“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father(Romans 8:15 NIV).’”
I get fear. From my upbringing of rejection and emotional abuse, to being raped and acting out of duress to “fix” the situation, to living in the presence of my rapist for two years after he raped me. So much of my actions, thoughts and beliefs were rooted in and born of fear. Spiritually I had grown up in fear and rule-based legalistic religion. God used my experience of being raped to redirect me and free me from a life of slavery to fear.
Fear is destructive. Fear is a natural response that can protect us in dangerous circumstances. In day to day life, however, it prevents you from living life in freedom; from living life to its fullest. When we are controlled by fear we live in bondage. It shapes who we are, how we think and what we do. It is the lens through which we perceive our life. It taints our judgement. It is an overwhelming burden that weighs on your very soul. A burden we were never intended to carry.
Fear is what prevented me from immediately seeing my rape for what it was. It was easier to blame myself for being too naïve or somehow sending the wrong impression, than to accept that someone who gained my trust was capable of intentionally hurting and raping me. Fear was my motivation when I tried to “fix” things after my rape instead of running or seeking help. Fear that I had placed myself in a situation that allowed something to transpire for which there was forgiveness, but no grace to move beyond it.
Fear that my rapist was now my only option for marriage if I ever wanted to get married and have a family. Fear that a relationship with anyone else would make me an “adulteress.” Fear that I was now un-dateable, unlovable, worthless. Fear that he would hurt me. Fear that saying “No” was not an option. Fear that I couldn’t escape him, because I worked with him and we were in the same college. Fear that if anyone knew what had happened they would be disgusted.
Fear was also a motivating factor for me when I dated after being raped. Because I had feelings of being un-dateable, unlovable, and worthlessness, I allowed myself to be manipulated. I was victimized again, and I didn’t speak up, because I felt worthless. I was manipulated into “proving” my love because of my fears. I desperately wanted to be rescued and saved by Prince Charming, but instead I was left feeling even more rejected and worthless.
I started to realize my desire to be rescued by Prince Charming wasn’t a bad thing, it was just misplaced. I was looking for a boyfriend or spouse to fulfil this role, but the role had already been filled by Jesus. I was placing unrealistic expectations on people. It’s not fair to look to an imperfect person to fulfill needs that can only truly be met by a perfect savior. Embracing Jesus as my only rescuer allowed me greater freedom. I wasn’t bound by my feelings of being unlovable or worthless. The God of the universe loved me enough to send His only son to die on the cross for me (John 3:16). He sees me, He knows me, He knows everything I have been through and everything I have done and He declared me worth it. Worth giving up His divine being to enter human form, in all its constraints, to live a life of a servant and to face persecution, suffering and an agonizing death for me. To rescued me from myself so that he could spend eternity with me. In Revelation, it says someday He is coming for me on a white horse to carry me off to his castle in the clouds. I realized I didn’t need to look to a relationship with a boyfriend or spouse to feel loved, I only need to look to God.
When I finally faced my rape, and began to move toward hope and healing, I let go of these fears. Being raped didn’t disqualify me from being married someday nor from having a family. It didn’t make me an adulteress. It didn’t make me un-dateable, unlovable or worthless. I asked God to forgive me for trying to “fix things,” and he did. For the first time in my life I finally began to understand the depth of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. I felt overwhelmed by His love for me. I could see how even amidst my darkest moments, He never abandoned me. He relentlessly pursued me. He spoke tenderly and lovingly to my heart. He brought people into my life to encourage me. I have received a mixed array of reactions, but for the most part, people aren’t disgusted. Most people are compassionate in their reactions.
When I extended forgiveness to my rapist, that was the beginning of experiencing even greater freedom. I let the fear of my rapist go. I let the fear that he had “gotten away with it” go. I let the fear that he would rape again go. I placed my trust in God that he would deal with my rapist. I told my rapist everything I wanted to tell him in my letter to him. How he had hurt me. The emotional trauma. How he had turned my world upside down. How through his actions toward me he had a hold on my life that was unhealthy and I was putting an end to it.
Then, I offered him forgiveness. I didn’t condone what he had done to me nor did I excuse it. I simply decided to trust God to handle it. No one ever gets away with anything. For the unrepentant there will be a reckoning:
It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
In due time their foot will slip;
their day of disaster is near
and their doom rushes upon them (Deuteronomy 32:35 NIV).
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19-21 NIV).
For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:30-31 NIV).
For those who intentionally harm others there will be a reckoning:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6 NIV).”
As I allowed my expectations for perfection in my own life to slip away, I let go of more fear. Legalistic fear. The constant rule-based performance fears that I needed to live up to an unrealistic expectation. That as a Christian I needed to be perfect to receive God’s love. Actually, it wasn’t until my utter and complete brokenness following my rape, that I began to experience God’s love. Not in my own perfection, but in my desperation and brokenness. When I admitted I wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t control my life and I wasn’t going to pretend any longer, I began to live as a “real” person. I wasn’t giving myself a license to sin at will, just the grace to stop pretending to be perfect. Accepting my struggles and flaws. Trusting God that I am a work in progress and he doesn’t require perfection from me. Asking for and accepting God’s forgiveness, love, grace and mercy.
As I accepted God’s love, I let go of my constant fear of God. Growing-up, I viewed God as an all-powerful judge, ready to smite anyone who stepped out of line. Eager to judge and punish the sinful. The “turn or burn” messages I had been bombarded with as a child didn’t motivate me to love God, they motivated me to fear God, His disapproval, His judgement and to fear hell. To fear eternity and eternal punishment. Fear can motivate for a time, but I believe love can motivate for a lifetime:
There is no fear in love. Perfect love puts fear out of our hearts. People have fear when they are afraid of being punished. The man who is afraid does not have perfect love (1 John 4:18 NLV).
The New King James versions of 1 John 4:18 translated it: “Perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.” I began to see God for who He truly is: perfect, holy, loving, gracious, and merciful. Certainly, He demands respect, but not crippling fear. He sent his only son to die on the cross for the sins of the world so He could enter into an intimate loving relationship with people (John 3:16). Not so He could punish them and instill fear. He desires that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9), He is not anxiously waiting to judge and punish. He is just, therefore there will be judgement for the unrepentant, but Christians should not be living in fear of God.