The Truth Shall Set You Free
About the Guest
Where does a victim of abuse go for help? Biblical counselor Dan Allender, an expert in sexual abuse, tells victims of abuse to find hope in God, and reminds them that they are not alone. Restoration won't begin, however, until they acknowledge they are broken.
Dan AllenderDr. Dan B. Allender has pioneered a unique and innovative approach to trauma and abuse therapy over the past 30 years. Central to Dr. Allender’s approach are the categories of Faith, Hope and Love and their converse betrayal, ambivalence, and powerlessness. Through engaging these categories and in learning to identify them in one’s personal story, healing and transformation can occur by bridging the story of the gospel and the stories of trauma and abuse that mark so many. Having rec...more
Dan Allender tells sexual abuse victims to find hope in God, and reminds them that they are not alone. Restoration won’t begin, however, until they acknowledge they are broken.
The Truth Shall Set You Free
Bob: For those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, the path to healing is a path that you do not walk alone. Here’s Dr. Dan Allender.
Dan: You’ve got to be in community. Eventually, you’ve got to be able to walk with somebody who’s been on this path many, many times before you. That can be a therapist / that can be a pastor—it can be a friend who has done some great work prior. All I’m saying is—the harm came in relationship, and redemption is through relationship.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. There is, indeed, a path to redemption for those who have experienced the horror of childhood sexual abuse, and we’ll discover that path together today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. Folks who listen regularly to this program know that there are two things that we’re going to talk about a lot. One of them is how you find help, and the other is how you find hope. Today, that’s where we want to direct our conversation around—the area of sexual abuse as a part of your past.
Dennis: And we find both of them in the Scriptures. That’s what the Bible is all about—it’s about calling us to a life of faith. The object of your faith is more real than the chair you’re sitting in, the car you are driving in, the office you are working in. The Bible is the truth of God’s Word and will guide you in handling issues like sexual abuse.
And we have with us, again, back for another round of discussion here—and this time I want to talk to Dr. Dan Allender about how we can recover from sexual abuse. Welcome back to the broadcast, Dan.
Dan: Thank you, Dennis. Thank you, Bob.
Dennis: Dan has written a book called Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation. He’s a counselor / a speaker. In fact, you and Becky invest a few days, if not a few weeks, of your life each year around sex trafficking and children who are being abused.
Dan: We do. We’ve got that privilege of being able to work with folks who are in the field, working all over the world. Our two primary countries that we work with are Ethiopia and Thailand.
Dennis: And how prevalent is this sex trafficking, Dan? Just give us an idea of what’s happening.
Dan: Let’s just say, as a country ends up coming into great upheaval, the result is women and children are being sold at a regular basis.
When you’ve got exiles, as we have all over the world, one of the primary means by which they are misused is being sold into sex slave trade.
Dennis: Interesting. Well, this week, we’ve been talking about the subject of sexual abuse. What I want to focus on today is helping someone who has heard our broadcast and says: “You know, I think I was sexually abused. Where do I start, and how do I go through a process of finding the hope you’re talking about in your book?”
Bob: And we should say, “This is achievable.” You experienced sexual abuse as a child. Would you say you are at a point in your life where you have healed from what you went through?
Dan: Oh, absolutely. Now, let me add a phrase; and that is, the work of God in healing always opens our heart to even more healing. So, it’s not like it’s healed and done.
It’s healed and open to more of the work of restoration. So, is it possible to heal? Oh, He’s committed in every portion of life to our restoration—He’s come to bind up the broken-hearted / He’s come to set the captive free. If that’s the case, then, freedom and a sense of wholeness is what God is about through the work of redemption.
Dennis: If the tomb is empty / if Jesus Christ has defeated death, He’s alive today. He can meet people in their state of brokenness, and He can make them whole.
Dan: Well, death never gets the final word, nor does trauma.
Bob: So, let’s take a scenario. Somebody listening to today’s program is aware of the fact that they experienced childhood sexual abuse. Maybe, they’ve been thinking for a long time: “Yes, I experienced that. I’ve compartmentalized that. I’ve put that over here to the side. I’m functioning.
“It’s not having any impact on me. I’ll just leave that vault locked up and get along with my life.” And here comes Dan Allender, saying, “No, we need to go open that vault.” They go: “Why? I’m doing fine. Just leave me alone.” What would you say to them?
Dan: What I’d say is: “Fine is not wholeheartedness. Fine is not freedom and joy.” Look, this life bears suffering; but it bears the presence of the Living God, who intends to restore our hearts back to what we would have been in Eden.” Will it be perfect until we’re with Him? No; but that trajectory of movement into life—I want life. I want more life for people than mere—I like the word, fine; but I like it for the pens I use—not for a description of my life.
Dennis: But Dan, as the person looks at the vault that Bob is describing there and goes: “If I open that vault, it may overcome me. It was so evil.
“I’m so afraid of it, ashamed of it, plagued by it. I may be overcome by it, again.”
Dan: Right. The power of God is with you to engage this. You’re not to do this alone, but you’re not to do it fast. You’re not to try and take on the whole thing all at once. It’s a matter of: “Will you at least admit there are some residual effects going on in your life today? In that sense, let’s talk about the fact that you are suspicious. There’s a lot of joy you don’t seem to have. You push back. You’re a little more aggressive or a little more compliant. There are lots of characteristics that do not fully reveal the person you’re meant to be. Let’s go after that.”
Bob: Okay. So, the person listening goes: “Okay, so, maybe, our marital intimacy is not everything it could be; and maybe, this does have some bearing on that; and I do get angry at times without even understanding why I’m getting angry.
“Okay, so, maybe, some of this is seeping out of the vault anyway, and I better go in there and clean it up; but what is step one?— who goes with me?—and how do I begin a process that is going to get me to healing and joy?”
Dan: Well, the first is: “You cannot change what you will not name.” You’ve got to name—even a simple phrase like, “My uncle sexually abused me.” And will you now allow yourself to return to some of that harm and allow Jesus to begin guiding through a process of restoration?
“What happened?” Here’s the problem—when abuse occurs / trauma occurs—because, when we remember—in a state of high anxiety—we’re actually, literally, re-traumatizing ourselves. The phrase is from Romans 2, verse 4: “It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance.” If you can’t move into your past with the presence of the kindness of God, then, in part, I would say:
“Then, keep compartmentalizing because you are going to harm yourself to the degree that you return to that story, attempt to tell it, attempt to remember it; but you have not done so with the presence of kindness to lead you into it.”
Dennis: So, it’s not going to be flipping a switch—you’re going to start a journey. You call it wandering—it may take a while. It’s going to engage encountering God in the midst of pain / maybe, even reliving some memories of what took place.
Dan: It will require that you relive, and that is, let you, as an adult, go into what you suffered as an eight-year-old, twelve-year-old, or fourteen-year-old. You will feel divided—meaning, you’re an adult; but when you remember, many of the same emotions. Will you let Jesus come to that very young eight-year-old?—and begin the process, with kindness, of remembering / knowing that remembering is probably best done by paper and pencil or by computer—
—not just sitting there, thinking, but actually writing.
What we have found through the research is—the more you are willing to write about the harm—writing, itself, is slower. It requires more thought to be able to engage, but it also allows deep emotion to come.
Dennis: Yes, you are hitting something I wanted to clarify at this point. A person can begin this journey by himself or herself, obviously, in the presence of God. They can write this down. Do they need to intersect with another person in this process as they go along the way?
Dan: I think you begin alone, but you do not remain alone. That is, you need to be able to share your story with at least a few others / or one other, who can then help you read stories that are fragmented. And that’s one of the other things we know neurologically. You won’t have a full narrative—
—beginning, middle, and an end. It’ll be more fragments, more images, smells, senses. Eventually, they have to be put into a larger meaningful whole. That will only come in conversation with others.
Bob: You know, there are some listening, who are going: “This sounds a little like this psycho stuff. You go back to your wounded inner child and you sit there.” They go: “I read this verse that says, “Forgetting what lies behind, I press on.’ So, that’s what I’m doing.” How do you respond to that?
Dan: Well, notice that in that verse, in Philippians 3, Paul remembers—he returns to being a Benjamite. He returns to being trained by Gamaliel. He remembers, but what he is saying is: “I don’t let my past become the basis of my righteousness,”—or another way of putting it is—“I don’t let it become an excuse.” It is only the righteousness of Christ that is the basis.
Now, again, inner child—no, no, no—
—we’re not talking about a concept of an inner child. We’re talking about: “You have memories.” As you would care for a hurt foot, you need to care for your neurons that still hold particular patterns, and images, and memories. So, all we’re saying is: “No, you need to care for your brain the way you do for your cough or what you do for a hurt foot.”
Dennis: So, what else do we do on the journey? I mean, the journey’s going to take you through some dark places—hopefully, to a brighter spot. Walk us through what’s involved there.
Dan: Well, here are the stones to cross this difficult river. I need to be able to grieve for myself, and let others grieve with me, and to receive that grief. Grief allows our hearts to become tender—much more tender—especially because we are so judgmental. We literally curse that twelve-year-old boy or that young eight-year-old girl. We curse her body / we curse how we felt in the arousal.
Grief begins to tenderize our hearts so that we can begin to see we’re accusing / we join the abuser—and in that cursing, we need to repent. In that grief, we begin that process of repenting.
We need to become angry because what was done to us—it is vile. When Jesus says, “It would be better for you to hang a millstone around the neck of the person who brought harm to my little one,” you better enter into the anger of Jesus against the abuser and the harm of this culture.
Bob: What is the one who was abused needing to repent of because they’re the victim in this?
Dan: But they have often chosen, unwittingly, to often do more harm to themselves through their self-hatred, through their judgment, through their cursing of their own body. They’ve repeated the harm of the abuse. We’re not repenting, thankfully, over having been abused; but we’re repenting over the lack of kindness, grief, and honor that we’ve allowed ourselves.
Grief and anger are meant, eventually, to take us to being able to forgive.
Bob: So, you’re saying: “If I took my abuse and put it in that vault and sealed it up, I need to repent of putting it away and not confronting it as the evil it was.”
Dan: Right. No more than you would say, “My whole house is given to God except this room.”
Dan: You want the whole person to be given over to Him. As grief and anger begin to be addressed, the heart begins to open up to naming the harm in a way in which, “I don’t want to bear the harm, but I also want to be able to let go.” That’s the key phrase for forgiveness: “Letting go.”
Bob: So, you’re calling it what it is. You’re writing out your story—maybe—and again, this may be an iterative process, where you write it, and then you go back and you reread it, and you rewrite it. You don’t just kind of turn it into some assignment and move on, but you go back and reconsider.
Dan: Reiterative is a key word because, every time you come back to that memory, there will be new things that you will be given. I do mean the word, given, because it will feel like it’s an assault against you; but God is giving you more memory to be able to enter more grief, more anger, and more movement toward forgiveness.
Bob: And then, you share your story with others—with a husband or a wife / with others in your community of faith who—and the sharing is so that they can participate in the grief?
Dan: Well, not only participate in the grief and the anger, but here is the dilemma with fragmented stories—I need people to go: “What? What happened then?” “Oh, my goodness! There is this huge gap that I don’t quite get,”—and you might not get, and we might not see for some season—but at least, to be able to say, “Let’s make as much sense together.”
We need to read the Scripture together. You can read alone; but we grow as we—
—in one sense, iron sharpening iron. So, that same level of—join the story in a way in which our joint curiosity, grief, and anger allows God to bring even more of the story to bear.
Dennis: Dan, talk about who you let into the vault. Talk about being wise about who you invite into your story.
Dan: Well, you used the word—and I think it’s the key word—safety. But what constitutes safety? Someone who delights in me / somebody who, when they are with me, I know they are for me and they have honor. They are not going to push me. They are not going to require a quick verse applied, and then, resolved. I need to know somebody really likes me.
Bob: Is this going to mean going back and confronting my uncle, my father, my Sunday school teacher—whoever did the harm?
Dan: I don’t think it’s required; but I think it’s, in many ways, something that God will bring you:
“Do you want to?” I know most people would go, “Of course not!” But it’s a form of evangelism. It’s a form of offering the grace of the kingdom of God to be able to say: “You harmed me. I want to engage with you about what it did to me—how I have, in some sense, turned against my own heart—and I’ve begun to grow. I’ve begun to see the goodness of God in the land of the living, and I would love to offer that to you.”
Now, a lot of situations really do require engagement with the police. We’ve got to broad-realm here because, if that abuser is continuing to have access to children or relatives, you can’t presume, if you were abused by this person, that you were the only person abused.
Dan: So, there is a complex world here that needs to be addressed, but the ultimate impulse is the freedom to want to bring goodness to this world.
Dennis: And you are also assuming something, here at this point, Dan, I want you to just unpack a bit. Forgiveness, ultimately, I think, has to be offered to the person who has abused you—forgiveness means you give up the right of punishment. That is a massive process—to move all the way through forgiveness to the point where you are sharing the gospel / wanting to introduce them to Jesus Christ. I mean, that’s quite a journey right there.
Dan: Well, it’s a marathon. Often, we say to people on this journey, “You need to forgive.” Well, we’ll get there—it’s called crossing the finish line—but: “Be with me through the 26 miles.” Again, so many times, we misunderstand that forgiveness is forgive and forget. There really is a letting go—letting God engage this person without me having to either seek justice or pretend the relationship is as it was.
So, forgiveness is: “I won’t be reconciled until you repent; but nonetheless, I let you go to God. I let your life be yours without it being something I take into myself.”
Dennis: You’re talking about someone whom you may confront and who may not admit it or may be unwilling to admit that he has harmed you.
Dan: Exactly. In which case, there will not be reconciliation, even though there is a place of forgiveness: “If your brother sins against you, rebuke them. If they repent, forgive.” I understand, in that Luke 17, verse 3, passage, that it’s not forgiveness in the sense of a stance of saying: “I don’t seek justice. I don’t seek harm against you; but nonetheless, I want goodness for you.” That will grow over a season if you allow yourself the healing of your own broken heart.
Dennis: Well, a person who is on this journey you’re talking about, Dan, needs someone who has been on the pathway ahead of them multiple times. That’s what you’ve done in putting this book together. You have really logically and sequentially laid out a path for someone who is wounded to find healing and hope. That’s really what your life has been about.
Dan: Well, the book is really meant to be used with a workbook because what we’ve found, again, is—writing changes the heart. The workbook is intended to be a guide to help you begin that process, chapter by chapter and stage by stage, to engage where your story is and where it’s meant to be. In that sense, a book is good. I’m proud of the book and hope God uses it greatly, but I also underline: “You’ve got to be in community. Eventually, you’ve got to be able to walk with somebody who has been on this path many, many times before you.”
That can be a therapist / that can be a pastor—it can be a friend who has done some great work prior. All I’m saying is—the harm came in relationship, and redemption is through relationship.
Bob: Well, and let me just mention to our listeners here—of course, we’ve got copies of both the book and the workbook that you’ve written in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. As you’re thinking and praying about who might go on this journey with you—whether it’s a pastor, counselor, your spouse, a trusted friend—get a copy of the book, Healing the Wounded Heart, and the companion workbook by going to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Or you can call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the book is called Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation by Dr. Dan Allender. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Dennis: And I’d like for you to pray for the person who has been listening to us and has some—well, they’ve got a pathway in front of them / a journey that you know—you know more than most about how difficult that’s going to be. Would you pray that God gives them courage, and faith, and that they truly will indeed meet Jesus Christ as they make that journey?
Jesus, we are so grateful that You pursue us—that Your heart for us is so deeply good. We ask, in the midst of our own heartache, and confusion, and our own anger, that You will meet us where we are and that You will lead us kindly into all that You have for us just in this day—not a year from now—just in this day.
And as Your faithfulness continues to be taken in, would You open our hearts to be restored—to really be restored in a way in which our lives bear so much more delight and joy?
We know You’re going to do this. We open our hearts to You. We ask You to be with us and walk us through all that we need to do in order to be more like You. We ask it in Your name. Amen.
Bob: Amen. Dan—thank you for being with us. Again, if our listeners are interested, they get a copy of your book, Healing the Wounded Heart. They can order online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or they can call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Do you know the significance of June 1, 1991? Well, that was the day that Ray and Teresa Tubbs, who live in King George, Virginia, became husband and wife. Twenty-five years ago today, Mr. and Mrs. Tubbs were first presented, as a married couple, to family and friends. We just wanted to say, “Congratulations!” to the Tubbs on your silver anniversary.
We think anniversaries really do matter, here at FamilyLife.
We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this year, but the anniversaries that matter the most are all the anniversaries that have happened because of how God has used this ministry over the last 40 years. And those of you who contribute to FamilyLife Today—you have been a part of that. So, we want to say, “Thank you for your partnership with us.” And we want to encourage you—if it’s been a while since you’ve made a contribution, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. It’s easy to make an online contribution. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation over the phone. You can also mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about what parents can do to help prepare a child should that child face a predator—someone who is a potential sexual abuser. Justin Holcomb is going to join us, and we’re going to talk about how we help our children know what to do if danger is near. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can be here with us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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