In my recent dark night of the soul, Ps. 139 was my daily prayer “Search meand know myheart. Test meand know myanxious thoughts. Point out anything in methat offends you. And lead mealong the path of everlasting life” (Ps 139: 23-24). For the first time in my life I really felt the impact on my life where years of unforgiveness had sown bitterness and anger in me. Like a dentist cleaning teeth with those awful, but necessary dental tools, I visualized God scraping clean the dark parts of my heart. “Scrape clean my heart where there are layers of hurt buildup.” Mercifully time and again, Christ allowed me to find a way to interact with his powerful love and forgiveness. I was desperate to find the peace on the other side…so desperate I was willing to be vulnerable in whatever way, particularly saying I can’t do it on my own to him and to others. Putting my pride aside and asking God to examine over and over where I held hurt and pain. Like a member of an Alcoholics Anonymous group, I found myself wanting to seek reconciliation with everyone in every way in my life.
Confession and forgiveness are the most valuable and necessary disciplines we as believers and especially leaders must engage in to truly worship God in our lives and ministries. Being able to honestly confess with a repentant heart allows for freedom from shame, guilt, bitterness and condemnation. I recognize these as having the greatest potential for personal transformation of all other topics discussed thus far. Even as I write, I’m reminded of that in the spiritual resistance I’m experiencing in my own life and the ugliness of old friends – skepticism, criticism, and suspicion creeping in very unassumingly. This is active engagement work we as Christians are continually to remain in. In his book, In the Name of JesusHenri Nouwen states profoundly:
“In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, cares, reaches out and wants to heal. In that heart there is no suspicion, no vindictiveness, no resentment, and not a tinge of hatred. It is a heart that wants only to give love and receive love in response.” (37)
But why the need for these disciplines of confession, forgiveness and healing – so vulnerable and exposing? He goes on to state that through confession and forgiveness, these powers of evil are brought to the light. “Through forgiveness, [the darkness] is disarmed and dispelled and a new integration between body and spirit is made possible…called to minister with our whole being, including our wounded selves.” (68-69). The integrated, whole, Christ-like self is the longing. A safe reflective space is needed in our hearts first and in our lives with others, where we can be guided ever deeper into God’s love. The difficult, stripping, painful experience of admitting our hurts and our wrongs allows us to lean deeper into the truth and light. God continues his work in us desiring the cross to do that which only the cross can do. Release us from the pain and sin of our past. Scarring over wounds that were once raw and deep.
Stuck in the past
Key events in our stories cause character building opportunities or if unprocessed, places of stuckness. Our childhood is filled with opportunities to grow and gain momentum or stay in a developmental lock-down emotionally, and sometimes physically. These unexamined points are appropriately referred to synonymously as freeze points or pinchpoints. According to author John Trent, “An emotional freeze point is a season of time over which unexamined and unprocessed layers of hurt are laid down, restricting or blocking personal and spiritual growth” (103). These are most likely to occur when you are left with an unexamined or unprocessed trial. Pinchpoints are the sensations of having freedom pinched or stolen from us in a relationship.
For many, unaddressed patterns formed unconsciously. While we were young these may have served us at the time as pretty good coping mechanisms for dealing with pain. These same survival mechanisms, carried over into adulthood can create great havok in not some but everyrelationship. Each human with proper self-examination can admit to such an example of hurt or trial stemming from childhood; some carry an enormous caseload of painful and traumatic pasts. The coping mechanisms used to survive these experiences of our past turn into defense mechanisms in our adulthood if gone un-examined.
Whether during a recent season of hurt, or from a young age, these painful pinchpoints and the freedom upon examination have the power to set our future on a different trajectory. Upon examination, these occasions invite us into new growth and freedom for ourselves and others. We all have the choice to allow these experiences to control us or to grow us.
Grace in Transition
God gives us transition as a rest stop on the journey; an intentional place to examine the trials that have caused bitterness or calloused places in our hearts. The invitation may come in the confusing mix of feelings of hopelessness, depression, overwhelm, exhaustion, criticism and anger. Slowing down to acknowledge that something is not right, gives us time to admit that there are warning lights coming on our emotional dashboard. Similar to a car, if we ignore them we will crash or fall apart. The warning lights of our soul requires us to stop and pay attention to the way we have been living out of the hurt & unmet longings from deep places in our hearts. Here is where we must find a way to take all of ourselves into the Lord’s hands and wait for solitude and His grace to do it’s powerful and necessary healing work. To live fully and securely in the present moments. This is the most important task ahead of us.
God’s invitation for me as an adult came in the form of a gracious, profound gift. A gift that was wrapped in the confusing package of pain. Along with an invitation to address what lay under the surface. Fortunately I was not invited into it alone. Attending to these dark, deep forces under the surface, required a daily battle for my soul. The battle ultimately was for authenticity and freedom. The healing work that needed to be done in the deep interior places of my life was the work of attending to that pain. Work required extended time, space and safe people surrounding me. As I kept coming back to this pain, often daily, with the help of the Lord, I was able to see and admit the ugly casing of my heart. Ruth Haley Barton says it best, “At times the dark side seems to leap on us unexpectedly but in reality it has slowly crept up on us…it has been a lifetime in the making. (42). My dark side included the soldiers of defensiveness, criticism and contempt, all guarding my vulnerable, broken heart for years.
The critical, arduous task called repentance and forgiveness is essential to giving us freedom from the pain and bondage of our past. These are holy places. The place of releasing others, especially those who have not asked for forgiveness and repenting to my desire to hold onto a piece of it. We must let go and let the cross do the work of the healing. The wounds and hurt are still felt in a real way. As well, the wearisome action of re-wrapping the wounds and attending to these scars starting to form are all part of the gracious gift of keeping my heart open to the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. I want to be released and move into freedom. That’s what makes it all worth it.
Read The Powerful Art of Reconciliation Part 2 - for the continuation and an idea of how to interact with forgiveness visually