The Damaged Reader

Not like I am some overly sensitive guy, but often when I hear a sermon in church or some Christian presentation, I cringe when a pastor or speaker might say something to the effect, “Raising a family is the most important thing a married man and woman do in their lives.”

I agree it is very important, but I also think about the middle age couple four rows in front of me who had multiple miscarriages and spent much of their relationship in emotional and spiritual pain, wondering why God was taking them through this valley of shadows.

And then I see a book in the bookstore proclaiming, “Raising a family is the most important thing a married man and woman do in their lives.”

I feel like hiding it.

Probably because I have been in the communications business my entire working life, I have taken the communication maxim of, “know your audience,” to an extreme. In general, I tend to think of the audience first when determining what I should say or write and change my presentation to fit them.

I communicate differently to aspiring authors than I would to people who work at a publishing company.  Same general message, just with a little different tone and angle.

You have an idea for a book, you write it, it’s published and sells well. You get emails (no one sends notes anymore) through your website about how helpful your book was, how it made them see a new aspect of Jesus, a new way God is working in their life. You feel like God has used you and you are faithfully working for his purposes. That’s because you are.

What they didn’t tell you in their note was they are a damaged reader. And not because they were the victim of some terrible thing from years ago, or they overcame some unspeakable tragedy in their life.

Some readers are the person who did a terrible thing from years ago or caused an unspeakable tragedy in someone else’ life.

Do you personally know anyone who is a registered sex offender? In American society, this is lowest caste of all. No one is more hated. They would be classified as damaged readers.

Some RSO’s read the Bible and Christian books.

God is not finished with them and neither should Christians be finished with them. Recognizing that some of your readers are actually part of the problem and not the solution makes this very complicated.

Many people write books about overcoming the effects of abuse as a child. God works miracles in lives every day allowing people to deal with the damage caused by it.

But there was an abuser who needs the presence of a loving God in their life. The guilt they may carry follows them all the days of their lives.

The damaged reader is a tough issue to grasp. It is not simple. Most books for damaged readers are written for the victim-readers, not the sinner-readers.

Parents need to know how to help their children deal with bullies at school. But bullies have parents too and they need something a little different.

Women who have been victims of domestic violence need strong and swift help to get out of danger and rebuild their lives.

The perpetrators of the violence need to be punished, then told of God’s grace and forgiven if they want it. This is not easy.

Whatever you write, it is going into a damaged world where unexpected audiences are reading what you write.

Often we feel like one group of damaged readers should be handled with great care and spiritual maturity and another group of damaged readers should be shown the gates of hell.

The abusers. The predators. The killers. God has no room for them.

Or does he?

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:31-39 NIV)

44 Responses to The Damaged Reader

  1. Brennan S. McPherson October 17, 2017 at 3:41 am #

    Wow. Heavy post, Dan. This past year it seems so many people in my family have gone through extreme pain, and just yesterday my wife and I lost a beloved family pet under terrible circumstances. Definitely makes me think a little differently about those who suffer (those who afflict others included).

  2. Kathy Nickerson October 17, 2017 at 4:57 am #

    Do you think it is possible for us to write in such a way that both the victim and the perpetrator can be touched at the same time? Maybe it would be easier to do that through fiction.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 17, 2017 at 7:47 am #

      Kathy, Susan Howatch did this really well in “Scandalous Risks”, the fourth book of her six-volume “Starbridge” epic. It’s the story of a relationship between an ambitious – an married – Church of England clergyman and a young aristocratic woman.

      Both are victims, and both are predators; Howatch handles the story with skill, compassion, and grace.

      If you haven’t read the series, I’d suggest you put it on your list; it’ll be an experience you won’t regret.

    • Norma Brumbaugh October 27, 2017 at 7:31 pm #

      I am responding late to your comment, but I hope this gets read. The answer is yes, unequivocally yes. The solution to the troubles, problems, and sins in life are found in Jesus. He forgives, redeems, transforms, and restores the person who seeks him with their whole heart, soul, and being. This never makes wrong, right, but it does make God the answer to every person’s spiritual and personal need. I believe the answer is the same for every person (in varying degrees of insight according to their openness and willingness to be real with God ), Christ is the answer, and he is where hope is found for every individual, no matter how damaged or innocent. Our words must convey this message of hope for all the world. I passionately believe this as true.

  3. Judith Robl October 17, 2017 at 5:16 am #

    David, yes, King David of Israel, was one of your damaged readers.

    He was both victim and perpetrator. Victim of Saul; perpetrator against Uriah and Bathsheba.

    He committed every sin in the book, doubly heinous because he was in a position of authority and power. But he is remembered as “a man after God’s own heart”.

    When we spend our time and our words revealing who God is and how He deals with mankind, we just might be able to speak to both victim and perpetrator in the same writing.

    Now there’s a goal.

  4. Sherrie Giddens October 17, 2017 at 5:23 am #

    I have been saying this for a very long time! It can be a difficult process to forgive, but if we are to be forgiven we must also forgive and that requires recognizing the humanity of even the most damaged offenders.

  5. April Cassidy October 17, 2017 at 5:26 am #

    Dan,
    Thank you so much for this important message! I have noticed that once people are labeled “abuser” it is almost like we believe they are beyond hope. But I have seen quite a few abusers find healing and complete transformation in Christ. That is what I long to see for everyone. Of course, it’s messy. Dealing with all of the issues involved. But most of the time we all have a very similar process of healing to go through.

    Honestly, all sin is “abusive” in some way. It hurts God. It hurts others. It hurts us. And we are all in need of the cross of Christ and His mercy and grace.

  6. Carol Ashby October 17, 2017 at 5:39 am #

    I resonate with this post, Dan. The robber on the cross next to Jesus was probably there because he’d murdered someone in the robbery. Simple thievery didn’t get you crucified under Roman law. Repentance and faith is all it takes to enter the kingdom. All sins are mortal apart from Jesus’s sacrifice for us.

    I don’t know the stories of the readers who post reviews or send emails about the message of forgiveness, even of an enemy who’s killed someone you love, that’s the overarching theme of my novels. I do know how much I rejoice when someone is touched by the message that being forgiven by God themselves gives them the ability to love and forgive those whom they would naturally hate.

  7. Robin Patchen October 17, 2017 at 5:52 am #

    Amen and well said! I try to write with the damaged reader in mind (though I never thought of it that way). This is a great reminder.

  8. Damon J. Gray October 17, 2017 at 6:03 am #

    If anything, I tend to err in the opposite direction, laboring to persuade men and women that grace is enormous, and sufficient even for them. The “I’m too far gone” message simply will not fly.

    One of my seminary professors said something during our study of Romans 5 & 6 – “Until you teach God’s grace in such a way that people think sin doesn’t matter anymore, you haven’t taught God’s grace the way Paul taught it, because that’s exactly what happened.”

    • rochellino October 17, 2017 at 11:53 am #

      I don’t know if you agreed with your seminary professor but I totally reject their premise to teach God’s grace so that people think that “sin doesn’t matter anymore”.

      I may say that PAST sins up to the point of conversion have been forgiven. I certainly do not agree with a blanket claim that “sin no longer matters” as the great deceiver and his followers wants one to believe.

      The “Ten Commandments” have not been repealed or “translated” to be the “Ten Suggestions” to conform to todays culture. Read John 8, 2 through 12 and see where the adulteress was forgiven her PAST sins but was instructed by Jesus to “go and sin no more”.

      One can easily see that a claim that “sin doesn’t matter anymore”, especially coming from a “Christian”, could cause someone to sin.

      Proverbs 28:10
      Whoever causes the upright to go astray in an evil way, He himself will fall into his own pit; But the blameless will inherit good.

      • Damon J. Gray October 17, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

        IF you read Romans 5 & 6, you’ll find that is exactly what happened to the church at Rome. They came to the conclusion that they should sin with reckless abandon because sin caused God’s grace to abound to them. Paul wrote the opening to Chapter six to shake them loose from that misguided understanding. The point is, God’s grace is much gander than any of us realizes.

        • rochellino October 17, 2017 at 2:18 pm #

          To quote Dr. David Jeremiah (Jeremiah Study Bible) chapters Romans 1-5 deal with the past (justification) and chapters 6-8 deal with the present (sanctification).

          He goes on to say “Only the most corrupt mind using the most perverted logic could argue that continuing to sin somehow honors the God who sacrificed His son to save people in the first place”

          A position such as this would indeed be ludicrous whether espoused by the early Roman church or anybody else before or after.

          My point is that we all must be careful what we are putting into this world. It is especially incumbent upon communicators for the Kingdom whether it be written, spoken, broadcast, evangelized or otherwise to exercise extreme diligence to be quite accurate and not add or subtract from His word.

          We can agree that God’s grace and mercy is beyond understanding.

          God Bless!

  9. Sheriena McEvers October 17, 2017 at 6:07 am #

    I totally get your message. How often do you hear someone share in church the pain and self-hatred for being an abuser? How God has set them free from serious anger issues. It’s easier to feel sorry for the victim than the perpetrator. But the perpetrator was once a victim who became the abuser. There are a lot of hurting people with no one to talk to because we are quick to judge. I know. I’m attempting to write such a story. Maybe this winter I will finish it.

  10. Karen Saari October 17, 2017 at 6:11 am #

    Wow this is a hard subject for me. I was married for 26 years to an abusive man, who also sexually abused our daughter. He played the game of ‘Of course I want to be a better man.’ but he did nothing to achieve that goal. At one point my daughter worked through a Christian workbook with a counselor and it was suggested that he (on his own, not with her) go through the workbook as well. He was all for it, and I bought the book. He never touched it. When I asked him about it he said, “It’s just too hard for me to go through it all again.” He meant it for sympathy, but I took it as laziness and immaturity. I know my daughter didn’t want to go through it all again, but she was in order to be a good wife and mom. And woman. My church kept telling me, “God hates divorce.” and it tore me up. Didn’t God also hate what happened to my child? Why did I have to be this good wife to a man who didn’t value relationships? So, it’s hard for me to consider the needs of the – can I say – super damaged reader because my experience is that they play to our sympathies and take, take, take. I’m not saying I’m right in this matter, just that it’s a very difficult place to write from for me. So I avoid it.

  11. Nancy C Anderson October 17, 2017 at 6:15 am #

    I relate to your point of view!

    I am the one who commited adultery. My book comes from the broken place of wearing the scarlet letter-by choice. Showing others the path we took to recovery. It was hard to write, but has been a lifeline to many. It’s been selling for 13 years, and we will release a new-expanded edition next month. “Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome: How to Grow Affair Proof Hedges Around Your Marriage” 2004 and 2017.

  12. Sarah Hamaker October 17, 2017 at 6:30 am #

    I wrote an article for Crosswalk.com on “8 Ways to Love Your Unrepentant Child” for parents of kids who have not chosen the way of Life. My younger brother is in prison–he was raised in a loving, Christian home and taught faithfully about God all his life, and his current place of residence hurts my parents deeply.

    Those of us who can need to share the hope that we have in Christ to both the sinner and the sinned against. Through fiction, articles, blog posts, nonfiction, speaking, etc.

  13. Heather Morse Alexander October 17, 2017 at 6:45 am #

    We’ve all sinned and we’ve all been wronged. We have the tools to write to each. I appreciate the sensitive post and reminder that God loves even those people we might see as unlovable. Thank you.

  14. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 17, 2017 at 7:20 am #

    Writing a book for the sinner, the abuser, the perpetrator…it’s hard, because it requires complete understanding and not a whit of justification.

    Forgiveness without pardon. It’s scary to contemplate; I wonder if it was scary for jesus, the first time He offered it?

  15. Katie Powner October 17, 2017 at 7:43 am #

    I’m thankful for this post. As others have said, we are all sinners. We are all perpetrators. And…we are all victims. But in Christ we are conquerors, we are sons and daughters, we are co-heirs. So I guess, whether in fiction or non, that’s the message that will speak to every type of damaged reader.

  16. Rebekah Love Dorris October 17, 2017 at 8:11 am #

    Love, love, LOVE this post. This is the stuff that keeps us writers from thinking we’ve arrived. How unfathomable our God’s love for us despicable me’s.

    Keep it up. God bless! 🙂

  17. Jaime October 17, 2017 at 8:24 am #

    This is where we can really set ourselves, in our faith, apart from the world, isn’t it? This is where our faith makes no earthly sense, so people will start to notice the difference.

    Because grace simply isn’t fair. If I was never as bad as the guy next to me, why does he get the same reward?

    This is the perfect opportunity, as writers, to paint a picture for people. To show them the crazy love of God, and when we are truly thankful for the grace we have received, to rejoice in the grace He grants to others.

    Love this post, Dan!

  18. Teresa Haugh October 17, 2017 at 8:36 am #

    I had a pastor who stopped billing the church as family and kid centered, even though it was. He wanted to make room for those without either

  19. Norma Brumbaugh October 17, 2017 at 9:09 am #

    Grace covers us all. If it weren’t for God’s grace, we’d all be without hope. This topic is worth thinking about because it is as real as real can be. I went to the funeral of a RSO this year. Not only him, but his adult kids bore the shame of his actions. The service was not easy for them, but it was handled with grace. Families suffer. People suffer. Wounds need healing. People need hope. We all need the sensitivity of caring community. Thank you.

  20. Janet Ann Collins October 17, 2017 at 9:12 am #

    I’ve never seen an article on this topic before. I think everyone should read it.

  21. Christa MacDonald October 17, 2017 at 10:06 am #

    This is a brave article because as much as we like our redeemed sinners, we often hate the unrepentant ones. Why would we want to write with them in mind? We’d rather they rot. But redemption is available to anyone. God’s Grace is infinite. I think one of the most stark differences between Christianity and any other faith is that there is redemption for even the lowest of sinners. Only our own traitorous hearts can put us out of the reach of God.

  22. LK Simonds October 17, 2017 at 10:22 am #

    Really beautifully said, Dan. This goes way beyond writing to the core of who we are in Jesus. Thank you for reminding us.

  23. carolyn October 17, 2017 at 10:30 am #

    This is so powerful. Thank you for the godly reminder and for writing this.

  24. Shirlee Abbott October 17, 2017 at 10:51 am #

    Thank you, Dan, for bringing this tough topic to the table. Often (almost always?), abusers were abused themselves. The sins of their parents are visited on the next generation, and the next. I have often prayed, “Oh Lord, let this be the generation where it ends, the generation of grace.”

  25. Michael October 17, 2017 at 11:08 am #

    Thanks for this timely word. Are we not all victims and perpetrators at once? Relatively so, perhaps, at least? Thanks for the challenge to love the “unloveable” and still protect innocents.

  26. Carol Moncado October 17, 2017 at 12:34 pm #

    My husband works with sexually abusive teen boys. They can be redeemed (both in a secular sense which is what he officially does and by the blood of the Lamb). They need to be an audience, but choosing to include them and how to talk to some of those groups is a difficult thing to do. Those who can have my utmost respect.

  27. John de Sousa October 17, 2017 at 3:14 pm #

    Thank you for your well timed article. I have a friend who is a repentant RSO. A four word sentence from the main character in my work in progress could have been unnecessarily devastating to him, and others in recovery. Simply deleting it eliminated the risk, and actually made the paragraph more poignant.

  28. Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 3:32 pm #

    Your post speaks volumes to me. I grew up with two moms (this was before homosexuality was “in,” and I never felt like I could be “girlie” without being made fun of by them, so I dressed like a boy, wore my hair short, and in my pictures I looked just like a boy—no wonder none of the boys asked me to skate with them at the roller rink). Still, my two moms showed me more love than my “Christian” father who was an abusive manipulator and a child-molester.

    Today, the roles have reversed. My biological mother is now a Christian (praise God!), and my non-biological mother (who was more a “mom” to me than my biological mom) has been attacking me because of my Christian faith (they’ve been separated for 20 years now, but we still have contact because she was a mother to me for most of my childhood). It doesn’t matter that she’s always known of my love for God, but times have changed. And then there’s my dad. Believe it or not, he’s the one who taught me the gospel after learning the truth and being baptized in prison. He says he’s overcome his sin, and for the most part, I believe he has. He’s proven many times not to be overcome by those tendencies, but he still has issues that make being near him difficult. Truth is … I’m tired. Writing this makes me tired, and it’s affected me more than I expected. I’m in tears.

    My point: ALL readers are broken and need healing, and they need to be able to see those realities in the Christian books they read. They need to see others (characters) overcome and endure through suffering, while remaining faithful to our heavenly Father or even giving up and coming back around. How does one do it? Show them through your writing. The novels I’ve written that show how to overcome the dirt of life have sold a lot better than my inspirational romance novels that are supposedly “what’s selling.”

    Blessings to you and yours,

    Anonymous

    • Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 3:36 pm #

      Didn’t realize my face would be shown. sigh Oh, well.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 17, 2017 at 4:19 pm #

        And what, pray tell, is wrong with showing the face of a hero?

        You stand so very, very tall.

      • Norma Brumbaugh October 27, 2017 at 7:48 pm #

        Dear Ananymous, You are brave. Thank you for your honesty. Life is messy and strange (and hurtful). But hope is found in God. So glad this is true. I particularly appreciate your last paragraph. So true.

  29. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 17, 2017 at 5:22 pm #

    There’s damage, and there’s damage.

    We have a 15-lb Toto-like terrier named Bella. A few years ago, someone deliberately broke her back and threw her into a flooded ditch to die.

    She lives a happy life now, scooting her hindquarters across the carpet and terrorizing Pit Bulls right and left.

    But if I could find the person that hurt her, that individual would wish that he or she had never been born, for I was well-trained, and I returned home from Hell with all my skills.

    For some things, there is no forgiveness, no understanding, and no mercy.

    • Janet Ann Colins October 17, 2017 at 7:27 pm #

      I disagree. Some things are harder to forgive than others and those people were evil, but if Jesus could forgive even the people who were crucifying him…

  30. Ruth Blanchard October 18, 2017 at 3:28 am #

    Tough topic, but thank you for your interesting perspective. I hadn’t thought about these verses in light of this viewpoint. As a victim, and because of the victimization, as someone who battled addiction, and then as the mom of a child who battled addiction, I’ve lived through both guilt and grace. I’ve felt the guilt and self blame as the addict and as the parent of an addict. Fortunately, I’ve been given the grace of forgiveness and freedom. My child is free of addiction, but for now, has chosen not to be a Christian. Some may not understand his choice, but I get it. I spent forty years believing I wasn’t worthy of redemption. Self forgiveness is tough, but understanding Christ’s forgiveness is even tougher for those who don’t feel worthy or simply don’t understand Christianity.
    I think I have a lot of insight to offer on these topics, but I tend to hold back. Honestly, it’s difficult to put myself out there. When I have felt led to share, some are extremely grateful and others look a little shell shocked.
    But, if I’m being honest, I also struggle with anger towards those who lure and victimize. Yet, I had to learn that Christ comes to us in our sin, and so if he forgave me, then why not forgive tougher cases than me, as well? I believe he does.
    I think the key is grace. We don’t I understand it, we aren’t ever going to be worthy of our own accord, but we’re so grateful when grace is given.

  31. Kathy Sheldon Davis October 19, 2017 at 5:59 pm #

    The Damaged Reader – even the title stopped me in my tracks as I read it tonight, more than two full days after it posted.

    The scene I worked on today portrays this very thing: I’ve been hurt by someone, and I’m also the one who damaged another. The timing is just too interesting, and I’m sure it will affect (iron sharpens iron) the course of my WIP.

    Thanks so much.

  32. Angie Arndt October 23, 2017 at 4:33 am #

    Someone once told me that all sins were equal in God’s eyes. I was furious and railed, “How dare you …” But he insisted, quietly, that the Bible says that sin separates us from God and we’re all sinners. Then he showed me Romans 3:22b-23, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

    As sinners, we’re all damaged in one form or another. It’s so hard, but thanks for the reminder that when Christ’s blood washes someone clean, we should forgive them, too.

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