One of the greatest struggles in my life has been finding my voice when conflicts arise. If I am honest, I have found it easier to talk about people rather than to them, especially when misunderstandings occur! I have struggled to express my thoughts even though I know my feelings and opinions are valid. As a result, I have often been more focused on defending myself against false assumptions and accusations than on simply sharing what is in my heart. Why is that?
Incest survivors are conditioned early in life to remain quiet, not to rock the boat, and even to unwittingly protect those who do them great harm. Fear, confusion, loss of self-respect, and sometimes even a lack of positive role models, reinforce their reticence to share. When a Christian has lost her voice as a result of past abuse or even current struggles, how can she find it again?
Recently, the Holy Spirit led me to one of my favorite Bible passages from childhood, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! Although I was very familiar with the story in Daniel chapter three, I had never really looked at it in its context. Daniel and his three friends were taken captive as young men when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem. They were all healthy, handsome, and very smart. They were also blessed by God with spiritual gifts. Nevertheless, all these attributes did not exempt them from the tyranny of a self-absorbed and powerful king!
In chapter two, the lives of all the king’s advisors were threatened for being unable to tell him what he had dreamed the night before! Daniel and his friends were not even present when this demand was made. When the executioners arrived, Daniel asked them a question: “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Then he and his friends asked God to reveal the king’s dream, which they promptly shared along with its interpretation. As a result, all the advisors’ lives were spared, and Daniel and his friends received promotions. Daniel’s question is instructional to me because I am often quick to defend myself in conversations rather than asking questions first. In my haste, I also make assumptions rather than seeking to understand the other person’s perspective. At the end of chapter two, after the king’s dream had been recounted and interpreted, he acknowledged Daniel’s God as “the God of gods and the Lord of kings.” Unfortunately, that was short lived, as is often the case when you live under the tyranny of an abusive person!
In chapter three, Nebuchadnezzar forgot all about Daniel’s God and decided everyone should worship a huge statue he erected. He decreed that anyone who wouldn’t bow down to it would be put to death. The very advisors whose lives were spared in chapter two, used this opportunity to betray Daniel’s three friends. They reported that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had not worshiped the god the king made. When they were brought before the king, he asked if the accusations were true and gave them an opportunity to comply with his command.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were loyal to God. They replied to the king, “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.” What?–Surely, they needed to defend their actions, discredit their accusers, and explain their religious beliefs to him? No, what they did instead was to affirm their own convictions and to entrust their futures totally to God. They basically said, “King, our God is able to deliver us from your furnace, whether he chooses to do so remains to be seen, but either way, we are in His hands, not yours!” They trusted God more than they feared the king. Rather than cower to his agenda, they chose instead to affirm their identity as followers of “the God of gods and the Lord of kings.”
Nothing makes an abusive person angrier than a victim who doesn’t comply! True to form, the king turns up the heat and has his strongest soldiers tie up the three young men and throw them into a blazing furnace! Some of the soldiers end up sacrificing their own lives to comply with his orders. But, an amazing scene developed. The king saw four men, instead of three, unbound and unharmed walking around in the fire! Apparently, the only things the fire consumed were their bonds! Upon entering the fire, they encountered freedom, so much so, that the king assumed they could come out on their own!
But who was this fourth man in the fire with them, who looked to the king “like a son of the gods”? It was indeed the Son of God who walked among them in the fire delivering them from the king’s evil intent! Have you ever wondered why Jesus didn’t come out with them and judge the wicked king on the spot, or why He allowed them to end up in the fire in the first place? What was the significance of this fourth man being in the flames with them? When Jesus joined their fiery ordeal, He made it apparent that God’s agenda was really the only one that mattered!
Upon exiting the furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t even smell like smoke! The fire became their platform to declare the glory of “the God of gods and the Lord of kings” as well as to affirm their identity as healthy, handsome, and wise young men whom God had created for Himself. The only thing missing when they came out of the furnace, were the bonds that other people had placed on them! There was nothing that indicated they were victims after encountering Jesus in that fire.
How does this relate to finding one’s voice in the face of conflict? I believe a victim is set free once she truly believes that God’s opinion of her, and His plan for her life, matters more than anyone else’s. Courage to live from those convictions, rather than cowering to the opinions of others or reacting to their perceived threats, leads to a paradigm shift. As she learns to respond from the convictions of her own heart, rather than reacting defensively, the atmosphere literally shifts around her. She discovers that there is indeed another person beside her in her fiery trials, and a miracle is set in motion from the middle of her need! The Son of God may deliver her in the circumstances or give new meaning to her suffering. Others often recognize Him too, as the shackles imposed by other peoples’ expectations and agendas fall away in the fire, and she is finally free to be the person God created her to be before the bondage of abuse began.
Here are several key insights I took away from the story of Daniel and his three friends after prayerfully meditating on it:
- The opinion of the “God of gods and Lord of kings” matters much more than anyone else’s!
- The very trial that threatens to restrict your voice, can become a platform for others to see your Savior.
- Every accusation does not require a reply. Learn to ask good questions rather than make assumptions.
- Be true to the convictions of your heart, thus turning the conversation from a defensive stance to affirmation of your identity in Christ.
- Our opinions and feelings are just as valid as anyone else’s. Learn to speak from the truth you hold in your own heart.
- As victims, we may have lost our voices for a time, but we are free to change and grow now. We can learn more effective ways to express ourselves by meditating upon scripture and observing Godly role models.
- The greatest Teacher remains beside us in any fiery trial! His presence is the ultimate source of our identity now and any hope for the future.
What has helped you recover your voice following abuse? How have you experienced God’s presence with you in the fire?