Dec 02, 2020
by Katie Thorlby
This year for our annual NOvember campaign, I decided to choose Pause. I’m not good at pausing at the best of times – my idea of relaxing usually involves something active – and 2020 has certainly not felt conducive to pausing. Juggling work, small children, family loss, family ill health alongside the general upheaval and change COVID has brought to all lives has often left me feeling tired, angry, frustrated and inadequate. Choosing to pause seemed like a good idea – for my own sanity and for the sake of those around me.
Knowing my own weakness when it comes to pausing, I decided some structure was in order and bought myself a devotional book to give the time a focus. Why a devotional book? How does that fit with saying No to sexual exploitation? Well for me, my faith in God is incredibly important. It provides me with an anchor in terms of my identity and purpose and shapes how I understand the world. Most significantly God is my source of hope. And when it comes to saying no to sexual exploitation, hope is central.
Numerous studies exploring exiting or transitioning out of the sex industry have identified the importance of ‘hope’ and optimism about the future as a key factor in enabling women to make such transitions (Matthews, 2008; Ingabire et al., 2012; Cimino, 2013; Bowen, 2013). Without hope, change feels impossible. A key aspect of the work of Beyond the Streets is holding space for hope with the women we support. And that can be hard in the face of unjust systems and structures that demean and stigmatize; in the reality of suicides; in the trauma from abuse; in the struggle to ensure basic needs, such as a safe place to sleep and food to eat, are met. Holding onto hope in these circumstances can feel like an act of defiance. For me, sustaining hope requires me to remember the source of my hope. Thus, the devotional book.
The devotional book I stumbled across is a collection of devotions on Psalm 119 subtitled ‘Women of Color on the Word of God’. The book is helpfully divided into 30 chapters so I’m taking a chapter a day. I don’t always agree with all the authors have to say but I am finding it a helpful way of pausing and restoring hope. What I love about the psalms is the raw acknowledgment of pain, suffering, disappointments, doubts, and persecution at the hands of others. When it is easy to look at suffering and feel overwhelmed by our powerlessness, weakness and loneliness, the psalmist reminds me, as one contributor writes, to ‘instead cling to the embrace of the God whose “loyal love” bears on his very own body each scar, each wound, and each blow that we have encountered’. We may not all share the same faith beliefs but we all share the need for hope.