The Lazarus Project

Resurrecting hope for Christian victims and survivors of family violence.

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Holding onto our pain versus holding onto God

    Those of us who have been abused in familial relationships (either by our parents, by our siblings, or by our dating partners or spouses) have deep wounds that cause pain that can last for years. And any time there is a deep wound, the pain is deep, as well. It will not go away overnight. There is no magic anesthetic that will erase it all, not matter how much we desire one. We may seek to anesthetize that pain by destructive behaviors such as drinking, abusing drugs or food; but it can be less easily recognized patterns of behavior such as constantly watching television, excessive novel reading, or pouring ourselves into our work—anything to distract our minds from the pain. The tendency to do this is called avoidance.  Avoidance keeps us from ever dealing with the root problem or ever dealing with our “stuff”—we prefer to avoid it instead. I know of one woman who chose the path of avoidance, and stayed there for thirty years. 

     Just as often, some victims choose hold onto the pain of the past, and cling to it as tightly as Velcro.  These victims keep rehearsing their hurts and repeating their story again and again to anyone who will listen, as if the sympathy of others would be the healing balm for their wounded soul.  Please don’t mistake my meaning here: it is important for us to tell our story, and for us to be believed. But it is not necessary for us to continue to do so, year after year, decade after decade. These victims carry each memory of each victimization as if it was a badge of courage, and they display them as though they were combat medals on a decorated soldier’s uniform. Rehearsing those hurts never leads to healing; instead, it leads to bitterness and unforgiveness.

     But there is another way: rather than anesthetizing ourselves to pretend the pain does not exist, or allowing that pain to become the basis of our identity, we can choose instead to offer that pain up to God, to allow Him to heal it.  Like a little child reaches out his hand so his loving mother can see the boo-boo on his finger and can “kiss it and make it all better,” so can we hold the boo-boos of our heart up to Him.

     At a recent retreat, I had the privilege to minister to a woman struggling with this very thing. She happened to be in a wheelchair, and I had been dealing with severe back pain, as I had thrown my back out just four days prior to the retreat, so I was seated on a stool.  It was very awkward for a moment as I tried to position myself, with one leg in between her feet, as they rested on the footrests of the wheelchair. As I was ministering to her, I sensed a blockage, so I asked her, “If I say the word, ‘forgiveness,’ does anyone in particular come to mind?” She nodded her head and replied, teary-eyed, “Yes. My father.” I asked her if she had forgiven him. “I thought I had,” she said, “but I still have all these feelings.”  I told her to think of each of those feelings as though it was a bit of clay, and I asked her to take each of those bits of clay and to put it all into one big ball of feelings.  I held the ball as she kept adding to it, and I asked her to identify those feelings, as we added them to the ball of clay: pain was the first among them, followed by disappointment, anger, bitterness, frustration, and many others. 

     Then, God shared with me the strategy that would be key to her healing, and I said to her, “You know that in the Old Testament times, the people would go to the temple to make a sacrifice, and would lay it upon the altar, right?” She nodded again.  I got up from the stool and stood alongside it. “I would like for you to pretend that this stool is that altar.  If you are willing, would you present this ball of feelings to the Lord, and give it to Him as your sacrifice?” She nodded again. Then I warned her, “Now, you know that if you give it to Him, you can’t take it back again, right?”  She replied, “Yes. No return address.” 

   “Are you willing to give it to Him? “ I asked. “I don’t want you to feel pressured or coerced in any way. The choice to do this is yours and yours alone.”  She said, “Yes. I am ready to give this up.” So, together, we placed this ball of feelings upon the altar, and we prayed a prayer, releasing it to the Heavenly Father.  Just then, the pastor whose church was hosting the retreat came by, and said to her, “I have a feeling that before the end of this retreat, you’ll be walking and dancing.” I’d had that feeling, too, but I’d been afraid to say it aloud.

    Later in the retreat, I saw her standing, with the empty wheelchair behind her. Someone told me later that she was looking for me, while I’d been ministering to someone else.  I found her at lunchtime, and she was walking along with the rest of us. I embraced her and told her, “Next comes dancing. And I’ll be dancing right along with you.”

    By the end of the retreat, she was dancing. And leaping. And praising the Lord.

    But I don’t think she would have been doing any walking or dancing if she hadn’t first been willing to give up the pain that she had been holding onto for years.  That pain had defined her—and, maybe even disabled her— but once she was able to give it up, emotional healing followed. And her physical healing came trailing after.

   The wounds of our past can be healed, if we will lift them up to The One who has the power to heal them.  But He will not take them from us until we are first willing to offer them to Him.

 

--Christine Hagion Rzepka

Posted on 11/15
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