Experiencing refuge is not something I have been familiar with until recently.
The story of my walk with God began when I was very young. I was raised in a Christian family who daily taught me about the Lord. I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 5, young enough that I prayed the the sinner’s prayer several more times during my childhood to re-affirm my faith. It was an environment filled with Biblical teaching and I learned many truths about God’s character.
Those truths were challenged when I became a victim of sexual abuse in my early years. In the confusing aftermath, I began wondering if God really did love me, considering He let something so terrible happen to me. I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone about what happened, so instead of talking through my fears and pain, I stifled my doubts and pretended nothing had happened.
When I was 16 I finally told me parents what had happened to me. The kindness and understanding they gave me showed me I could finally speak of the abuse without fear. However, telling my story made me begin to feel the emotional pain of what happened. It felt like opening Pandora’s box, completely overwhelming. The strongest emotion I had was anger, though strangely, not at my abuser. I was furious at God for allowing me to suffer in that way.
Looking back, I’m amazed and thankful to the Lord that I held on to my faith. For the next 10 years I struggled to have a relationship with God. There were times things felt alright between us. God became a refuge to me when I needed to pass an exam, when our car broke down, or when I struggled with relationships at work. He was there when I felt I had not where else to turn to. Deep down, though, I always feared letting my emotional guard down because I believed God might let another disaster happen to me. I stopped reading my Bible and trying to become more Christ-like because I felt God needed to cut me some slack. I deserved to live my life the way I wanted to because I was a victim.
When Stephen and I moved to Morgantown, West Virginia, we joined an Acts 29 church. Every Sunday our pastor, no matter the subject matter, tied the sermon back to the gospel. He preached in detail about the way God demonstrated His love for us by sending Jesus to die for our sins. I had heard the gospel countless times before, but in this time and place I couldn’t seem to ignore the truth. Every Sunday I came to church angry, protesting in my heart that God didn’t love me, and every Sunday the truth nudged the walls I had built up around my heart. And one Sunday I just let my anger go and embraced it. God does love me and the sacrifice Jesus made was greater than any pain I have experienced. And I realized that just because I was a victim doesn’t mean I am blameless. My sin was great in God’s eyes and I deserved to be separated from Him forever. But God provided me a way to live with Him forever in paradise. His promises go even further than that. Psalm 147:3 says: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” God doesn’t ask me to suck it up and live my life for him. He cares about my pain and desires to heal me. This acceptance of God’s love was a turning point for me. For the first time since the abuse I didn’t just know, I FELT that God loved me. That is the power of the gospel in my life.
Since that time, I have done many hours of prayer ministry with my mother, digging into my memories and letting God comfort me and show me the truth about Himself, me (myself?), and my experiences. I have started learning to turn to God as a refuge, not only for the daily struggles of living in a messed up world, but for the deep hurting places in my life.
Jesus makes a wonderful offer in Matthew 11: 28-29, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” I haven’t “arrived” in finding refuge and rest in Jesus, but I am learning even in my faltering steps, that he is there with comfort and rest when I come to him.