Note: This post was born not because I have any particular grandparents in mind, but simply from the fact that so many young people are speaking to me about their rapes. I wish they could speak to you.
You love your granddaughter. You may be wondering what’s been wrong with her lately, why she’s having all those physical problems, or why she suddenly seems to be going off the cliff in her bizarre behavior, or why her parents won’t say much to you about her, or why she’s suddenly avoiding you.
You love her, and you pray for her.
You’re going through struggles yourself, most likely. There are health issues and concerns about finances and problems with other family members and oh so many other things.
And it’s really, really hard to hear about evil. I get it.
You may have missed how much molestation and abuse goes on in the church. Back in the 1970s we had the statistic that one quarter—25%—of women had been molested as children, even in the church, but who ever talked about it then? Now people are talking about it, the numbers are even higher, and I know it’s hard to hear.
But it’s essential.
You’re aware of the degeneration of the culture, but you might not have grasped how much it has infiltrated the church. You might not be aware how young men in church—probably even your church—who present very well and are very involved in church activities, can be relentless on their girlfriends or other women or girls to do sexual activity with and to them, or to force them to allow things to be done to them.
Sadly, it’s true not just of young men, but of older men too. Even married church leaders.
If you haven’t kept up with this, it could be shocking for you to learn about. It has been for me. And it isn’t easy for me to talk to you about it. I’m a Christian grandmother too.
Your granddaughter who was raped needs people in her life. She needs a well-trained professional counselor, but she also needs safe family and friends around her. She needs older people who are wise and good, people who love Jesus and have a rock-solid faith in Him, to surround her with love and support.
So here are some thoughts and suggestions.
- Let her talk to you without asking any questions, at first. For the love of God, don’t say anything that hints that she was responsible for her rape in any way. Just be supportive. This is a time to be high on empathy and low on judgment, even if you think she did something wrong. She has experienced great shame, and she needs you to have compassion for her.
- Don’t call the sexual assault an “unfortunate experience” or a “trial” or “a shame.” Go ahead and call it by the big old ugly word that fits it: rape. (Reading your state’s definitions of kinds of sexual assault can help you use the appropriate term.)
- She may tell you that the person who assaulted her was someone well respected in the church or in some ministry organization. This may be nearly impossible for you to believe. For her sake, begin by simply accepting it, no matter how shocking it may sound. Be willing to acknowledge the possibility that some wolves in sheep’s clothing are very good at their deception. Be willing to admit that some very evil (but well-presenting) men may be counting on your not believing their victims.
Be slow to speak
- When she asks the hard questions, like “Where was God” or “Why didn’t God stop the evil?” don’t give quick answers. You may know the answers (or you may not), but be that as it may, it takes discernment to know when to actually have a conversation about these things. Right now she may simply be expressing her grief. Asking these questions might just be a cultural way of wailing, the way David did in the Psalms.
Be willing to grieve
- Be unafraid of grief—don’t try to stop it. One of the saddest losses of our Christian culture is the loss of grief, lost in pat answers like “God knew what He was doing” or “put the past in the past.” These answers can be like salt in a wound to someone who is grieving. Be willing to grieve with her. The process of grief is a necessary process in the path to healing—don’t truncate it.
- When she needs to cry, let her cry. Don’t try to do a grandparent-type “there there, stop crying now” pat on the back. She needs to grieve, so be a safe person to grieve with.
- Don’t fail to vocally express utter outrage and horrified indignation towards the person who treated your granddaughter as worthless. Be very angry, and say it over and over in different ways. If your granddaughter doesn’t see you affirming this aspect of the heart of God to her in this way, which she needs and deserves, this will be one more betrayal on top of the monstrous betrayal that was the rape. You can show your love by being profoundly angry. (This one was suggested by “T” in the comments below. Thank you, T.)
Be hesitant to give advice
- As a grandparent of course you want to do this. But this is an area you may not know much about at all, and it’s quite different from ordinary trials. Encourage her to get professional help from someone trained in trauma therapy. Be willing to listen as she processes what she learned in therapy. Give general encouragement like “don’t give up” and “remember we’re here for you,” and “remember you are loved,” but don’t tell her what to do. You can help her think through decisions and the possible outcomes of those decisions. You can help her learn to recognize red flags in relationships. But if she makes bad decisions, continue to love her and be there for her.
- Regarding the sin issue . . . of course there may be sin in the lives of those who have been abused and assaulted. Sometimes they hate themselves and start practicing very self-destructive behavior. If she feels suicidal, reminding her that suicide is sin will probably not be the best way to help. Instead remind her that she is valuable and greatly loved. Keep telling her that you love her and that the Lord wants to heal her. (If there’s one time it would be important to call out sin, it’s if you find out she’s directly hurting someone else.)
Validate and affirm
- Over time, continue to validate her as a person of worth and value (not the piece of trash that her rapist treated her as). You may think this truth goes without saying, but words of affirmation and validation are like precious jewels to those struggling with their identity.
- Even though it may seem obvious to you that the rape was not her fault, she needs to hear it over and over. Keep telling her. Keep on saying that what happened to her was very wrong.
- Be willing to read, on your own time, about the character disturbance that goes on in the lives of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who have been called sociopaths, and be willing to read about the destruction of sexual abuse. It’s dark and evil, but your God is big enough to help you have the capacity to handle it.
Look to the Lord
- Keep relying on God to give you the wisdom and depth to handle what she is telling you. Look to the Holy Spirit to give you the capacity. As she trusts you with one bit of information and you receive it well, she may tell you more. Her story may end up being a very bad one. But trust God to keep you strong to be there for her.
- Uncovering one evil can lead to uncovering a whole world of evil. But your God is big enough for this, and He wants to deepen your reliance on Him.
Connect on a deeper level
- If, God forbid, you went through something this horrific when you were young, you could share that with her, but only as a means to connect with her in shared experience, not to say “My trauma was bigger than your trauma.”
- Don’t just assume that after a certain period of time she ought to be all done talking about this now and ought to be over the nightmares and feelings of shame. There is no particular timeline for healing. Keep encouraging her. Read and send encouraging Scriptures to her, but don’t use Bible verses to shame her into silence.
- What she needs from you can be time consuming, but you love her and are willing to put aside other activities for her sake. But there’s one more thing. If she decides she wants to report the assailant to law enforcement, stand with her, even if he’s the pastor himself.
Keep loving her
- She has been through a traumatic tragedy. Love her, and keep loving her. Keep reminding her, in notes, through texts, over the phone, in person, that you’re praying for her, that you haven’t forgotten her. Through the love that you show, the Lord will deepen your heart as well, and your compassion for others will increase. It will be at least in part as she sees through Christians like you that God’s love is communicated to her—rather than condemnation—that she’ll be able to come to the Lord Jesus Christ for healing. And isn’t that what you want for her? Isn’t that what you want for everyone who has been damaged by evil?
Your granddaughter wants to tell you about her rape. Maybe it’s time to have her over for coffee.
This message is not for wicked grandparents who pretend to be Christians while practicing evil in secret. I know about some of those too. This is only for the ones who truly love God and love others.