Silent Pain: A Story of Transcendence from Abuse
By Wendy Smith
Not many experiences in my life compare to the experience of sharing with another person deep wounds from the past. Through these experiences I have developed very deep bonds with students. I believe sharing those hurts also brings new forms of healing and understanding.
My heart was broken last year, as I felt helpless while watching Rachel, one of my former RA’s, engage in an abusive relationship. I prayed a lot, but nothing ever seemed to change. She shut out anyone who loved her, and her life became exclusive to a man who controlled her. She became a different person. Once a jubilant, happy go-lucky woman, Rachel was now pessimistic and could snap about any little thing. The joy she felt for music was slipping away. Her passion for going to South Korea to teach English was squelched. It was painful to watch and painful to experience her distancing herself from others and from me.
I had invested a lot of care, love, time and energy in her. Now she had pushed me out of her life. Not many things had matched the pain that I felt watching someone that I cared about being abused, especially since abuse is something that I had escaped as a teenager.
My childhood and teenage years were filled with instability. We moved often, my father changed jobs frequently, and we struggled financially. I not only witnessed abuse, but also experienced it for myself. My own journey of healing was, in large part, due to people God has brought into my life, encouraging me along the way. Many people affirmed me and encouraged me to follow my dreams of having a better life for myself by pursuing a college education. It is because of such support that my passion for education and investing in others has continued to grow.
In the early summer I received an instant message from Rachel. She finally opened up to me sharing what was going on in her life currently. This was something she had not done in months. I could sense that she needed to keep talking, but I was going to a meeting. I told her if she waited, we could continue talking when I returned. She waited. When we did get to talk later, I felt God nudge me to ask her if she wanted to get together. Thankfully, she did, and as we talked about everything she was going through, I felt a sense from God that I needed to ask her to attend church with me. Much to my surprise, she was excited at the prospect.
We arrived at church and began to sing “Never Let Go”, and she began to cry. I hugged her and did not ask questions. After the service I asked her about the tears. Slowly over the hour and fifteen-minute drive home she shared that her boyfriend broke up with her because she came to church with me. My typical style is to ask lots of questions, but I felt like I needed to just let her say what she wanted as it came. She cried for the first forty-five minutes home, and then the story unfolded. I felt that I was supposed to speak truth into her life, so I did – being bolder than I had been before. I shared what I watched unfold over the year, knowing I was taking a risk by sharing what I had observed, as speaking truth could have pushed her away. I had nothing to lose.
I asked if I could buy her dinner and she agreed. That night was the beginning of healing for her and for me. God brought Rachel back into my life and I had to take a
risk--a risk that she may leave again to go back to an abusive relationship for the sixth time. I had to risk being bold and speaking truth because I cared for her. Rachel decided that night that she was not going to go back to Jake. I wondered if it really was going to be the last time? She held her ground and ignored his texts, pleas of apology, and pushed through guilt of not going back. She was realizing she was stronger than she thought. She broke the cycle of abuse after almost one year and is now in counseling. I see a new person emerging that can share her feelings and who is developing a new confidence. Last night we read the first chapter of Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child (2002) together. This sparked a powerful discussion about our stories. She shared how much love and grace I had shown her and how much my support has helped in her healing process. Throughout the conversation, she cried and I cried. This conversation reminded me why I am doing what I am doing. I am here to help students along the way, and to be there as they unwrap hurts from the past in order to discover who they are and what they long to be.
Wendy Smith serves as the Assistant Dean of Women at Greenville College, located in Greenville, Illinois.
Manning, Brennan. (2002). Abba’s child: The cry of the heart for intimate belonging. Colorado Springs: NavPress.