Aug
22
2013

Because this is what happens when you try to run from the past. It just doesn’t catch up, it overtakes you … blotting out the future. Sarah Dessen

When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. Barbara Bloom

Another area that a person must encounter if they wish to move to the point of friendship with Jesus is that they need to find the courage to seek healing in their lives. The major step forward in moving toward a friendship with God is looking at your past and facing your brokenness and wounds—wounds that you received from others and wounds that you have given yourself in the poor choices you have made.  Too often in our lives we can put on masks and attempt to recreate ourselves for others. It is imperative that we live as who we really are and face the past and the problems in our personal lives. As I have said many times, we should never fake or hide the reality of our lives—Jesus wants to know us at the core of our being, the real person behind all of the facades we try to erect. Sometimes we put up those facades because of our past and history, and he demands that they come down.

Here is another truth—who we are today is often because of who we were yesterday. Our past and where  we grew up and who are parents were and what happened to us in our early years inevitably influences us and often for a lifetime. While I don’t fully agree with their findings, there are different research studies within psychology that have been done that seem to suggest that what happens to us prior to the age of five forever creates who we are. While these studies may over inflate their conclusions, there is at least an element of the truth to what they state—we are very much a making of our past and upbringing.

A lot of people have some suspicions about looking at their past and for good reason. There have been pockets in psychology—Sigmund Freud, as an example—which have embellished and overstated different aspects of a person’s upbringing and a parent’s influence. However, without a doubt, how we were raised, how we were treated and nurtured, and if there was any abuse in our lives, be that physical, verbal, sexual, emotional or spiritual, can deeply influence are own mental, emotional or spiritual health. To not look at these dynamics and ramifications in our lives is short-sighted to say the least. Below are some basic questions to ask yourself in looking at how your past influences your life today.

  • Who was the dominant parent in your family, your mother or your father? Was this parent nurturing or did you not have a close connection with this parent?
  • Would you characterize your father as being a good parent? If you are man, did your father positively influence you to be masculine in a healthy way or did he condemn you in different ways verbally or non-verbally (e.g., you’re a wimp, you’re worthless, you’re such a girl, etc.). If you are a woman, did your father positively influence you to be feminine or did he not nurture that side of you (e.g., he regularly told you were beautiful, he was appropriately affectionate with you, he tried to protect you in different ways, etc.). Now address these same questions about how your mother was as a parent.
  • Here is a big question—how did your father or mother “image” God for you?
  • In your teenage years and early adult years, were you able to speak openly with your parents, or were you shut down if you wanted to discuss a problem or issue in the family?
  • With regards to your teenage years, how did your parents influence your sexuality? Were these open discussions or was the topic never discussed?
  • Were your parents too permissible (wanting to be your best friend) or too impermissible (very strict) in the rules that governed your life as a child and adolescent?
  • Did you suffer any form of physical, spiritual, verbal or sexual abuse in your childhood?
  • Did you witness physical, emotional or verbal abuse in your family?
  • In your childhood, did you suffer any serious physical neglect?
  • Did any of your primary caregivers (e.g., parents, grandparents or other family members) have mental health problems (e.g., substance abuse, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, serious depression, addictions, codependency, etc.)? Do you struggle with these same issues or similar ones?
  • Were your parents ever separated or divorced? If so, when it occurred, how did this impact you?

When asking questions such as these, we need to honestly ask ourselves how these issues impacted us. We do know this, for those who have experienced a difficult or troubled childhood, it can have differing effects on their lives as children and when they become an adult. Some children and adults, when they experience loss or face maltreatment in some way can be more resilient than others. Likewise, from numerous studies, we also know that some adverse experiences in childhood are reparable and a person can move on with their life. In that same breath, some experiences can be toxic, meaning it can take years to deal with the pain of the serious damage that has occurred. As children, when we are party to any form of abuse, neglect or abandonment, we can lose track of the person we were meant to be—our real self that is trusting of others and especially toward God. Instead, to survive and cope in a family that is broken, for some of us, we go into hiding in some way, and we adapt to new surroundings and relationships in similar dysfunctional ways (e.g., emotionally distant, distrustful of others, codependence or people-pleasing, etc.). It can be common that from these experiences from many years ago that this can be the impetus for a myriad of problems that we face in our adult lives, and often it is easier to avoid them then to courageously acknowledge and face them.

WHERE OUR BROKENNESS COMES FROM

Typically, our brokenness and our sinful patterns originate in two different ways: 1) sin is engrained into our very nature because of the fallen state of our world; 2) we fall to different patterns of sin in response to the pain that we have never healed from or faced. It is in our best interest to face these past experiences to see how they might impact who we are and look at what we struggle with in regards to our personal problems and relationships. As someone said to me recently, she said that she was learning that “Your pain has to be taken to the same cross that your sins are.” I think that says something very important to a lot of us.

A starting point in this journey of healing is beginning to share your story with someone.  A lot of people think that the only person that they need to be open to is to God.  That’s a good place to start, but that’s not the end all.  In the book of James it says “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (5:16) In this verse, it’s obvious that it is strongly suggesting that we need to seek out others who we can trust and share our faults and struggles with in our lives. But beyond this, I think what James was also stating is that it is imperative that we confess the sins that were done to us. What is the ending statement if we do this—we will find healing in our lives.

I remember in a small group I was in some years ago, I went with a bunch of guys up to a cottage in northern Michigan for a retreat in which the main purpose was so that we could come clean about the problem areas of our lives.  It was a couple of days in which we just got away by ourselves and we could open up and share our dark secrets and some of our past.  I remember a good friend telling us prior to us going that if the stuff we were going to share wasn’t painful, it probably wasn’t the stuff that we were supposed to share.  Sharing our true souls in this way is almost always a difficult process.  In a certain sense, it’s like when we get sick—you have this awful thing inside that has to come out and the only way you are going to feel better is through a really messy and sometimes painful process.  That is what accountability is in most cases—it’s going to be uncomfortable and it’s really not going to be something you jump to do.  But that’s okay, because if you do, in the end you will find deep healing, just as the book of James promises.

So with this type of sharing, with whom should you open up?  This is the danger I have found some experience—they share their troubles and darkness with people they just should not trust. There are two dangers with this. First, you have the risk of sharing something deeply personal and the person you opened up to tells someone else all of the sacred stuff you’ve uncovered. They do not make what you shared confidential and carelessly share your secrets with others. Another danger is that the person you open up to is not a person of grace and after you have shared with them, their face shows a look of disgust and you walk away feeling dirty and terribly exposed. Without a doubt, these are not the ways in which you share your woundedness. We need to search out people we know and trust. They will be people who will be merciful with us because they are no different than you, and they have done things which they also deeply regret. They know that place well in which they are a wreck no different than you.  A passage that comes to mind is when Jesus was offered to have dinner with a notorious prostitute. Many around him were astounded that he would accept such an invitation. He says this about her, Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:47) I love that passage. Those who don’t know their sins well, don’t love very well either. However, in the reverse, we can also say, Those who have been forgiven much, love much. Seek out people in your life who have been forgiven much.  Seek out those who know their brokenness well and at the same time, are also seeking their own healing. These are the safe people who you can pretty much share anything with them and they wouldn’t even bat an eye.

Another thing that you can do is seek out professional help. I have never met a person who at some point in their life could not benefit from having a gifted counselor walk with them for a season. Too often people think that counseling is only for crazy people. Not at all.  Counseling offers some advantages that some friendships just cannot provide. First, the conversations you have with a counselor or psychologist are guaranteed to be confidential. I cannot tell you how often in my practice that I have heard stories that a person had never shared in their life before simply because they knew I was bound to keep what I heard confidential.  The security of knowing that what you share will never be revealed to anyone can give you the power to seek out help. Where in the past you perhaps have been afraid to open up about your story, now you can freely share everything about yourself because all that is said is going to be private.

Second, when you seek out a professional, you are being offered something that is invaluable and is sometimes hard to come by, and that is, you are receiving unbiased counsel. Too often, when our friends or family are offering us some advice or their opinion, it comes from a place of bias and partiality. Either they know us too well or they just do not have a good perspective on the situation, because what is often the case, they themselves are somehow involved in the issue that we are facing. For example, if you are having challenges in your marriage, your sister or best friend either wants to somehow stop the pain you are feeling or can’t see how you are a part of the problem in your relationship. Sometimes our family and friends have a difficult time speaking a hard word or they want you to not suffer anymore and therefore, offer a quick solution. Yep, HE is THE problem, isn’t he?! Maybe you should just leave her—she was never good for you anyway. A competent therapist can speak words of truth and challenge to you and they don’t have to worry if you like them or not. After they refute your perceptions and your own biases, they don’t have to go home with you and they can offer straight-forward advice.

Finally, counselors are trained and have experience in working with a myriad of problems. Good ones know what they are doing. Because counselors work with so many different situations and individuals, they garner an experience that overtime they learn what works for a given situation and what doesn’t work. I know counselors who are great at working with marriages, others who know how to help someone with depression, and others still, who are expert at helping someone face a past trauma. Accomplished and trained counselors have a wealth of knowledge, and this can make the process of healing and growth happen more quickly because of their wisdom and experience. As a parallel, for years I tried to teach myself the game of golf and very slowly got better. A couple of years ago I sought out a golf teacher and professional. With just a couple of lessons, it was as if I improved overnight. He quickly saw what I was doing wrong and offered simple, but helpful suggestions in how I could improve my game. It’s the same way when facing our personal struggles and problems—working with someone who knows what they are doing can make all the difference and sometimes healing and change can come rather quickly.

SOMETHING TO TRY

  • Are there things you have never told anyone? Perhaps this was something that happened years ago or perhaps it’s something that is on-going in your life at this time? What would it be like to be able to share these stories and events to someone and they would not tell a single soul? What would it be like to lift that burden off your shoulders?
  • Are there areas of your life where you just can’t seem to get “over the hump?” Perhaps in your career you haven’t gone anywhere and you can’t figure out the root of the problem. Perhaps your marriage has never been really that satisfying since the second year. Perhaps you and your kid just can’t seem to get along. What would it look like to get another person’s perspective and see what they suggested?

 


In: Friend to Jesus
Tags: , , , , , , ,