“Can I ask you a personal question?” she said.
“Of course,” I replied. I already knew what she was going to say. Many before her had already asked, but I was still grappling with how to answer.
She hesitated, as if bracing herself to speak words physically painful to pronounce.
“Did your dad’s sexual abuse negatively affect your romantic relationship with your husband?” she asked. “I’ve been married for 20 years, and I still can’t shake this feeling of shame and anxiety. Every time we’re intimate, I feel sick. I’m afraid something is broken in my mind. I’m afraid my trauma is hurting my husband and destroying our marriage. What should I do? How can I heal from this?”
If you’re a pastor or counselor, you’ve likely encountered similar questions. If you’re a survivor of abuse, you may have asked them yourself. The devastating trauma of abuse is incalculable. Its pervasive pain affects the most intimate aspects of life.
And it’s not just women asking these questions. Men and women have confided that, while they desire intimacy, they can’t imagine feeling secure in a relationship. They fear their marriage is doomed to misery and divorce, or that they’d make terrible parents. Husbands and wives of survivors have asked me how they can help their traumatized spouse feel safe, loved, and attractive.
Part of the reason I struggle to answer such sensitive and complicated questions is because I’m still experiencing and working to understand my own recovery. I know from experience that these injuries are raw, painful, and personal. I don’t want to give superficial advice, or weigh survivors down under works-oriented to-do lists.
Thankfully, God has blessed us with therapists, physicians, and medications that can help us manage depression, anxiety, and other emotional injuries resultant from trauma. Ultimately, though, only God can heal the soul.
With that in mind, I’ve composed a series of prayers, in hope that you’ll be able to adapt them to fit your own situation, pray them for a loved one, or share them with a friend in need.
1. God, help me understand that you made sex.
Lord, in the beginning, you told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). You designed Adam to be attractive for Eve, and Eve to be attractive for Adam. You said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
It’s not good for me to feel alone. It’s not good for me to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or fearful of my own sexuality—you made it, and you designed it for me to enjoy. The pain of my past and the evil of others has clouded my perception of what you have made; yet I know everything you do is good.
Please help me to understand that sex is not sinful, degrading, or harmful. Free me from anxiety, humiliation, and dark memories. Let me feel the peace and love that you intend for me. Let me rest in the knowledge that you are my Creator and every part of my body—from my figure to my hormones—was designed by you.
2. Show me that sex is pure.
In Song of Solomon, the bride exclaims, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine. . . . No wonder the young women love you! Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers” (Song 1:1–4).
Lord, I can’t imagine feeling the way this bride does. I can’t imagine viewing sex or sexuality with such innocence or confidence. She is bold. She is unabashedly desirous and flirtatious. She finds her fiancé attractive, and she can’t blame all the other ladies for thinking so too. She is eager to express her love physically.
I was taught by experience to be embarrassed and fearful of sex. Ungodly sexuality distorts my understanding, inhibits my expression, and weighs down my soul.
Lord, take away the confusion caused by abuse, betrayal, injustice, and other people’s evil. Help me to see sex as you see it: a pure gift from a holy God. Help me to realize that—though my abuser is guilty—I am innocent. Though my abuser expressed sexuality in heinous, distorted ways, I can express mine in righteous and loving ways. Because of your work in me, I can desire my spouse without shame or reserve. I can express the longings you gave me in holiness and healthiness.
3. Show me Jesus in my spouse.
Lord, you have blessed me with a godly spouse. They aren’t perfect, but they love me. They sometimes sin, but they aren’t abusive. Lord, teach me to view them how you view them. Let me see Jesus working in them. Let me seek and treasure the fruit of the Spirit in their words and actions. Lord, empower me to me see my spouse as you see them; someone you are conforming into the image of Christ.
Lord, free me from associating our intimacy with abuse, or their motives with my abuser’s motives. Instead, allow me to associate their good character with the Good Shepherd. Grow me in faith to adore my lover with unabashed passion and grace. For you did not give us a spirit of fear and embarrassment, but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). Free me to love fearlessly.
4. Bless my spouse.
God, it’s hard to trust that you’re good and faithful. It’s even harder to believe that my spouse really loves me. My abuser betrayed me. Those who should have intervened abandoned me. I expect disappointment and rejection, because that’s what I’m used to. But you, God, are unchangeable, righteous, and true. You are sovereign over my spouse’s heart. Fill me with such certainty of your devotion that I cannot doubt your work in my heart or theirs.
Help my spouse to forgive me when I’m wrong and be patient when I’m weak. Help me to forgive them when they’re wrong and be patient when they fail. Bless them with wisdom, Lord. Give them the clarity they need to help me navigate these challenges, and the wise advice to support my healing. Bolster them up behind and before. May my recovery be such a miraculous work, that their faith is strengthened because of it.
5. Show me how you see me.
Before your face, God, my value is not defined by what’s happened to me, or even by what I have done. Rather, my value is defined by what Jesus has done for me.
Teach me, Lord, to see myself as you do. Help me to know myself as your perfect, spotless, beautiful child and cherished heir of heaven. If I truly grasped in my heart of hearts how treasured, lovely, and pure you consider me, I’d never be ashamed again. Scatter the shadows that haunt me. Lift the veil that shrouds my face. Let me see myself as loved and accepted by you.
6. Take my heart and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Jesus, I cannot overcome my pain. There is too much fear, sorrow, anxiety, and confusion for me to untangle, let alone fix. But you are the Great Physician. You are my Wonderful Counselor (Isa. 9:6). You carried my sin to the cross. Jesus, you can carry my trauma, too. Bury it far from me. Let it weigh me down no more.
You are the Redeemer who made the lame walk and the blind see. By your power, the sick are healed and the dead raised to life again. You can heal my broken heart.
My recovery isn’t a to-do list. My happiness isn’t a standard I have to live up to, or a goal I must struggle to achieve. When I rely on my own efforts, I rely less on yours. Fix my eyes on you, Lord. You are my joy. You are my peace. You are Love. You knit me together in my mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13); knit me whole again now. Heal me for your glory, Lord. Empower me to love you better, not because I deserve your love, but because you deserve mine.
In Christ’s name I pray,