First there is a list of possible resources; this is followed by a brief general discussion and then a look at some resources mentioned.
Resources include:- Leanne Payne and Ministries of Pastoral Care (MPC); Agnes Sanford; John Sandford and Elijah House, Ellel Ministries . . . There are a lot of ministries which specialize in helping severely hurting people and the ministries suggested here can be a good starting place in the search for help; severe hurt, apparently, may need a high degree of specialization, precise application of the power of the Holy Spirit. Less severe needs will find help in the application of the faith based teaching of the writings mentioned; we must never move away from this – “He sent his word and he healed them” (Ps 107.20). I should point out here that what I would most strongly recommend as a place to think about these things is Evangelizing the depths by Simone Pacot. This is one of my translation efforts, which is not however the reason for recommending it; it is a book that would repay careful study.
This article is carefully entitled to avoid the phrase ‘Inner’ Healing. The reason for this is that there have been and are somewhat spurious practices which involve inappropriate digging around in people’s pasts rather than focusing on God’s Word and the normal disciplines of the Christian life as the way forward for hurting people. (I have seen people very hurt be such proceedings and then react strongly against the term ‘inner’ healing; emotional healing is more neutral.) This is not to say that looking at the past is wrong; what does the word repentance mean if not rethinking, changing past thoughts and indeed the way we think about the past? And what does it mean to ‘receive the forgiveness of sins’ unless to receive forgiveness for the past? and receiving actually means receiving, taking hold! 1
There is an opposite, but not equal, error to the over emphasis on inner healing that says people don’t need it. The idea here is that we have received all we need through the new birth, we are whole in Christ and so don’t need emotional healing. This is an overstatement of the case; Christ is always ministering to us his healing love; but the idea does have the virtue of keeping the focus in the right place; it is through the cross, through Christ that we are healed.
The following is, I believe, a wholly appropriate way of ’emotional healing’. The writer is Sarah Groen-Colyn, who in her professional life is a psychologist and is associated with MPC. I heard her personal testimony, which was as moving an account as I have encountered. She was the perfect Christian child from the perfect Christian family with the perfect job, the perfect husband and the perfect children; when she couldn’t cope, she fell to pieces. Through a very painful process she found Christ the healer. After the passage I have added one or two notes. The quotation is from Leanne Payne.
“The true self is the self that abides in Christ and collaborates with Him, the justified new creation, the soul that is saved and lives eternally, which we joyfully and in great humility and thankfulness accept.” Restoring the Christian Soul, p. 26
Self-acceptance is an “authentic and necessary Christian virtue, one that is available to all who seek it” (Restoring the Christian Soul, p. 32). The journey from self-hatred to self-acceptance is the bridge over the line from immaturity into maturity, from being under the Law, a law, or many laws into the walk in the Spirit, and from listening to many voices (of the unhealed heart, the world, the flesh and the devil) into listening to God (RCS, p. 25). Why is self-acceptance absolutely necessary for life in Christ? Without it, we are unable to practice God’s presence. Self-hatred is the antithesis of self-acceptance, and puts us at odds with our God, for He wants to give us life even when we are still His enemies (Romans 5:6-11). “The acceptance of oneself, like all that is great and valid in the Christian faith, can never be a secondhand experience. We must, each of us, apprehend Christ and the fullness of His salvation for ourselves. To so apprehend Him is to come into our full uniqueness… ‘To me to live is Christ'” (RCS, pp. 53-54).
To meet His gaze we must be open to His view of us, and we must also be prepared for Him to see all of what is true about us in any given moment. Shame and self-hatred block honest dialog with our Father as we are motivated, often without realizing it, to censor and filter what we share with Him about our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Self-acceptance often begins with facing painful aspects of our selves and lives.
I recently had the privilege of providing pastoral care to a dear woman who began her journey to wholeness in just this way. Rosemary sought help to heal a toxic level of conflict in her marriage. Early in our conversations God highlighted deep-heart connections between this current strife and the wounds of insecurity and rejection in her childhood. I believe Rosemary’s condition at our first meeting is representative of many believers today: a faithful Christian, active in prayer, devotion, and service to Christ, yet burdened by shame and humiliated by her powerlessness to right the difficulties in her soul and relationships. As we talked, I could readily hear Rosemary’s self-hatred, as well as the plague of shame and its counter-balancing sin of pride that manifested in a critical spirit toward others.
The door to Rosemary’s healing journey was opened by the key of self-acceptance, and her entry into self-acceptance came through God’s gentle, merciful conviction of her own fallenness. As we prayed through some key wounding moments in her childhood – moments when her parents’ sin and failings misnamed and deprived her – God blessed her with a broken heart over her own grievous reactions to these sins. Almost simultaneously, as she cried out in sorrow over the ways she’d lived out of her wounds, wounding and dishonoring others, she heard her Father’s voice of acceptance for the first time. When shame and pride had blocked her from this true experience of prayer, she’d been unable to hear His blessing. But from this new place of humility, Rosemary received the healing word of truth from her Father: the sin patterns in her soul and relationships are not her true self, and the woman she truly is, and will be for all eternity, is good, loving and loved. Once Rosemary encountered this truth and crossed the threshold into self-acceptance, she began to dialog with God as a daughter who is accepted by Him and can therefore be open and honest with Him. Her prayers have become true conversation, her needs and flaws come into the light of mercy, and her desires are honored. By crossing this line into the journey of self-acceptance (a journey she will continue for the rest of her time in this world), Rosemary has gained access to all she needs to seek healing and wholeness in her soul, relationships, and ministry.
Like Rosemary, for any of us the first willful step into self-acceptance comes through knowing ourselves as fallen and in need of forgiveness through Christ. “The humility that acknowledges ourselves as truly fallen is a first priority in coming to accept ourselves… The humble acceptance of myself as fallen but now justified by Another who is my righteousness is the basis on which I can accept myself, learn to laugh at myself, be patient with myself. And then, wonder of wonders, be enabled for at least part of the time to forget myself” (RCS, p. 51). Acceptance of the self is best understood as a virtue because it will not be automatically acquired in the process of living but must be pursued and cultivated. Self-acceptance is born in the waters of baptism. As we rise in Christ’s life, we are empowered to seek freedom from the self-hatred and rejection of the true self that are endemic to the old man.
My husband is a civil engineer, and he works as a project manager for massive-budget bridge and tunnel building. I’ve learned the term “critical path” from him, which means the action that must happen in order for the project to stay on a successful trajectory. In the project of becoming a whole human being in Christ, and the project of becoming effective in ministry, self-acceptance is on the critical path. Why? First, because without self-acceptance we cannot truly practice God’s presence. As Rosemary discovered, aligning with God’s acceptance of her has ushered her into a new place of hearing His voice. And once a disciple can hear the Father’s voice, all manner of healing and becoming are possible! Secondly, self-acceptance is mission-critical because we cannot offer a love to others that we have not appropriated for ourselves. God has loved us while we were yet enemies, and even in the aspects of our lives and souls in which we are still estranged from Him, He freely pours out His life to us. As we drink deeply from this well, Christ’s life within becomes an increasingly potent source of living water that flows freely to others. As Rosemary practices His presence, she is discovering a more tender, compassionate, and wise love in her heart toward her husband and all those God calls her to minister to. It is the virtue of self-acceptance that enables us to “celebrate our inadequacy, our smallness, knowing Christ to be our full sufficiency” as well as to pass affirmation on to others, to “see and call forth the real person in others” (RCS, p. 41). Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our Holy God who is making all things new.
One thing to be noted here, I believe, is the language. The focus is on the idea of self-acceptance; to some people this idea in itself is anathema. “We need to accept Christ, not self”, they say, “self-acceptance is humanism”. But in context, self-acceptance here means exactly acceptance of our fallen nature and of the new, real self in Christ; so the objection is purely a semantic one, about the meaning of language. This is generally true in so many areas where misunderstanding occurs; unfortunately some people are determined not to understand! The question should always be, is the focus on Christ and the cross? There are many different methods by which God brings healing – through the Word, through dreams and visions, through prayer; the methods can give rise to methodologies; the problem is that methodologies can then be misused, without the focus on Christ and the cross. (A good book I read years ago that examined the compatibility of different psychological approaches with Christian faith was Roots and Shoots by Roger Hurding.) In the following testimony, also taken from MPC, reference is made to prayer for healing of the memories. Again, I comment below.
I am writing to say thank you for things that are too great for words – things too holy and sacred. Like Mary, I have been pondering great things in my heart.
I am not sure I will be able to communicate fully to you what all has happened. In fact, I know that is actually impossible, as I am well aware that there are hidden things I have yet to see and understand. How could I possibly communicate them?
June 2014 was my first experience of an MPC school. I will forever be thankful to my therapist for sending me Leanne Payne’s book Restoring the Christian Soul last November. I was at a very critical point in life – actually a life and death point. I had exited a same-sex relationship a few months prior and had hit rock bottom, as the saying goes.
I had lost all hope as I tried everything from reaching out to my church, counselors, isolation, work, and other addictions. Of course, nothing works without addressing root causes. I love what one of the speakers said: “God doesn’t heal you of same-sex attraction; He heals the wounds that caused the behavior.”
I resonated completely with the statement, and a whisper of hope permeated my soul. In that moment I thought, Is it possible, God, that there is truly hope and help here? I would find out by week’s end that there was.
The week started with confession, where I was free to confess and repent and receive forgiveness. The prayer ministers were loving and kind and yet spoke only truth, not appealing to my feelings. The sin went to the cross, and the cross was enough. I began to experience Jesus, the lifter of my head.
I continued to absorb the teaching and the practice with each session. Moment by moment I was receiving things that will continue to be unveiled in the days, months, and years ahead. There is a saying: “You had to be there,” and truly that would be appropriate in this case.
But the moment that has had deep meaning for me was the desire-of-the-heart prayer. I closed my eyes and began to walk toward the boat with Jesus. He asked me to come with Him. I got in the boat, and He rowed us out a bit on the beautiful water. When we were a ways from shore, He stopped and pointed down into the water. I looked and saw a treasure chest on the bottom of the ocean. Excited, I swam down to see it. The top was open, and I looked inside. There was a big, beautiful gem in the shape of a heart. It was quite large and had a chain attached to it so it could be worn as a necklace. I immediately thought of the valuable necklace in the movie Titanic, but that was only a movie, and this was real! I took it and swam up to the boat. Excited, I showed it to Jesus, and He put His hands under mine as I held it. He was as excited as I was! We both rejoiced over how precious and beautiful it was. I then gave it to Him, and He gently pushed it back into my hands and smiled. He said, “It is your heart; I have been keeping it safe for you.” Somehow I knew it was mine. I took it and placed the chain around my neck. The heart seemed to melt right into my body. Jesus rowed us to shore. I got out and began to walk inland. Jesus stayed in the boat. He just smiled as I walked. He was so proud of me.
The dream was so meaningful for me that I could hardly contain it all! I live in San Diego, and I spend a lot of time at the water. When I am overwhelmed, it is to the beach I go to find solace. I understand why now. My heart has been in the ocean. God has been keeping it for me. Though prior to MPC, I was not ready to have it back, after so much healing, He gave it again to me. The picture of Jesus staying in the boat also has great significance. I believe Jesus trusted me to go forward in life, knowing that He is always with me. He is present in my heart. I am never without Him. That may sound small to some, but as one who has experienced abandonment as a child, I found much deep meaning in it.
The final prayer for healing of memories is something that I will only try to put into words. Who could ever explain how God met you in your mother’s womb and healed you in a mysterious way? But that is what happened. I do know that during the prayer, I was very aware of being with Jesus and visiting myself at different stages of my life. I saw the womb, the hospital, my first years of life, and more. And as Jesus and I journeyed, He healed me of many sins. I know because I was there and with Him. Yet even now I cannot tell you the mysteries I saw or how it all happened. I only know it did happen.
The experience was so profound that I remained unable to talk the rest of the day. I had a late flight, and God provided for me as I found a prayer minister waiting for a late flight as well. Together we found the chapel and sat and prayed. She covered me, and I felt safe to simply be.
Arriving at home, I am finding that I feel like a foreigner. I have never felt so at home in my heart as I do now; yet I feel like a foreigner with everything else. Gina (a prayer minister) told me that is how we should feel. We are not of this world; our home is heaven. Yet we are called to work while it is day.
So I am finding my way by holding on to the truths I received at MPC. I know that my understanding is really quite small right now regarding what has been done in me, and I know not to push or examine. My spirit tells me to trust and allow Him to be the revealer. So that is what I am doing. Yes, it feels odd. Some days I feel quite out of place. But I am home, and I never have to be split off from that again.
We notice, I trust, the original reference to the cross and to Christ, so that establishes the framework. Then we come to the so-called ‘desire-of-the-heart prayer’, a sort of guided imagination thing. Clearly, this is a technique that might well be used in a non-Christian context, but that is not the case here; if Jesus can heal through dreams, then why not through the imagination; clearly the Holy Spirit can inhabit our imagination. If we ask of the Father a good gift, is he going to give us, or allow us to be ‘given’ (actually imposed upon), something not of the Holy Spirit? After this, mention is made of prayer for the healing of memories; again, in context, this is centred on Christ, on Jesus removing the toxicity of the past; it is not that the past is healed but that the way we see it, the memory, is altered (repentance). 2 As soon as this becomes merely a technique it becomes dangerous, but it can also be very real. There is biblical background; David in Psalm 139 says “you knew me in my mother’s womb”; this consideration is exactly what this healing of memories is about – that is to say, ‘YOU knew me’; revisioning the past in this light can be very good. A rather nice statement can be found in an older book by Betty Tapscott called Inner Healing; two further good books are How to Pray for Inner Healing by Rita Bennett and Set My People Free by Mary Pytches. It is perhaps notable how many of these resources are written by women, who we may suppose communicate more freely in this emotional area.
There is a need for great care in this area; as soon as these things become technique rather than cross focused they seem to lose all value and may become negative. A fairly well-known recent development is ‘Sozo’ ministry as practiced by the Bethel church of pastor Bill Johnson, which can be very godly, but can no doubt easily become empty. A little investigation will discover ministries with a range of ways of approaching this sort of area – all potentially good, all potentially open to abuse (just like the straightforward preaching of the Word!).
The best material I know to read for background and practice in this area is found in books by Agnes Sanford: The Healing Light, The Healing Touch of God, and the autobiography Sealed Orders. It’s all soundly biblical, working within, as with a number of these authors, older denominations, with an emphasis on the sacramental – baptism, communion, even confession. (I think some of that may go too far!). Here is an excerpt:-
Prayer is not a matter of trying to persuade God to give us what we want. Prayer is giving ourselves to God so that He can work through us what He wants. And the first step in all successful prayer is to find out what he wants.
For instance, I was once requested over the telephone to pray for the healing of a serious and painful eye infection. “My brother does not know that I am asking you this,” the sister told me. “If he did know, he would not believe it. He is a very bitter person. But he is suffering so terribly, and he has had to go back to work even though his eyes are swollen nearly shut, because he can’t afford to stay in the hospital any longer.”
I lifted him into the light of God’s love, and felt joy at the thought of praying for this man. Joy is the earnest of God’s presence and God’s desire. It is God saying, “My child I am so happy that this opportunity has come to you.”
The next day the sister called again. “He called me up from across 7 states,” she said. “He said, ‘What has happened to me? All of a sudden, my eyes are well. And I feel somehow you will know why.’ I told him and he cried! He shed tears, right over the phone, because his heart was so touched! And he’s always been such a bitter man!”
Sanford goes on to say that prayer like this may often not be appropriate – prayer is no substitute for doing the rest of what the Bible says! Where the focus here is on physical healing, she makes little division between areas. Her autobiographical Sealed Orders tells of her own healing(s) from significant depression, and her other books develop the theme of how she learned to pray for others.
More interesting books, and really the resources must be more than plenteous, are books by Frank Lake, an English psychotherapist, notably Clinical Theology which should be read in the abridged version. He explores very painful areas of experience with frequent reference to the cross; his insight into the Psalms is of great value. Not everyone would find him an easy read; Tight Corners in Pastoral Counseling is similar. His book which speaks at length of Pope John Paul II, With Respect, is fascinating; it is less directly concerned with the subject of this article but relevant nonetheless; he views it as a dialogue with a ‘healing pope’.
- Somewhat to my surprise I found the following in The Overcomers by Richard Wurmbrand (qv).
Every knowledgeable psychologist will insist that the repression of bitter memories is a sure path to neurosis. The Bible recounts not only the beauties of life but also the worst deeds committed by individuals, the worst calamities that befell people, even the degrading sins committed by saints in moments of temptation or darkness. The events of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus are not pleasant to read. It is both wrong and futile to try to forget the past. Rather, one gets rid of this burden by re-actualisation.
My recommendation is that you seat yourself comfortably and then call up before your eyes the circumstances of the past that burden you most, especially any encounters with those against whom you have sinned or who have sinned against you.
Then evoke the presence of Jesus. We can all evoke a beloved person and see him with our heart’s eyes. Relive the tragic or sordid events of the past, all the while looking at the face of Jesus to see how he feels about them. You will discover that he is not judgmental, censorious or bitter about anything we have done, no matter how reprehensible. He himself stood in line with sinners to be baptised by John. Having been tempted in all things like us, he does not look down upon us. Imagine how the best of men would judge you for what you have done; then remember that he is better than the best. In Hebrew the word ‘mercy’ does not exist, but only the plural rahamim, ‘mercies’. No one can exhaust his mercy.
With Jesus by your side, walk again the way of your past sins, knowing that nothing is too degrading for him. Tell him, you love him and claim his forgiveness. Then accept the fact that not only does he understand and forgive, but he also forgets.
Do this for all who have hurt you terribly, those who insulted, robbed, demeaned, molested, raped, tortured you. Look upon them with the eyes of the all-understanding and all-forgiving Jesus. Then you will be able to forgive then too and to love them with all your heart.
Your memory will be healed. This has worked for me; it will work for you too
- See again the previous footnote ↩