I was walking down the street minding my own business when it happened. A teenage guy came up behind me and grabbed me inappropriately. When I whirled around, stunned, he laughed in my face and ran away.
I was shaken by this incident for days afterward. I found myself feeling wary - frightened, even - whenever I'd walk past a group of guys.
Some weeks later, I was in the middle of my shift at the bookstore where I worked, when a man came in and started flirting with me. My co-worker was on break, so I was alone in the store. Being alone with this man, and his increasingly lewd remarks made me afraid. As the flirting-turned- sexual-harassment continued, my fear was compounded by another sentiment: horrified astonishment that I was a target for these behaviors.
Although I gently tried various tactics to get him to stop, the situation continued to escalate. Finally, when my co-worker returned, I escaped downstairs. Though I'd been praying, yearning to feel God's presence in spite of the maelstrom of feelings, I was grateful for the refuge of the storeroom, where I could pull myself together.
As I reached out to God in prayer, these lines from a hymn by Mary Baker Eddy flooded my thoughts:
My prayer, some daily good to do
To Thine, for Thee;
An offering pure of Love, whereto
God leadeth me.
Christian Science Hymnal, No. 253
This verse spoke to me as a directive to give this man what he really needed. That, I knew, was not my anger or my fear. What he needed was a higher concept of his own manhood, and only by seeing him in a more spiritual way, in the light of Love, could I give him that.
As I basked in the promise of these words and this new viewpoint, I saw for the first time that these behaviors simply could not provide him with any satisfaction whatsoever. He was gaining nothing good with this behavior.
Seeing the customer this way allowed me to feel real love for him. This wasn't compassion for a confused, degenerate individual. This was genuine love for the man of God's creating. This love soothed me, and I was ready to go back upstairs, when another thought came that stopped me in my tracks. "Claim that your innocence is also intact," it said.
While I was seeing this man's innate goodness, I was still feeling that my own innocence had been compromised. In short, my encounters, both with the guy on the street and with the man in the bookstore, had left me feeling dirty.
But I, too, was part of the equation. Perfect God and God's perfect creation - what I'd been claiming for this customer - also included me. My innocence was not some ephemeral quality that could be sullied by circumstances. It was eternal and inviolate, because it was actually from God. My being was immune to victimization, just as that patron's was immune to victimizing tendencies.
From that moment on, the customer never bothered me again. And I was no longer afraid to walk around the streets of my city. The feelings of guilt and impurity that had accompanied those experiences melted away.
Best of all, my interactions with strangers (specifically men) changed after that day. Pure love guided our interactions. And there was a sweetness that there had never been before. This was based on my conviction that innocence was a quality we each had a right to - and that this right could never be compromised.
Every word of God is pure:
he is a shield unto them
that put their trust in him.