by Janyne McConnaughey
“I don’t have choices.”
The words hung in the air. My therapist and I had been struggling with this for almost two years. It was a deep-seated belief for which we could find no source. My story of repressed childhood sexual abuse (from the age of three) would have predicted anything but success, and yet I had a Ph.D., professional career, and 38-year marriage. I obviously made choices—good ones. Yet, I said I did not have choices—again. Where was this buried? Then, as a result of a car accident on a Los Angeles freeway, the memory of skidding out on a mountain road surfaced.
“I didn’t die, I didn’t die.”
I screamed this as I ran from the car, not knowing where I was running. I was looking for the cliff I had run to 40 years earlier—the cliff where I tried to end my life after a betrayal so deep I never recovered. As my car skidded and I ran to stand on the edge of the cliff, a man stopped to help me. Obviously skilled, he convinced me to turn and step back; but the dirt crumbled beneath my feet and I slid off the cliff and clung to a tree root until he rescued me.
As I lay on the dirt, I believed God had stopped me from ending my life. I believed the choice was taken from me. I had been taught God was always in control and the only way I could make sense of my life was to believe God allowed the abuse and stopped me from stepping off the cliff. Why would he stop me but not all the others who succeeded in ending their lives? Did he love me more? Was he trying to build character through the trauma I had experienced? Did he have some great purpose I had not yet fulfilled?
Every morning for forty years, as I emerged from sleep, I re-enacted the fall from the cliff in a symbolic feeling of dread. My hands never relaxed and on the dark days when I said, “I feel like I am falling off a cliff,” I was trying to express the reality I had repressed. Buried with the repressed memory was the reason I believed I did not have choices—it was all about theology.
After I was coaxed back to my car, the man sat beside me and asked, “Do you believe in God?”
Oddly enough, I said, “I believe God loves me.”
The broken child in me never doubted God’s love, but it was almost impossible to reconcile with the truth I now knew about the life I had lived. During two years of intensive therapy, the pain had exploded out of my soul. I was three… I was six… I was nine… I was twelve… I was fourteen. Finally, I was a young adult and I knew God loved me, didn’t protect me when he could have, and made me live when I wanted to die. It was difficult to make sense of it all.
“What is your anchor, Janyne?”
In my mind, I was in a lake of pain about to be sucked into a whirlpool.
“I know I am supposed to say God. I know you want me to say God. But no, God is not my anchor.”
The words spoken from a couple dozen fractured parts of me hung between us. If God could prevent pain why didn’t he?
It would be months before I understood I did have choices. I finally realized I could not accept I had choices, because I could not accept the fact that those who hurt me also had choices. It was all about freewill. If I could choose, then they could choose, and God really was not in control. If God wasn’t in control, then he did not save me from stepping off the cliff, and there was not some great purpose I needed to fulfill… and I wasn’t sure I wanted to live. This was something my theology would never allow me process.
I drove down the mountain by following the taillights of the man God had sent to keep me alive. I was like George in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” God had chosen for me to live, and I needed to live a life worthy of his choosing. I let others make choices for me, I believed what they wanted me to believe; I became a theological chameleon and buried my pain so deeply it didn’t erupt until I turned 61. I did live a wonderful life, but I was never able to truly worship the God who chose to make me live but did not protect me.
The day I realized I had choices was the day I understood God was not a controlling God. He did not control me on the cliff; I chose to turn and live. I chose, but so did all those who hurt me. We all had freewill. I didn’t need to say nonsensical things such as, “God allowed my abuse to build character.” He felt sorrow, he comforted me, and he prompted me to seek help, but I made the choices.
She asked me again, “Janyne, do you believe you have choices?”
“Yes, I do believe I have choices because I believe God loves me and as a result he has given me freewill. He has given everyone freewill and he will not stop human choices, be they for good or for evil. Everyone makes their own choices.”
Outside of an understanding of an uncontrolling God there is no potential for truly transcending the human experience of trauma, living life abundantly, and worshipping freely. The God who controls could not be my anchor. But the God who loves me, comforts me, brings me support by prompting the actions of others, and guides my choices most certainly can!
Dr. Janyne McConnaughey retired in 2015 after 40 years in education Prior to her 33 years in higher education as a teacher educator, she taught in and directed early childhood programs. She and her husband, Scott, are enjoying living full-time in their 5th wheel at a park just outside of Garden of the Gods in Colorado. She enjoys spending her days writing, walking, and connecting with friends and family. She especially enjoys every minute she is able share with her children and grandchildren in the Seattle area.
Thank you for sharing your story. It can’t be easy to share something so personal. Enjoy your newfound ability to truly worship the God who loves you and gives you freewill.
Thank you Leslie. In this first telling of the truth of my story, I have great peace. I chose to share because I believe many are silent and need to know they are not alone. They do have a God who loves them without control and gives them freewill to choose to find healing and live free of the pain.
Thank you Jayne for this thought. I agree and Because Janice Duce, my pastor, gave me your book, God has used it to call me to my own journey of deeper inner healing and I have found a good counselor. I am also in the process of reading your book.
I am so thankful that you have chosen to use your story to make a difference for others who are struggling. He is a God of love and compassion, and you are so right; He never forces His will on anyone. Yielding is a hard thing for most of us mortals as we relish the idea of gripping our own steering wheel as we cruise or creep through life and the experiences it brings.
Thank you Mary. So true! We can either cruise or creep through life tightly gripping the wheel and refusing to listen to God’s promptings–or we can just leap into it–which I did today. I do hope it makes a difference for others who are struggling.
I am especially touched by your closing sentence. In the prompting lies all hope…❤️
Yes, Lori. Hope is in the prompting. If we all stay attuned to God’s prompting, our love will change our worlds. It requires action–sometimes very brave action!
Thanks for sharing
Very brave to share this story! Thank you for your vulnerability. I have had those cliff moments as well due to trauma in childhood & as an adult. I may not have been sprawled out on the edge of a cliff physically (although I feel like I was) but my hands have clutched the “gravel” of pharmaceuticals while questioning the meaning and nessesity of continuing this life. With many questions I have doubted God, His word and how I could have a relationship with him. I have doubted Him and my view of Him was twisted and distorted due to different forms of abuse not excluding spiritual abuse and trauma. It is with counseling, I too am finding the way to dissembling the deeds of darkness that left me broken and disalusioned of True Jesus’s love for me!
I rejoice with you in your new-found freedom and the courage to share your experience so openly for the benefit of others. I definitely prefer your theological position on the sovereignty of God to the Christian fatalism so prevalent among evangelicals today. Thanks for sharing your hard work.
I can’t seem to reply directly to Michelle Sherrard, but thank you for your comment. I hope BRAVE brings encouragement to you on your journey of healing. God is ever working to bring good into our lives–this is especially true for those of us who need much healing. There is hope for healing!