“The Journey to Healing,” Liahona, Apr. 1998, 43
I am a survivor of childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. But I no longer view myself as a victim. I have decided I do not need to destroy myself with anger, hate, and thoughts of revenge. My Savior knows what happened. I have left it in his hands to make judgment and decide punishment.
“I have learned I will not be judged for what happened to me, but I will be judged by how I let it affect my life. I am not to blame for what happened to me. I cannot change the past. But I can change the future. I have chosen to allow the Savior to heal me—and to teach my children what I have learned. The ripples in my pond will spread through future generations.”
Recently the Church magazines invited readers who experienced childhood abuse to share how the gospel of Jesus Christ helped them on their journeys to healing. Responses, such as the one above, were as unique as each individual. But common threads were woven throughout—power through prayer, strength through obedience, hope through the love of Jesus Christ. These eternal truths, accompanied with guidance from caring priesthood leaders and counsel from qualified therapists, made the journey to healing a reality.
The results of childhood abuse, whether sexual, physical, or emotional, are devastating. Those who shared their stories related similar challenges as they grew into adulthood: fear, anger, distrust, depression, a poor sense of self-worth. Powerful, debilitating feelings affected every aspect of their lives.
“My healing journey has included dealing with personal problems resulting from the abuse,” wrote one member. “It has been frustrating and sometimes frightening to struggle with these weaknesses, but the Lord has assured me that ‘my grace is sufficient for thee’ (2 Cor. 12:9). As long as I keep moving on the path of recovery, the Lord will assist me. I have a new appreciation for mercy and the need for the Atonement. I have a deep appreciation for my Savior.”
Truly the Atonement plays the crucial role in the healing process as people with broken hearts and scarred spirits realize they are not alone in their pain. The Savior has provided a way for them to find peace.
“In October 1995 general conference,” wrote one woman, “Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke on remembering the Lord during the sacrament. He suggested that we remember the Savior’s humble birth and other aspects of His life. Then Elder Holland spoke of remembering the Crucifixion. He said, ‘To those who stagger or stumble, he is there to steady and strengthen us. In the end he is there to save us, and for all this he gave his life’ (“This Do in Remembrance of Me,” Ensign, November 1995, 69).
“I knew Jesus Christ had given his life to pay for the sins of the world. But I did not know he had given his life for the pains, abuse, and tearful suffering we all have to endure in this life, oftentimes as innocent victims of terrible circumstances far beyond our own control.
“I raced home after conference to look up scriptures about this aspect of the Savior’s Crucifixion. I found a wonderful scripture: ‘Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
“‘For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him’ (D&C 18:10–11). He did not suffer just for people’s sins; he also suffered their pains. What a powerful message that was—to learn he had suffered for those who have been abused! My healing began that day.”
Once a person has recognized the power of the Atonement, further and deeper reliance on a loving Heavenly Father is a major part of being healed. However, this reliance can be difficult.
“Because of things done to me in my childhood, it was very difficult for me to want a close relationship with God,” wrote one reader. “It was much easier to worship him from a distance. In my opinion, he didn’t really want to know someone like me. I had been through such awful experiences, I was sure that God, in all his perfection, would be abhorred to know who I really was.”
But humbly seeking Heavenly Father’s help, love, and guidance is essential. “Healing best begins with your sincere prayer asking your Father in Heaven for help,” encouraged Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “That use of your agency allows divine intervention” (“Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse,” Ensign, May 1992, 32).
Those who pray for help can find comfort and guidance. “I started by praying,” recalled one man. “I had nothing to lose. I really prayed for the first time ever. I prayed long and hard and often. I prayed for the pain to be eased. I listened to the responses I got to my prayers, and I know my Heavenly Father spoke to me. I pled for answers and comfort, and he was there. For the first time in my life, I really applied gospel principles, and they worked.”
To those struggling to feel love, hope, and joy, prayer provides a lifeline. “Through prayer I developed a trust in God that has pulled me through some of my toughest trials,” one person responded. “Feelings of guilt, depression, and low self-worth faded away when I realized that I am a literal child of God. I felt my Heavenly Father’s love, and the Holy Ghost comforted me when I sincerely asked for help.”
Once communication through prayer has been established, the Lord’s Spirit can lead an individual to other aspects of the healing process. These efforts, often painful and difficult, are based on eternal truths and principles of love—and they don’t have to be made all at once.
One reader wrote about the difficulty—and necessity—of getting involved in more of the process: “One cold December night, I came to realize that until I believed the Lord and received his counsel through priesthood blessings and the scriptures, I could not progress. My emotional and spiritual health, as well as my eternal progression, hinged on this. I had to trust my Heavenly Father!
“How does a person learn to believe spiritual things that are so different from earthly experiences? After many hours of prayer and tears, I found the answer in Alma 32:27: ‘If ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.’
“When I read those words, I burst into tears. I did have a desire, and as I let it work in me, as the scripture promised, I found a place for a portion of his words. On my knees, I felt the Lord ‘take [my] stony heart’ and give me a ‘heart of flesh’ (Ezek. 11:19). In the months that followed, I could feel a change in me.”
Individuals struggling to heal may be led to talk to their priesthood leader. They may be inspired to trust a friend. The Holy Spirit may impress upon them the importance of attending Church meetings or going to the temple. Daily scripture study becomes an anchor of stability and a source of inspiration. When necessary, the Spirit often helps them find a counselor or therapist who will prayerfully help them on their journey.
“I have been guided to priesthood leaders who have been prepared to offer gifts essential in my healing,” recalled one reader. “My priesthood leaders have often looked scared to death as they have listened to my story and my request for assistance. But all of them have listened to the Spirit and have been guided in the words they spoke and the role they played.”
One sister was inspired to become more fully involved in Relief Society, where she found exactly what she needed. “For me, Relief Society has all that any recovery group has to offer, with the added advantages of associating with Latter-day Saints and benefiting from the values and friendships Heavenly Father wants for me,” she wrote. “I had to take an active part and appreciate the opportunities I found there.”
Another woman found “consistent Church attendance absolutely necessary. If it is hard to pray, it seems impossible to even think of attending Church. But as I partook of the sacrament, I felt the Holy Spirit. My children learned about reverence and felt the spiritual atmosphere. Consistency was crucial; it brought close friendships and a positive influence on my children.”
Another writer emphasized temple attendance: “Much of my journey to healing was accomplished within the walls of the holy temple. We live 12 hours from the temple, but when I knew I had to go, the way and means were provided. I have never felt the Savior’s love more than I did in that sacred building. I also have never cried more or felt like my heart could break more than I did during those trips. I know that the Savior walked with me during those times.”
Priesthood blessings and patriarchal blessings can be wonderful sources of comfort. “In my darkest moments I was always guided to the words of hope and descriptions of a life filled with joy in my patriarchal blessing,” one member wrote. “Often I would plead with God to help me believe that those blessings could really come true for someone as pathetic as I felt I was. I literally clung to the blessings promised, hoping that I could be happy someday. My testimony grew as I saw the Lord fulfilling promised blessings in my life.”
In addition to guiding an individual to outside sources of healing, the Lord’s Spirit will also lead the humble, honest soul to discover sources of healing from within.
“I felt the Spirit prompting me, telling me it was time to go on,” one sister recalled. “I don’t believe anyone who has endured any kind of abuse completely forgets what happened. But I believe it is possible to let go of the anger and the pain. Once you do, the memories dim, and strength replaces other feelings. Initially I learned simply to survive, but now, with my testimony of the gospel firmly grounded, I am learning to live.”
Somewhere along the journey of healing comes the essential task of forgiving. Often the command to forgive (see D&C 64:10) seems more than one can bear, but this eternal principle can bring lasting peace.
“Forgiveness is not only for the abuser but also for oneself,” said one woman. “Forgiveness does not condone the abuse. I do not need to condemn or judge my abusers or be part of the punishment. I leave all that to the Lord. I have used the principle of forgiveness to strengthen me.”
Another person said: “I understood that by holding on to the pain, I allowed the abuse to continue. Forgiveness in no way excuses the offender or minimizes the seriousness of the transgression, but it does lessen my burden, and it is Christlike.”
Elder Richard G. Scott testified that “the surest, most effective, and shortest path to healing comes through application of the teachings of Jesus Christ in your life” (“To Be Healed,” Ensign, May 1994, 9). Those who shared their experiences agreed. Over and over, readers affirmed that through obedience and faith, they found answers and they felt hope.
“The guidelines of the Church have been pillars of strength,” one woman said. “When I followed the commandments, my life improved. The Church is the sure foundation of truth and righteousness.”
One woman’s favorite scripture is 3 Nephi 12:44–45 [3 Ne. 12:44–45]: “Behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you;
“That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.”
She adds: “These words have helped me understand that I can replace my identity as the unloved child of earthly parents with the knowledge that I am the beloved child of my Father in Heaven. This relationship becomes more real and powerful as I follow him and strive to forgive those who have hurt me.”
When asked about children born into abusive situations, Carlfred Broderick, a family therapist and professor of sociology, answered, in part: “My experience in various church callings and in my profession as a family therapist has convinced me that God actively intervenes in some destructive lineages, assigning a valiant spirit to break the chain of destructiveness in such families. Although these children may suffer innocently as victims of violence, neglect, and exploitation, through the grace of God some find the strength to ‘metabolize’ the poison within themselves, refusing to pass it on to future generations. Before them were generations of destructive pain; after them the line flows clear and pure. Their children and children’s children will call them blessed” (“I Have a Question,” Ensign, August 1986, 38).
The valiant Latter-day Saints who shared the experiences of their healing journeys are committed to breaking the chains of abuse. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice, they are finding the guidance, love, and hope they need to heal and grow.
“I have a long way to go, but I have really made progress,” writes one man. “I am excited about my prospects. I am having daily scripture reading and family prayer. I know it’s possible to survive and even thrive after childhood sexual trauma. I’m living proof.”
“The gospel has been my anchor, the only stability I have had,” another person wrote. “The gospel taught me how I should live and how to forgive. I learned that only through the Lord Jesus Christ can we find hope and healing. Without the gospel, I couldn’t have chosen to learn the positive things my trials have taught me. I discovered that no matter how dark the gathering storm clouds are or how long the night is, dawn will always come, and there is always joy in the morning” (see Ps. 30:5).