Some recent healing in my own life lately over some issues from my childhood has caused me to look at this whole subject of dealing with pain and overcoming its grip on my soul. For the purpose of this blog I have talked mostly about the pains of going through spiritual abuse suffered from cults, abusive & controlling church leadership and dangerous religious groups. However, in this particular post I will share these realizations in light of how to repair and mend from the after-affect of pain from more personal, day to day events. Although the concepts still apply to dealing with all forms of pain and are certainly applicable to dealing with spiritual pain upon coming out of those places. Pain is pain and can be dealt with the same regardless of the type of pain or what caused it.
Most believers have at some time or another heard the truth that Jesus died to carry our sin and pain. He bore our sicknesses (of both body and heart) and disease (emotional and physical). He died to purchase healing and wholeness for our entire being…and for the whole of humanity–past, present and future. This is 100% true, yet I’ve heard those who have said “Well, if He died to carry my hurts why am I still feeling them? Why do I still experience abuse? Why am I carrying around pain I have carried since childhood?” This is where the rubber meets the road. For many that healing is embraced mentally but never fully applied. The pain doesn’t get released and therefore the solution isn’t activated.
Jesus’s death was the down payment on freedom. He did 100% of His part. Why do we not fully walk in freedom? Because we have to release the pain to Him and give it to Him from our heart (not our head) or we continue to walk in the bondage of it. He doesn’t violate human will. Yes, He died for sin, pain, abuse, etc but He won’t come storming into your soul and take it all from you. He simply waits on us to offer the pain to Him so that the freedom can come full circle and He can have all that He died to pay for.
Perhaps you’ve been in a situation where you suffered spiritual abuse, rejection, abandonment of a parent or spouse, emotional or psychological abuse or a variety of pain in other forms. How do you repair after the trauma? Let’s talk about that.
The first step is FEELING it. Pain is scary. It hurts (obviously). No one likes hurt or wants to feel it so we bury it, stuff it, hide from it, medicate it, escape from it, get busier, project it onto others, anything BUT feel it. Why is allowing ourselves to feel it important? Because we know in our minds that we feel pain and that we hurt. But we don’t hold the pain in our minds. We carry it in our souls, our hearts, whatever term you prefer to use there. We can’t release pain mentally and expect to stay free. That’s like a 6-year old stuffing all of the toys and dirty laundry under the bed and calling the room clean. It’s not dealing with the actual root of where the pain resides.
“Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
Scripture doesn’t say “blessed are they that stuff” or “blessed are they that run, hide and avoid.” Mourning requires feeling the pain.
For many of us who have suffered some form of abuse as children, we were not given permission to own or feel emotions growing up. It’s a radical paradigm shift when you start giving yourself the right to feel things as an adult. It feels new, uncomfortable and even scary to start acknowledging how something makes you feel–to put words to pain. There is an ownership and responsibility once you can identify it and feel it. Many have been told that if you “don’t confess it you won’t give power to it and it will just go away over time.” This is one of the greatest deceptions I’ve ever heard about how to deal with pain. It does the opposite of bringing freedom. It locks the heart into deeper bondage. Here’s why:
1) You’ve probably heard the very over-spiritualized (and false) “If you confess it out loud, you’re agreeing with the enemy and making it come true.” This is the same school of thought that says “If you say you’re sick, you’re making yourself sick. You should say ‘I’m on my way to feeling healed’ or ‘God is good and I feel great'”. Ladies and gentlemen, this is nothing more than old fashioned denial. Denying pain or abuse or sickness doesn’t make it go away. It prolongs the healing process because we aren’t allowed the freedom to feel and get beneath the cause or root of that pain. Why do you think Jesus said “If you confess your sin, God is faithful and just to forgive you of your sin and cleanse you from ALL unrighteousness?” Because the Father designed us in such a way that confession from the heart releases something. Acknowledging sin brings freedom. Identifying pain and abuse or sickness is step 1 to being free from it. If you never admit that your kitchen is dirty you’ll never take the next step to clean it. You’ll keep using dishes and pile them into the sink and say “No, the kitchen isn’t dirty. It’s fine.” Now this sounds absurd in the natural and we all clean our kitchens when they need it. We will acknowledge needs in the physical world but deny them on a spiritual level. Denial is the gatekeeper of abuse. If you deny something, you hold it outside of reality and don’t ever have to deal with it. The sad thing is that this never makes it go away. It stuffs it and delays the healing process.
2) When pain or hurt that is hidden is brought to the light and felt, confessed and released, it loses its power. It loses its sting. As long as it remains inside it is a deadly poison that eats away at the soul over time and causes very real damage. It’s like having a wrecking ball swinging around inside of us. When we give ourselves the permission to FEEL the hurt and the pain we’ve stuffed, we open the door to the internal prison where we have stored it and only then can we begin to find true and lasting freedom.
Maybe you’re thinking “Okay, I’ve felt pain before and acknowledged it but it didn’t go away.” Not knowing your particular situation or how you define “feeling your pain” I can only speak from my own experience. So let me explain how I define “feeling the pain.”
When something occurs (an argument with your boss at work, a fight with your spouse, a hurtful phone call from a parent you don’t have a good relationship with, a hurtful word said by one of your children) whatever the incident, it causes pain and while that event is certainly painful in and of itself, it’s actually triggering the pain from a root that goes back further than that moment. For example, if a boss snaps at your at your job and says “your performance is pathetic and your work ethic is worthless. I knew we shouldn’t have hired you in the first place but people higher up than me made that call. You’d better get these numbers up and get your act together or you’re out.” This response is of course a very harsh, hurtful and abusive way to speak to another person. More than likely however, the hurt of this event will be compounded. It will often un-cover the hurt of perhaps another time, much longer ago when Dad or Mom or someone else in an authority position in your life said something that made you feel the same way. At that time you were probably a child with fragile self-esteem and with a deep desire to trust that those who had an authority in your life would only say something to you if it was true. So you internalized those feelings of hurt, rejection, unworthiness, and not measuring up. So now this experience at work has emotionally connected you to another memory far more hurtful.
If you blow up at your boss or go run at the gym after work to deal with the hurt and anger, you might think you have felt the pain and dealt with this event. You might then go into work the next day ready to start fresh on improving your performance and working harder to prove that you can be a team player and an employee worth keeping around. What has happened instead is that the pain of this event which triggered the same pain of a different event as a child are now linked to each other and creating a more compounded pain which was stuffed into the same drawer and not dealt with.
When I talk about feeling the pain I am referring to letting yourself feel it at its root. That’s where the pain started, but in the present is where the healing starts. When you allow yourself to feel the pain, you’ll start to honestly look at where that pain came from and be able to trace it back to when you felt that way at other times. For example, in the case of this hypothetical work situation I created for the purpose of this illustration (we’ll call him Jim). Let’s say Jim got home from work and felt awful. Instead of turning on a football game or yelling at his wife for something petty or telling his kids to stop talking so loud because he’d already had a long and stressful day, let’s freeze frame that moment. Let’s say Jim goes somewhere to be alone and instead of escaping from the pain, he lets himself really acknowledge it and feel it. He remembers in that moment that his Dad used to talk to him the same way. His performance was never good enough. He tried so hard to “do better” to win Dad’s approval but it was never enough and now he and Dad didn’t have a relationship anymore because Jim’s way of dealing with the pain he couldn’t allow himself to feel, was just to eliminate the one who caused it in the first place. Each situation is different and I’m not going to say whether that was right or wrong in this case. Everyone is different and there are certainly times when abuse is present that distance from the abuser is extremely healthy and right in trying to find our own healing. However, it doesn’t in and of itself HEAL our pain. It just stops future pain from occurring from the same source that caused it the first time.
In continuing with our story, let’s say Jim remembers being 7 years old and having a particularly hurtful memory where Dad yelled horrible, degrading things at him that made him feel worthless. He recalls the first time he felt this pain and realizes that his boss’s yelling only triggered and un-earthed a deeper hurt that had never been given to the L-rd. Now here is the moment when most people bail. They find the place that hurts but are afraid of their own hurt. It feels so big (because it felt so big to them as that child that first felt it). That little boy or girl had no ability to deal with the pain. They were being attacked by the person that G-d put into their lives to protect them. At this moment of identifying that place of pain, holding there is crucial. Staying in that moment and feeling the pain surface instead of stuffing it, ignoring it or running from it is vitally important to being freed from it. Denial is not a back door into freedom. It delays the healing process.
So let’s say Jim decides not to avoid and deny the pain he is experiencing. He doesn’t fight back the tears or push back the memories and call them childish. If He stays in that pain and feels the fullness of it, he’s unlocking the prison and cutting the power of the pain. Then as the pain is being felt, it must be released to Jesus. He died to the purchase the pain and He is the only one who can carry it for us, so we must give it back to Him. He is the rightful owner because His death purchased our freedom from our pain. Now we can bring it full circle and freedom can happen as we allow Him to take our pain as soon as the Spirit of G-d shows us that it’s there. In feeling it, we tell Jesus out loud that it hurts, that we don’t want to keep carrying it so we are offering it back to Him. We ask Him to take all of it out and heal us of past memories that caused the pain. Whatever you have to say in that moment to release it to Him and tell Him how it feels is important–it disarms the strength of that pain. If perhaps you recognize that there were some false things you believed about yourself or about G-d when that event occurred, give that to the Father as well and ask Him to bring truth to your heart over that issue, situation, etc. Ask Him to replace the lies with the truth of who He says you are. Let yourself feel that pain and then give it to the Father. It’s okay to cry. Whether you are a male or female, G-d made tears as a way to express and release how we feel so give yourself permission to shed some tears. Feel it, even though it hurts. It will start to taper off and hurt less as you pray it to Adonai and release it through tears, words, or whatever that needs to be for your own heart.
Then ask God to fill you up with His abundant love and with His peace. If you wait there a minute, you will notice a peace and maybe feel a warmth settle upon your heart…or you might not feel anything. The feeling isn’t what tells you that He is healing you. Our Savior and Deliverer is the one who conducts the healing process inside. It’s not something we do in our minds or try to force with emotions. We allow Him to be the healer and just let Him do the navigating. All we do is show up, feel the pain, acknowledge it and give it to Him.
I cannot even begin to articulate accurately and strongly enough with words how much walking through this process has brought tremendous healing in my own life. Yes, I do believe in blowing the whistle on abuse in spiritual places and “ministries”. However, people can run around all day saying “this place is wrong. that place is wrong.” And while there may be truth in that, acknowledging the places as being bad, wrong, in error, teaching erroneous things, etc. doesn’t HEAL the abuse or pain that was caused. It’s the other missing piece.
I hope to continue walking with you on the journey toward pursuing truth but my desire is that we all get free along the way. If healing from past congregations doesn’t happen we will eventually walk back into a situation just like it or worse because we didn’t heal. It’s the same with abusive relationships, if we don’t heal from the abuse and recognize what drove us to it then we will eventually go back to another abuser. The same wounds get dragged into the next situation or place. We then add that new damage to the old and become the walking wounded. G-d desires us to be healed and whole, free and vibrantly alive in Him so that we can fulfill all that He called us to do in our time on this earth. Do you want to finish the race dragging a broken body and wounded heart over the finish line or do you want to run triumphantly over it jumping with joy over the victory of winning the race? Something to think about there…
Let’s finish the race together pursuing the wholeness, freedom and healing that are ours through the redemption that comes from our L-rd and Messiah!