Progressively Deeper: Philemon
Updated: Nov 8, 2019
Before I go any further, I do want to let y'all know that in this story there will be a lot of tough topics talked about. Not in, like, crazy detail. But, it's polite to let you know. And, know that there is a good ending, as I am still here, and happier than ever.
So, Warnings for rape, sexual assault, abuse, suicide attempts, depression, PTSD.
So, yeah, great fun times.... The backstory needed to understand the impact of this book on my life goes over some of the worst years of my life.
But, the inverse is also true: throughout this whole story, there is also God, peace, hope, love, and growth.
Because God lifted me from those situations and gave me new hope. Just like it says in Jonah 2, I was trapped in the deep, but God lifted me up. (As an aside, if you deal with depression, read the prayer in Jonah 2)
So, to the story.
I have been in multiple abusive relationships. I have been used and abused, raped and thrown out, betrayed and called unlovable. I was diagnosed with PTSD my Junior year of college due to my experiences of the first two years of college.
To be honest, I don't remember most of my first two years. There are a lot of holes in my memory from my brain trying to protect me. I still get new memories now, 7 years later.
My Junior year? I couldn't remember anything. Like, really. I had no recollection of pretty much anything. I knew my coursework, and I knew my way around campus and town. But, I couldn't tell you anything about hang outs or my time with my boyfriends at the time. I remembered who I dated, but that was it. I filled in the rest of the blanks as I reached them as I felt was fitting.
My Junior year, I finally was free from my worst abuser, and I made it a goal to reconnect with God, as I knew that my faith had been tossed to the backburner during that time. I dove into my Bible, I connected with a ministry group (the one I had talked about before), and I prayed.
Oh, goodness, how I prayed.
I realized that there was something amiss. That there were blanks and that I was responding in really strange ways to things. So. I prayed. I prayed to understand, I prayed for wisdom, I prayed for healing, I prayed for patience while healing.
Every time I had a free moment, I was praying for something.
And eventually, God answered.
I mean, He was always answering. God is not the god who ignores. He is God.
So, anyways, when the time was perfect, He let me know what was going.
You see, as I said in the podcast, Philemon is not a stand out book. Like, it isn't. Hell, half of the church can't even agree on how to say it. And the other half doesn't even realize that that's a problem because they've never had to say it out loud.
But, it's because of that quality that I knew it was from God.
If it were a passage in Isaiah or Matthew or Proverbs, I would have just told myself that I was reading too far into it, that I was looking for it and made up what I saw. (This realization about myself and my nature also leads to my 100% or 0% deal with God - when He tells me things, He has to make it so obvious and leave 0% wiggle room, because I WILL latch on to that 5% even if I don't want to. If He does, I comply without complaint, even if I hate it.)
So, I was praying. And I suddenly felt... different. Just. I don't know, different. I got up and grabbed my Bible and stared at it. I closed my eyes while praying and opened up. I saw it was Philemon, and kinda grimaced. Like, I thought I had done something wrong, that I was grasping at straws and was wrong.
But, then I thought, you know what, screw it. It's like 20 verses, just read it. If it's nothing, you can still check off a book from the Bible reading list.
So I did.
And as I did, I grabbed my pen without thinking and started to randomly underline words and phrases. None of which made sense to me at the time.
Afterwards, however, it wrote me a letter. That struck right to my heart. I'll write it down for you all and explain it as we go.
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (v 6)
I had always been nervous about sharing my faith. Never wanted to impose. Even mentioning that I was Christian made me nervous, due to the fact that I befriended many who were not, and I didn't want them to think I was only befriending them to convert them. But, since then, I have become more confident in myself faith wise, and have grown to love God more by seeing others grow by me sharing my story.
I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. (v 8b-9a)
So, one of my constant prayers at this time was for me to be a good Christian (tm). Like, I wanted to fit the mold of all of the good boys and girls around me in this church group because I knew I was different from all of them due to the damage that I had carried with me. And, so, I prayed almost every day for God to help me be good. I prayed about how I was doing all of the things that I was told Good Christians do, and yet I was still broken and still seen as an outsider, and I didn't know what was wrong. I prayed that God would command me to do what it is that I ought to do, that He would literally get so concise about it that it would even be like, "Step Left, Step Right." (I remember those being exact prayers I would say, "Please God, command me so I cannot mess up, please control me to the point where I cannot even step wrong")
And yet, here was God, straight up telling me that He wouldn't do that, because He knew my heart. This was honestly one of the goosebumps moments I had and how I had the feeling this was legit.
I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. (v 14)
Once again, this is almost an exact continuation. This is part two of the previous sentence, and it's 5 verses later. And, once again, it hit me in the deepest part of my soul. It was a direct answer to a prayer I had been begging for. I had wanted to pretty much be a robot for God, as I no longer felt that I, as a person, was worth anything or capable of ever doing good. And here was God, telling me that I was full of it.
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good. (v 15)
I had lamented with God over the fact that I had lost my faith while I was dating my ex. God, why did you leave me? Why did you have me endure that? Why couldn't I have kept my faith during this struggle? Why did I HAVE that struggle?
And this, I feel, was the answer. It's a part of it, at least.
It's similar to in the Psalms, how the Psalmist sings that they feel cut off, alone, rejected. Until they go through a trial, and then their faith in God is cemented.
It's... it's more than that, but the words are hard for me to come up with. It's just... it's just a feeling in my chest.
I fell away from my faith. In my hubris and in my pain, I ran away from God. And, now, as someone who has been through hell and back, I realize now just how vital God is to my life. How vital He has been to my life.
And now that I recognize that, I will not let that faith fall away again.
If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. (v 18)
So, this verse might seem strange to you.
It did to me.
And, well, it won't make sense until you finish the letter. So, I'll come back to this. But, I wanted to keep it in the same order.
I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident in your obedience, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. (v 20-21)
God wants me to give back. And, once again, He doesn't want to force it or command me like a robot. Because He knows my heart. He knows that I will do what I am supposed to, hell, even more than expected. And, once again, this is a direct answer to my prayer about whether I was worth... well... existing.
He wants me to refresh myself in God. To stop with that view of myself that was created by my abusers, and instead see myself as God sees me. He knows that I will put myself to work and work for His good. That He doesn't need to command me to do so.
I don't think I'm perfect in any way, shape, or form. But I do know that I have a heart for God. I know that God, to me, isn't something I believe in, or something I have hope in. God just is. Like, His existence is as obvious and factual to me as the idea that 2 year olds are assholes and cookie tins only carry sewing supplies. There is no room for confusion or wiggle room. He just... is. And that level of confidence in God has led me to act in ways that others have said are courageous, that I just found obvious. It is this level of confidence that has led to me having peace in my soul despite all turbulence.
It's good stuff.
Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. (v 22)
Like.. okay. This is a direct prayer that I asked for. Like, verbatim.
And... here God is, answering it.
Telling me that He's here, that my heart is ready for Him once more. And that He will restore me as I have been begging. That I will have Him in my soul as I had been crying for.
I cried when I read this. I remember that.
Anyways, that's the letter. I'm gonna go back to v 18 now.
If he has done you any wrong, or owes you anything, charge it to me.
Back here again.
One of my main prayers before this whole thing was trying to figure out what was wrong. As I said above, I had no memories of this time. I was having severe insomnia (like, I went a solid week without sleep), nightmares whenever I did sleep. I was in pain all the time, and had no idea why. I was having, like, 5 panic attacks a day for no discernible reason. I was terrified of everything. I had always been a social butterfly growing up, and suddenly the idea of talking to pretty much anyone made me hyperventilate. I was harming myself, I had no rest, and I kept dreaming of dying. Hoping for it.
I knew this wasn't normal. I knew I wasn't okay. But I had nothing to really point to as a reason for me being so unhealthy.
A few days after I got this letter, and sat on it, I had a very important moment in my life.
I remembered being raped. Being abused.
I remembered it all.
God used this letter to let me know that He felt I was ready.
That I had a community strong enough to let me survive this. That I had a strong enough faith in Him to turn to Him in my pain. That I wouldn't let this simmer and drag me further down, that instead I would use this as a handhold to launch myself back up to healthy instead of as a weight to drown me.
And He was right.
Holy shit it hurt.
But. I got back up.
About 6 months later, I was going through my Bible for the school year (I've tried to get a different Bible each year so I can compare notes), and I saw this letter again. And, at that time, this line finally made sense.
You see, over that 6 months, I wrestled a lot with what happened. Lots of therapy, lots of prayer, lots of community.
But I was filled with anger towards the men that did this to me. Rage seeped out of me whenever I thought of them. And all I wanted was my revenge.
But... this line.
It broke that need.
If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.
The pain that those men did to me, charge it to God. Give it to God.
Just like how God tells us throughout the Old Testament to let God fight for us, and to sit back and let God fight for us.
It is the same with our pain and our revenge.
Tell God, and give it to Him.
He'll deal with it.
He'll take on your anger and your pain and your rage at being mistreated and harmed. He'll take that. Unload it all on God, and then He'll go to work.
I don't know how, I don't know when.
But I know God has something in store for those who did these unspeakable things to me.
They'll either come to God and repent.
Or they'll face righteous fury and get their comeuppance.
Regardless, God has it taken care of. And by giving all of my anger about it to Him. By charging Him with my guilt and rage and fury and revenge, it has left me. I got it out of my system. My valid feelings and emotions, I felt them, they were valid, and I used them up towards God.
And now my heart is free and light and at peace.
Because God is good. Always.
Thanks be to God.