How Change Can Happen When We Share the Messy Parts of our Stories

When Mary DeMuth first dared to tell her story out loud, she opened the door to the beginning of healing from the trauma of her past. Since mustering the courage to speak the truth of her story to others, Mary has become a fierce advocate for broken and hurting people. In response to the #MeToo movement, Mary’s new book calls for the church to make space for the voices of survivors and dare to listen to become the place of healing it was always meant to be. It’s a grace to welcome Mary to the farm’s front porch today…

guest post by Mary DeMuth

A shift has happened in our midst in the past few years, and it wasn’t merely birthed from #MeToo.

It’s a cultural shift, a corrective against spiritual formulas and all-is-well facades.

We’ve begun to realize that you can’t grow spiritual fruit in a lab. Formulas are inadequate for the process of the messy growth we experience in real life.

And formulas seldom save; instead, they enslave—because if you struggle, then you’re the problem. You haven’t followed the steps correctly.

In the past, if you didn’t “grow” right, you blamed yourself.

Or perhaps you followed the seven easy steps, only you still feel suicidal or trapped or confused.

Even when you did everything perfectly, you failed—which then led you to question the goodness of God—a logical thing to do. Because why wouldn’t He answer your prayers? You did everything right!

But growing in relationship with God is never a formula.

And sexual assault refuses to heal in a formulaic way.

It often feels like an unsolvable equation.

Our lives are wildly creative and nuanced and different. We all have stories laced with pain and joy, hope and despair, failures and victories.

Since we are so varied, wouldn’t it follow that our ways of growing would be varied too?

We used to write how-to books because that’s what we thought would help others, but now authors are writing #MeToo books—and not just about sexual abuse, but about everything.

We’re telling our stories; we’re reading stories. Memoir and personal experience have become more enticing than books of spiritual formulas.

We do this because we’re weary of formulaic, one-size-fits-all religion, and the longing for the wild story of God’s great, continuing redemption can no longer be tamped down.

We need to know we’re not alone.

We need to find community in our stories.

To change people’s minds about how we can respond to the sexual abuse crisis redemptively, we must return to storytelling, friendship, and building relational capital.

In short, we must be the church to each other—to listen, befriend, invite.

Social change doesn’t happen after facts are put forward; it happens in the warm context of community.

We experienced the power of the table when we lived in France as church planters. Every week, sometimes several times a week, we invited people over to share a meal with us. We would spend our dinners discussing both light and difficult topics.

Sometimes we would argue because the French tend to love debate. Some of our French friends even would change their opinion to the opposite one just to see if they could articulate the other belief.

As an American, I found the whole situation untenable.

If a friend argued, then it meant they didn’t like me, and we would no longer be friends.

If someone “won” an argument, then someone else “lost” it.

It was then that I realized how competitive our culture was—in our society there must be a clear delineation between winner and loser—never a joyful sigh that we had an excellent argument. One winner. One loser. One who felt self-satisfied. One who walked away, head down.

But our French friends would leave our table satisfied after a good discussion, and then kiss-kiss our cheeks and be on their merry French way, friendship intact. They understood that good relationships mean lively debate, and that a different opinion didn’t mean we had to break off relationship.

Sadly, in our social-media crazed culture, we have forgotten that human beings exist behind the pixels.

Our ability to argue intelligently among friends has been lost.

We don’t sit around dinner tables much anymore, and because of that, we’re polarized, isolated in our own camps about hot issues—even how to respond to sexual abuse, which should be a simple topic.

“Sexual abuse is wrong. We should do something about it”—surely we can agree on that much. But because of heated rhetoric and segregated camps, we tend to demonize those with different opinions rather than listen and learn.

If we would just break bread together as the early church did in Acts chapter 2, I wonder if we’d begin to see that people of differing opinions are not enemies, but fellow partakers.

It’s hard to hate someone with whom you share a meal.

God had His own #MeToo moment.

Enter Jesus—not spectacularly, but in the non-enviable body of a dependent infant. Almighty God slipped into the skin of a baby. That baby grew up to live life alongside us, walk dusty pathways, grieve loss, experience betrayal, watch sunsets, harbor disappointments, and be abused.

He tabernacled among us, pitching His tent on our soil, so that whatever trials or temptations or despairs we face, He can always say, “Me too.”

His example is our example.

Words manifested as the Word-became-sinew—which is a beautiful analogy for the sexually abused. We share our devastating words, but we need actions to follow.

Jesus spoke life-altering words, but He backed them up with redemptive action—not only on the cross (though I’ll live my entire life in gratitude for that) but through the way He loved people.

He epitomized the power of words married to loving action.

Telling our stories to safe people is a powerful practice. We go first so others can say #MeToo.

We tell those stories not to water down the gospel but to elevate it to its proper magnificence—that God loved us so much that He made Himself flesh, becoming empathetic and available to us.

I still struggle against laws and statutes.

I still make lists trying to be a better me.

But I grow best in relationship, both with my Creator, who loves me enough to live in this world, and alongside all who bear His image.

We are all just pilgrims on a rocky path, doing our best, failing, getting back up again, embracing grace, praying for the broken, and along the way telling the great, great story of our redemption.

 

Mary DeMuth is a survivor of neglect and sexual abuse, who has spent her life healing from trauma so she can help others not feel so alone. She has spoken around the world about God’s ability to transform a life, bringing needed freedom to her audiences.  She is the wife of Patrick and mom of three adult children, and the author of forty books, including her latest: We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis.

In the throes of the #MeToo movement, our response as Christians is vital. In We Too, Mary urges the church she loves to rise up and face the evil of sexual abuse and harassment with candor and empathy. Based on research and survivors’ stories, along with fierce fidelity to Scripture, Mary unpacks the church’s response to sexual violence and provides a healthy framework for the church to become what it’s meant to be—a place of justice and healing for everyone.

[ Our humble thanks to Harvest House for their partnership in today’s devotion ]