God has an awesome plan for our hearts. He desires to fill them with His love and cooperate with us in spreading that love. But God also wants to heal these hearts of ours, to make them “whole.” Jesus made this clear when He proclaimed: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me . . . He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted. . .” (Luke 4:18).
It’s true that we all struggle with the effects of original sin, which incline us toward greed, physical pleasure and self-absorption (cf. 1 John 2:16). But we’ve also had experiences that add to this fundamental brokenness. Things like cruelty, personal trauma, lack of love, loss and other painful experiences have touched the core of our being and left our hearts wounded.
We often unknowingly carry around these wounds unresolved and they influence how we act now. They influence our hearts.
Types of heart wounds
Wounds might be slight, serious or devastating. A slight wound might be caused by a friend who speaks an unkind word to you, or by an unpleasant interaction with a stranger at the store. A more serious wound might result from the death of a loved one or a deep betrayal by a friend. A devastating wound could be left after sexual or physical abuse. People roll with situations in different ways, so what might be slight for one person could be fairly serious for another.
We can also speak of root wounds and surface wounds. A root wound is a wound that goes to the core of your being. It is typically inflicted by something like serious emotional or physical abuse. This root wound affects how someone operates in the present, causing tension and dysfunction in their relationships. This behavior can lead to more wounding. Surface wounds, on the other hand, are wounds that do not have such an impact upon how someone operates. They are also easier to heal. People who have been deeply wounded often develop defense mechanisms to guard against being deeply wounded again.
Wounding has a ripple effect. I once supervised a female employee who was unable to interact with me in a healthy way because of the long-term physical and sexual abuse she experienced from a male authority figure. Her heart wounds from the past were creating new wounds in the present with other male authority figures. For her to find true healing, she will have to go to the root.
There can also be wounds within wounds. When I was working through one heart wound, I entered into it deeply and discovered yet another heart wound beneath it. The larger wound had made that smaller wound hard to even notice. Tricky!
Few of us enter adulthood without our hearts being wounded in some way. Quite a bit of heart wounding occurs in childhood. How old a person is when they’re wounded can have a major impact. When we’re wounded at a very young age, we don’t have the life experience, context or maturity to understand what’s happening. Children often feel things that they don’t have the language to articulate.
Some wounds can be caused by the loss or absence of something – such as a deep longing for a parent who should have been there but never was. At age 10, I was uprooted from a secure community environment and whisked away to a distant town, rarely seeing my childhood friends. I experienced a deep loss and grief but didn’t realize it at the time. It was only decades later that the Holy Spirit helped me to understand how serious this wound had been in my life. With this understanding, I could begin to heal.
Healing the Wounds
How does one go about healing heart wounds? Sometimes it happens by accident. I first experienced heart wound healing unexpectedly at age 19. I was in the library at college probably doing homework and talking with God. Suddenly, I began to cry as memories came racing back of the pet hamster I owned when I was 7 years old. This was very strange and unexpected. I remembered how much I had loved my hamster “Scamper” and how devastated I was when I found his tiny dead body. I went down to the shed near my home and wept uncontrollably, vowing to never love anything again that could cause me such pain at its loss. When my replacement hamster (“Scamper II”) died a few weeks later, I buried him without shedding a tear. Yet 12 years later, the Holy Spirit was helping me revisit this wound, pouring His love into the pain and helping me reverse my resolve to never love anything or anyone again.
This amusing, but real incident shows how something that seems insignificant (to an adult) can have a lasting impact on a child. My heart was so deeply wounded that I had hardened my heart toward love for more than a decade. But I was fortunate to be open to God’s healing power. Sadly, there are others who may let the death of a hamster affect the rest of their lives! Or worse yet, they might discover their own “Scamper” at the root of their wounding but never have the spiritual tools to find healing and restoration.
Sometimes, consulting with someone who is experienced at praying for inner healing is helpful. I have done this on occasion. One-on-one healing prayer typically involves walking through the painful memory together, asking Jesus to touch these memories with His love. We cannot change the past and we cannot make the memory go away, but God can remove its sting.
I have also found that God is willing to walk with me as I pray for healing on my own.
For example, I recently realized that I had unresolved anger resulting from feelings of deep betrayal. When I was a teenager, an adult male who was a close friend and mentor tried to sexually molest me. I was very fortunate to avoid his advances. In the rush of life, I pushed the incident out of my mind. Later on, I began to realize how serious the incident had been. Still, I felt there was not much I could do about it, so I avoided thinking about the incident and the person involved. But the memory continued to pop up, and whenever it did, it made me angry.
After a long time, I suspected that some trust issues I was dealing with were related to this incident and the heart wound it left. I realized that I had been repressing anything connected with this person, but now I needed to face it head on. So I invited the Holy Spirit to join me as I allowed myself to enter into it all. I remembered all of the wonderful times that I had had with this person and all the good that had happened. I also embraced the deep betrayal of trust and love that I had felt. I experienced what I would call a type of mourning overcome my heart. I felt myself to be on the verge of tears and was mopey for about three days as my heart ruminated over all that had been lost. In the end, I finally emerged from it and was whole. While the memory still remains, my cheeks don’t flush with anger when I think of the situation. This heart wound has been healed and I’ll wager that I’ll experience greater trust toward others as a result.
Barriers to Healing
One of the biggest obstacles to healing heart wounds can be our own anger. A great resource for working through this is Healing Life’s Hurts: Make Your Anger Work for You by Graham Bretherick. This book inspired me to write down on paper all the people and situations in life that had made me angry. I wrote down 19 pages. All of this anger had been kicking around in me, unresolved for a lifetime. After I had finished putting it all down (and getting it outside of me), I felt as though I had thrown up. But I also felt so much better! And I’ve begun to deal with anger in a much healthier way.
Heart wound healing is serious work! You have to be a bit of a detective and spend time poking around your own heart. And the healing comes about in an onion-skin layered process. Often the big wounds need to be addressed before the smaller ones can be dealt with. The root wounds need to be dealt with before the surface wounds will go away. But as you heal your heart wounds, you’ll likely find that certain patterns of sin disappear, allowing holiness to take a much deeper hold within you. You’ll experience a deeper level of wholeness, and a deeper capacity for joy and love. All of which is well worth the effort!
For further reading: Michael Scanlan, Inner Healing; Francis MacNutt, Healing; John Eldredge, Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive.
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