Over the past few days, the #metoo campaign has been trending on social media. And, like any campaign, it has drawn all kinds of responses and reactions from all kinds of people. So perhaps to add my own ten cents’ worth is superfluous to the conversation but, you see, as well as being a campaign this is personal.
This is my story, my journey, my exile and my redemption.
Now, I am not defined by what has happened to me at the hands of men. While it has formed me in certain (negative) ways, I am not limited to those ways of being, or thinking, or choosing. This is where I come to the limits of the #metoo label. It’s great as a way to create a point of identification but not as a point of identity.
#metoo is not the only thing that is true about any of us.
While my story is unique to me, it is not dissimilar to that of many, many others … I was still in primary school when a neighbour’s teenaged son began to explore his sexual curiosity at my expense. This went on for many months and then stopped as suddenly as it had started. Needless to say, this experience informed my assumptions about what being a girl was all about—and a few years later, when a boy in my science class leaned across the desk to grab my breast, I knew enough to hit him hard and make it count. It was more confusing, however, to know how to respond when the man reaching for my breasts was an elder in the church who had offered to drop me home after the service. One learns a level of alertness to the possibility of threat, as I’m sure you know.
There is no point here in rating my experience by severity. God knows, people close to me have known worse. For all the friends, the mothers, the aunts, the sisters we draw a collective breath and tentatively seek to move away from the fear and the rage engendered by these experiences.
Because fear holds us captive.
As soon as I faced the reality that it was truly possible for me to conceive life - you know, all the right things were happening at all the right times - I knew one thing for sure: I did not want a baby. More specifically, I did not want to bring a little girl into the world and risk her ever having to say #metoo. Learning to hold that fear but not let it rule me - I now have two beautiful daughters - is part of my story of healing and redemption.
And rage, well rage is a torrent.
In all my relationships - most particularly my relationships with men, and my relationship with myself - rage was just below the surface waiting for the smallest poke, the slightest excuse to be unleashed. It was not without justification, obviously, but I had to face the reality of the damage rage can do to those relationships where I am most loved and most vulnerable. Rage makes intimacy impossible and learning to release that rage is also part of my story of healing.
Fear and rage could so easily have been what came to define me. If my own #metoo was not to form my identity, I had to find another reality; something more real and more true than what had happened, that could both hold and supersede what I had experienced.
I will never forget the day I heard a young woman sharing her story. She had been living in a nation where it was illegal to be a Christian. She knew the risks of being there and one day several policemen came to where she was living to arrest her. As she was forced onto the street towards the waiting car, her eyes took in this threatening wall of uniformed men. Any woman reading this can imagine where her mind went to in that moment - the possibility of sexual violence at the hands of these men was very real. And in that moment, as she faced the prospect of being held under guard and possibly imprisoned, this is what she thought.
“If the thing I am most afraid of happens to me, I know God can heal me.”
This was no easy platitude. It wasn’t that she wasn’t afraid; she wasn’t in denial as to the possible pain and suffering. But somehow she knew that whatever brokenness became hers, whatever awful or destructive experience she went through, God could bring her through the fragmentation of body and soul to wholeness again. Maybe not immediately, certainly not without tears, but she would be put together again.
She knew that if her worst fears were realised, it would not define her.
I remember when I first realised that God was able to touch the deepest part of my soul and bring healing there. After years of hiding my pain, of experiencing genuine hatred for my body, of knowing heart-stopping anger against men - and not just men but against a world whose axis is tipped towards men in ways that make justice seem impossible - after years of this, I experienced a real measure of healing. I was gob-smacked most especially because I never believed that anything - anything - could reach to that deep soul-level in ways that would restore what had been lost.
The journey from that place, it’s true, has been long and convoluted. It is a journey I am still on and one that at times, I admit, I have wondered whether will ever end. I am finding that the healing of our souls is not a quick fix, or a one-time thing. It’s both done and in the process of being done; it’s both present and future. There are many ingredients to our healing process, no doubt different ones in different proportions for each of us: trusted friendships, opportunities to share our stories, counselling, prayer, choosing forgiveness, learning, practice and lots of love. At least, it’s been that way for me.
So here’s the thing, you guys: this #metoo is my story, but it’s just a part of my story. The greater part of my story is the promise of being #wholeagain - and that is my identity. Yes, I was formed by what happened to me, but more than that, I am being re-formed because I am walking in and walking towards healing.
#wholeagain is not a formula or a band-aid.
It’s not a judgement or something to measure up to.
It’s not a trite cliché or a glib catchphrase.
#wholeagain is both a promise and an invitation.
It’s a direction towards which we are moving, a posture, a leaning towards.
#wholeagain is longing and a prayer.
It is, as the old hymn says, strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
Now to see that trending on social media: that, my friends, would be revolutionary.