Author’s Note: This is a story about God’s grace and forgiveness, and how it can change anyone’s life. It is also a story that involves rape and sexual assault, and the brokenness that it causes. These are difficult topics, and I would ask anyone that might be triggered by them to please skip reading this post, and maybe check out this one or this one instead. This was posted with the express consent of the person in question, and personal information like names and pronouns are withheld to protect their privacy. Any survivors of assault can find help here. Stay happy and safe.
Some days, you wake up with the world looking completely different than it will when you go to sleep again that night. You think everything makes sense and you know what you believe, only for God to throw you a curveball that hits you hard in the stomach and makes it all look different.
Sometimes, when a friend says they need to tell you something, you know something scary is coming. The way they build up to it, the twisting in your gut, the sweat that breaks out on your palms. Something tips you off that the conversation just got deep, and you’re getting pulled down with it, for better or for worse.
When my friend told me in the middle of a recent coffee break that there was something I should know about them, I knew something big was coming. The fear in their eyes of what they were about to say and their anxious swallow as they worked up their nerve couldn’t mean anything else. But that didn’t stop the shock of the impact when they looked not-quite-at-me and dropped the bomb:
“I was raped.”
Their words knocked the breath out of me. I was being told that, several years ago, my friend had been raped. And then the story got darker: a few months after that, my friend had committed sexual assault in turn against someone else.
I stared at them, completely unsure of what to say. The bomb had dropped, and I couldn’t breathe for the shock of the blast.
Molester. The word came into my mind almost unbidden. I had been warned about rapists and molesters alike growing up. I had very strong, decided feelings toward that word. Molester was bad. Molester was evil. Molester was a danger to society, deserving to be locked up for good. But the word had never had a face…until now. And that face looked like my friend. It looked like someone I trusted, someone I liked.
I was sitting…drinking coffee with…a molester….and a victim.
Should I hate them, or feel sorry for them? I didn’t know how to react. As I looked into their eyes across the table, my world shattered.
I don’t remember a lot of what exactly was said during that conversation. Questions were asked and answers were given. They opened up to me, telling me their story, with court dates and jail time and probation. My mind split in two. Half was trying to keep the conversation going, attempting to wrap my head around what I had just learned. The rest was sounding mental alarms as the telltale signs of anxiety started to set in. My hands trembled, a cold sweat broke out on my forehead, and my heart rate sped up. I was caught between two impossible realities, trying to reconcile things that couldn’t, shouldn’t be true. My mind raced in frantic circles, trying to line up the facts.
I had spent time with this person. I considered them a friend. Trusted them. And they had done things that, until that point, I had believed were completely unforgivable. Once you’ve committed that crime, there’s no going back. It stains you for the rest of your life. Defines you for as long as you can be defined.
I hated people who had committed assault. But I couldn’t hate this person. The facts scraped against each other like nails against a chalkboard, creating a sound in my head that I just couldn’t tolerate.
God, what do I do with this? I prayed. What can I possibly do with this information?
Listen, God replied. Pay attention.
So I did. I heard everything my friend does today to keep themselves on the right track. I put together a mental picture of how they said they used to be…and then realized the person sitting across from me was the polar opposite of that image. I saw the evidence of God at work in their life. I saw the remorse in their eyes as they told me what they had done in the past, and the pain as they described what had been done to them.
I turned back to God, holding the things I saw up to Him. His voice was almost audible when He said,
“I use broken people.”
That was it. What I was supposed to learn from this entire experience. I’ve claimed before that I don’t believe in “good” and “bad” people. We’re all just people, I would say. All messed-up and broken and in need of grace. I am no worse–or better–than anyone else. And now God’s challenge to that was sitting across the table, staring me in the face. Did I really believe that? Were my sins really on the same level as this person’s?
I spent the rest of the day in a mental haze, my mind going over the same information again and again, trying to make sense of it. I felt shock, disgust, and, strangely, the need to forgive. The assault hadn’t harmed me in any way, but I still felt anger for what had been done. The next few days involved an intense conversation with my pastor, a lot of time in prayer, and, surprisingly enough, peace. As I brought the situation to God over and over again, new words started to apply to my friend.
Human. My friend is a person, no more or less than that. Nothing they have done or that has been done to them changes that. Victim. During the initial conversation, I got so hung up on what my friend had done that I forgot that a crime had been committed against them, too. They had felt both sides of the equation. Loved. God has a plan for this person just as much as He does for me. He brought them back from the darkest of places into His light and presence. Growing. This person has a hope and a future. They are working toward it, and I see that in their life every day.
Let me make something perfectly clear–this is not to belittle the seriousness of assault, or the pain survivors go through. That is not my intent at all. I have never experienced that pain firsthand, so I can’t claim to comprehend it. But I can say with a certainty that I hate sexual assault. I hate it with the very deepest parts of who I am, and my heart breaks for those who have gone through it.
At first I wondered if that meant I had to hate my friend, too. But I don’t think it does; their mistakes don’t define them any more than mine do. That’s the God we serve–one who has radical forgiveness for anyone who comes to Him. His grace doesn’t excuse what we’ve done or release us from the consequences, but it does mean that we have a clean slate waiting for us at the other end. His forgiveness is adequate for inexcusable sins. That’s the beauty and the terror of grace–it’s undeserved. It breaks the rules and puts us all on the same level; everyone is given a sufficient measure.
People make mistakes. Sometimes horrible mistakes that leave pain and damage in their wake. But that doesn’t mean that our mistakes are who we are. What we’ve done is not our identity. While God reaches out His healing hand, we can rest in His unfathomable grace. There is no stain the blood of Christ can’t wash away; no one is broken beyond repair.
So now, when I look my friend in the eye, I don’t see what they’ve done. I see what’s been done for them. And of all the words that could apply to them, I only choose one–friend.