In light of recent media attention on abuse taking place in missions and the church, Interaction International wants to help by sharing archived articles from Among Worlds related to this topic. First, we stand with those who have been traumatized. You and your story matter. Second, we stand with organizations who are working hard to make changes to systems which allowed for an environment of abuse in its many forms to take root and live.
by Wm. Paul Young
Among World – September 2012 (Volume 14, Number 3)
You may know that I am the author of The Shack. You may even know that I am a third culture kid (TCK). I’m the first born of four siblings with four different passports. Canadian by birth, my parents and I (at ten months) moved to the highland of New Guinea, now West Papua. What you might not know is that sexual abuse was a frequent part of my childhood. In fact I don’t remember life as a little boy without it being the one constant. Everything else was motion, but this reality was present everywhere I was.
My parents had no idea. We lived in an era of frontier missions when the value was presented and perpetuated that, “if one gave one’s life to the spreading of the Gospel, God would take care of the details” and those often included the children. There were languages to learn, compounds and airstrips to build, medical presence to establish, training to be done, communications to be maintained with the outside world and the home front, along with a host of other duties and responsibilities. Our parents, barely adults themselves, endured staggering workloads that allowed little time for anything but “the call.” Too often the children of the mission were left to fend for themselves until they were old enough to be shuttled off to boarding school at five or six, where it was wrongly assumed that at least there they would be safe. Sacrificed for the “Kingdom of God,” many in our generation were left wounded and damaged without even the words to describe our losses.
At the beginning of 2008, when The Shack began its unexpected meteoric rise as a cultural phenomenon, I received an email from an author in Nashville, TN, that stated, “I don’t know anything about you, don’t know your history or back story, but my sense is that Missy (the main character’s daughter who is abducted), represents something murdered in you as a child, probably your innocence and Mackenzie (Missy’s father), represents you as an adult trying to deal with that.” She hit the proverbial nail on the head.
You can read The Shack as a story, but my intent was always more than that; a parable laden with metaphor. It is a true story, but not real. The shack itself represents the house on the inside that people help you build. It is the human heart, the uniquely crafted soul that can so easily be torn from its moorings and left to flounder in the waves of a storm-tossed world.
Some of us had good help building the house of the soul; many of us did not. For us this inside place became a shattered hovel, a barely habitable dwelling of which we were intensely ashamed and into which no one would ever be invited. Here we stored our addictions and hid our secrets. It was the house of shame and pain held together by a webbing of lies and protected by an ever-growing array of survival skills and defensive mechanisms. We believed that God hated this place even more than we did.
It is difficult enough for the TCK of Global Nomad to work through questions of identity and belonging, of the meaning of family and culture. However, when you add to the mix abuse, especially sexual abuse, you have torn apart the very fabric of the soul rendering the heart impoverished, isolated and unable to trust visible people or an invisible God. Every success in relationship or life becomes another expectation to disappoint, every hello a goodbye waiting to happen.
It is difficult enough for the TCK of Global Nomad to work through questions of identity and belonging, of the meaning of family and culture. However, when you add to the mix abuse, especially sexual abuse, you have torn apart the very fabric of the soul rendering the heart impoverished, isolated and unable to trust visible people or an invisible God
What compounds the issues is that TCKs are unusually adaptive to culture and surroundings which empowers us to be hiders. Add to that the religious demands of our lives and you have a recipe for performance addiction, loneliness, relational withdrawal and often eventually self-destructive choices.
To combat the ocean of shame inside the shack, we erect a thin layer of perfectionism, a façade, a quarter-inch piece of plywood that stands outside the broken house of our soul, something that we can paint as fast as we can pick up people’s (including God’s) expectations. “Just tell me what you need me to be, and I can become that.” We become ‘all things to all people’ but not in any way that Paul the Apostle ever imagined. We end up fractured and incoherent, a disintegrated broken heart often hidden behind a ready wit and willingness to sacrifice ourselves for any demand or cause. But, if you look closely, we have one foot always out the door, the ability to ‘hear God call us somewhere else’ masking the fear of any authentic and deepening relationship. We can run and try to start over again.
Why do we keep our secrets? Mostly, because we are terrified of losing control, of losing the little bits and scraps of acceptance and approval that we have managed to scrape together through production and performance. The irony is that relationships will bring us healing but we don’t trust them. When someone comes into our lives and they offer genuine love, acceptance, forgiveness, grace (the very things that would heal our hearts), we don’t believe them because they don’t know the secrets. We are trapped and as sick as the secrets we keep.
The irony is that relationships will bring us healing but we don’t trust them. When someone comes into our lives and they offer genuine love, acceptance, forgiveness, grace (the very things that would heal our hearts), we don’t believe them because they don’t know the secrets
So what do we do? We find a way to survive. We look for ways to kill the pain while maintaining the façade. We beg God, in secret, to heal us. We stay moving targets, active in ministry and service. If exhaustion and the praise of performance don’t kill the pain, we find other things that will; prescription drugs, alcohol, pornography, affairs, etc. Shame become the prison we know; authenticity a wish at best. We are not trying to be duplicitous or liars. May of us are hoping that if we can just perform perfectly, for long enough, someday the façade will become a real human being. Others of us just give up, fading into the background noise of exitance, locking away the inner world behind vaults unapproachable and hidden. We are those who live the routines and requirements of the day, but our eyes are dead. We learned to live from the outside-in, because there is nothing that we believe lives, or is worth living, from the inside.
Three of the most deeply rooted questions for the TCK are those of belonging, control, and trust/love. Truly this world is not our home, at least not in the way it seems to be for the majority. We have lost our place and if we don’t find someone to belong to, we will never belong anywhere. Control is all we have, through whatever means available, especially when abuse has demolished our internal boundaries and the fight or flight response to shame is only a comment away. If we don’t find a way to relinquish our control, we will only further isolate ourselves. For those who have been abused, “trust” is a religious word, void of any real content, a word to be used to fill in a blank. What we often fail to understand is that life’s true processes are framed inside the journey into trust. For many of us, trust was so violated that, as much as we despise ourselves, we alone are the only ones left inside our circle of trust and control. We don’t trust God and often have a theology and interpretation of our own experience that supports the belief that God is fundamentally an abuser Himself, and that Jesus came to save and protect us from the Father.
What we often fail to understand is that life’s true processes are framed inside the journey into trust. For many of us, trust was so violated that, as much as we despise ourselves, we alone are the only ones left inside our circle of trust and control.
Makenzie spends a weekend in the shack. That weekend represents eleven years for me. Eleven years from the day my shack was utterly exposed by moral failure (adultery) and I mad the choice to open my vault of secrets to my significant relationships, especially to Kim, my wife (it took me four day to tell her all my secrets). I finally didn’t run (the only place I had left to run was death, and I almost made that choice). I stopped pointing fingers and began to own my own shack; the façade was rubble by then anyway. I let go of control and, for the first time in my life, asked for help, regardless the consequences. It took eleven years for Kim and me to heal, for forgiveness to complete its process, eleven years to dismantle my theology and move from purely intelligent understanding of God to an actual relationship. It took me until I was fifty years old to finally know in the deepest places that “Papa” (God) was especially fond of me and that Father, Son and Holy Spirit had never loved the façade, but dwelt in (and love) the shack the entire time. It took fifty years to find that little child hidden in a closet deep in the basement recesses of a broken structure. It is me that God loves, with all my losses, hiding and devastating choices. It is you that God loves. You and me, we are the one that Jesus, along with his Father and the Holy Spirit, left the ninety-nine to go find. This love is relentless, and we are not powerful enough to change it.
I let go of control and, for the first time in my life, asked for help, regardless the consequences.
I didn’t know it was possible to live authentically without secrets. I have none. The façade is gone; I am the same person in every situation. I am not addicted, to pornography, to pleasing God or my dad or you, to needing to do something important and significant. I am free to live simply inside the grace of one day, relentless affection that is untethered by performance.
The process of healing is incredibly arduous and painful to the core. There is no true alternative. The façade must or will be exposed. We, who build such houses of cards, often knock them down with our own breath. The risks of relationship and trust are terrifying. God will not heal us apart from our participation nor apart from relationships. But neither will God yank from our hands the very skills we adopted that kept us alive, but will wait until we are ready to let them go ourselves. God is not an abuser. God does not heal us because he wants to “use” us. God heals us because God loves us and then invites us to finally “play.”
Wm. Paul Young – ATCK (Adult TCK) who has lived in Canada, Irian Jaya (West Papua), and the United States
Interaction International recommends his book The Shack
Among Worlds is a publication of Interaction International.
(c) 2012 (ISSN # 1538-75180)
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The views expressed in Among Worlds do not necessarily reflect the views of Among Worlds or Interaction International.