I work with men who have caused such tremendous pain in another’s life that it has become obvious to me that the only way to heal from abuse (of any kind) is through the atonement of Jesus Christ. I am a therapist working as a sex offender treatment provider, and have also worked with people who have been victimized in the most horrendous ways imaginable. I have been able to witness the atonement in very extreme situations and have seen miraculous testimonies of the grace of God.

The longer I have worked with these clients, the more I have come to see the world differently than I once did. Where I once saw a world full of good and evil, I now see a world full of wounded people—people who either overcome that woundedness, succumb to it, or are still somewhere in the middle just trying to survive. I am writing to those in the third category, those victims of abuse, and those who love them. I am writing to those who have come to the painful realization that surviving is not living, and, above all, seek relief and healing.

Where I once saw a world full of good and evil, I now see a world full of wounded people

I feel a great responsibility to share this message; I see every day, first-hand, the possible path of a victim who does not heal—that painful path from harmed to harming. It becomes even more important, then, to spread this message of healing. You may ask yourself, is healing even possible? Is healing actually attainable for me? I testify that it is. Through what power? The same power through which lepers were healed and the blind see. Through whose hands? The same whose hands created the heavens and the earth. Through whose name? The same whose name has been called upon from the very beginning to perform any and all tasks pertinent to the salvation of man—Jesus Christ. It is his Atonement through which healing is not only made possible, but can absolutely be realized.

My hope is to share with you three spiritual steps that will help you or someone you love gain more access to the atonement of Jesus Christ in order to heal. The three steps may seem vague and general, but once understood in a more applicable way they can be life changing, and in some cases even life-saving. In order to experience the healing hand of Christ in our lives through His atonement we must believe, grow, and forgive.

Believe

First, believe. There is a difference between believing in Christ and believing Christ.[1] The former means you believe He lived, that He died, and that He lives again. The latter is to believe in His words; to believe Him when He says He can heal us. Elder Bednar confirmed this idea when he said:

Believing Him is trusting that His bounteous blessings are available and applicable in our individual lives and families. Believing Him with our whole soul comes as we press forward along the covenant pathway, surrender our will to His, and submit to His priorities and timing for us. Believing Him—accepting as true His power and promises—invites perspective, peace, and joy into our lives.[2]

Some of us fall short of believing Christ when we simply believe in Him yet fail to believe His words. Many hear the words “I can heal you,”[3] and think that the Lord is speaking to someone else. We cannot fall for that thinking. If we believe in Christ as the Son of God, then we ought to believe that He is all-powerful,[4] all-knowing,[5] all-present,[6] and all-loving.[7] If He is all-powerful, then He has the power to heal us. If he is all-knowing, then he knows how to heal us personally. If He is all-present, then He is available to heal us, no appointment needed. And above all else, He is all-loving—He has the desire to heal us of the wounds only He can heal.

Many hear the words “I can heal you,” and think that the Lord is speaking to someone else.

When He says we can be whole, do we believe Him? When He says we can be clean, do we believe Him? When we hear his plea, “…return unto me…that I may heal you…” (3 Nephi 9:13), do we believe Him? Perhaps it is difficult for you to believe Him. As a therapist who has worked with both victims and abusers, I understand better than most the reasons why someone may be timid to trust again, baffled with the thought of belief.

Let’s say you want to believe Him and you just don’t know where start in your journey. I encourage clients that have similar reservations about treatment to pretend for a time that they do believe. I tell them to think, “What if I did believe that treatment would help me, how would that change the way I am thinking about this situation? How would it change the way I feel about this situation? How would it change that way I behave in this situation? Then I will think, feel, and behave that way and see what happens.” Do the same with believing that Christ can heal you. Ask yourself, “If I really believed that Christ could heal me, how would that change my thoughts, feelings, and/or behavior right now? Then I will think, feel, and behave that way and see what happens.”

Grow

Second, grow. There is this concept in clinical psychology—posttraumatic growth—defined as “positive psychological changes experienced as a result of the struggle with trauma or highly challenging situations.”[8] In my opinion, it is just a clinical way to refer to the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

We can grow as a result of the trauma we experience.

The beautiful thing about posttraumatic growth is that it verifies in a scientific field the truth that religion has been teaching from the very beginning: we can grow as a result of the trauma we experience. This is not to say that what you experienced was good for you, or even necessary. What it does mean is that our traumatic experiences can become the soil for new growth, if we allow the Lord to help us do so. The story of The Creation is a great example of this new growth. The Lord does not create something from nothing. He creates something from something else that is already there. That something before The Creation was darkness and chaos (Genesis 1:2). Trauma brings darkness and chaos into our lives. So as you behold your life and see the darkness and chaos lurking deep within, be hopeful, for the Lord now has materials with which he can create a new world for you. He gives “beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:1-3):

The…Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek…to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…to comfort all that mourn…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness….

We read those words “beauty for ashes” or “oil of joy for mourning” and may fall for the temptation to believe that those are things that will occur “one day.” Something we fail to realize about the Atonement, and in this case healing, is that it is not something that happens “one day.” It is something that is happening now. If we do not come to realize that, we may become bitter or feel cheated because we feel we have not yet received something we were promised. But the reality is that we have been receiving it all along.

When we share the account of the woman healed of a blood of 12 years by touching the hem of the Savior’s garment, we usually focus on a single miracle, the healing of the woman. But may I suggest that there was an additional miracle? —one less-commonly spoken about and one that was performed before she was entirely healed. It was the fact that the woman was able to live 12 years with an issue of blood, lose everything trying to overcome it, and still, when she was standing in front of the Savior, have the faith to be healed. What if she allowed bitterness to control her life after all those years? What if she lost all hope and, thus, all faith? What if she allowed the Savior to walk by, while she sat there angrily? She would have missed her big miracle. I believe that the first miracle was the daily miracle of being sustained through grace, to the point where when her day came and she was standing in front of her healer, she was ready. She grew through the difficulties over those 12 years, she did not collapse beneath the weight of it. We must do the same.

Pray for your eyes to be opened so that you may more easily behold the daily healing.

I have seen bitterness as a common response to abuse—understandably so—but we cannot let it take root and blind us from the fact that we are being sustained grace upon grace, day by day, year by year. Look for those daily graces, pray for your eyes to be opened so that you may more easily behold the daily healing. We cannot let bitterness dominate our life in that we lose sight of how the Lord is healing us each day, at least just enough so we do not succumb to the darkness. We cannot feed bitterness, it is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. Do not poison yourself, do not let bitterness become the driving force in your life. The opposite of bitterness is growth. Allow yourself to grow because of the experiences you have had, especially the ones that were painful.

Forgive

Lastly, forgive. Before I continue, I acknowledge that what I am about to say is much easier said than done. I have worked with many victims over the years. I commonly ask them the same question: “Have you, or could you, forgive the person who did this to you?” Answers are always mixed. Some even angry at the thought. So, I will acknowledge that it is easier said than done. As a father of a murder victim once told me, “You cannot fake forgiveness.” Hard as it may be, that does not make it any less essential in our path to healing. All things worth doing can easily be shewed away with the “easier said than done” mentality.

Sister Yee, who is the Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, realized how essential forgiveness is for healing and shared her experience in General Conference in October of 2022.[9] She described how she endured verbal and emotional abuse from her father when she was young. She describes how difficult it was for her to forgive him, until she came to this great realization: “Over the years and in my efforts to find peace and healing on the path of forgiveness, I came to realize in a profound way that the same Son of God who atoned for my sins is the same Redeemer who will also save those who have deeply hurt me. I could not truly believe in the first truth without believing the second.”

Sister Yee left all gall and bitterness behind her. She realized then, as all of us one day will, that the same God who forgives our sins will just as readily and just as quickly forgive the sins of those who have deeply harmed us, if they sincerely repent. In that day we will have no excuse. So wait no longer to put off the necessary step on our healing path. Act now, do not wait.

I understand all too well why some may hesitate to forgive. Perhaps they understand as the father of the murder victim that one cannot fake forgiveness and they do not feel that they are ready to take such a step. I offer this peace. Forgiveness is not an event; it is a process. Instead of worrying about when you will complete that process, focus on when you will begin that process. And if you are not ready to forgive your abuser yet, forgive those people who let you down. Forgive your parents. Forgive your teachers. Forgive the person who enabled your abuser. Forgive the justice system if it failed you. Forgive the people who were supposed to protect you and did not do so. Finally, forgive yourself.

Forgiveness is not an event; it is a process. Instead of worrying about when you will complete that process, focus on when you will begin that process.

As we rely on the Lord to believe, grow, and forgive, He will bless us with specific gifts. The first gift is love, President Nelson said, and more specifically, “the capacity to love the unlovable and those who not only do not love you but presently persecute and despitefully use you.” Second, President Nelson continued, He will gift us with the power to forgive, more specifically, “[to forgive] those who have hurt you and who may never accept responsibility for their cruelty to you.” With this love and forgiveness, He can make it so “their hurtful acts can no longer canker your soul.”[10]

I invite you to seek Christ in your journey of healing. I have witnessed first-hand what happens when one seeks healing in the dark and lonely places of the world. I testify with every ounce of my soul of the reality of the healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. The Lord is our Savior, and equally so, He is our Healer. We cannot believe the one and not the other. The only way to truly heal from the abuse and trauma that darkens our lives is to believe, grow, and forgive through the atoning power of Jesus Christ.

Notes: 

[1] Robinson, S.E. (2010). Believing Christ. Bookcraft Pubs

[2] Bednar, D.A. (Oct. 2016). “If Ye Had Known Me,” Ensign. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[3] 3 Nephi 9:13

[4] Matthew 28:18

[5] Acts 15:18

[6] D&C 88:5-13

[7] Romans 8:35-39

[8] Tedeschi, R. G., Shakespeare-Finch, J., Taku, K., & Calhoun, L. G. (2018). Posttraumatic Growth: Theory, Research, and Applications. Routledge.

[9] Yee, K.M. (Oct. 2022). “Beauty for Ashes: The Healing Path for Forgiveness,” Liahona. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[10] Nelson, R.M. (Dec. 2018). “Four Gifts That Jesus Christ Offers You,” 2018 Christmas Devotional. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/broadcasts/article/christmas-devotional/2018/12/four-gifts-that-jesus-christ-offers-to-you?lang=eng.