What is the first thing you do with a beautiful flower? If you’re anything like me, you smell it. Why? Because we expect flowers to smell good! Many flowers produce a pleasant scent to attract pollinators that aid in their reproduction. In II Corinthians 2:14-15, the Apostle Paul says that Christians produce a fragrance too:
“But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
The fragrances of flowers and Christians are both connected to reproduction. You can imagine my surprise on a mission trip several years ago when a group leader said to me, “You are like a beautiful flower without a smell!” I did not ask her exactly what she meant, but I knew it was not a compliment. My first thought was, “That is so unkind,” but in my heart I realized what she said was significant. I felt like God was speaking through her. Consequently, her words stayed with me, and I began to ponder them in my quiet times before the Lord: “What did her words mean?”
God showed me that although I loved Him and tried to live my life to please Him, my personality had been negatively impacted by the abuse I experienced in childhood. This, in turn, limited my ability to impact others deeply as an adult. Acquaintances observed my “good works” (beauty in Christ) but did not receive their message (fragrance) because my voice had been silenced.
Before I was abused, I was more outgoing. I aspired to leadership even in my play! But after the abuse occurred, I became shy and fearful. My self-confidence was shattered. I was afraid to be truly known by those around me. I chose to hide behind walls of silence, choosing only to engage with those I knew well. Consequently, I was often misunderstood and perceived as “stuck-up.” People also said I looked sad and encouraged me to smile more. Powerful feelings of shame and disconnection crippled me. I could not share my heart because I was so busy trying to protect it. You cannot freely share the love of Jesus either if your primary concern is self-preservation and protection. Although I longed for meaningful connections, it felt too risky to express my personality in a way that might draw others toward me!
When Jesus showed me this, my prayer became, “Lord, change me into the person you created me to be before sexual abuse occurred.” In response, He has begun to restore my voice and to help me to express myself more freely. I smile a lot more now than I used to, and I laugh out loud too. I speak up in social settings more readily today, and also enjoy sharing in groups. I have become more aware of others as my focus has shifted from my own fears and perceived limitations to their needs. The leadership dreams of my childhood are coming to fruition as I learn to trust God more.
These changes have developed in two ways. The first avenue has been by communing with God regularly in prayer and putting His directives into practice, thereby allowing my God-given personality to re-emerge. This often involves surrendering defensive postures I learned in childhood (like being seen but not heard) and risking the very real possibility of rejection and betrayal by others again as I share from my heart. The only thing that makes such risk possible is the ever-increasing awareness of His love and acceptance of me.
The second avenue of change involves learning new relational skills. When you grow up in a dysfunctional home, you learn unhealthy ways to relate. My family taught me it wasn’t safe to trust those outside the family. In reality, it wasn’t safe to trust some inside, which made the outside world seem even more dangerous. As a result, I lacked good communication and social skills growing up. I am learning those skills now in the context of my community. God has sent spiritual mothers and new brothers and sisters into my life who teach me through their example. This is why it is so important for survivors, like myself, to realize we cannot recover on our own, hiding behind defensive maneuvers we learned in childhood. We really do need the body of Christ to reflect Jesus to us and to teach us new ways to relate to God, to ourselves, and to others!
What type of “flower” are you? Do you “smell” good or do you just look good from a distance? Who and what are aiding you on your journey toward wholeness? I would love to hear your story! Please leave a comment or send me a message. I’m so thankful we are on this journey together!