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The Practical Christian Life

Jacob Ninan

Chapter 18

Healing of the past

After discussing about victory we must also realise that the abundant life which Jesus came to give is greater than just victory in temptations. It means to live out God’s plan for us to the full. Satan seeks to steal and to destroy, and God works now to restore what people have lost in the past and to give us a fullness of life (Jn.10:10). One way by which people lose out on life is when painful experiences of our past affect and limit our life now. Sometimes we are aware that this is happening, but many times we are not even aware that some problems we are experiencing now are there because of the memories of the past still hurting us. Sometimes it happens that however much we may seek to become spiritual we still find ourselves unable to make progress because the baggage from the past is holding us down. In some cases it may also be that our behaviour in the past has given some access to demons in certain areas of our life and they seek to oppress us or to affect our behaviour now. Jesus has come to set us free from every kind of bondage (Lk.4:18,19), and when He sets us free we will be free indeed to enjoy His abundant life.

Common Types Of Trauma
If we look at the common situations that people face in their lives that cause them severe trauma (an emotional wound or shock often having long-lasting effects), we can group them into a few categories. Even though there are some overlaps in these groups, it helps us to understand them if we look at them separately. Emotional trauma is more damaging when it happens in childhood because children are unable to process them intelligently and to overcome them. For example, if a father told his son, “You are a useless boy. You will never succeed in anything in life,” the child is not able to reason things out and tell himself, “My father doesn’t mean it. He is angry about something and that’s why he is saying this. I am not a useless boy.” When trauma takes place in childhood, children unconsciously form life strategies that will become major behaviour patterns of their later lives. Since children do not have enough knowledge or understanding when they form these strategies, these strategies are usually self-defeating or the causes of negative development. In the above example, one possibility is that the boy may grow up always considering himself useless and unable to succeed, and this may affect every area of his life. Often, even after someone is born again, these natural tendencies might remain and affect them until they are addressed and dealt with. Rejection. Psychologists point out that it is one of our strongest desires in life to be accepted and valued by others. But we live in a broken world, and instead of acceptance what we get many times is rejection. Sometimes a baby is rejected by his mother right from the time of conception because she was unwed or it was an inconvenient time for her to become pregnant. In countries like India where girl children are considered to be a burden, a girl baby faces immediate rejection from her parents and other relatives when she is born. The baby can also sense that he is not welcome from adverse comments about colour, shapes of the different parts of the body, etc. If the mother is too busy or unable to carry the baby, give him a sense of acceptance through physical touch and talk, the baby’s developmental milestones themselves may get delayed. As the child grows up, he feels rejected if he is negatively compared to siblings, is told by parents he was an unwanted child or an ‘accident’, or made fun of for any deformity, way of talking, etc. The chances are that he will grow up with a poor self-esteem, withdraw from people, show unwillingness to take initiatives or risks, become overly eager to get approval from people and easily dejected at negative comments, etc.

The three common strategies such people develop in childhood are 1) to act belligerent or rebellious to cover up for the poor self-esteem they feel inside, 2) to protect themselves from further rejection by avoiding mixing with others or confrontations, hiding their opinions, suffering quietly, etc., and 3) to reject themselves, lose all hope and take self-punishing or self-destructive actions. If we come across such behaviour we may wish to explore the possibility of some roots of rejection.

Abuse. Many children are abused physically, verbally, emotionally or sexually, and these also can leave deep wounds in their mind. There are degrees of abuse, and in the case of lighter forms, many people get over the pain naturally over a period of time without any external intervention. In more serious cases, the wounds are very deep and affect people even after they grow up. This becomes especially troublesome if the children were asked to keep quiet about what happened for fear of punishment or shame. The children are unable to make any sense of their experience and the common thing is to blame themselves. There are even cases of the mind repressing the painful memory and the children relating their experience to a fictitious person! The responses could be a hatred for authority figures, hating themselves believing that there is something very wrong in them, or an aggressive behaviour to get back at people. In the case of sexual abuse there are cases of people detesting the idea of sex itself, becoming promiscuous and others becoming confused and turning homosexual or transgender (body of a certain gender and thinking in their mind of being the opposite gender).

Neglect. As parents are busy with their own pressures, many children get neglected. They are left to themselves and allowed to do whatever they like without too many restrictions. The Bible is very clear that if we want our children to walk in the right way, it is our responsibility to train them (Prov.22:6). We are warned that children who are left to themselves will bring shame to their parents (29:15). The absence of deliberate training will result in an imbalanced development for the children, and this will show in different ways when they grow up.

Demonic oppression. We will address this in a later chapter.

What Is Needed For Healing
As I mentioned earlier, all of us human beings need a sense of being accepted and valued. Psychologists refer to this as the needs for security and significance. Security means knowing we are loved and cared for, and a sense of belonging coming from those who love us. Significance stands for a sense of importance that comes from being valued and recognised for the things we do. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden with God, God was everything for them and they didn’t feel any need. But when they sinned and lost their connection with God, they began to feel insecure and insignificant. From then onwards people began to seek security and significance from other sources, from people, pleasure, achievements, positions, power, etc. What we need is to get connected back to Him.

Relationship With God
It is in our relationship with God that we know we are most loved. He loves us not like people who love us as long as we are good to them. God loves us because it is His nature to love. He knows all about our past sins and our present shortcomings, but He loves us in spite of them. He treats us as His children, provides for us, protects us, takes care of us, guides us, and does for us everything else that we need. He demonstrated His love for us even when we were His enemies (Rom.5:8), and now that we are His children He promises to always be with us (Matt.28:20) and never to leave or forsake us (Heb.13:5). We can see from the parable of the lost sheep (Lk.15:4–7) that even if we were the only sinner on earth and everyone else was righteous, He would have come after us and saved us. So here we have the ultimate sense of security in our relationship with God.

God values each of us so much that He was willing to let His Son suffer and die in order to save us. That is how much He values us. His value of us is not affected by the colour of our skin, how we look, how clever we are, which family we come from, etc. We are all equally valuable to Him (Gal.3:28). With the particular combination of personal history and gifts, He has planned something unique for each one of us to accomplish that others cannot do. Just as He turned the evil that Joseph’s brothers did to him to work for their good (Gen.50:20), He is able to cause everything in our lives to work together for our good (Rom.8:28). At some point in our life we may have wondered why God made us with our peculiarities, put us into such type of a family, and allowed us to go through such and such difficult and painful experiences. But later, when we put our trust in Him, we see that the very negative things we had counted against us became in God’s hands sources of our special moulding and a blessing to others! This is what gives each one of us a sense of security and significance.

We see that the things people count as great and especially valuable are not the things God values (Lk.16:15). He doesn’t love us because we have some special abilities, skills or potential, but because we are ones He has created. We are precious to Him, and He would hate to see us get lost and He would give whatever He has to save us. When we understand how much He loves and values us, that is when find meaning and purpose in life.

What Do We Need To Do?
As we think of God’s attitude towards us and understand what He has done for us out of His love for us, it should transform our own attitudes in different directions.

Accept ourselves. If we have been upset with ourselves because of what we considered were our flaws, limitations, family background, race, educational or financial status, failures at different levels, etc., this is the time to accept ourselves as we are. If God the Creator has accepted us and even loves us, we must accept ourselves as being worthy and valuable. Our ‘lacks’ do not disappear when we accept ourselves, but we become OK with them. We are able to take a realistic picture of ourselves, and we are able accept that picture as something God cherishes! We recognise that our worth is based on what He sees in us and not what we or others see in comparison to others. All sense of a poor self-esteem begins to disappear. We can say to ourselves, “If God wanted me to be like this or that person, He could have easily made me like that. But He wanted me, to be just like me. Now He is going to work in me to bring out my full potential as me, and I am not in any competition with others trying to be like them!” Think of the great liberation this can give in our life!

Forgiving ourselves. If we have been angry with ourselves for being the way we were or doing the things we have done, this is the time to ‘forgive ourselves’. When we went to God repenting from our sins and putting our faith in Jesus, He forgave our sins and accepted us as His children. If He has forgiven us, we must also forgive ourselves. If we don’t have a healthy regard for ourselves – which we can have in the light of God valuing us – we will be always pulled back by our past. Then we will not be able to accomplish all that God has planned for us.

When we accept and forgive ourselves we don’t mean that we are perfect or that we don’t have any lacks or shortcomings. Of course, we will be imperfect as long as we are in this earthly life. But we can learn to overcome many things in our life with God’s grace, and we can learn to live cheerfully with many things we can’t change (e.g., the colour of our skin). Accepting ourselves and pressing on towards perfection is a most practical and realistic goal we can have, with God’s grace.

Forgiving others. This can be a very challenging part of dealing with the past because of the pain the mere memory of the past can produce. As a result of the fear of this pain, many choose to suppress that memory and refuse to address it. Some hope time will heal. But that does not work. Even after we suppress that memory it still remains in our memory, and as long as it remains in our memory without closure it creates problems for us. What we need to do is to face that memory, deal with it in the sight of God and put it to rest.

As we recollect the details of what happened to us and what somebody did to us, the memory will cause us different emotions. We should not immediately supress those emotions but recognise that those are the emotions that need to be dealt with. As we think of each incident remember that our Saviour was watching us go through them and that He knows exactly how we felt. He felt for us, but allowed us to go through the pain because He knew one day He was going to turn it around to work for our good. He had His hand of restraint limiting what we went through. But He also allowed the free will of man to trouble us or our own free will to make wrong choices at that time.

Once we see God’s compassion towards us and His overall control over our life even as we were going through some of the most painful times, we become able to ‘accept’ those situations as parts of history that happened to us. Once we accept those situations, they will begin to lose their sting in causing us pain and confusion. This is a major part of the healing.

The next thing to do, that follows from accepting our history, is to let go of our anger, hatred, malice and bitterness towards those who caused us those hurts. This can look very challenging and almost impossible if we have suffered a lot or are still hurting from the things they have done to us. We may think they don’t deserve to be forgiven when we see they have not even admitted they have done us wrong, but instead they are going around enjoying themselves while we suffer! But as we have seen in the chapter on forgiveness, we are not in a position to say they don’t deserve forgiveness when we have received forgiveness from God even though we don’t deserve it. Secondly, forgiving others and letting go of them is very crucial for our healing. If we forgive them we will receive a huge cleansing of our mind, and it will also give us peace after removing our anger, bitterness, malice, etc., towards them. Do look back at the chapter on forgiveness for more clarity on the practical aspects of forgiveness.

‘Forgiving God’. In a sense there is nothing we need to forgive God for, because He has only done good! But what we mean is, we need to settle in our mind the complaints and anger we may have had against God – for creating us with features we were unhappy about, for putting us in unpleasant circumstances, for letting us go through painful experiences, etc. We will be the ones to benefit once our mind gets cleared of all such baggage. We can do this by asking God to forgive us for the things we have had in our mind against Him.

Conclusion. It is good if we can go through this healing process with the support of a Christian counsellor because he/she can help in clarifying issues, ask appropriate questions to make us think, encourage us to face the past without being overwhelmed by it, etc. Those who have gone through this cleansing can then face life with less baggage pulling them back and more hopeful of fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives.

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Go to Chapter 19. Accepting ourselves and others.

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