Monday, July 9, 2012

Save the Child

“…unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” - Matthew 18:3 ESV

Becoming like a child is an abstract idea that typically ends up being translated in whatever form the message recipient deems comfortable. The fact is a person’s childhood can be so riddled with pain that returning to those memories is not something they will ever do on their own. What often ends up happening is that a person takes the offer of a clean slate to mean that their childhood can be buried with the dead. They start over as though they were like children again.

This proves to be futile because adult cognition is shaped by environmental factors that they, now, refuse to acknowledge. Why does the woman have an affair? Why is the teenager promiscuous? Why does that man turn to pornography? The unthinking religious answer would be that they are not disciplined enough; people are living in defeat because they cannot get themselves under control. Self-mutilation in the form of religious discipline, self-contempt, and debasement are prevalent among the lives of the broken within the Christian community. If their flaws are evident to others, they are deemed “less than”, at best, or cast out, at worst.

Remove religious expectation and you may get to the bottom of the behavior. She had an affair because she was not loved enough as a child. The teen is promiscuous because she had to make sex mean nothing in order to survive her sexual abuse. He turns to pornography because his eyes were opened to graphic sexual images as a child. Children do not possess the tools to survive the loss of innocence, so they craft their own. These tools are there to help them regain control, to no longer be victimized, and to save themselves. These children grow up to become adults and, if they do not acknowledge their damage and receive the proper counseling, they are still living their life with the survival tools crafted by a child’s hands.

So, where does sin fit in to the life of a Christian? It’s the left behind child reaching out from the grave and begging to be redeemed. Forgiveness is not for the person you think God wants you to be. It’s for the person you are. Life events mold us into the people we are. If they are buried in shame, even under a blanket embroidered with a message of “redemption”, they still end up resurfacing in the form of dysfunction. God cares more about the person than He does about their sin. It’s about the root of brokenness within the buried and covered.  He allows the natural life to produce the natural outcomes of internal brokenness, not to crush them when they find out they are flawed, but to show them where healing needs to take place. Maybe, if we can see the dysfunction as a window into the broken places, we stand on the side of Jesus, the Healer, instead of on the side of Satan, the “accuser.” If we get in through the open window, we can sit with them where they are. If we shame them, they’ll just board up the window and remain in a lightless room of suffering.
My sister was sexually tortured as a child. The damage to her sense of self-worth, judgment, and sexuality remain. When she was five years old, she was brutally raped while our brother got to play outside. As a child, she had the conscious thought that if she were a boy, this wouldn’t be happening to her. She has grown into an adult who feels more comfortable in a sexual relationship with a woman. She, as a believer, knows how God views homosexuality and it devastates her. She enrolled in a Christian college and sought the help of a school counselor. However, when her sexual orientation was made public, she was kicked out of school and unwelcome in her church community. She now believes that God could not love her because she cannot make herself well. The adult in her wants to have a relationship with God and the child within her wants someone to come and save her. The belief that God will not walk with the damaged has been so engrained into her, that she finds ways to silence the burning call in her spirit just so she can survive. The things she uses to silence her pain look like sin, too.

Would you look at a child who is acting out and throw him out, or would you look at the source of his behavior and try to reshape the mutilation that his life has caused? When you’re dealing with an adult, you are really dealing with the child within him. God calls us ‘Dear Children.” He sees children when He looks at us. We are children who are still becoming. There is so much more to the way God deals with us than behavior modification. You don’t need a Redeemer in order to modify behavior. Anyone can do that.

God uses our failures to illuminate our broken places. It’s a time to be glad that He is merciful enough to allow our moral poverty to show us where to start looking for the root. The loss of innocence has always been the root of sin. God is interested in finding the child and restoring their innocence so they can become like children again. We are to become like children in innocence as our history makes cognitive maturity possible. God never asks us to find a way to repress the things that make us imperfect. He asks us to trust Him as He brings us through a process of redeeming and sanctifying the monsters we’re too afraid to face alone.

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. - 1 Corinthians 14:20 ESV

Serena Woods
Author, Speaker, and Blogger

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