Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
A husband walks out on wife and family,
a drunken driver kills a child, a mother mistreats her children,
an uncle sexually abuses a young niece, a teenager insults her mother.
Someday all these events will likely become the material of memories
that need healing.
We are all hurt as we journey through
this life. Sometimes we are able to let go of the hurts, no matter
how severe. At other times, we hold on to them and let them blot
out the joy and beauty of other life experiences. The unfaithfulness
of a spouse, the injustice of an employer, the abuse of a parent,
the rejection by a friend are examples of hurts that can cling and
sting years after they're experienced.
A 20-year-old woman says, "A teacher
gave me an F once on a test because she thought I'd cheated. Years
later I saw her and very deliberately and with pleasure snubbed
her." A middle-aged man says, "I saw the guy who fired me 20 years
after it happened and I wanted to punch him in the nose."
A 60-year-old widow says, "I never forgave
my mother for being drunk all the time while we were growing up.
I left home when I was 18 and never saw her again even though I
heard later that she had quit drinking."
Why try to heal life's hurts?
To continue carrying hurts is to choose
to continue to hurt. Just as we would seek help and healing immediately
if we suffered a gunshot wound or a dog bite, we need to seek healing
when we suffer equivalent wounds to our emotions. Not doing so can
damage our spiritual, emotional and even physical well-being. Holding
on to hurts is like carrying red-hot coals inside us that can be
fanned into flames at the least expected moment.
Jesus tells us to let go of our grudges
and do good to those who hate us. Psychologists today give us similar
advice. They tell us that we have the power to lighten the burdens
we carry and that forgiving is one way of doing that.
Some medical scientists say that feeding
the wounds of emotional hurts precipitates heart disease, cancer,
digestive problems, high blood pressure and mental breakdown. Some
doctors see a link between cancer and the tendency to hold resentment
and nurse hurts.
Studies show that the human mind and
the immune system are closely linked. If you are holding on to memories
of hurtfulperhaps evilexperiences in your life, you
could very well be hampering your body's ability to fight infection
and disease (causing disease in the body's normal functioning).
Our spiritual lives are affected too
when we allow past hurts to be part of who we are. Because people
have hurt us, we keep our distance from those who could love usand
from those who need our love. When hurts are not healed, we find
it difficult to see Christ in those around us and to be Christ for
those around us. Relationships are overshadowed with memories of
past hurts and, in blocking relationships with others, we block
Christ who wants to relate to us through others.
Each of the Church's sacraments begins
with a brief rite of reconciliation; unless we are reconciled (healed),
the sacrament cannot be fully effective.
In this Update we offer you seven
suggestions for the healing of those memories that keep you from
living life fully today.
1) Admit that you hurt.
Often it's hard to admit we're hurting.
"I'm O.K.," we stoically tell ourselves. "She can't hurt me," we
tell others, and "Big boys and girls don't cry."
Admitting you're hurting is one of the
first steps toward healing. Running away from pain is the source
of all emotional illness, says M. Scott Peck in The Road Less
Traveled. To be emotionally healthy, we must embrace the pain
of life's hurts.
"The more we are in touch with reality
and cope with it, no matter how painful it may be," says Father
Martin Padovani (in Healing Wounded Emotions), "the better
mental and emotional well-being we enjoy...."
Jesus says, "Pick up your cross and follow
me." The hurts of our life are crosses to pick up, to face and to
embrace. Denying our hurt feelings is the way to give them control
over us and our behavior.
Part of taking a realistic look at our
hurt is looking at the "payoff" we get from holding on to it.
Does it allow us to maintain a false "poor me" stance? Is it a protective
shield saying, "Don't touch; I'm fragile"? Is it a way of escaping
the risks of ever loving again?
A friend once told me, "If I let go of
the anger and bitterness that have filled me for so long, I'm afraid
there will be nothing left but an empty shell. That anger is all
I have to let me know I'm alive."
But the wisdom Jesus offers us is that,
when we let go of hurts, there's something better that can fill
the voidsomething that is life-giving and sustaining. lt's
what sustained him when people he loved turned away, when those
he trusted betrayed him, when he hung alone on the cross. It's God's
healing, unconditional, overflowing love for each of us.
2) Know you are loved.
The second step in healing a hurt is
becoming aware of how much you are loved. Dennis and Matthew Linn,
who have coauthored eight books on healing life's hurts, conduct
healing retreats and workshops all over the country. Before one
of their retreats in the Midwest recently, I talked with them about
their personal experiences with healing and what they tell others
as they travel around the country.
Dennis Linn is convinced that we can
face hurts only to the extent that we feel loved. Oftentimes, he
says, people have not allowed expressions of love to enter their
awareness. "We have all been loved and cared for or we wouldn't
be alive," he says. And we need to let these experiences soak in.
In my own personal experience, I have
found that, if we have a day in which we get four or five affirmations
and one cutting remark, most of us tend to remember (and feel hurt
about) the cutting remark and forget the affirmations. Sometimes
when I give workshops on human relations, I ask participants to
recall and list some of the ways they've been loved, to experience
again how it felt to be hugged by a grandson, or surprised by friends
with a birthday party, or told, "I love you."
If we let the light of the realization
that we are loved shine through the darkness of our hurts, we can
begin to let go of the hurts. God values us "more than many sparrows,"
Scripture says, and carries us as an eagle carries its young. In
love, God offers us Jesus in order to be united with us. As we let
this awareness in, we allow new healing tissue to form around life's
wounds. As we open our eyes to the many ways God's love is manifested
in the life-giving beauty and events of our lives, and in the love
that others have for us, we begin to risk living in a present awareness
of love instead of with past hurts.
I sometimes think the primary task of
this life is to become convinced of God's great love for us. Perhaps
that's the resurrection, the rebirth that awaits us.
3) Don't automatically blame yourself
for the things you suffer.
If Jesus taught us anything, he taught
us that pain, suffering and death precede resurrection and freedom
from pain. He was mocked, scourged, spit uponthrough no fault
of his ownand we can expect the same.
Some of our healing is dependent upon
knowing that usually it's not our fault when tragedy strikes or
when others hurt us. If we have enough self-esteem, we won't take
on blame, for example, if another person treats us cruelly. I've
found in my teaching experience that people hurt others because
they've been hurtusually by someone other than their victim.
Pseudo-healers are all too quick to ask what you did to "cause"
or incite the hurt. Feeling guilty about another's behavior or even
about a health problem is not a way to heal your hurtsnor
is telling yourself that you "shouldn't" feel hurt or angry.
It's O.K. to be angry at misfortune or
with someone who has hurt you. When slapped by the guard of the
high priest, Jesus confronted him for the injustice: "Why do you
strike me?" (John 18:23). The Linn brothers say that feeling anger
at being emotionally hurt is as healthy a reaction as feeling pain
from a physical hurt. Those who love themselves, they say, get angry
when they're hurt emotionally, whereas people who don't love themselves
assume the passive victim role, get depressed and even suicidal.
So it's helpful when you're hurting to remember that Jesus before
you was an innocent victim and yet was not everybody's doormat.
4) Share your story of hurt.
Tell the story of your hurt in the warm
presence of a trusted friend or a journeying companion as a way
of healing the wounded emotion. In The Wounded Healer, Father
Henri Nouwen describes the healing power of a person who knows what
it's like to be hurt, a person who has been wounded. If you can
tell your story to a "wounded healer" and allow yourself to be comforted
by that person, it's another step toward letting go of it.
We all know some people who sound like
a "broken record" as they neurotically repeat and relick their wounds.
They may need to control this habit. Here, however, we are talking
to those who don't share their hurts at all. If you are one of these,
know that it is not healthy to keep it all inside.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance)
fits beautifully into this picture. This sacrament is a source of
healing grace for many Catholics and an opportunity to unload the
pain of hurt. In telling our story to a priest, being repentant
about our failure to forgive the one who offended us, and expressing
a desire for reconciliationeven with those who may have died
since they hurt uswe find healing. God's loving forgiveness
of us expressed in this sacrament enables us to forgive those who
have hurt us, to understand the pain that may have motivated their
treatment (or mistreatment) of us, and to release finally the hurt
that has enslaved us. By taking our hurt to this sacrament, we open
the way for God to do the healing.
There are other ways of promoting healing
by walking with trusted companions in a supportive climate. For
example, more and more people today are finding peace of mind through
spiritual direction or psychological counseling. Many rely on help
in the form of psychotherapy or by joining support groups as a way
of getting in touch with and healing their life's hurts. In cases
where our hurts have been suppressed for a long time, it may be
helpful to seek out a qualified therapist to help us bring them
to consciousness so that healing can begin.
5) Turn to Jesus for healing.
For Christians, Jesus is the greatest
healer we know and the most trustworthy friend we have. He is the
healer of wounds par excellence. Throughout the Gospels we see him
healing people over and over again. The physically, spiritually,
emotionally wounded go to him for his healing touch, word, glance,
prayer. "What do you want?" he asks.
"If you want to, you can heal me."
And Jesus answers, "Of course, I want
to." Of course, Jesus wants to heal us: We have only to ask. Since
he came that we might "have life and have it to the full," we are
assured that he desires our healing.
When I go to Jesus for healing, I've
found it effective first to share with him how I feel: how I hurt,
how I may even harbor feelings of revenge, how awful it is carrying
the hurt alone. Jesus does not judge or scold; he listens with compassion
and empathy. When you use this method, you allow Jesus to hurt with
you, to be angry at the sin with you.
Next, you go back to the experience of
the hurt with Jesus at your side. Relive the terror, the fright,
the confusion, the pain, the panic in Jesus' presence. Ask him to
be with you as you experience the angry words, the aching heart,
the dull stare of the hurt again. Walk through the agony with Jesus.
Then begin to listen to what he has to
say to you. Review Jesus' own response to abuse and suffering. Perhaps
he'll speak to you through Scripture; perhaps in the quiet of your
heart. If you're open to his word, knowing that he is the great
healer, Jesus will tell you what you need to know or do to be healed.
Once when I was using this method of
healing and was at this stage, Jesus said, "You know I love you."
That felt good. Then Jesus said, "And I love her, too" (the person
who had hurt me).
"If you love the likes of her," I cried,
"I don't want your love." I thus became aware of how hard it is
at times for me to forgive.
Sometimes Jesus needs to make us aware
of our own sinfulness before he can heal us. This was an opportunity
for me to remember how much God loves meeven when I'm at my
worst. In so doing, I came to forgive the person who had hurt me.
6) Be patient and persistent.
Healing takes time. We need to have the
persistence of the Canaanite woman whom Jesus first ignored and
then refused to respond to after her plea to heal her daughter (Matthew
15:21-28). She wouldn't take no for an answer and through a mixture
of wit and boldness convinced Jesus to heal the child. Or consider
the patience of the blind man (Mark 8:22-26), whom Jesus asked after
his initial attempt to heal him: "Do you see anything?"
"I see people looking like trees and
Jesus' second laying on of hands restored
his sight completely.
Or emulate the humility of Peter. Three
times he answered Jesus' question, "Do you love me, Peter?" (John
21:15-17) until his endurance paid off.
Sometimes Jesus might want us to take
a more active rolemore responsibilityfor our own healing
as in the story of the man born blind (John 9). "He wants me to
go wash in the pool of Siloam? What kind of healer is this?" the
man must have asked himself. But he did what Jesus said and was
I find that sometimes by hanging in there
and letting go of little hurts it becomes easier to let go of the
big ones. Once I prayed and prayed to be free of a hurtful memory
with seemingly no results. Then I experienced a lesser hurt for
which I was planning retaliation. When the opportunity came, I chose
instead to speak a kind word to the person who had hurt me. Soon
after that I realized I had been healed of the hurt I'd been carrying
Proverbs (25:22) tells us we can heap
red-hot coals on our enemies' heads by loving them. A student of
mine once interpreted this as an invitation to vengeance. "By being
nice to the people who have hurt me I'll make them squirm," he said.
"I'll make them sorry they ever hurt me."
I think, rather, we "destroy" the enemy
in the sense that we no longer have an enemy when we remove the
self-diminishing red-hot coals of hatred and bitterness we've carried
for so long. The rest of the passage from Proverbs says, "And the
Lord will reward you." The Lord rewards loving behavior, not vengeance.
Because it's not always easy to let go
of deep-seated feelings or grudges, it's good to recall that love
is often a decision more than a feeling. We can make decisions
that transcend our feelings and trust that in time our feelings
will fall in line.
"How can we love someone who has hurt
us?" we ask. If we behave as if we love the person, says
spiritual writer Father John Powell, someday we'll discover that
we do love them. By behaving as if we love our enemy (even
though all the while we may be remembering the hurt), someday we'll
discover that we have been healed.
7) Discover the healing power of centering
Another action that can heal hurts is
of a very different naturea more passive yet intense kind
of action. It is to practice the kind of prayer in which we let
go of everything (words, thoughts, prayer techniques, images, everything)
and simply go very quietly to the center of our being where God
is. In this healing prayer we are simply aware of our oneness with
God. It's called centering prayer. Father Thomas Keating says there
are some hurts that are so deep that only this kind of prayer can
Keating uses the analogy of a surgeon
putting us to sleep to fix what needs fixing. So God uses centering
prayer (in which we are so unaware of anything except the nearness
of God that it's similar to sleep) to heal some of our deepestperhaps
As we put aside all hurts, concerns,
hopes, fears, joys, plans, thoughts and feelings, we are in intimate
union with God and God's healing presence at the core of our being.
If we take the time (perhaps 20 minutes once or twice a day) to
be with God in this kind of "centering" prayer, we will find that
our life is happier, our burdens are lighter, our hurts are healed.
How do you know when you're healed?
Most spiritual writers say that when
you are grateful for the experience that hurt you, you know
that you're healed. Not that you would ever be grateful for the
untimely death of a child or for having suffered physical abuse,
but, rather, you are grateful for the growth, the greater capacity
to love and understand and to feel with others.
When you can think of the hurt with feelings
of gratitude, peace and even joy rather than with feelings of anger
and pain, you know you are healed. "When we can forgive our offender
as completely and unconditionally as God forgives us, then we no
longer experience the past hurts as painful times but as times of
growth," say the Linn brothers in their book Healing Life's Hurts.
God brings good out of evil: We know
that from the life of Jesus. God is waiting and wanting to bring
good out of the hurt you've experienced.
Forgetting is not one of the signs
of being healed. You may be healed of the hurt, but still remember
it. Whoever said that "to forgive is to forget" was oversimplifying.
We need to remember. To remember our
pain and healing is to remember that God brings good out of evil.
Remembering helps us know we really are capable of loving our enemies.
Remembering puts us in contact, again, with the healing Jesus. We
want to exchange these Spirit-filled memories for the destructive
memories that kept the hurting wound open. Embracing these new memories
is like embracing the risen Jesus who tells us that after the pain
there's new life.