I travel with certain persons who challenge me and inspired as they try to find healing or to speak truth in hard places. I identify as much with the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel as with Jeremiah of the Old Testament.
The Bible has been called a “love letter from God”. I consider it the story of my spiritual family. As with any family, God’s family is not perfect, but God has an eternal plan for each of His children, and I am part of His perfect plan.
Over the next few issues, I hope to bring my own reflections on particular Scripture passages or persons that have been meaningful to me in my healing. I also hope to offer other survivors’ reflections as well. There is something so profound that happens when survivors of abuse, violence, or trauma dive into Scripture. Just as the Beloved disciple would rest on the chest of Jesus, probably listening and feeling Jesus’ heart, so too can survivors rest in the heart of Jesus. We survivors have a special place in the heart of Jesus, the Son of God. How do we know? For the Bible tells us so.
I am a beloved daughter of God.
I am made in the image of God (Gen 1:26). This is not an easy truth for a survivor. I was certainly not treated as an image of the Divine. But I have come to discover this identity. I was chosen by God before all of creation to be his beloved and I was meant to live in God’s love.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:3-6)
The shame of the abuse distorted the image I had of myself. I no longer felt “holy and blameless.” That’s what abuse can do. Many survivors blame themselves for the abuse. I did. But this is the lie. I lived with my shame, and therefore my distorted image, for decades. I was so used to the lie, I did could not recognize myself as God’s beloved. But God waited, because that’s what God does. God waited until I could begin to see myself as He saw me.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (Jn 10:10)
Did Jesus really come for me? Did Jesus wait for me? Jesus said he would lay down His life for his sheep. Jesus found me worthy, even if I didn’t.
For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD,
plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart,
I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes
and gather you from all the nations
and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD,
and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jer 29:11-14)
We hear this verse often. I pray with it. As a survivor, I hear the promise of God who waits for me to call for him. God did hear me and answered me. God did not want the abuse. God did not want me to hurt and suffer. He did not want me to believe the lies. He promised to restore me. And He did. Transformed by God’s love and healing, I have hope. Hope is why I continue the work of healing. Hope is why I minister to survivors. Hope is why I continue to fight for the truth.
Deborah Rodriguez, MD, is a wife, mother, lifelong Catholic, and pediatrician. She is a survivor of clergy abuse as a child and is now the Regional Representative of the Maria Goretti Network, Seattle Chapter, a support group for survivors of abuse. Dr. Rodriguez has written Maria Goretti Network: A Ministry to Survivors and also has contributed to the Round Table discussion of the resignation by Marie Collins from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.