It Doesn’t Look as I Thought it Would


May 24, 2015 by lucieromarin

I began blogging about recovery from spiritual burnout with no precise idea of how healing or recovery would look. At the same time, I think that, if pressed, I would have said that I hoped recovery would include:

a) the blessing of some kind of apology from others for things they had done to hurt me, together with an obvious amendment of their ways, and
b) some visible and tangible thing I could point to as a sign of reward or hope, as per Seraphic blogging for two years about being happy as a single person only to have blogging lead to marriage.

Turns out, healing looks nothing like that. For me, at least, healing involved (and still involves) some of the following:

Confronting horrible truths about others
Remember that person you trusted more than anyone in the world, who used you up, stabbed you through the heart, tossed you aside, kicked your remains with the toe of his boot, and walked away without a backward glance? Remember how you told yourself that he (or she) hadn’t really done that; that you if you were just a better person, more obedient, more understanding, or more patient, that person would eventually re-appear, say “Sorry about that; I was going through tough times, but I was actually really grateful for your friendship,” and all would be well?

Nope. I’m sorry. We all want to believe that the hurt was just an accident, but it wasn’t. Not only do you have to accept that they freely chose to hurt you, you have to accept that they don’t care that they hurt you, and you need to ask yourself some serious questions about how much of your heart you’re going to reserve for characters who do not care.

Confronting horrible truths about yourself

It is true that part of healing seems to consist of breaking down the aforementioned delusional self-blame, which is the refusal to acknowledge the horrible truth about other people’s non-existent love or respect for you. (“If I were a better wife, he wouldn’t hit me.” No. I’m sorry. The truth is that your husband doesn’t love you.) I wish that that was as far as it went, because then we could eat out on it for the rest of our lives, promoting our tell-all memoirs to the sound of applause. Unfortunately, I can assure you from horrible experience that some of the greatest progress is made when you also confront horrible truths about yourself, whether it’s that you made an idol out of something or someone, or refused good advice out of nothing but stubbornness, or saw that something was wrong but turned your eyes away from it, or you deceived yourself about your motives for something, or used something yourself for an end for which it was never meant…whatever it is, the day that you get down on your knees and admit it to God is a good day, not only because we’re meant to be truthful, but because it’s the first step to being freed from that thing that possessed so you intensely that you were willing to compromise your values for its sake.

Extemporaneous prayer

Er – I’m not suddenly all modern and talking to God like He’s my first cousin, and I still take issue with lisping converts who “challenge” me to pray like they used to (sorry, but the Tantum Ergo is way better than that thing you just made up.) At the same time, I have noticed a slight increase in freedom of expression during private prayer, which I’m taking as a good thing. For example, the other day I was about to say “I offer this decade in reparation for my sins,” and I just couldn’t; the formula seemed stiff and unnatural, and out came, “I offer this decade because I’m sorry for the times I’ve let you down.”

If healing means being actually able to converse with God interiorly, then I count this as progress, and of a very unexpected sort.

As I’m about to say some very noble things about forgiveness, the first thing I should say is that 95% of the time my thoughts about persons who’ve hurt me are along the lines of, “Wither and die, you lying psycho! Wither and die!” I’m writing here about forgiveness from the viewpoint of one struggling to learn it – which brings me to the first important point, which is that healing (I’m sorry to have to say this) definitely demands this struggle.

To put it ruthlessly and bluntly, you can’t demand a Christmas gift from me and then refuse to say “Merry Christmas” to anyone, and you can’t demand magical graces from God if you’re not willing to want to be like the Person who gives them to you. If you want to heal, you have, at the very least, to be able to ask God for the grace to want to forgive. Something along these lines is fine: “I hate them, and I can’t forgive, but it’s going to eat me alive, I know, and I want to be something more in life than their bitter-and-twisted victim; I want to be like You, so please help me to want to forgive and move on.” God knows how you feel; He knows what it costs you even to pray this, and I can guarantee you that even if that is all the forgiveness you can muster, if you’re faithful to that prayer, it will start healing you even before real forgiveness is obtained. I’ve seen it for myself – at times, these days, “Die, scumbag! Die!” is interrupted by a kind of parting of the clouds, and a glimpse of a place in eternity, in which everything we want to say will have been said, and everything we want to share will be shared, with never any weakness, fear, wounds or exhaustion to spoil it; I remember that they, too, have had their sufferings, and are not dead yet, so conversion still has its chance, and one day, if we all make it to Heaven, we’ll all be understood, and I’ll discover that that which I grieve for as lost was really only ever a foretaste of the real thing.

2 thoughts on “It Doesn’t Look as I Thought it Would

  1. Team Alto says:

    Yes, “Help me to begin today,” that’s the thing.

  2. Amanda says:

    Interesting, and good thoughts.

    A couple of my own:

    On forgiveness: it’s seemed to me this last week, watching the Christian right in America talking about the Josh Duggar business, that forgiveness in Christianity is a rather confused and less straightforward thing that we’ve all imagined. I think you’re assuming that forgiveness, healing, and being the way God wants you to be (and you want yourself to be) are all profoundly connected. But is this right? God does not forgive people who aren’t sorry and/or who don’t admit their sins and ask for forgiveness. If he just forgave everyone – either because it was right to forgive absolutely everything, or in order to heal himself from the pain of human betrayal – there’d be no hell, and there wouldn’t be much point in humans worrying about their sins. They’d get to heaven anyway. From this point of view, if the person who harmed you isn’t sorry, do you have any more obligation than God does to forgive them? Isn’t there something wrong with trying to force yourself to do something that even God doesn’t do?

    Is there a risk that trying to forgive a way of asserting moral superiority over the sinner?

    Forgiveness and healing. Now, is that actually a specifically Christian idea – that you could be healed by your own efforts to forgive? If so, by whom is it promulgated? The Duggar business rather exposes it as something that perpetrators tell victims is good for them. A victim’s forgiveness makes a crime or an abuse go away, just like God’s, after penance (if you’re a Catholic, that is: these evangelical men don’t even think penance is necessary: apologising on TV is just fine). But I would have thought in this case it would be much better for the victims to see their community change so that no more women would be harmed, while those who already had been were supported and their abusers punished appropriately. I’d argue that they shouldn’t even think about forgiving while others might be harmed by the same thing. Forgiveness on a community level – especially if it is presented as the only recourse for the victims, is just a way for other people to avoid taking systemic problems seriously, and indeed, to maintain the status quo. In your situation, there seem to be two issues: one is forgiving another person, but the other is the institution and the community who think that how you were treated and encouraged to think about yourself is fine, and if it weren’t for other things, would still think it was fine. The ideas about women, modesty, submission, are still fine. No one is sorry, and people – especially vulnerable people – will go on being treated as you were. Is it even right to forgive, when no one’s sorry?

    Finally, I wonder whether it isn’t actually positively harmful to try and forgive, because it is a betrayal of your own experience. Wouldn’t healing come from forgiving yourself for the things you say in the second section, and understanding that you have been the victim of something that presented itself as an essential part of your faith and turned out to be quite evil, at least in regard to you? One of the hardest things, I think, is to forgive oneself for messing up bits of one’s life, especially when it ought to have been obvious at the time – and people even said – that one was being foolish. But that, unlike forgiving someone who abused our trust and well-being, probably is necessary for healing and future peace.

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