When a person has been grievously wronged they are forever marked. Psalm 129:3 says “The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long furrows.” This verse is a picture of being shoved to the ground with your face down, having someone walk on top of you, gouging up and down your back, leaving permanent furrows or marks.
The images from Psalm 129 are pictures of the abiding experience of a person who has been abused verbally, physically, or sexually, and/or someone who lives with unending sorrow from loss. The event may leave lasting marks on us, but we don’t need to be forever defined by what happened.
We are not meant to just move on from painful events and hope it goes away. If we are not expecting to take some magic pill that will make it all go away, then we can start to face the pain of the wrong that was done to us. In that place, we can actually get down to wrestling with whether or not there is a way to walk through the fire and the river (Isaiah 43:2). Deep hurt can so easily get infected with mistrust, fear, or rage, but realistic hope runs deeper than any hurt.
We need not get imprisoned in the complexities and dead ends of our instinctive reactions to painful circumstances, wrongs or hurts. The lovingkindnesses of God are exactly keyed to what is grievously wrong in our lives, yet making the connection to God’s love and presence don’t always seem to work when we are “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). So, how do we get traction with “You are with me” so that we are changed and unafraid?
Making the connection and moving forward is never an easy process, but God does meet us in our need. He enters our plight in person; He shares our troubles. Suffering is the place where Christ shows up, where our faith gets awakened, and where our love becomes wise. We learn a deep loving faith when life goes wrong.
Christ faced, engaged with, and walked through grievous evils. He did that for us and He promises to do it with us. So, in the midst of our powerlessness to make things better it is best that we call out to God for His mercies. It is in living out the sacred rhythms of the Christian faith (confession, gratitude, prayer, and obedience) that we are brought to realize our need for help from outside ourselves. We learn to say, “I am poor and needy. Help me, Lord Jesus.”
Every second of our suffering is important; the goal is to find a way to go through it that brings us to a good place. Here is a nine part process that can help.
The first step is to ask the Lord for help. Psalm 23 maps this for us into a prayer that could sound like, “Lord, restore me, renew me, and point me back to You. I will fear no evil for You are with me.”
Second, we need to name what happened to us: what we experienced, and who did what. We need to acknowledge that what happened was evil, and that it hurt.
Third, we need to analyze how we have reacted: where we have become stuck, how we have been tempted to return evil, and if/how we responded to that temptation. The interaction between what has happened to us and our sinful reactions is part of our unfolding life stories.
Fourth, we need to ask why do we do what we do: if/why we return evil for evil. This questions our motives and helps us to see where we might be blind to ourselves. We ask God to search us and help us to see as much as we can, and ask Him to cleanse us by His grace.
Fifth, we need to confront ourselves with the negative consequences of our reactions, and how our reactions have contributed to tense relationships, or affected our health.
Sixth, we need to remember how God has comforted us in our affliction, (2 Corinthians 1:2-3), and all the times God has met us in the past and remind ourselves that He will not stop now.
Seventh, we must honestly seek the Lord, asking: where we need His help, and what we are thankful for. It is not just about thinking different thoughts or trying to work up different feelings, or willing ourselves to different behaviors. Those things are important, but what’s most critical is a change in relationship with our Lord who nourishes, forgives, loves, makes us alive, and writes His promises on our hearts. The psalms give us many templates for this honest self-assessment and finding our way to rest in Him.
Eighth, it is important to forgive our offender(s), no matter how deep the evil, and find little ways to give away what the Lord has given to us. We move on by processing what happened, by finding comfort in the Lord, and then giving that comfort to another.
Lastly, we must assess what are the lasting consequences of such changes. Gratitude can slowly replace despair and we can taste God’s supernatural peace that goes beyond all understanding. The most healing place of all is always a place of worship. It is as John Newton once penned into song: “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come. Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
In times of hurt and pain, we must start heading home. That is what Psalm 23 teaches us, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This is the place where God dwells and where He is leading us. It is His family gathered around Him, a safe place where we are safe forever in His presence.