As a prayer counselor prayed with me after my mother’s death, I remember how shocked I was to hear myself exclaim, “My god had no arms!” It came in response to a childhood memory of my mom accidentally scalding me as she washed my hair. Such words would normally never come from my lips, but obviously, the child in me felt unprotected. There were other times the god I thought I knew seemed to have failed me as well, like when I awoke at night to find someone standing over my bed touching me in ways that no preschooler should experience. And of course, what does that little girl think when she hears a mumbled death threat not to tell anyone? Where is God in such circumstances?
I was well acquainted with Jesus on the flannel board at Sunday School. My teacher said He loves little children and watches over them. She said He is a Good Shepherd who protects His sheep by carrying them in His arms close to His heart. He looked so kind in the pictures. My Mama also taught me a bedtime prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take, Amen.” Wow, those words were much too close to the fear that actually resided in her little girl’s heart! Maybe Jesus watched over other children at night, but did He really know where I slept? Perhaps His arms just weren’t long enough to protect or hold me when I needed Him most!
Wikipedia defines dissociation as “any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience.” Sometimes traumatized children dissociate from the reality of their experiences by focusing elsewhere in the room or imagining it is happening to someone else. It’s also possible for a child to repress memories over time until a trigger causes them to re-surface later in life. As an adult, that experience totally baffled me! A counselor suggested that dissociation serves a useful purpose for a child, protecting her in some measure from a depth of pain she is yet unable to process. As I paused to consider this, I realized that my memories had indeed returned only after I was in a safe enough space to face the trauma. I had a support system then that simply wasn’t available earlier. Was it possible that God really was present in my childhood after all, showing me where to focus? Is it possible that He hugs me today, when my brothers and sisters in Christ hold me close in prayer as I continue to process my losses?
One thing I learned during prayer ministry was to look back in time at some of these painful memories and to ask Jesus to show me where He was as I experienced the trauma. (This is possible because God is not bound by time or space like we are.) As a result, I envisioned Jesus coming into the bedroom after my abuser left. He lifted me into His lap, stroked my hair, and spoke soothing words to me as I sobbed against His chest. In that moment, I experienced a distinct measure of inner healing from the abandonment and fear I felt so keenly before. That vision still brings me comfort. On another occasion, I prayed and asked Jesus where He was when my mother accidentally scalded me? Not audibly, but in my spirit I heard Him say, “I was under running water.” That thought was outside of anything I expected to hear and left me speechless! Not only was Jesus present, He experienced the pain right alongside me. That revelation also profoundly affected me.
When you strip away religious expectations, what does your God look like? Does he have arms? Does he have a heart, or are his characteristics strangely reminiscent of the deficits in understanding you experienced as a child? Are you willing to allow God to go back in time with you now to face the traumas you may have encountered and to provide healing and restoration? If so, you may want to consider asking a Christian counselor or trusted prayer minister to assist you.
We may not always understand God’s ways, but we can still experience His goodness when we risk opening our hearts to new revelations of His care and concern for us. I have discovered that my God has always had arms!
“It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; It was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.” (Psalm 44:3)
“See the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart….” (Isaiah 40:10-11)