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About two years ago, my daughter, 11 at the time, suffered something terrible. It broke her and our family. I have tried to “counsel” her. I’ve been her supporter through it all. She did have professional counseling, but stopped because she felt it wasn’t helping.
She has asked me, “Why did God let this happen to me? Why didn’t He stop it?” And I do not have an answer for her. I have asked my church friends, and they talk about our having free will and it’s in Heavenly Father’s plan, but these “answers” hold no comfort for my daughter. I don’t know how to show her that Heavenly Father loves her and cares about her. She says she does not believe any more.
My heart breaks for your little girl. Trauma at any age is awful, but it’s especially difficult to watch a child grapple with their loss of innocence at the hands of an abuser. Children are so trusting and simple in their view of the world. I’m sorry to hear she had to experience something so life altering.
Her questions are actually very normal for anyone who has been abused or betrayed. A belief in our Heavenly Father helps most people feel safe and protected, especially when difficult things happen. However, when someone has a traumatic experience that completely overwhelms his or her ability to cope, it’s common to begin questioning everything, including the reality of a loving and protective God.
We ask these difficult questions because we want to know what we can trust. Trauma is unpredictable and completely changes our perception of the world as safe and orderly. For most people, having a relationship with Heavenly Father is part of that order in the world. When everything is turned upside down from a betrayal, it’s common to wonder what is real and what is false.
Unfortunately, most well meaning people don’t tolerate these types of questions very well and begin providing immediate answers that are really veiled attempts to decrease their own anxieties. They have difficulty tolerating the sincere soul cry of someone who isn’t sure anymore and seek to immediately testify to that person of the reality of a loving God. While they are well intentioned, this approach isn’t helpful to people who are going through a trauma recovery process.
You probably recall the familiar saying of, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Your daughter needs to first know that you and others care about her and see how turned around she is. She needs room to sort through her confusing feelings.
It’s critical that she never feel guilty for asking these questions. She is doing nothing wrong by slowing down and trying to figure out how God works in her life. She is asking important questions and she needs permission and support. I love Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s reassuring teachings on how Heavenly Father gives us space to grow and progress. He said:
God truly knows what we know. He knows the intents of our minds and hearts. He likewise knows our conceptual as well as our environmental limitations. He knows our genetic endowments. He knows the circumstantial interplay of opportunities and limitations. Reassuringly, He also knows our infirmities, sicknesses, pains, and sins. God thus can make all the necessary allowances, as He judges ever so justly our mortal performance. He gives us space or time in which not only to choose but also to repent and to change. In fact, in His plan, finally mercy “overpowereth justice” (Alma 34:15).[i]
I’m glad to know that you aren’t pretending to have all the answers. Even though there are things you are certain of, your daughter is trying to sort through what she knows and doesn’t know. Only God has all of the answers. We are left to live by faith. We have to be gentle and patient with others and ourselves as we seek to build deeper faith and trust in God’s plan for us.
I’m glad you’re not pretending that you have it all figured out with your daughter. She doesn’t need any additional confusion right now, especially from her mother. She’s looking to you for safety and stability in a world that was turned upside down. Admitting that you don’t know all the answers will help her feel safe that she isn’t alone in her quest. It’s perfectly acceptable to share what you do know and invite her to seek with you as you continue to deepen your understanding.
There will be time and space for you to help her identify what she does believe and what gives her peace and comfort. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave inspired counsel on what to do when we lose faith:
In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.[ii]
There is also room to invite her to hear your thoughts on the loving nature of God. She might benefit from hearing you pray with her and for her. Continue with the regular rituals in your home with prayer, scripture study, family home evening, priesthood blessings, and so on. Give her permission to decide how much she feels like participating while consistently extending her opportunities to connect with the Divine.
Elder Richard G. Scott gave two powerful General Conference addresses on healing from abuse. I encourage you to study these talks and pray for opportunities to know how to use his teachings to bless your daughter.[iii]
Your presence in her life will have a tremendous impact on her concept of a loving God. She needs to know if she can count on you to be there for her. She needs to know now more than ever that she isn’t alone and that you can be trusted. As you give her room to ask hard questions and wrestle with uncertainty, she is learning that the world isn’t completely unsafe. She is learning that at least one person can be counted on to protect her. Your presence and protection gives her something that is bigger than any explanation you could give her at this point.
You might consider having her attempt counseling again with a trauma specialist. There are effective trauma protocols, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Lifespan Integration, Somatic Experiencing, play therapy, and other research-based techniques that are highly effective in resolving traumatic symptoms. Talk therapy isn’t always the most effective route to pursue, especially for children.
Stay close to her and show her that she is safe. It will take time for her nervous system, brain, body, and heart to all realign. Continue surrounding her with light, truth, and support. You’re doing more for her than you may realize.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “The Promise of Discipleship”, p. 60
[iii] https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/to-heal-the-shattering-consequences-of-abuse?lang=eng and https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1992/04/healing-the-tragic-scars-of-abuse?lang=eng