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True Healing Part 2
In this post I want to end two series, Scars: The Art of Healing and Selfless. During our Selfless series I’ve tried to weave in concepts that align with our Scars series so I can wrap them up together. In my last post I said that everything we do in life has purpose as long as we do it for the glory of God.
I talked about the prize being in the process; that life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Friends, the secret to living a life of contentment, the way we turn our wounds into scars, is by living continually in the presence of God. That means waking up each morning and asking, Father, what is your desire for me today? and to keep asking that question throughout the day. It’s being engrossed in God’s will every moment of our lives. It’s understanding what it means to be God-intoxicated. To truly heal, to turn your wounds into scars, you need to live each day in His presence until it becomes a habit; until the only thing controlling your actions is Christ, until your thoughts become swept up in His truth. Very quickly, let me remind you: a scar is a healed wound. As we close out this series, I don’t want to stay general; I want to be specific, because we won’t see dynamic healing in our lives until we get specific.
So, let me share some steps to living in God’s presence.
1. Don’t get out of bed until your mind is focused on the Lord.
The day needs to begin and end with Christ in mind. The goal is to get into an eternal mindset. We need to let go of those temporal thoughts that only cause us to dwell on things that won’t last and that keep those wounds open. Frank Laubach, who spent his life in constant pursuit of God’s presence, wrote, “You and I shall soon blow away from our bodies. Money, praise, poverty, oppression, these make no difference, for they will all alike be forgotten in a thousand years [I would say 100], but this Spirit which comes to a mind set upon continuous surrender, this Spirit is time-less life.” So, get up every morning and focus on the eternal. Put a sticky note on your mirror. Sounds easy enough—so let’s keep moving.
2. Bring Christ to mind every minute of the day.
Now, you may be thinking, I can’t do that. I need to work; I have kids running around; my day is crowded with other thoughts.
I want you to consider something. If you can learn to focus your thoughts on Christ throughout your hectic day, then you can also learn to control your negative, harmful thoughts throughout the day. This is so important to our healing process. Let me explain how God designed us. Did you know that neuroscientists can demonstrate that every thought sends electrical and chemical signals throughout your brain, ultimately affecting each cell in your body? We also know that thoughts can influence your digestion, your pulse, the chemical makeup of your blood, your sleep, all of your bodily functions. Studies have shown that we have around 50,000 thoughts per day. Your thoughts will either move you closer to God or further away. They will either be a part of your healing or they will cause you harm.
That’s why the Bible says in Phil. 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
I don’t have to stop my meeting, or stop mowing the lawn, or stop playing with my kids; I just need to bring Christ into my thoughts as I do each task. Remember last week in 1 Corinthians 10:31 we read, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Paul understood this concept well. That’s why he could say in 1 Thess. 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
It sounds like you need to be living in the presence of God to do that. My friends, all of our thoughts need to come under submission to His will. St. Augustine wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” One way to help us remember to stay in God’s presence is to wear something that reminds us to focus our thoughts. You can wear a wristband, a ring or a necklace. You can set your phone to vibrate. The goal is to form a habit. You may be thinking, this is going to take a lot of effort. Yup, more than you think, and more than some are willing to give. But if you want true healing, this is the price. To start, find an hour of the day that best fits your schedule and try to think of Jesus for one second of every minute. You don’t have to just sit there and meditate, and I’m not talking about praying for an hour. Start with one hour of your day and try to bring Him to mind as often as you can. Listen, if you fail, just try again tomorrow; this isn’t a religious ritual. No guilt, no shame, no discouragement—just keep trying.
Another specific way to turn our wounds to scars is to follow Christ’s example and forgive.
Number three is going to be just as challenging; actually, it’s harder—sorry. Before I walk you down this path, I need to say that I understand we are all in different places on our spiritual journey. And for many, what I’m about to share will seem impossible, and for now it may be. Some may even think the cure is more costly than the disease. Don’t get angry and turn me off; just reflect on the Biblical principles and let the Spirit lead.
Forgiveness means bearing the cost. Forgiveness is great in the abstract, but it’s one of the most difficult Biblical concepts to grasp when it becomes personal. When Jesus died on the cross, He was bearing the cost of our sin. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, says 1 Peter 2:24, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” Isaiah 53:4-6 says, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we
considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus bore the cost of my sin. Everything I’ve ever done—He paid the price. Turning our wounds into scars may mean we need to bear the cost. In his book Reasons for God Tim Keller wrote, “Forgiveness means bearing the cost instead of making the wrongdoer do it, so you can reach out in love to seek your enemy’s renewal and change. Forgiveness means absorbing the debt of the sin yourself. Everyone who forgives great evil goes through a death into resurrection, and experiences nails, blood, sweat, and tears.” In our series Selfless we’ve been talking about conforming to the image of Christ. Well, here is our greatest challenge.
Let me get specific by giving an example from my own life. One of the areas in my life where I needed to turn my wound into a scar was with my dad. I really loved him, and we were close, but I still felt wounded by the way our lives played out and the choices he made. You can be wounded by those you love and who love you. I asked God to help me process through those wounds and bring healing. His answer to me was to forgive him. That’s it—forgive. I literally prayed, Lord, there must be more. Maybe I need to go off for a few days into the wilderness and reflect or spend time in quiet meditation on a mountain. The answer was, forgive. He spoke into my heart and asked if I was willing to bear the cost. Was I willing to bear the cost of my father’s choices? Not excuse them, not ignore them, not suppress them, not condone them, but bear them. That’s what Christ did for me. The punishment that brought me peace was upon Him, and by His wounds I have been healed. So, I thought about my dad’s life, the wounds he suffered and how those wounds ultimately affected me. And then I forgave him. And at the cost of this sounding too simplistic, I was healed. Those wounds are now a scar. Now, that doesn’t mean that I never think about those wounds; or if I’m talking with you, or using my life as an illustration, that I will never feel the emotions of those experiences.
Turning a wound into a scar doesn’t mean you never feel it again. It just means it no longer controls your thoughts and actions. John 8:36 says, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”
Forgiveness is one way that we can turn our wounds into scars, but we will never have the ability to truly forgive if we are not trying to live each day of our lives in the presence of God. I also recognize that the wounds I had from my experience with my dad are minor compared to what so many of you have faced. For many, the person who caused your wounds is still alive and may still be involved in your life. They may still be causing harm. That’s why I want to be clear: Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting; only God has the ability to forget our sins. It doesn’t mean we just start trusting again; trust needs to be earned over time. It doesn’t mean allowing them to continue to wound us; setting up healthy boundaries is Biblical. I know I’m only scratching the surface, but I’m trying to lay the foundation. Take what you’ve learned and reflect on it. See how it applies to your situation. Ask God to reveal His truth, and then act on it as the Spirit leads.
Jeremiah 30:17 says, “I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord.” With that as a backdrop let’s move on to our fourth step.
4. Talk It Out
I need to share a story to illustrate my point. In 2011 I was involved in a vicious dog attack on one of our high school students. I want to preach a sermon one day on all I learned through that experience, but in this post I want to focus on one aspect.
For you to understand I need to give a little background. It was November and we were doing a workday for the elderly in our community—little home repairs, lawn work, etc. When we knocked at the door of one house we were greeted by a woman and her very large Akita dog. An Akita is a Japanese war dog. I had Rottweilers, so I thought I understood how dangerous these dogs could be, but not until that day did I grasp the depth of their strength and ability. The woman invited us in, and I slowly walked past the dog, allowing him to smell my hand while avoiding eye contact. One of our students, Carley, pet the dog and everything seemed fine. We went to the back of the house through the kitchen and out onto the deck, where the woman was showing us the work that needed to be done. Carley listened for a few minutes and then decided she was going to return to the front of the house where people were raking leaves. She went in the back door and through the kitchen. A minute later we heard her screaming. It’s hard to describe the intensity. She came out the back door holding her face that was now bleeding like nothing I had ever seen. The dog had her by the back of the leg and was trying to pull her to the ground. Before she walked through the door onto the deck, it was like life itself had slowed down giving me a chance to think through what needed to be done. The first thing I did to get the dog off her leg was to put my left leg between her and the dog. When I did, he bit me clean through the thigh.
I tried to verbally back the dog off, but that did little to halt his attack. Trying to keep the dog away from her and focused on me, I punched it. That seemed to work; he was focused. He was not ready for the first punch, but the next two punches were met with vicious bites to my hands. Now bleeding in the leg and hand, I decided to end the fight. Years before, my brother Mark had told me what to do if I was ever in a confrontation with a large dog: “Take away his primary weapon.” So, I waited until the dog was ready to attack again and I allowed him to bite my arm. As he latched on, I grabbed him by the neck and twisted, which pulled him off his legs and allowed me to get on top. I took my right hand and used his collar to choke him until he passed out.
When the police arrived, they said it was the worst scene they had ever come upon. Carley was in the hospital for weeks and had to have reconstructive surgery on her face over the next year. (She is now happily married with a child.) But the sights and sounds of that day stayed with me. Whenever I saw or heard a large dog, the trauma center in my brain would react before my cognitive side could process. I was told I had PTSD. My brain caused my body to react at just the sight of a large dog. The connection was so intense, my reaction was to fight. It seemed that traumatic event had control over me.
But the Bible says that we have the ability to reshape our thinking. We have the ability to renew our minds. So, I believed that I could rewire my brain, and that’s what I set out to do. 1 Cor. 6:12 says, “but I will not be mastered by anything.” Another version says, “but I will not be dominated by anything.” From the beginning of my Christian life I decided that nothing but my Lord would master me; nothing in this world would control my destiny. Dr. Caroline Leaf in her book Switch on Your Brain says, “As we think, we change the physical nature of our brain. As we consciously direct our thinking, we can wire out toxic patterns of thinking and replace them with healthy thoughts.” So, I talked about it, I told the story over and over until it became a memory, not a trauma. I rewired my brain.
You can train your brain by creating new neural pathways that become stronger with repetition until you establish a new normal. Now I only get those feelings of aggression when there is a direct and real threat from a large dog. Many of you have suffered trauma in your life, and God wants you to talk it out. Holding it inside will only keep it alive. It will only keep the wound open, not allowing it to become a scar. But each time you tell your story it loses its grip on your emotions. It loses its power in your life. As you remain in the presence of God, and tell your story, He leads you down a path to freedom. Now this took years for me, not weeks or months. And I will react intensely if I’m put in a threatening situation with dogs, but that’s healthy. That’s the way God designed us. Our nervous system kicks in to protect us from similar danger in the future.
Like I said a few weeks ago, turning a wound into a scar doesn’t mean I never feel it again; it just gets put into its proper place. It no longer controls my emotions and actions. I was able to overcome my trauma because I knew that talking it out would bring healing. I was told by a doctor that each time I tell my story it lands in a different part of my brain. Trauma and memory are stored in different places in the brain; the goal is to turn the trauma into a memory. You use a memory; you react to trauma. As believers we should never surrender any part of our lives to the enemy. That includes our thought life! God wants us to live healthy lives, to maximize our potential, and, most importantly, to conform to the image of Christ.
The Bible speaks often about the power of our minds and thoughts. There is a direct link between our thoughts and transformation. God has shared that truth in His word; it just took science a few years to catch up. Renewing our minds can change our lives. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” And 2 Cor. 5:17 reminds us, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” More and more, science is confirming Scripture, not contradicting it.
Our minds are powerful, and our thoughts shape who we are and will become. The goal in all of these steps is to renew your mind and to learn the skills that can help you rewire your brain. That old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is not true when it comes to our brains. The brain has a trait called neuroplasticity, which means it can adapt and change. So, try and change it! Research shows the more we try to push away troubling memories the more they intrude on our minds. You can’t hide from them. The Bible teaches us not to try and suppress them but to take them on! 1 Peter 4:1 says, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking…” What this passage is saying is that we need to think like Jesus, respond like Jesus to our physical, emotional or spiritual wounds. And the only way to do that is to live each day in the presence of God.
Not only do your thoughts and actions shape your life, they also influence the lives of your children and your children’s children. The Bible says that throughout the Old Testament. Science has again confirmed this Biblical truth. The science of epigenetics has shown that our dispositions, bad habits, and anxiety can impact our kids even before they are conceived. So, we need to change the way we think if we are going to turn our wounds into scars. As I close, I want to share the passage that we’ll be studying the entire summer. My prayer is that this verse will continue to help us on our spiritual journey:
“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8).