By Preston Hill
I have found it helpful to frame my journey of recovery from childhood trauma in terms of three classic theological virtues: faith, hope, and love.
Faith means believing something you do not yet see. It means trusting. Not blind trust or a leap in the dark. More like the joy of surrender into the loving embrace of another. Faith is what comes naturally to children: learning to let go and jump into the embrace of powerful love.
My daughter often will stand on top of our living room coffee table and tip over, expecting me to catch her. Many people call this a “trust fall.” Sometimes she is so bold and abandoned to the fall that I barely feel like I make in time to catch her. She has not yet learned that trust can sometimes be put to shame.
For survivors of childhood sexual abuse, it is hard to have faith in people, to trust people, because it is a basic tactic of perpetrators to betray trust. Perpetrators are often trusted friends, family members, or someone close to the child who offers gifts and rewards to bring the child into a closer relationship. This is the “grooming” process. And when the abuse happens, it feels like leaning into a trust fall without anyone catching you, and worse, finding out that the person you trusted took delight in seeing you fall and get hurt.
That is enough to make you never want to trust again.
But with time, with care, with risk, with recovery, it becomes possible to trust again. To learn that evil actually wants me to never trust anyone because that is the quickest path to ruining love. The scary and liberating truth is that you can never ensure you won’t get hurt. You just have to trust those who are trustworthy. I am grateful that I have learned to trust again.
Which leads to love. Love is the enjoyment and delight that is the reward when trust works out well. When my daughter falls into my arms and risks her faith in my ability to catch her, we fall down together and end up in a tickle fight. We are laughing, embracing, and wrestling. We are experiencing the delight of faith fulfilled, which is love.
But hope is harder for me.
While faith takes a risk-based on your past experiences of someone’s trustworthiness, and love is the joy of that risk being rewarded in the present moment, hope looks to the future. Hope goes farther than faith and love in that it expects good to come.
I’m not a fortune teller. I can’t see the future. Sure, I can risk trust and faith in others. Sure, I can enjoy love when that trust works out. But hope? Seriously? That seems just plain ridiculous. How can I be expected to expect and plan for good to happen?
And then I remember a childhood song from church camp… “Father Abraham.”
The bible talks about Father Abraham as someone like you and me. He trusted God, and his faith in God was not put to shame. In fact, God made a love covenant with Abraham and blessed many nations through Abraham. Faith led to love.
Here is the catch. Abraham was only able to do this by hoping.
“Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become the father of many nations according to what was said” (Rom. 4:18).
According to what God had said to him. Even though Abraham wanted to trust God and he experience the love of God, Abraham took it a step further. He hoped in God to fulfill God’s promises.
What I love most about Father Abraham’s hope is that it was not cheap. It was not naïve. It was a hope surrounded by difficulties. He had plenty of reasons not to hope for God’s goodness. But he hoped anyway. He would not surrender to the temptation of evil to easy cynicism, to thwarting desire before it even has a chance to be fulfilled. That is easy. To kill desire before it can be disappointed. Hope is harder. It requires holding out. It requires vulnerability to the future, even when the present seems dim. Against all odds, Abraham hoped in God. He didn’t just hope. He hoped against hope.
Hope is all about expecting and planning on promises to be fulfilled. Promise comes from the Latin pro-missio, which means a “forward mission.” God has told us what is to come. Hope is when we live like we believe what God has told us.
This brings me to sexual trauma and recovery. Like my daughter, I am learning to trust. To fall into love with others, day-to-day. I am learning to enjoy connections of love. My next step in the journey is to learn to hope. To not just slug by and take the good as it comes, but to actively plan for the good to come, to expect it, to even bank on it. That is a radical posture of abandoning to God’s goodness that just feels so liberating and fresh. It feels risky and thrilling.
I bet that is what my daughter feels like when she leaps into the air, trusting, loving, and yes, hoping against hope that her papa will catch her again and again as long as she jumps.
Preston Hill, Ph.D.Survivor, Theologian, Assistant Professor of Integrative Theology
Preston is an Assistant Professor of Integrative Theology at Richmont Graduate University where he teaches theology and psychology in the School of Counseling and School of Ministry. He is also under supervision for licensure as a pastoral therapist. His doctoral research at the University of St Andrews was on Christ’s descent into hell in Christian theology and the integration of these insights with traumatology. As a male survivor and advocate, Preston is passionate about relating the significance of Christ’s own suffering and terrors in his descent into hell to the hells that we experience here and now, especially for survivors of severe trauma.
Posted in: Finding Hope In Trauma