My husband and I recently argued over something as simple as our schedules, but instead of responding in the conversation like a rational human-being, in the middle of it, I shut-down and fought to hide my tears from the man who vowed to love me till death do us part. I retreated from the argument by saying whatever I could to end it and began cleaning up the kitchen in a drastic effort to distract myself from the hurt I was experiencing. As I washed pizza sauce off our wedding registry dinnerware, I was transported back to my childhood, reliving a painful conversation with my father, who when I was desperately seeking his love and attention was so weighed down by stress and fear, that he simply could not give me what I needed. I was reliving the pain of every hurtful word of that memory and the shockwave of heartbreak and disappointment it had in so many areas of my life. It was one conversation, one moment in time, one memory from a lifetime ago, or 20 years ago to be more exact, but there I was in my NYC apartment reliving it all over again.
My husband and I spoke more that night and not only reconciled our different perspectives, but went to bed exchanging heartfelt, “I love you’s”. But long after he fell asleep, I laid awake wondering why an old wound had made such a dramatic reentry into my life.
A couple weeks ago, a colleague of mine achieved something remarkable and when I first heard the news, my response was not joy and celebration, but envy and disappointment. Her success reminded me of what I hadn’t yet achieved, and within seconds I found myself wallowing in self-pity and frustrated for having not yet accomplished what I “should have” already done. The pity-party only lasted about 30 seconds before the Holy Spirit snapped me out of it. I then took a couple minutes to not only congratulate her, but to pray for her. But later in the day, I kept coming back to my initial reaction, startled by insecurity that had reared its ugly head into my thought life. An insecurity I thought I had crucified a long time ago was somehow resurrected by an Instagram post from someone I hardly knew.
These are frustrating moments to me because, well, I’m your typical type A. I’m the kind of person who thrives on goals. Give me a mission and I’ll get it done. Tell me the problem, and I’ll solve it. Once I know there is a challenge, well, I throw myself into overcoming it. In my past, as old childhood wounds and new hurts became apparent, I put my best effort forward to heal, to learn, and well, to move on. I’ve gone to Christian counseling. I’ve sought out both forgiveness and reconciliation. I’ve read all the books on health and recovery and overcoming and freedom that you can imagine. I’ve attended the classes and signed up for the small groups at church. I’ve had accountability partners and I’ve journaled and I’ve had the difficult conversations and been prayed for. I’ve done the work. So why won’t certain old wounds just stay in the past where they belong?
I’m not sure I have an easy answer. Sorry, reader, I’m searching just like you. But I do have encouragement from God’s Word. I look at the Bible, and I see a story, an intricately and magnificently and divinely woven story of grace overcoming sin and love conquering fear. I see it in the story of Jacob, a man who schemes and deceives until he is humbled and out of options. I see him in Genesis wrestle with God Himself and live to tell the tale with a limp, but also a new name- Israel: a new name God gives him that speaks no longer of Jacob’s deceiving ways, but the great legacy that he will leave as his generations become a nation. I see it in King David, who is called a man after God’s own heart. But he’s also a man who committed adultery and murder. In his lowest moments of sin and shame, God doesn’t abandon Him. Instead, God out of His redemptive grace makes a covenant with David, a covenant fulfilled generations upon generations later in the birth of Jesus. I see it in Peter, a man who followed Jesus for three years. Even with all that time of walking and learning from Love and Truth Himself, Peter denied his Savior, not once, but three times, and abandoned Him at the cross. And it’s this same Peter that Jesus reinstates with the call to lead the church, the beautiful new movement fueled by the Holy Spirit that undeniably turned the world upside down and lives right-side up.
You see, we love black and white progress. We like the idea of clean and linear momentum. “We once dealt with ______________, but because we now know better, we will never deal with ______________ again.” Disturbingly, progress is not always that simple. The path to freedom is not always as smooth and straight as we would like it to be. And not because our Jesus is not capable of setting us free or bringing us healing. Progress is messy because we are.
And perhaps this is the most liberating truth we could here: God is fine with our mess. He’s so fine with it that Jesus tells the story of a father running to embrace his prodigal son to show us that this is how our Heavenly Father runs towards our mess. He’s so fine with it that when a woman is pulled from the act of adultery and thrown at the feet of Jesus with a crowd of religious authorities demanding she be stoned to death, Jesus silences her accusers until she has none. He’s so fine with it, that He welcomes a tax collector with his share of baggage and enemies to be one of Jesus’ very own disciples.
I don’t know what your mess is. I don’t know what has just tripped you up again or what old wound is resurfacing or in what ways you wish you were further along than you are right now, but I do know this: the arms of God Himself are open towards you, and that His grace and mercy is for you. You aren’t just a progress report. You are a child of God, and so wherever you find yourself, may you be met by the grace of God, the love of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has complete healing and redemption and freedom for you, even if the journey to wholeness is a bit bumpier than you’d like it to be. And as you bring your pain and your hang-up to God, may you remember these truths:
- The old wound or reoccurring setback can house shame or healing, but never both. If you’re like me, your tendency when an old pain or sin resurfaces is to become frustrated by your lack of faith or self-control or godliness. We get angry at ourselves for the mistakes we make or the patterns we find ourselves in. We compare ourselves to others and wonder what is wrong with us and ask ourselves why we are not experiencing the freedom and success that others seem to have. The problem with this reaction is that we are inadvertently kicking ourselves when we already down. We’re breeding shame, and shame always, since the garden of Eden, causes us to hide from God. And when we try to hide, we are no longer positioned for the healing that Jesus offers us. Refuse to let shame calls the shots in your life. Instead, run to Jesus and openly ask Him to heal what is broken and dysfunctional in your soul. He is the Healer, and when you run to Him and not away from Him you discover just how fully and wonderfully He can heal the deepest wounds and set you free from the strongest prisons.
- His mercies are new daily for a reason. God doesn’t expect our perfection, but He does ask for our trust. We are all going to make mistakes, and that’s not the measure of our worth. What defines us is not our pain or our past or our current struggle. What defines us is as followers of Jesus is trusting Jesus enough to keep following Him, to obey His teachings, to leave our ways behind to embrace His ways. And when we daily follow Jesus, whatever struggle we are facing is met with Jesus’ mercy- a mercy that simply can’t be rivaled by our sin or our pain.
- There is a difference between addressing an old wound and picking at it. When I was teenager, I dealt with my fair share of acne. Good times. Thankfully, Proactiv saved the day, but one thing I learned quickly is that the more I pick at a blemish, the longer it takes to heal and the deeper the scars that form. When a hurt from the past or a temptation from another season is triggered, it’s important to address the pain properly with the sole purpose of healing. Trauma and hurt are not meant to be played on repeat in our hearts and minds, nor should they become a label in which we identify ourselves or an excuse to stay stuck in dysfunction longer than we ought. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to the painful moments resurfacing to bring new levels of healing and resist the urge to pick at what simply needs to be mended.
- It’s okay to ask for help. The freedom and healing I have experienced in my life so far has undeniable come from Jesus. But that freedom and healing has always been supported by the family of God, by other healthy followers of Jesus who have showed up for me and loved me and encouraged me along the way. So if you find yourself hurting and stuck, don’t stay hidden. Have the courage to ask for help. You will be amazed how God uses the support of others to bring healing and hope to you.