November 24, 2013 was the annual SpeakOut to end Sexual and Gender Based Violence. I took the opportunity to do something I have never done before - disclose to my congregation that I myself am a survivor of domestic violence and rape. Using the Rape of Tamar as my text, I approached what was perhaps the most terrifying and difficult message I have prepared to date.
I’ve been asked if I think it was helpful for me and my congregation to discuss the issue of Sexual and Gender Based Violence.
Just telling these people I dearly love that I am a survivor gave me a chance to heal a little bit more. That is all I said, just that I am a survivor. I didn’t give any titillating details. I just wanted them to know that the statistics I was quoting weren’t just numbers. These statistics were about me and other people who touch their lives, whether they knew it or not. And I needed them to know that I trust them completely . . . it’s taken a long time to get to this place.
After worship several thanked me for addressing a topic that we are usually afraid to discuss. We are always so worried that someone might be hurt or angered or feel blamed or that talking about such things might damage the children present . . . as if those children don’t watch TV or play Grand Theft Auto. One congregant who is also a survivor said that it was a difficult thing to sit through and that they couldn’t imagine ever being able to say what I said out loud, but were so very glad that I did. It gave them hope that they too will continue to heal.
I want you to know that just reading the passage from 2nd Samuel was painful. I could feel Tamar’s despair and brokenness. I heard Absalom’s instruction to Tamar not let it bother her as if it was being said to me . . . because it had been said to me. Even now, writing this retrospective look at the sermon and the sermon writing process, it hurts and enrages me - that this was and is and probably will be for a long time a typical response to rape. The more I wrote, the more painful it became, the more fearful I felt. Through most of the writing I was wiping away tears. I had to stop for a breath a couple of times while preaching. But when all was said and done. . . it was a relief to finally Speak Out. I have been holding back for so long, fearful of letting people know this piece of my past, fearful that they would judge. The hugs and tear-shiny eyes I experienced after worship let me know that there was no judgement here, only compassion and love.
So, yes. I believe that Speaking Out was helpful - to me, to other survivors, to the teachers and parents in my congregation, to the children and to all the other potential victims.
May God walk with you when it is your time to speak.
(The text of the sermon is located at http://tinyurl.com/k7b9pa2 )