A sexual abuse survivor becomes a little child again.
Bubbles. That’s just what we need here, I thought. A friend’s husband and daughter had come over to pick up some furniture. They were expected; three-year-old Alianna was not. When she was introduced to me, she pirouetted, revealing the flair of both her skirt and her personality — definitely a bubbles kind of girl.
I retrieved two bottles of bubbles from the stash I keep in our front closet. While her mom and grandfather wrestled a dining room table and chairs into the back and onto the roof of their van, my new friend and I blew bubbles. We laughed as they danced on a soft breeze and popped on the grass, bushes, and each other. One just kept floating up.
“Look, Alianna!” I exclaimed. “That bubble is going to Jesus.”
As Alianna tracked the rising bubble with widening eyes, she made a joyful, little bounce and rose up on her tippy-toes as if she might just float up to heaven with it. “Goin’ ta Jesus!” she echoed, clapping her hands together with excitement.
At the same time, a weight of guilt sent my heart sinking within me. Why did I just say that? That bubble isn’t really going up to Jesus. We’re going to see it pop any second, and Alianna will know I told her a falsehood.
It didn’t pop. Together we watched that bubble continue to float up and out of our sight. “Jesus loves children, so He must love bubbles,” I asserted, as much to myself as to Alianna.
With that thought, an image spontaneously formed in my mind of Jesus sitting on His throne, a bottle in one hand and a pink plastic wand in the other. He was blowing bubbles, too, but His transformed from spheres into hearts as they drifted down upon us. He had a big grin on His face, and I felt in my heart His delight in joining our fun.
Jesus liked being with us. He spoke to my heart that He finds deep joy in loving the kind of little girl who twirls when she tells you her name, and the kind of woman who has no children of her own yet keeps bottles of bubbles in her closet. He’s that kind of God. That’s why He said we need to “become as little children” (Matthew 18:2-4), not stuffy, anxious grown-ups, to enter His kingdom.
I knew Alianna’s family had taught her that Jesus loved her, just as they cherished her themselves. With her buoyant personality, I could easily imagine her catching a ride on that bubble all the way up to heaven and then running without hesitation right up into Jesus’ lap and loving embrace. I envied her carefree approach to life, because I knew it came from the security of being protected, as well as loved, by the big people in her life.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have often considered the invitation to become like a child as more threatening than appealing. I was loved, but there weren’t any big people in my life who protected me. Being little didn’t mean being cherished; it meant being easy prey.
I used to twirl and pose like Alianna, but I was forced to expose more than my smile and a pretty dress. Alianna’s innocence was being cherished; mine had been exploited. Why would I want to become a child again? Why would I ever desire to be that vulnerable again? Now that I was an adult — a “big person” — all I wanted was to be safe. What Jesus wanted was to set me free.
Journey of trust
Like the disciples who tried to shoo the little children away from Jesus, shame and fear barred my heart from “goin’ ta Jesus” with the same light-hearted spirit as Alianna’s. The day Jesus showered me with bubbles and I bathed in His delight marked the beginning of my journey of learning to trust Him to love me without hurting me.
It wasn’t easy, but Jesus was patient and gentle with me, and He always respected my boundaries. I discovered that I could let Him hold me without the danger of being violated. It was safe to be small and vulnerable, with a great, big God to take care of me. In time, I could share with Jesus the pain and humiliation of the abuse I had suffered as a child. He not only comforted me in my tears but also made it safe for me to express my anger to Him for allowing those terrible abuses to be done to me.
As we faced those memories together, Jesus showed me that He had always been with me. I had never been alone. He also brought people into my life who walked with me on my healing journey. I experienced the security of a husband, friends, and Christian counselors who enjoyed me without exploiting me and who showed that affection can be offered free of exploitation.
Now, when I read or hear Jesus’ words to “Let the little children come to Me” (Matthew 19:14), I am free to run right into His arms. Just as I laughed and played with Alianna, I am also learning how to laugh and to have fun with Jesus. Together, we stomp through crunchy fall leaves, run barefoot in the sand along Lake Michigan, make snow angels at the park, and enjoy the tangy sweetness of wild raspberries in the forest. Even when He asks me to do hard things, such as forgive those who hurt me, I feel safe with Him and am confident He is always working for my good.
Jesus’ declaration on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), doesn’t mean that I will never be vulnerable or that I will never be hurt again. It means I never have to go back to the fear and shame of my childhood. Instead, I can keep walking forward in increasing childlike freedom, with one hand holding onto Jesus and the other holding a pink plastic wand.