No one wants to be part of "ugly," but the truth is that sometimes ugly is out there. Most of are quick to gasp or shake our heads when watching reports about child abuse exposed in prominent places like Penn State or in our own neighborhoods, but we resist letting the ugly touch us. But it does.
The American Academy of Pediatrics defines child abuse as "when a person (adult or child) takes advantage of a child in a sexual way." And if you've heard that a child's abuser is usually someone they know, you've heard correctly. We're hearing that in the details unfolding on the Pennsylvania campus. Such abuse shakes the foundation of a child's trust compass, and that's more than hard to restore.
In a world where parents are okay with kids playing games involving bloody violence and wearing costumes portraying characters who beat, tease, and threaten, I wonder why we gasp so much when we hear that children have found themselves the victims of real life people like that and have not known what to do. Why are we so surprised it's part of the fabric of our world? From the time of a child's birth, our culture moves the line of acceptable touch and appropriate relating, until we find ourselves at the place where about 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys are abused sexually in their childhood years. That changes a childhood. That changes an adulthood.
Our local homeless shelter teaches that the one factor most homeless and addicted adults share in common is that of childhood sexual abuse. The National Children's Advocacy Center reports that adults who suffered abuse as kids are more likely to grow up and experience illnesses like heart disease, auto immune disorders, migraines, and obesity, to name a few. They're also more likely to face mental disorders like anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and panic attacks. And they're more likely to put themselves in places where they keep being abusive to themselves and letting others abuse them, practicing eating disorders, sexually reckless behaviors, selt-mutilation, and drug use. Child abuse keeps abusing.
God hates child abuse. He hasn't just learned to just gasp and shake. In fact, He feels so strongly that Jesus said, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:5-7).
God wants us to receive children with the same kind of love He does, and that means we have to learn how to see them. If you've ever looked into the eyes of an abused child (and I bet we all have ...) you might find their gaze is lowered or angry, and they may hide behind a thin wall of bangs and a thicker one around their heart. If child abuse really offends us, we should learn how to "see" it.
Focus on the Family provides this list of symptoms to make us more aware of how to do a better job of putting the line of kindness to children back where it should be. We can gasp and shake our heads, but it doesn't really make any difference until we're willing to learn and maybe get involved in some "ugly" on behalf of those less vulnerable who aren't sure how to speak for themselves.
Would you be willing to pray the risky prayer of asking God to teach you how to "see" children in trouble?
If you've been the victim of childhood sexual abuse yourself, and the odds are that more than one person reading this is, I highly recommend this excellent book by Sharon Jaynes - Your Scars Are Beautiful to God.