When I was 4, I was repeatedly molested by my 17 year old cousin. I want to forgive him but don’t know how. I have been able to forgive him some but I don’t know how to forgive fully. Please help.
I’m so sorry that you have been hurt in this way. I’ve prayerfully considered my answer in the hopes that it will bring some Balm of Gilead to your heart.
First, as you know, when it comes to forgiveness there are different degrees of wounds and difficulty forgiving. It is fairly easy to forgive someone for stepping on your toes, a small wound done accidentally. But abuse is a much more serious wound, repeated intentionally, and that makes forgiveness much more complicated. The Lord understands this, Lori.
Remember Christ said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:48) No one thinks that He expects us to be perfect TODAY. We don’t even expect to reach that in this life, but we see it as something to work towards. Could it be that in cases of sexual abuse, we could view forgiveness as a goal to work towards, not something expected of us today? Yes.
In my favorite church resource on healing from sexual abuse, Sister Cheiko Okasaki, then a member of the General Relief Society said:
“ . . . do not try to rush or short circuit the forgiveness process, but continue to work towards it as you can. Wendy Ulrich, a psychologist in private practice, talks about the need to balance both justice and mercy during the process of coming to forgiveness. She writes, ‘The principle of justice requires an honest appraisal of our current systems and the realities of our pain. To forgive prematurely can close doors to the important realities that pain can open.’” Healing from Sexual Abuse
I highly recommend that you read Sister Okazaki’s whole talk. She really understands and has wise words, comfort and counsel for survivors of sexual abuse. One of her messages is that healing, and forgiveness can take a long time. She said:
“The sixth message I want to share is that healing from sexual abuse is a very long and very painful process. According to one study that included LDS women, being able to reach the ultimate step of forgiving the perpetrator and moving on took an average of fifteen years.”
Notice that Sis. Okazaki talks about forgiving as “the ultimate step” it comes after much healing. Sometimes we get that mixed up, we think that if we can just forgive all the pain will go away, but it doesn’t work that way. First we heal, then we are able to forgive. The healing process is painful, but necessary. As Sis. Okasaki counsels friends and loved ones of survivors:
“Please recognize and realize that someone who has been sexually abused has been deprived of part of her or his free agency. The individual cannot get it back except through the long and difficult process of healing from sexual abuse.”
Another mistake that we sometimes make (the first being the idea that forgiveness will make the pain go away) is to think that we need to work through the process of forgiving alone. That’s not the case. Christ is not standing at the end of the road, arms folded tapping His foot waiting for us to “figure it out”. Rather He is ready, and willing to walk the painful road of healing and forgiveness with us to carry us at times. We can’t do it without His help. Elder David A. Bednar calls this “the enabling power of the Atonement.” The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality
Finally, Lori, I want to remind you that Christ has provided earthly assistance, in the form of therapy as well. Sis. Okazaki counseled:
“Now the third message I have is that women and men who have been sexually abused probably need professional help and certainly need personal support. In the vast majority of cases, they need professional help because sexual abuse, and particularly incest, attacks the very foundation of their identity.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaking of depression said,
“If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.” Like a Broken Vessel
Lori, the path of healing from sexual abuse and eventually reaching that goal of forgiveness is a long, painful one, but remember that you do not have to walk that path alone. Because of His Atonement, Christ knows your pain, and know how to succor you in it and bring you to a beautiful place on the other side. I promise this is so and that healing and forgiveness are possible.