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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Overcoming Childhood Neglect and Abuse

Overcoming Childhood Neglect and Abuse

If you suffered some type of abuse as a child, chances are those wounds still need God’s healing touch. In this dynamic presentation, Pastor Sy Rogers explains how he finally recognized he must forgive his father, who abandoned him in the aftermath of his mother’s tragic death. He also explains how the Lord helped him forgive a man who sexually molested him during that time, which made Sy question his sexual orientation and even his gender for many many years. In spite of these devastating wounds, Sy found healing through Jesus Christ and was able to minister to others with similar challenges.
Original Air Date: April 20, 2023

Sy Rogers: And if I expect God to be merciful and patient and forgiving and generous toward me when I mess up, I must give mercy to people who also mess up, because mercy says you’re guilty but I won’t make you pay. I release you from the debt you otherwise owe me.

John Fuller: Well, I wonder if you find it difficult to extend mercy to others. We’re gonna hear more from the late Sy Rogers on that topic today. This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly and thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, we shared the full testimony of Pastor Sy Rogers in the fall of 2021. And today, we’re gonna hear the rest of the story, how the Lord convinced Sy that he had to forgive two different men who wounded him deeply as a child. And as we’ll hear, extending forgiveness to others is a critical aspect of our Christian walk so that we can receive God’s forgiveness for our sins. Sy Rogers, uh, was a leading voice regarding sexuality culture and the character of God for 40 years until his untimely death in April 2020 from kidney cancer. He was only 63.

John: What a loss that was. Our condolences to his family. And because of the subject matter, we’re gonna recommend that you have children in the room, uh, you might wanna put in some ear buds or listen later online or, uh, through our smartphone app. And with that, here’s the late Sy Rogers speaking at a Color Conference hosted by Hill Song Church in Sydney, Australia a numbers of years go on Focus on the Family.

Sy: If you’re not familiar with my journey, let’s just kinda review that in brief. I like to always say to people, “Why am I not a Buddhist and why am I not a Marxist?” And, and why would I give up my boyfriend and my gay friends and why would I crucify my flesh daily and swim against the tide of popular culture, telling me I’m politically incorrect? And why would I walk into church culture three decades ago that would look at me like a freak from Mars? There’s only one answer. My eyes were open to God. He was no longer a code of ethics to debate or some philosophical point of view.

He was real and alive with the presence in my life I had never known possible. Because when you have that encounter, you realize, like I did, there’s a big difference between what you think you know about God versus in experience. And in spite of it all, I didn’t know. This much I did know, he is real and how shall I live in my life in light of that reality? And though I can’t touch him tangibly, I could feel his tangible effect upon my life. That whenever I felt dirty, he made me feel clean. And when people would look at me and make me feel unacceptable, he made me feel valued and understood. And so when I couldn’t figure out how might my life play out, I didn’t have the answer but I knew it was going to be connected to God and he would lead me on. And thus, he did.

So if you don’t know my story, just take a look at the journey. In a nutshell, coming from a broken home with a beautiful, talented, but alcoholic mother. She died in a drink-driving accident when I was a little kid. But before her death, her lover began to sexually violate me as a child, teaching me things God never wanted me to know. And I know based on the stats on this country, like in the rest of the world, that one in four of you in this room understand that history and how wonderful God is bigger and can help you make new history. Meanwhile, my mother, after she was killed and my molestation happened, I was then separated from my father. And so the connection I needed to nurture healthy masculine identity never happened. And so I hungered for masculine love, but being also, uh, sexually defiled and confused. You can understand how the foundations were established that I would go looking for love the best way I knew.

And though I tried to conform to the norm, growing up in the American conservative Midwest where I was expected to be one of the guys, I tried and I was on swim team and football team. I was on track team, I was an Eagle Scout. I could do anything any boy could do. But like I said to my dad and stepmother, “Might as well be gay. Everyone else has turned in the verdict and I can’t win.” I embraced a gay identity as a student in Brazil. I came back to US and promptly joined the military and lived a double life while living in Hawaii. Good soldier by day and free to be the other me after dark.

And, you know, it was during that time that I did everything from the promiscuous gay lifestyle to later involvement in a gay church. And I was a best man in a gay wedding, and that gay couple eventually found Christ. You know wanna why? In spite of their environment, they love God, they read the Word, and the Word of God led them the truth. And they wrote me one day and said that, “As we’ve read scripture, we feel convicted and convinced. God wants us to surrender our sexuality to him. We’ve left that way of life, we’re born again, and praying for you.” Well, ladies, that wasn’t my reaction. I thought they were crazy. And my way to be born again I thought was through a sex change, which did not happen. You can relax.

Audience: (laughs).

Sy: It’s not that I was convinced that I should’ve been a girl. I was convinced I had failed as male, and I know there are a lot of people also in this room who may not have a history like mine. They may not struggle in the sexual ways that I did, but a lot of people don’t feel good in their skin. And more about that a little later, ’cause God knows how to make you feel good in your skin again. And so, anyway, I never had that operation. I lived as a woman, though, for almost two years when God intervened in my life and opened my eyes. And though he did not wave that magic wand to turn me into the heterosexual stallion you see before you today-

Audience: (laughs).

Sy: … he did begin to bring cleansing. He did begin bring healing and he dressed himself up in skin of his people who loved me, especially the man who showed me I don’t have to be sexual to get what I want from men. The identification and the acceptance, they gave me so I didn’t have to feed on the old bread. God gave me better bread through that kind of relational connection Lisa was talking about.

So I’m never gonna live like my past never happened, but I do enjoy feeling good in my skin and living a life beyond it. You know what it’s like. Born again more than 10 minutes, you know the blood of Jesus will wash away guilt, thank God, but it doesn’t wash away memory, history, and human vulnerability. Those are things you gotta reckon with, and we’ll take a look at that in just a moment. But if you would put up some happier slide there for me, today, I do enjoy being married for 27 years and to a very brave woman, may I say. And she said she watched me grow into a man she felt she could trust and respect, and I say, ladies, don’t settle for less.

I love also being the daddy of a wonderful 23-year-old daughter who’s always made me see men in a whole new way.

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: So I would like to say to those young men who would come calling, “Yeah, I’d go get my daughter. While you’re on the porch waiting, you remember, I come from a very disturbed history.”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: Love you, baby. And, uh, you know, I, we got over that bridge. I had the privilege of walking my daughter down the aisle almost two years ago now, putting her hand into the hand of a wonderful young man who’s earned our love and trust and respect. They travel around the world with us. We’re just at Hill Song in London and Paris, and, uh, what a joy. This doesn’t prove I’m not gay. Anybody can live a double life, but it is evidence of growth. That as you grow, things can change, possibilities emerge. What was once undesirable and unattainable became both.

So, I’m not in the ministry, causing people’s orientation to change. I don’t have that power. And Jesus never said, “Stop being gay to me.” He did say, “Stop resisting me.” And as I surrendered, I found a life beyond the life I used to live. And so I don’t have time for the two-hour or 45-hour version, but I would like to share one more page to encourage you. So, let’s pray and we’ll jump on in.

Thank you, Lord, for the chance to be here to serve your women, your family here now in this time and place. And I pray that you will take these words and anoint them with the life and power to make this more than infotainment. Make it a revelation to make your kingdom rich in and through us. You will not fail, as we believe in Jesus name.

Audience: Amen.

Sy: Amen. Well, I came to the Lord, as mentioned, very wounded and God brought healing. I also came to the Lord very defiled. And when it comes to the issue of defilement, oh, a very important principle I’ve learned in the word of God that has helped me deal with how deep the roots of that can go. ‘Cause as I mentioned, you’ve been born again for just a few minutes. You know that while the blood of Jesus cleanses you from guilt, not history and humanity. But I wanna share a new insight that’s made the difference, um, and I hope it will help you today.

Here’s another area of defilement that’s not always so seemingly obvious, but certainly it was something that needed cleansing. Because here, living a public life where people look at you to have answers and solutions, not unresolved issues, I found that under my nice, shiny veneer that people would see on stage that was the leprosy growing underneath of my unforgiveness, my bitterness, my cynicism, my distrust. And so I found that in my soul, though, I did love God. There were areas that still compromised my ability to love and trust and move forward. And so one of those big areas was about the damage I had suffered and my reaction to that damage.

Different kinds of damage. The damage of abuse is different than the damage of rejection, is different than the damage of abandonment, right? But just like broken bones of varying kinds do mend, God made the broken heart to mend as well. So, that said, I didn’t even know what I needed, but God in his faithfulness pointed it out, and it happened like this. You know, after my mother’s death, my dad had given me a way to put me in a more stable home than he felt at the time he could provide. He sent me away with the purest of motives, but I perceived it as abandonment. ‘Cause it’s not just what people do to you that will affect you, it’s how you perceive and react that becomes reality.

So, my dad sent me away with pure intent; I perceived abandonment. And though later we would live under the same roof, we might as well have been on different planets. So we were estranged. Years pass, I get saved. More time passes, I’m reconciled to him. And more time passes, God decides to start dealing with some unfinished business. With my dad, it happened like this. I would be home visiting, my dad would make a simple request. “It’s a cold night tonight, Sy. Would you help me bring in some firewood? We’ll build a fire. Wouldn’t that be nice?” And I would become enraged. “I just traveled 12,000 miles to what? Come home and be your slave and bring in the filthy, nasty, freezing firewood for you?” I didn’t say that to his face.

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: It was a nice, polite Christian veneers. “Sure, daddy. I live to serve.”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: Go find my voodoo doll and…

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: And this was humiliating for me. Humiliating. You could ask me to bring in the firewood, no big drama, but when my dad asked, it was as if he was putting some kind of pressure on some thorn buried under the layers of my life. And I gave him what’s called a DPR, a disproportionate reaction. “Son, it’s garbage collection day. Would you help me bring the, the garbage bins down to the curb for collection?” “Sure, daddy. I live to serve.”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: This was humiliating. So I went to my wife and I said, “Honey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this little attitude I have toward dad.” And she said, “Oh, you’ve noticed?”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: I said, “All right.” She said, “I suggest you talk to God.” And I said, “You think?” She and God are always right, and so I agreed and so I did. I went to God and I said, “I’ve become aware that I’ve got a bad attitude toward my dad.” And the Lord said, “Oh, you finally seen it. We’ve always known up here.”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: All right. I said, “So, he wasn’t the perfect dad. I wasn’t the perfect son. We had difficult imperfect circumstances, too. But that’s all water under the bridge, that’s all under the blood. I forgive the man, right?” And I mean clear as a bell, the Lord’s voice said to me, “You did not forgive him.” “Did too.” “Did not.” “Did too.” And this went off for weeks. And I’m sure you can appreciate that I can be considerably manipulative, but God is even more stubborn. And he’s also the God of ambush who in an unlikely moment… Like I’d be in the shower and he would say, “Did not.”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: Squeezing, squeezing, probing that attitude like a ripened zit.

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: You know, ladies, I… You know, I just don’t have a better metaphor. If you can come up with one, you email me, so…

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: Anyway, one day, he squeezed a little harder and it erupted with a venom I did not know that I could possess under my nice, polite, Christian veneer. Why should I forgive him? Where was he when I needed him? My mother dies and he drives off and leaves me at a house full of strangers I never met before. Then he waltzes back into my life and he dares to ask that he would ask anything of me when he still owes me? I didn’t know all that was in there, but the Lord knew. And when he showed me, he didn’t show me to shame me. He showed me for only one motive. He is good, he is love, and I was now mature enough and able and stable enough to deal. And he revealed it in a way that would become productive, because to do less would be cruel, and God is not cruel.

John: You’re listening to the late Sy Rogers on Focus on the Family. And you might be thinking of someone who needs to hear this message or perhaps you’d like to listen to it again. Get in touch with us today and request a CD, which has a lot of extra content to it. We’ll send that CD to you for a gift of any amount as you support the work of Focus on the Family. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or donate and request that at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Let’s go ahead and return now to more from Pastor Sy Rogers.

Sy: And I realized in that moment, ladies, it was not just my dad I needed to forgive. He may have failed me, but I failed him right back. It’s not just that he hurt me; I hurt him right back. I turned my back on him. I withdrew from him. But you were just a kid and your reaction is understandable. Absolutely, but that didn’t make it healthy or beneficial. And if I expect God to be merciful and patient and forgiving and generous toward me when I mess up, I must give mercy to people who also mess up, because mercy says you’re guilty but I won’t make you pay. I release you from the debt you otherwise owe me. That’s right.

And so in that moment, I realized, “Gee, God, forgive me.” And you know what? Just like that, God did. Weeks later, I was home visiting my folks and my dad’s a big fan of what I do, thank the Lord. You know, he wanted me to be a millionaire for years, and I said, “Dad, can you just be glad I’m not running around in a dress anymore?” It’s perspective. He’s good with that now, but still… We were sitting around, talking about a new version of my story and he got to the part where I was sent away by him. And he started to cry, something I had rarely ever seen him lose composure like that. And he regained and I said, “What is wrong?” And he said, “I never wanted to send you away, but I didn’t know what to do after the crazy circumstances surrounding your mother and our chaotic life. And then her death and other people told me this would be in your best interest, so that when the dust settled at home, I could bring you back. And I realized, though, how you perceived it and that you rejected me. In all those years, you wandered in sin. I blame myself for being the world’s worst dad.”

Now, ladies, if God had not dealt with me, I could’ve said the words. “Well, dad, even though you did screw things up, I forgive you.”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: And you know what I’m saying. There would’ve been no love and no life in those words. But how glorious that God was able to see that man freed from a burden he didn’t deserve to carry and me, too. And that’s why you can appreciate the glorious thing when I say I got to lead my dad to the Lord Jesus and baptize that man when he was 79. And that’s pretty good restoration in a situation like that. Finally, you know, forgiving, forgiving my dad was pretty easy. He really never meant to hurt me, but the man who sexually violated me apparently did, and that was another kettle of fish.

How many daughters here they’ve experienced rape or incest or other kinds of sexual abuse? And they think that their cry has been unheard and they wonder, “How can I fully surrender to a God who has allowed such things”? More on that later, but for our moment here, I had to ask those questions too. And when I was dealing with my childhood sexual abuse, I got in touch with my anger. Before I got to the sad, I got to the mad, and it was kind of something like this: “I can’t believe that I’m supposed to just let this go and move on as if it doesn’t matter, when what you did to me changed my life. And if I don’t forgive and let it go, I’m being the bad one.” Don’t put up your hand, but I’m sure some of you can relate.

And so one day, I got on the phone and I was smart enough to have a therapist and walk it through with a therapist who understand this stuff from a, an emotional point of view as well as a Christian one. And so I got on the phone with my therapist one day and I said…”Ahhhh!” He said, “Are you feeling a little angry?”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: He said, “Well, Sy, your feelings are typical. They are predictable and they are temporary. Temporary.” “I thought I was going crazy.” “No, no, no. You were feeling things you wouldn’t let yourself feel for years. And now that it’s kind of rushing forward like a carbonated beverage well shaken, the pop tops off, and it’s rushing forward but it’s predictable and it’s temporary. Be surrounded by safe people who can guide you, but meanwhile in your anger, don’t sin.” “‘Kay.”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: But I did. Oh, I didn’t go out and burn down buildings. I didn’t go out and, you know, yell and scream at my wife and kid. I didn’t go out and sleep around and get drunk and be indiscriminate. I didn’t even yell at the family dog. We didn’t even have a dog, but now we do. He’s very big. And I have to say daily, “Put the car down.”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: But here’s how I sinned and maybe you’ve done it, too. I began to imagine what I’d like to do to him and what I’d like him to feel and what I’d like him to experience and what I’d like him to know. Well, one day in the middle of my meditation, (laughs) the holy spirits poked at me and he said, “Sy, what would you like me to do to him? Because I know him. Would you like me to shame him and run him out of town? Would you like me to capture him and torture him before you? Would you let me to execute?” I thought, “Wow, I never thought of the cosmic option before.”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: But before God let that idea dry in my mind, he finished the sentence with, “Because if that’s what you want, I’ve already done it,” and he showed me Jesus on the cross. Now, hear me carefully, ladies. The Lord never criticized my anger. I’m allowed to be angry and he never criticized my pain. I’m allowed to be sad and mad, but I’m not allowed to have hatred and revenge poison my could and cripple God’s purposes in my life. And I realized, too, in that moment, just like with my dad, that man hurt me. But I hurt people not like that, but in other ways, and I expect them to be forgiving of me. And I sure expect an awful lot of that from God. And if I want God to be merciful to me, I must give mercy to people who don’t deserve it. It doesn’t mean there’s not accountability. It doesn’t mean that we pretend what happened didn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean that we overlook it to be polite. It means in spite of what was done and though they owe, we don’t make them pay. We entrust our justice into the care of God.

In that moment, you know, when my therapist just prayed and said, “Sy, I don’t think we need to talk this thing through really much anymore. We’ve talked about it. It’s been useful, but now we need to weigh in and see what God might say to us on all of this?” I said, “I think that’s a brilliant idea.” So we prayed and God showed up and he weighed in. They would say to buck up and move on and let it go and shut up and get over it and be strong… And maybe there is some survival technique in all of that, but at the end of the day, I needed to know before I let it go and throw it away into the sea of forgetfulness. Did this matter to anybody because it changed my life? And in that moment, the Lord said these words to me, “Sy, your daddy sees it and your daddy’s sorry.”

No one had ever said those words. No one had ever validated me that what happen mattered. And why would it matter? Because I matter. I felt valued. God didn’t change my history. He didn’t change how it hurt me, instead he shared my pain and made me feel understood and valued, the working definition of love. You know, years later, I would learn this with my kid who was less melodramatically learning to ride her bicycle. We were living in Singapore. She learned to ride her bike on a rooftop playground in our apartment building, but whether they learned to ride up above in the sky or down the ground level, you always have the same crash and burn learning curve, right? And she was learning to ride her bike and she was saying, “Daddy, look at me. Look at me. Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.” And I was looking at her and she lost control of that bike and she crashed, cartwheeled, and spun out across the asphalt, and she finally stopped in a crashed jumbled heap. She picked her body up, bleeding at every chin, joint, knee, and limb. She began to scream at a frequency pitched so high only a dog could hear it.

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: And she came hobbling over to me, and instinctively, I scooped her up in my arms and said those very words God almighty had said to me in the middle of my pain, “Daddy sees it and daddy’s sorry. Let daddy kiss it.” And she cried not a nice little polite tissue cry to keep your mascara from running, but the kind of gut-wrenching cathartic snot-making towel soaking. Kind of serotonin releasing so your brain can process stress better kind of release. And she cried and she cried, and finally she was done. She… Bing, she was finished.

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: She slipped off my lap and I said, “Well, honey, you’ve had a rough go. Now, do you wanna call it a day, stay in the house, or get cleaned up and come back out and play some more?” She thought about it and she said, “I wanna come back out and play some more.” In fact, she said this as she walked over to the daddy. “Yes, daddy, I would come back out and play some more.”

Audience: (laughs)

Sy: And my point, ladies, is as my daughter said this, it became obvious to me that her injuries… They weren’t fatal, were they? But they were painful and they were going to hurt her for days. And for a while, those injuries hurt her function, but at the end of the day, her injuries weren’t fatal but painful. And when my daughter ran to me, she wasn’t running to me to make pain stop. She was running to me for the more profound psychological revelation. She wanted to know, “Daddy, in a world of circumstances that often make me feel powerless and devalued, when I see that your heart is moved by my pain, then once again I can believe I have value in a world of circumstances that often make me doubt it.” That’s the revelation you and I hunger for today, as we wrap up this session and have a moment to do a little business with the Lord.

Isn’t it interesting with forgiveness how Peter was walking down the lane with Jesus and Peter thought he was going to be spiritual by forgiving seven times those offended him? And Jesus said, “You forgive 70 times seven, Peter. Meaning, you keep dunking until the issue is thoroughly resolved. You have permission, blessing, and opportunity if you will humble yourself and take advantage of God’s process and provision.” Because you know what name in the Bible says, “he dunked himself seven times”? And as you can predict the end of the story, he came up out of the water and the Bible says his skin was restored and healed like that of a youth. What if he had stopped dunking on the fifth go? What if he had stopped at number six and said, “I don’t see anything”? The admonishment for us all is not to give up in the persevering effort, because it’s the persevering who get the crown, the ones who persevere in the process of growing into the daughters of God’s intent.

And life may have given you a raw deal in the first family, maybe society and peer group failed you, there may have been people who touched you wrongly and hurt you, but now you have a provision that if you will submit to it and allow God to take advantage through his provision, you will find drawing closer to God, running to him, and also dealing with the things that might otherwise eclipse your journey with him. Amen? That’s right.

John: And that’s where we’re gonna have to conclude today’s episode of Focus on the Family, featuring the last Pastor Sy Rogers.

Jim: Yeah, we ran out of time here, John, but Sy gave a really powerful prayer at the end of the conference. So, we’ll post the text of that prayer on our website in case anyone wants to print out a copy to pray for themselves or to pass along to someone else who is hurting.

John: That would be really appropriate. And you’re gonna find that prayer at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: As we mentioned at the top of the show, Pastor Sy died in April 2020 from kidney cancer. He was only 63. And we’d like to thank his wife, Karen, and the folks at Hills Song Church in Sydney, Australia for allowing us to use today’s message. You know, I think a big takeaway from Sy’s presentation is that forgiveness takes effort. And if you choose not to forgive, you’re harming yourself and your relationship with the Lord. So, if Sy’s testimony brought up some issues for you, please give us a call. We have a team of caring Christian counselors who are here, uh, to meet your needs. It’s a service that we’ve provided for over 40 years. There’s no obligation at all. This free one-time consultation is made possible by our donors. And let me just point out that our counseling team responds to over 2,000 request per month. That’s a lot of hurting people. I think just about everybody is hurting at some point. Here’s some examples of the topics they’ve handled recently. A mom called because her young daughter had questions about homosexuality, and mom needed guidance to address the topic with her child. A young woman called because she was experiencing a great deal of grief after the death of her father. An unmarried mother called because she found out she was pregnant and didn’t know what to do. So if you have a problem, big or small, please call us. And I’d encourage everyone to pray for the work our counselors do. And if you can consider making a monthly pledge to Focus on the Family to support these efforts, any amount would be greatly appreciated on that monthly basis. And when you make a pledge, I’d like to send you a CD of this presentation from Sy Rogers as our way of saying thank you. It’ll have quite a bit of extra content, including Sy’s closing prayer, specifically for those who might need to forgive an abuser. And if you can’t make a monthly commitment right now, we understand. We can send that CD out to you for a one-time donation of any amount. Join us as we help families around the world thrive in healthy relationships and in Christ.

John: And you can reach us when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459 or donate online and request your CD at focusonthefmaily.com/broadcast. Next time, finding God in the storms of your life.

Sally Clarkson: He enters the fallen world. He is with us at every moment and I just didn’t understand these things. I was young, I was a toddler in spirituality. And the more I would study these passages, the more I thought, “Okay. Well, you know, he’s still with me and I, I need to make it through this time.”

John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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