We’ve all had those pivotal life experiences, the ones we can look back on years later and say, “That changed who I am as a person.” I wish I could say that those experiences are always for the better, but the truth is that, more often than not, they are failures or hurts that change who we are.
I experienced one of those pivotal life moments when I took in an old friend and allowed her to live with me for several months about ten years ago. We’d lost touch for years, but reconnected through this wonderful new thing called “MySpace.” She’d recently moved back to town and asked if I wanted to meet her for breakfast one morning. Over a plate of eggs and the course of an hour she unfolded a tragic story of her life. The story eventually led to her telling me that she’d left her abusive husband and fled back to Michigan with a friend who was kind enough to take her in.
A few days later, on Thanksgiving night, she called me up and told me that her friend had kicked her out and she had nowhere to go. Since I lived alone and had an extra room, I naturally invited her to stay with me until she could get back on her feet. And she took advantage of my offer – in every way possible.
For my kindness, I was subjected to some of the worst months of my life. While this “friend” lived with me she set about turning my world upside down. She could never hold down a job for more than a few days, which meant I was paying for all of our rent, our food, and her gas money while she “looked for work.” I had just recently started a job myself after spending over half a year on unemployment, so money was tight, but I did everything I could to provide for both of us. At the time, I was unaware that she’d had some money stashed away and was going out and buying herself expensive jewelry and $300 phones while I was struggling to make ends meet.
That would have been bad enough, except that, unbeknownst to me, she was also a pathological liar, determined to tear apart my life piece by piece for no other reason than, as she later admitted, she thought it was too good and she wanted me to be as miserable as she was.
She succeeded. Not only did she eventually drain my bank account down to $38, she launched an elaborate plot to convince me that a crush of mine was secretly in love with (and communicating with) me and that he genuinely wanted a relationship. Looking back, I can’t believe how naive I was, but she’d managed to pull in several friends to help her with the ruse, and as I wanted to trust her, I did.
It was months until her house of lies came crashing down around both of us. And in the rubble of our relationship, as I was sorting through what had been true (very little) and what was lies (almost every aspect of our friendship, past and present), I determined in my heart that I would never be taken advantage of in the same way again.
“In my new reality, people were guilty until proven innocent. It was the only way I could protect myself.”
Clearly, because I couldn’t trust her, I couldn’t trust anyone. I came to believe there was something fatally flawed in me that I actually fell for her elaborate (and yet paper-thin) lies. If I had been more observant, more aware, slower to open my home and my heart to another, none of it would have ever happened. And to make sure it never happened again, I had to change.
In an effort to protect myself, I didn’t just build brick walls around my heart – I added a mote and drawbridge. I threw some crocodiles in for good measure. I was going to consider everyone the enemy until they proved otherwise. And no one got the benefit of the doubt. In my new reality, people were guilty until proven innocent. It was the only way I could protect myself.
By protecting myself, I also cut myself off from living. To enter into a relationship of any kind with me became difficult. I expected to be rejected and hurt, so if people did reject me, I wasn’t surprised. If they didn’t, well, that was nice, but I knew it would happen eventually. And of course that became a self-fulfilling prophecy because by keeping everyone at arm’s length, my relationships had no depth or room to grow.
In fact, this life experience nearly robbed me of the opportunity to get married. While I was dating Hubby, I had to come to a point where I made a conscious decision to trust him, and more than that, to trust God, who had clearly brought him into my life. It was dangerous, and one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s one of the most difficult things I’m still doing. Because once you choose not to trust, to never trust again, it’s hard to change that. A hard heart doesn’t become soft overnight.
I’ve been reading Lysa TerKeurst’s book Uninvited recently and a certain phrase practically leapt off the page at me. “It’s impossible to hold up the banners of victim and victory at the same time.”
I was a victim of my supposed friend’s schemes. No doubt about that. I had done nothing but show her compassion, and for my kindness, I’d been wounded. For nearly a decade, I lived out of that woundedness. I allowed every single relationship in my life to be colored by that one experience. And in so doing, I was living as a victim.
The lure of living as a victim is strong. It convinces you that you deserve restitution for the wrong that was done to you, and you spend your entire life looking for recognition and justification of your wounds. You live in constant, often subconscious, awareness of your brokenness, and you’re looking to make it right by forcing everyone around you to pay for the wrongs of others. But living as a victim is toxic, and it will pollute every part of your life.
“Living as a victim is toxic, and it will pollute every part of your life.”
Yes, I was hurt. I was deeply wounded through the actions of another, through absolutely no fault of my own. It was wrong and I did not deserve it. But she victimized me at that place, in that time. It was me who was choosing to live out life as a victim for the last decade. She sabotaged a few months of my life. I was allowing my own fears to sabotage the last ten years.
You can’t live as both a victim and a victor. At some point, I had to stop letting the wounds of my past carry over and infect my present. I had to face those fears head on, examine how they were influencing me, and decide whether or not I wanted to continue living in that woundedness, or if I wanted to reclaim my life and live free of the victim mentality.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “But you don’t know how I’ve been hurt,” you’re right. I don’t. I don’t know what has been done to victimize you, and I don’t know the pain you have felt. But I do know the crippling consequences of allowing that pain to bleed into every aspect of your life. I know the chains of victimization. I know the darkness of wanting to be justified and punishing myself for my pain because there is no one else there to take the blame.
And I know it’s not worth it.
I know life as a victim is a constant struggle. It is a pain that never heals because you keep tearing the wound open, time and time again, all the while hoping someone will come along who will make it all better.
The problem is, no human being can ever do that for you. Your healing isn’t in their hands. Your healing is found in the hands of One who was nailed to a cross. He was victimized too. He was beaten beyond recognition, stripped naked, and had nails driven through His hands and feet. He suffered for hours, on display before the whole world, until He finally drew His last breath.
Yet He asked for forgiveness for those who were victimizing him. Buried in a sealed tomb, still He broke free from the bonds of darkness and death and rose again. And He has the power to help you rise as well.
But you have to choose to let Him bring you healing. You have to make the choice to stop living as a victim, stop letting your past dictate your future. Only you can do that. Only I could do that.
You can’t live as both a victim and a victor. One promises a lifetime of pain. The other promises a season of pain as you overcome, and then the hope of freedom and new life. The circumstances that hurt you may have been out of your hands, but your future is still yours to choose.