When Our Life Strategies Don’t Work
I always prided myself on holding my life together, but that all changed in my early 30s. Aching to prove myself as a man, I became a workaholic pastor, neglecting my family and precipitating a crisis in my marriage. My wife courageously confronted me and insisted that we change before it was too late. I agreed. A few months later we lost our second child in a miscarriage. A few months after that, my dad died in his 50s. And a few months after that loss I took a hiatus from the pastorate. The pain of multiple losses had caught up with me. I was depressed, making only fraction of what we were accustomed to, and hurting inside.
It was then that God began the work of healing my heart and my relationships. I had tried to heal on my own by denying, minimizing, and numbing my pain. Whenever I felt inadequate, my default reaction was to work harder. But that only brought temporary relief and never resolved my pain. I realized that the life strategies for coping once learned in childhood had failed me. I needed to confront reality, but I needed help.
What Do We Do When We’re Hurting?
Facing the reality that life is messy and that we tend to make it messier is a key acknowledgement in life. Do-it-yourself healing never works. We avoid pain because we cannot see how acknowledging it can help. We hide our wounds because we are convinced others will reject us because of them. We try to protect ourselves from being hurt in the ways we were hurt in the past, yet we still end up getting hurt and hurting others. We don’t have it in us to transform the pain of the past, to give it new meaning, or to love courageously again.
We avoid emotional pain because it is unpleasant, potentially overwhelming, and can render us dependent on others. But when we fail to address the pain in our lives, it does not go away and continues to wreak havoc. We do not know or believe that releasing pain in a supportive settings and with new meaning can be freeing, healing, and redemptive.
God’s Ways of Healing
When we are tired of trying our own ways of healing, God invites us to learn and to experience His ways. In the following paragraphs I outline some of the characteristics of God’s ways of healing.
God’s Healing Involves Relationship
We are wounded in relationship and we are only healed in relationship. Relationship is the context for healing. This involves a personal relationship with a loving, gracious, and powerful God and with His people, a community of confessed sinners. These are broken people who seek healing in Jesus Christ, friends, and mentors. (John 10:10; James 5:16)
We Cannot Heal Ourselves
Healing must come from outside of ourselves because we are not able to heal ourselves. Instead, we are invited to trust the One described in these words:
…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:2b-5)
The Wounded Healer described here is Jesus. As a follower of Christ, I place my hope in Him for life, redemption, and healing. He came to rescue me from the penalty of my sin. He is the One who frees me from sin’s power to define and curse my life and relationships. It is by His wounds that we can be healed. He experienced the pain produced by both our sin and the sin of others against us when He suffered and died on the cross. His death and resurrection assures us that it is not our wounds, sins, and losses that define us. They are not the ultimate realities of our lives, it is rather His love, purposes, and glory that are ultimate.
We Collaborate with God in the Healing Process
Healing is a process empowered by God that requires our collaboration. We are inclined to run from pain, but God’s way of healing is to face it, together with Him and with others. Jesus’ work on the cross includes the binding up of broken hearts. (Isaiah 61:1) This means that God reveals our pain and we honestly acknowledge it (Ephesians 4:15, 25)
- God comforts us as we grieve over our wounds, losses, and sinful reactions to our pain. (Matthew 5:4)
- God fills our deficiencies, both in our relationship with Him and with His people. (Psalm 23; John 13:34-35)
- God empowers us to forgive as we cancel the debts owed us. (Ephesians 4:32)
- God transforms our mind and our character as we learn and relearn what it is to love and be loved in relationship, family, and community. (Romans 12:1-21)
- God gives new meaning to our pain by redeeming it for good as we love boldly. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
- God restores the dignity of His image in us. (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10)
Christian Counseling Can Provide Hope and Lead to Depth
God cooperates with us in order to bring healing and this involves hard and deep work. This work often gets harder, more painful, and more frightening before it gets better. But we don’t have to be alone in it, and the cost is worth the investment. This deeper work is not just for pain relief, but to transform us into people who know God and give glory to Him with our lives. (Isaiah 61:3) His aim is to restore us to be free to be and to love as we were created to. In my own healing journey, God has used a spiritual community of friends, a Christian counselor, my spouse, spiritual practices such as prayer and bible reading, the prayers of others for my healing, corporate worship of Him, my extended family, and even my children. Christian counseling can provide insight, guidance, and support in your healing journey. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the possibilities of Christian counseling with you.
Provided by FreeDigitalPhotos.net:
“Young Man Having Severe Headache,” courtesy of Stockimages, #100221263;
“Jump,” courtesy of luigi diamanti, #100254999;
“Young Man Laughing,” courtesy of Victor Habbick, 10078864.