I Will Pray For Him, Too, Though I Do Not Know How

I wrote a post last night about this. It was late. I wrote some things that had deep roots in anger and a churning stomach. My hands trembled as I typed. But those words brought death to me, a deep sense of hopelessness and despair, and I suspect they would have brought the same to anyone who read them.

So I deleted the post.

Then I received a message from a friend. “There’s so much hate,” he said. “So much confusion.” Would I write something? Would I put words to the deep hurt so many of us are feeling? At first I thought, no. I can’t. I can’t dig this stuff up, this rotten stuff inside of me, this stuff that needs more time to break down and decay before it turns to useful soil.

I woke up late this morning after a long night debriefing with close friends. We wept and wondered why, how. These things don’t happen to your friends, your church. Of course not. They happen to other people in other cities with other problems.

Then, after I slept in, we celebrated my daughter. She turned nine this morning, and we sang Happy Birthday to her while walking down the steps to her room, served her breakfast in bed (chocolate chip pancakes and hot chocolate and one extravagant gift). I remembered how she came screaming into the world, bloody and wet. I remembered how I had cried when she emerged because she was a she, a girl to the boy my wife had delivered 18 months earlier.

“It’s a girl!”

Then I brought in the Christmas tree and cut off the lower branches and it smelled so good. So clean. A fresh start. But there was still this sick feeling in my stomach over everything that had happened, everything we had learned. I wondered if throwing up would help, but I haven’t yet. There’s a sadness, too, a weight. The heaviness of disappointment and death – not a physical death, but the passing of innocence and the loss of futures and this outward spreading ripple of anger and sadness.

Should I hate this young man, my friend, arrested yesterday for sexually assaulting a teenage boy? Should I hate him, now waiting in a jail cell, on the way to being officially labeled a pedophile?

I certainly hate what he did. I hate the atomic bomb of sexual assault, how it flattens and chars and melts. I hate a world where people take advantage of other people’s trust. These things I hate.

But do I hate him? I don’t think so. I don’t know.

* * * * *

But I still ache. My insides literally churn with desire for a new world. For a world where families don’t receive this kind of news. For a world where young boys are given the space and freedom to grow and develop and mature in a healthy way. For trust.

That’s close to the foundation of it, I think. I yearn for trust. To trust and be trusted. But this world falls so short. And because the church is in the world, it falls short, too. The church, made up of imperfect people, hurting people, cannot protect everyone. Even the most innocent. Even the most vulnerable.

I hate this about the church, so much so that I want to grind my teeth and scream. I also hate this about me and my friends and my pastors, because we are the church, and sometimes no matter how many background checks you do, no matter how many references you check, you cannot protect everyone. I hate that we cannot protect everyone. Someone will always manage to take advantage of our deep yearning to trust. To be trusted.

I hate this about us, our powerlessness. Our failures. Our impotence.

* * * * *

What now? Where do we go from here? What do we do?

What do I want to do? I want to give up on church. I want to give up on trusting people. I want to keep my kids home this Sunday and hide in solitude, cutting down trees and chopping firewood in the backyard and thinking about nothing. I want to watch a movie with my kids and ride four-wheeler with them and pretend none of this ever happened. Pretend my friend did not do this.

But on Sunday I will go to church, and I will hug my friends. I will cry with them over the pain that has so recently descended. I happen to be on the schedule to work in the children’s class, so I will accept the looks of skepticism and distrust the parents send my way, and I will understand them. I will not be offended in the least. I will nod and shake the hands of parents who can no longer leave their kids with other people. I will hug them, too, because I know how they feel. I don’t blame them, not at all.

I will plead with God that peace rains down on the family who has entered the nightmare, and I will pray that they will find their way as best they can. I pray that they still know, deep down, that they are good parents. Because they are.

I will pray for my friend, too, though I do not know how.

* * * * *

I started reading Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning a few days ago, before I heard about all of this. “Before” – that word has a certain echo to it, a certain emptiness. Anyway, there was a passage that I highlighted, a verse that Manning quoted that resonated with me on that particular day.

Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Sinners, like my friend, now looking to spend year after changeless year behind bars. Sinners, like those of us who did not possess the wisdom or the guile or the power to stop this from happening.

Sinners, like me.

Jesus, please return.

38 Replies to “I Will Pray For Him, Too, Though I Do Not Know How”

  1. Though I don’t live there, I read the Lancaster newspaper feeds on facebook so I know what you’re speaking of. The whole situation is sad although I must say that the young victim is the one who deserves our empathy. And you’re right, Christ died for us, we are all sinners. If we were not, there would have been no need for Him to suffer and sacrifice on the cross. There is nothing we can do to make Him turn His back to us. There is no sin so great that He will not forgive us. Still, we have to shake our heads at what humankind will do to a more vulnerable human being.

  2. Thank you for your honest reflection on the whole situation. I’m sitting at the computer fighting tears. My heart is broken for the church right now.

  3. Nobody wants a solution write now. We just want to understand what we are feeling and mourn. Thank you for helping us do that.

  4. Many times words are not enough, but your words were courageous, so honest, and so true. May His healing oil flow freely among all of us.

  5. Shawn, this has touched me and my mom very deeply. We are not close to him, but knew him from church. My heart aches for the young man he hurt, for our friend’s family, who are as innocent as the young man he hurt. And my heart aches for our friend, I’m sad for him.

  6. Thank you- for helping put words to a situation that leaves us speechless.

    Continued prayers for his wife and the victim and all the countless lives that were effected.

  7. Well written. We grieve as well. My prayer is that God would bring healing to all those
    victimized and for all who were effected in any way.

  8. Man…. I’m sorry for your grief, for the pain that all are feeling. And yes, it is hard to know how to pray for the one that did wrong.

    We had something similar happen with friends of ours a few years ago, with a teen abusing someone younger. It really was devastating, tearing apart relationships between families, etc. And frankly, it still has an effect years later — parents that were best friends are now distanced from each other.

    When Paul said “the wages of sin is death”, he wasn’t just talking about heaven and hell……

    I’m very sorry, hope your community recovers.

  9. Thank you, Shawn, for putting our confusion and thoughts in words at this time. It is so hard to believe and even harder to know how to respond to what he did. My prayers and heart go out to his wife and the poor victim.

  10. I think Mother Theresa said it best…

    “I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt only more love.”

    No words can describe the hurt I feel, you feel, the victim and their family feel, the family that lost their son to sin, and the man that will forever live with his decisions and loss of his dreams.

    I really can’t imagine more pain but I do know that God called us to love because it is a powerful decision that breaks through darkness. So I will chose to fuel my love with my hurt. No more hurt, only more love.

  11. I have been staring at this comment box wanting to weigh in but not knowing what to say. My emotions in the last 24 hours have ranged from rage to sympathy…guilt and regret…sorrow and pity. I am still trying to understand what I am feeling and why. Thanks for your honesty, it’s good to know that I am not alone.

  12. Thank you Shawn for your honest words. They vividly describe the feelings I wrestled with 23 years ago.
    At that time something like this happened at the church my family attended, and yes, letting my kids go to Sunday School the following Sunday was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Please know I will be praying for all of you at GCC on Sunday!

    I pray for all those directly and indirectly victimized by Jonathan’s sickness- including Jonathan. It is a sickness. No one wants to grow up to be a pedophile! His urges/desires were stronger than he could resist. It is an addiction. Anyone who has tried to quit cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, etc. knows- even when you know it is wrong or bad for you, even when you know you are hurting others around you whom you love, you can’t seem to stop. This addiction stands out however because it is so heinous that it is nearly impossible in our society to seek help. The TV said files were found on the church computer and his cell-phone…. I believe that indicates that he wanted to be caught!

    As a Christian, I have to ask God what he wants me to do to help stop this from happening to others. I can’t help but wonder what role the Internet played in this. The data on the effects of Internet porn are truly scary- the AVERAGE age a child is exposed to Internet porn is 12! Yes, TWELVE!!!! And it has been proven that viewing porn electronically changes the developing synapses in the brain in ways that paper images do not. And as happens with all addictions the addict needs more and different stimuli to get the same response so the viewing gets more perverse….

    I am a computer teacher- I love technology- I am NOT advocating we all become Amish. I am, however, alarmed by parents who give kids devices that provide 24/7, unfiltered access to the Internet, parents who allow kids to lie about their age to get FaceBook and Google+ accounts before the age of 13, who allow their kids to use the Internet without checking on them. Parents say to me “but I trust my child”… my response is “Yes- but do you trust those sick folks who are reaching out and luring your child in?”

    No one may ever know what events occurred in a Jonathan’s life that he became ill. But I am certain that I need to pray for healing of all those who are ill, and do whatever I can do to STOP the forces of evil in this world!

  13. Oh, Shawn. I am more sorry than I can even begin to say. For ALL of it, most especially for the pain inflicted on this teenage boy and his family. But for ALL of you and how deeply unsettling and mystifying this is. You have found exactly the right words, here, Shawn. Honest and real, open to the possibility of redemption somewhere, somehow, but wondering if it will ever be enough. Oh, Jesus. Redeem it all, bring comfort and assurance where pain and confusion reign. (And “Ruthless Trust” is a great book to be reading in the midst of it all.)

  14. Shawn, sometimes I just pray and say I don’t know how. I tell the Lord that the Holy Spirit will have to take what I don’t know what to say and say it for me. That’s the only thing I know to do sometimes.

  15. Shawn, I can relate to the words you wrote and you expressed them well. So sad for him, the families, friends and the church families involved. God is a God of love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, courage and peace. May we all find that in Christ this Christmas season no matter what life brings our way.

  16. Shawn,
    Someone told me I should read your post.
    You are right—so many mixed emotions. Anger. Betrayal. Sympathy. Frustration. Forgiveness. Condemnation.
    What I keep telling my family is that every decision we make (right or wrong) affects others. Can’t we see the far-reaching ripple effect in this?
    Sin separates. That’s why each one of us needs a Savior. Every single day. Running back to the cross where Christ’s blood was shed for sinners like me…..

    1 Timothy 1:16
    “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

    But for the grace of God, I would be in a prison cell, too…..

  17. Been here. Was a victim of abuse for 12 years, by a family member. Never told anyone because I was afraid. Fast forward 30 or so years, when I was finally able to grasp what it did to my “inner child”, and the turmoil it unknowingly caused. My relationship with Christ enabled me to be released from all the junk that had grown over who I was created to be. In his 60’s, this relative was arrested for unrelated reasons, and was dying in a hospital, under police guard. By God’s incredible mercy, my amazing husband went to him, gave him a message from me that I forgave him, and led him to Christ.

    My humble advise, (although not asked for)…is to go ahead and allow your honest reactions, as Shawn so eloquently is able to put into words. At some point, those reactions must be turned into a proper responses to what has happened to all parties. The victim/s have a wonderfu advantage that I did not have. He/they do not have to heal alone. Be part of that process.

    I am 100% sure that there are others in your church who have been victimized this way…they may or may not have admitted it, or even healed from it themselves. This could open a door that makes your church a part of a much needed safe haven of recovery.. Sexual abuse is rampant, and scary, and embarrassing, and shocking. You now have the opportunity to have eyes wide open. I hope you will all use it to bring God glory….even to the offender.

  18. Oh, Lord, have mercy. May He bring His healing day by day. Just sick about this; one never gets used to hearing such news.

  19. Thanks Shawn,
    I don’t know you, but we know Jon. Tears flow in reading this, restless night thinking about it all. Sad for Jon, for his victim, sad for Jesus, for our children who trusted him, but hopeful in Christ. Words don’t come easy at times like this, but HIS words help. Thank you.

  20. Thank you Shawn for putting into words what many of us parents at GCC are thinking. As a mother of one of the youth in that age group, I too was struggling with my thoughts on this and it hasn’t been out of my head. I will be at church Sunday to help heal and pray for him. Thank you.

  21. Well written Shawn, I would like to say one thing, we, you and I, we know how to pray, for both the victim and the abuser. We might not want to, but we do know how. We know that Christ died for our sins and we know that he is coming again to cleanse this world of all sin. Sometimes we plead, Jesus give us a break and just come already. And yet, He asked us to be his soldiers, we are the front line, and we need to be praying for all involved. God knows our hearts, in this istuation He feels our prayers if we turn towards Him. In this situation, nobody’s life is over, there is still hope, and there is still the chance for Peace in both of their lives. In all of our lives.

    Jesus, give us your strength…

  22. Thank you for finding the words, Shawn. In my prayers, in my heart that aches for our GCC friends, the words to a Kutless song echo over and over: Come Lords Jesus, come. Let the pain and the sorrow be washed away in the waves of his mercy.

  23. I am deeply saddened and very sorry for all of you that have been touched by his actions. You’ve written this with such truth and raw emotion I sat here and cried.

    Time heals
    Love wins
    Patience and compassion will always be a good place to start

    And I think you will find an example of how to move forward in your own book “Think No Evil”

    God Bless each and everyone of you.

  24. shawn, May your

    family , friends, chuch family be ptotected in the next few weeks as you experience this great wound.

    Thanks for your brave decision to go to your church this Sunday. May God go with you and yours/ours.

    al longenecker

  25. I just want to say I’m so sorry for all that you and your church family are going through. Though I do not know any of you, our common love for Jesus cannot help but bind our hearts. I am praying….

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