Mending the Broken Heart
Lesson 16: Recovery from Abuse and Trauma
All scripture citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
Almost everyone knows what it is like to carry the wounds of unhealed traumas of the past. Like the physical cuts and bruises that we try to shield from further damage, these are memories that we don't want to touch on in conversation or can only talk about very carefully because so much pain still remains.
Some things have happened, large or small, that hurt us and broke our trust with God, self or others. As long as there is pain in the memory, our heart is still broken by those incidents and the distrust and fears that assail us have reason to remain.[i] Unhealed trauma will always make our world seem unsafe to our emotions.
Ironically, the safest life to have is not one that can't be broken by painful events but one which is quickly restored by releasing full forgiveness to others and steadfastly trusting in God despite the pain God allows. Don't believe me? Then ask Jesus. It is the way that He lived; it is the Way He invites us to follow.[ii] Every harrowing passage through the cross of unwanted pain will carry us into a resurrection of New Creation life—if we do not lose hope (see The Disciple's Cross in Life Applications on the main site).
God never afflicts us with trauma—He doesn't author evil—but He will use it to grow a heart in us like that of Jesus. Isn't that what we really want? To become more like Him. In the end we will all be thanking God for the suffering that prepared us for a greater 'weight of glory.' Why not embrace heaven's perspective now?[iii]
What Are Traumas?
For the purpose of this series, trauma is considered to be any event of the past from which we are still carrying pain, broken trust, and/or unresolved negative emotions. Consider these definitions of trauma taken from Webster's College Dictionary[iv]:
1) A body wound or shock produced by physical injury.
2) Psychological shock or severe distress from experiencing a disastrous event outside the range of usual experience, as rape, military combat, or an airplane crash.
3) Any wrenching or distressing experience.
Traumas often become open doors through which the enemy enters to plant distortions of the truth and to bind the heart with bitterness, fear and soul-killing messages. These wounded areas can grow into strongholds—areas of our flesh that are well-fortified against the life of the Spirit and are hard for us to overcome.
Traumatic events such as illness, accidents and abuse may also have been points of entry for evil spirits. Traumas engender a legacy of fears that follow us into adulthood: phobias, dreads, our characteristic set of semi-irrational dislikes and anxieties, as well as bitter feelings of regret, resentment and shame.
Lies the enemy has planted hound us throughout life, such as: 'You're not wanted; you're no good; you'll never make it.' Additionally, we tend to define ourselves by what has happened to us in the past, rather than by the new identity and the bright future that God says is ours forever. Recovery from abuse and trauma seems nearly impossible, but that too is a lie. Don't be tricked into believing it!
We always have a choice how we will respond to each moment or event in life. The enemy takes unfair advantage of our innocence and ignorance to subvert the choices we make, but they are still our choices. Without sufficient knowledge of God and His ways we may have reacted in a wrong manner to what was done to us. This is 'only natural' (allowing fallen nature to guide us) and all too common.
Yet, such ungodly reactions to trauma are what bring the curse upon us. We may have reacted in ignorance of God's ways, but we are still responsible for decisions we made, attitudes we formed, any acting out we did, or any inner vows we may have made. Thankfully, there is real hope! We have a God who knows how to deliver us out of all our afflictions. His ways really work—as we learn to cooperate.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. Psalm 34:19
Preliminary Steps Towards Healing
Jesus is a mansion builder in our soul, yet many live in the dungeon of what should be their mansion - locked in a dark room with terrible memories, devastated by trauma, bound by bitterness. It's rightly said by A.A. that we are as sick as our secrets—for darkness is the enemy's domain.[v]
Tragically, the very things we hide from God and others are the things He wants to heal. If we truly want to be free, we will have to honestly and openly deal with past trauma so that the root of fear, hurt or bitterness can be removed, and make ourselves trusting and vulnerable to those God would use as instruments of His healing.
We will have to risk exposing our wounds to the Light of Christ in the presence of the people He appoints (discerning who to trust). But not all at once! Think of issues like tissues in a box and let the Lord pull them out one at a time. God wants to mend your broken heart as time goes on, but you have to give Him all of the pieces. Hold nothing back.
It was prophesied of the Messiah that He would mend broken hearts. At the start of His ministry Jesus read from this text of Isaiah in which that promise had been given.[vi] This ministry of Jesus has never ended. He still comes to heal the brokenhearted.
'The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' Isaiah 61:1-2
To pursue our recovery from abuse and trauma we will have to learn to recognize the ways it is influencing our thoughts. Usually we are aware of the traumatic events of our past, but sometimes we can live in unconscious denial, having lost touch with the reality of how much we were hurt in the past.
Because we have been given free will, if we do not freely choose to bring our wounded places to the Lord, He will not be in a position to mend them. Hence, it is important that we keep ourselves sensitive to what the Holy Spirit may want to show us. Traumas may be carried by us in three main ways:
1) Painfully Obvious: Often we are aware of the traumatic events of our past and still carry them with us like raw wounds that throb with pain whenever we think back upon them. We have carried them so long that it seems like we have been permanently damaged by them—but that is a lie of the enemy. God can and does heal even the deepest traumas.
2) Partially Buried: Some traumas are so painful that we shove them down and spend a lot of mental energy keeping them submerged. Some of the worst traumas are forcefully forgotten until present events bring memories to the surface or trigger the powerful negative emotions they contain.
3) Hidden in Plain Sight: There are other events that we have glossed over so thoroughly that they no longer seem to bother us, but it spills out of us in conversation through stories we keep repeating.[vii] Or we may feel fine until someone begins to pry and poke into these memories. The emotions that come out of us are the best indicators of what is still hidden in our hearts.[viii]
Five Ways God Heals Trauma
There are five main ways that God heals trauma. Note that these are not automatic. They require a good deal of cooperation on our part, including knowledge (recognition of the trauma) and motivation (a persevering desire to see it mended). If it were otherwise, everyone would be free.
We need to become determined to aggressively seek the freedom from the past and entry into His Kingdom that God wants to give us.[ix] Carry your traumatic experiences into these five proven ways of mending:
1) Our Tears: There is a blessing on those who carry their grief to God and give it to Him. Think of tears as liquid prayers. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that there is actually a blessing on those who mourn - God promises to comfort us.[x] It may not be easy at first, but all of us can learn to grieve over past losses and still maintain a heart of faith that knows our Father is listening to our cry and will use our tears and prayers to mend our hearts and restore bright hope to our future.[xi]
2) The Prayers of Others: James tells us that we must confess to one another if we want to be healed.[xii] This is especially true of emotional wounds. The enemy will try to use embarrassment or shame to stop you. Don't let him! Be willing to be open, honest and vulnerable with close Christian friends or ministers that you can entrust with your heart.
God wants to use the Body of Christ as an instrument of His healing. This keeps us humbled and dependent upon one another and it also helps rebuild the trust in others which trauma damaged.
3) Forgiving: Giving grace always clears the way for prayers to be answered and life to be restored. Forgiveness is absolutely necessary.[xiii] It is even more important for our healing than learning how to release our tears to the Lord or confess to our friends because unforgiveness is the number one block to seeing our prayers answered (Freedom through Forgiving).
4) Believing Truth: The promise of total restoration is a true godsend.[xiv] A fully restored life would not be possible without this gift of love. It means that the Lord has purposed to overturn anything the enemy has done to rob us (whether it was the result of our own sin or someone else's) and bring about a greater good so that our joy in Him can know no bounds. Once you unite your faith to the truth of what He has promised you, the Holy Spirit ignites a believing heart inside you.
Such living faith produces joy in you over what is now coming your way, rather than sorrow and regret over your losses (see The Power of Active Faith). Why keep holding on to what you cannot repair? Give it to Him in complete confidence that His Word is true and that He will not fail to fulfill it.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
5) Divine Intervention: Dreams, visions, healing of memories, visitations and prophetic words are supernatural operations of the Holy Spirit which we can position ourselves to receive by worshipping and fellowshipping in environments where such manifestations are welcomed and encouraged.
I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Joel 2:28
Full healing of trauma is possible! No trauma has been fully healed if it still hurts to remember any part of it, or if patterns that began after the trauma happened are still continuing. Yet fully forgiving all who need to be forgiven and fully receiving forgiveness where we need it brings us to the place where there is no pain attached to any of the memories. Jesus heals the brokenhearted—especially as we forgive.
The Way to Freedom
Deeper wounds from trauma often call for a longer journey of cleansing and healing. Don't despair! There is much growth all along the way towards the final resolution and lifting of the pain. Like the pangs of childbirth, the pain of the recovery process will always appear 'slight' once you come out on the other side, basking in the freshness and delight of new life.
1) First, become willing to face the pain, praying for faith that God really can take you through to the other side where healing abounds and for the strength to go the distance with Him.
2) On your own or with the help of a trusted spiritual friend, do the work of fully forgiving from the heart anyone who hurt you or sinned against you.
3) Take full responsibility for any acting out you did: Repent, renounce and carry those unloving ways captive to Christ, falling totally out of agreement with any false beliefs as well.
4) Turn to the Father and release gratitude to Him that He loves you and fully intends to overturn every evil with a greater good!
Jesus heals the brokenhearted—especially as we forgive.
Father, You have given me this promise of total redemption so it must be true; You have commanded me to forgive everyone so that must be what needs to happen for my life to be healed and restored. I choose by an act of my will to forgive the people in my past who have hurt me or wronged me, including myself. I release them from all my bitter judgments and give them to You for You to redeem. I also repent of my unbelief in Your Word and now choose by an act of my will to believe that the promise of Romans 8:28 is true for me—that greater good will come out of my past than all of the pain and loss the enemy sowed into it. I choose to believe in You!
Take It to Heart!
Don't just give these truths a 'head bob'! For further study and for help working these truths into your heart and life, see The Head to Heart Guide for Mending the Broken Heart and 'work out' with exercises, discussion questions, review of main points, digging deeper, more scriptures, model prayers, renunciations/affirmations and practical steps of life application.
Or Keep Reading
[i] For this excellent definition of a broken heart: Art Mathias PhD., Wellspring Ministries of Alaska, seminar notes, op. cit.
[ii] Matthew 10:24
[iii] 2 Corinthians 4:17 Random House, Webster's College Dictionary (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991).A.A. Alcoholics Anonymous (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. 2001), p. 59. Quotation frequently cited in reference to Step 4: 'Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.'
[vi] Luke 4:18-19
[viii] Proverbs 23:7
[ix] Matthew 11:12
[x] Matthew 5:4
[xi] 1 Thessalonians 4:13
[xii] James 5:16
[xiii] Mark 11:25-27
[xiv] Zechariah 9:12; Joel 2:25