There is not always a choice.
We tell it to our friends, our children, our Christian brothers & sisters: “You always have a choice.” It’s a disciplinary strategy, a way to keep us from making excuses, a way to take responsibility. But it’s not true.
There is not always a choice. For me, there was not a choice when I was unable to function, unable to act “normal,” because of my depression and anxiety. And yet I blamed myself. I had a choice, didn’t I? To pray harder or pursue God more or have more faith? If I wasn’t doing these things, if I wasn’t thinking “right,” then it was my fault. My choice. This is what the church told me, so this is what I believed.
I needed someone to tell me the truth: that I was the victim of brain chemicals beyond my control, that it was not my choice to be depressed and anxious. Because who would choose that?
I am not the only victim; this is not the only choiceless suffering. There are other victims we have ignored, those who suffer without escape, yet still believe it is their fault.
They do not yet know because we haven’t told them: there is not a choice for those whose anxiety or depression or other mental illness keeps them from living normal lives. There is not a choice for children and wives who have been abused. There is not a choice for girls who have been coerced, drugged, sold, and raped.
This is what is true: human trafficking happens in our backyards. It happens in our malls, our schools, our homes. Girl meets guy and he tells her everything she has always wanted to hear. She is lovely and special and wanted. And why would she ignore that—especially if she hasn’t heard it from her family, from the church, from Jesus?
And the relationship may seem okay at first. So when he asks for sex, she feels she owes him, and then his friends are coming over and he is watching and there are photos. She is blackmailed, threatened, held hostage by fear of the photos being released or her family being killed.
Or a child is sold by a family member. They are desperate for money to pay for the next fix. The child has no idea what is happening; the child only knows that a person they love has ordered this, condoned this, scared them into silence. So the child keeps quiet and the family turns a blind eye.
There are bruises and broken bones and cigarette burns and tired eyes and no one notices. We don’t notice them in our churches or in our schools. Instead, we talk of prostitutes, of purity, and we treat sex as a subject inherently shameful—and is it no wonder that these victims keep quiet?
They think it is their fault. They think that they chose that boy, that life. Many times they don’t even realize what happened: that they are victims of human sex trafficking, that a horrible trauma has been done to them, that they had no choice.
And as Christians, if we tell them that they always have a choice—we are lying. We are telling them they have sinned when they have not. We are using shame to keep them quiet about their stories, to keep them from making any real steps toward recovery.
Shame is not a good motivator. It makes people believe that they are failures because they have failed. It keeps them in hiding instead of bringing them healing and redemption. It creates short-term change when people “try to be better,” and long-term damage when they fail yet again. And for people who did not have a choice—shame blames them for what wasn’t their fault.
If we have told you that you had a choice—I am sorry. It was not your fault, and I hope this is what the church will say with me, louder and louder: it was not your fault.
You who were abused, it was not your fault. You who were sold, it was not your fault. You who were subject to mental trauma, it was not your fault.
No one, no one, wants to be raped or trafficked, depressed or anxious. No one wants to have their power taken from them. These things are not choices.
You and I today, we can choose to tell our stories. If we tell what has been done to us and what we have done, the shame loses its power. The silence ends. We learn the truth that was kept from us for so long: that was human trafficking. That was abuse. That was mental illness. That wasn’t your fault.
And another person will say, that’s my story too. We find we are not alone. One after another, all of our darkness will be brought into the light. This is how the church becomes a place of safety, of recovery, of unconditional love. This is how we can begin to heal.
by Tori Paquette, our consistent contributor.
Image: Erin Girouard