What does the human spirit need in order to heal and move on?
This brief excerpt from a speech given by Dr. Marie Fortune1 shows what people need in order to recover from abuse and get on with their lives. It provides an appropriate model for healing in our circumstance as former Assembly members, as well.
In our situation the primary perpetrator is probably not going to participate. But unfortunately, many of us were secondary perpetrators. This is difficult to own up to, because we felt our intentions were good. But we injured people, nonetheless. It is in our power, with God's help, to listen, to acknowledge, to respond with compassion instead of self-defense, to repent, apologize and make amends so far as possible.
"If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal."
As I have walked with survivors and victims of violence, they have taught me much about what they need in their healing process. Generally I find that they know what they need but rarely does anyone take the time to ask them what they need. They are often clear and concrete and their expectations are usually pretty reasonable. So if we categorize the things that people often need in their healing process, we might come up with a list that fits under the rubric of "justice-making," because these things are really about justice.
Now I am not here limiting the possibilities to the actions of a judicial system. All too often the judicial process is not about justice for victims or accountability for perpetrators but about fairness of procedures. I am using the term "justice" in a broader, moral and philosophical context. In other words, what does the human spirit need in order to heal and move on?
I was working with an incest survivor in her 30's a few years ago. She was ready to "confront" her abuser but was stymied because he was deceased. Still she want to tell someone in her family and chose her father whose brother, her uncle, had abused her. She wrote him a long letter. We discussed her expectations about his response to the letter. She didn't know what he would do. They had a good long-distance relationship. But she decided it didn't matter how he responded, she just needed to tell him what happened.
He received her letter and got on a plane immediately to come to her. He said, "I am sorry I didn't protect you from my brother. I didn't know he was abusing you but I knew you were struggling during those years. I should have been there for you. It's my job--I'm your father. I know you've been in therapy. How much have you spent?" She told him. "There will be a check in the mail when I get home."
When I saw this woman several weeks later, she was a different person. She still had issues to work on in therapy and in her support group. But this short conversation with her father had given her more than most people get. He heard her, believed her, apologized for not protecting her, and made restitution to her. She experienced justice.
1 Dr. Marie Fortune is the founder and senior analyst at the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, now known as FaithTrust Institute, in Seattle, WA. She is the author of Is Nothing Sacred: When Sex Invades the Pastoral Relationship.