Revenge. That was the primary motivation that had taken hold of Edmund Dantes, the main character in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo.
After spending fourteen years in prison on trumped-up charges, Dantes could think of nothing else; he had to punish the people who had done this to him.
Like Edmund Dantes, many of us feel we have a right to vengeance when someone treats us unjustly. We can relate to the old bumper sticker that reads, “I don’t get mad; I get even.” But at the same time, holding onto hurts can make us bitter and resentful; it can make us think negatively about ourselves; it can even make us physically sick. What’s worse, holding onto resentments can keep us from being merciful.
We live in a fallen world; it’s inevitable that we will get hurt and that we will sin against other people. But in the midst of these “givens,” we still have choices. We can allow these hurts to bind us up and control our thoughts and actions, or we can ask Jesus for the grace to be as merciful as he is.
Jesus knows how painful our inner wounds can be, and he knows how they can affect our behavior. But he still asks us to forgive. That’s why one of the things he loves to do for us is offer us healing from the painful memories of the past. He loves to take away the hurts so that we can grow in our compassion and our ability to forgive people. Let’s take a look at how we can begin to experience his healing power.
“How Can I Do This?” No matter who has hurt us—a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a neighbor—we all face the same fundamental question: “How am I going to deal with it?” Time may help to reduce the pain, but time without grace can also lead us to push the pain deeper into our hearts without any real resolution. That may help, but when something is suppressed like this, it can still influence us, often without our recognizing it.
Our own efforts to forgive those who have hurt us should be applauded. Plus, the love and compassion we receive from friends and family can certainly help the healing process. But only Jesus can give us a kind of peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27). How good it is, then, to know that Jesus is eager to heal the deep wounds that reside in our memories.
Look around you. Think about the people you know—whether they are close friends or casual acquaintances. So many people are carrying around the burdens of their painful memories. So many married couples are finding it difficult to stay together. So many children are estranged from their parents. Relationships at work or in our neighborhoods can be easily strained. And none of this includes the pain and trauma suffered by those who have been physically or emotionally abused. There is just so much hurt in the world!
But don’t lose hope. No matter how difficult things may appear, God is still able to bring healing and restoration. It doesn’t even take great faith. All we have to do is be willing to come to him openly and honestly and ask him to heal us, and he will begin a process that will make us whole. We have to come to him first, but once we are there, he will do the bulk of the work.
Healing may happen all at once, or it may unfold over a period of time. Either way, when we ask Jesus for his healing touch, we will feel his presence. And knowing his presence, we will trust that he is at work in us.
Steps toward Healing. Below, we have sketched out one approach to healing that has been very helpful when members of our staff have given retreats or parish missions. As you read through these steps, know that they are not hard and fast. They are only suggestions to help you come in touch with the Lord. Remember, he is the healer, not our efforts or our strict adherence to one method. The key is to come to Jesus and ask him to shower us with his grace.
One: Share Your Story. While healing is something deeply personal between you and the Lord, it usually helps to have some support and encouragement along the way. This could be your spouse, your parish priest, a dear friend, or a prayer team in your parish. Of course, if the burdens weighing you down are very deep, you may want to talk with a trained counselor—especially one who shares your faith.
Begin by sharing your story. Recount what happened and share how it is affecting you. This can be difficult. Reliving a hurtful experience—especially describing it out loud—can bring back painful memories. But we’ve found that this is an important step because healing grace is often set in motion as we bring our pain into the light. In fact, we have seen many people experience dramatic healings simply by sharing their stories.
Once, at a parish mission, a woman came to ask for prayer. She had gone through an ugly divorce a year earlier, and while she had gone to Confession, she was still plagued with feelings of guilt and shame over her failed marriage. A couple on the mission team listened carefully as she shared her story. Then they prayed with her for about an hour, and she gradually felt God’s healing power. As the couple prayed with this woman over the next few nights of the mission, she began to feel a mountain of guilt dissolve from her heart. While the reality of her divorce will never go away, this woman experienced Jesus removing the pain and the sense of failure that had haunted her for so long.
Two: Pray. After you have shared, it’s time to pray. Have everyone present hold hands or place their hands on your shoulder. It’s amazing how affirming and healing something as simple as physical touch can be. It tells you that you are not alone. It tells you that there are people around you who are supporting you and praying for you.
Remember that you don’t have to use special words or go into great detail as you pray. All you have to do is say something like this: “Jesus, we know you are the great healer. Please come and heal this memory, and fill us with your peace.” Repeat these words, or variations of them, a few times, slowly and prayerfully. Try to place yourself in Jesus’ hands, and put your trust in him.
Three: Picture Jesus. As you are praying, picture Jesus coming into the room and joining you. Imagine him laying his hands on you, holding your hand, or putting his arms around you.
Ask Jesus to go back in time with you and remove the pain caused by the hurt. Now, imagine the other person coming into the room—the one who hurt you. Picture Jesus forgiving that person—along with yourself. See him looking into that person’s eyes with love and compassion. See how he is pouring out his healing grace over the both of you so that the pain is removed. Imagine him bringing the two of you together.
As you pray this way, you may find yourself asking for forgiveness or see the other person asking you for forgiveness. You may feel a rush of peace or an outpouring of love. It’s amazing. It’s powerful. It’s God’s grace at work.
Once, some members of a parish prayer team were praying for a man who had been deeply hurt because members of his Bible study had shunned him for his stance on a social issue. As the team prayed, they asked the man to imagine Jesus putting his arm around him and pouring love into him. Next, they invited the man to imagine the other people from his Bible study. “Can you see that Jesus loves them too?” they asked. Finally, they all imagined Jesus holding the man’s hand and holding everyone else’s hands as well. The man felt as if a great weight had lifted from his shoulders. He was able to forgive, and the memory of what had happened to him lost its bite.
Healing Leads to Mercy. Praying for inner healing is both simple and effective. Not only does it open us to the power of God to heal our wounds, but it can also make us more merciful. Unhindered by the past and released from the chains of resentment, we find ourselves more free to relate to people as Jesus would. We also find ourselves treating those who have hurt us with the honor and respect they deserve as children of God.
So let’s use this season of Lent to ask the Lord to heal the wounds that linger in our memories. Let’s tell him that we want to show mercy and forgive people, just as our heavenly Father forgives us for the ways we have hurt him.