My husband and I had been married for almost three years when we decided that seeking out marriage counseling might be helpful for us. We were having a lot of little conflicts that kept repeatedly coming up, ones that we couldn’t figure out on our own.
“I know it would be helpful, but we don’t really need it right now,” I said to one of my best friends during a phone conversation. I knew it would be a logistical challenge since we had a toddler and didn’t live near family, so we would have to find a babysitter. It also would be a financial commitment that I didn’t know whether we could afford to make.
My friend didn’t miss a beat. “So it sounds like what you’re saying is that you could have a fuller, richer, more whole marriage right now, but you’re just not going to do anything about it.” While these words may sound harsh, she had made a point that I couldn’t refute. Studying counseling herself, and having been through many good experiences with counseling, she knew what she was talking about. And I knew that she was right.
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We are so good at making up excuses for why we don’t need to pursue healing. Whether it’s a financial reason, a logistical reason, or just the fear of what diving into our wounds might do to us, it’s a lot easier to find excuses not to pursue healing than to find the motivation. Ultimately, what we seem to be saying is that we don’t believe we are worth the healing we deserve.
When I lost my dad my senior year of high school, a lot of people said that I should go to counseling. I was still able to do my daily duties and was honestly pretty happy, all things considered, so I didn’t think that I needed to go. It was a hard situation, but I was fine — I was powering through. It wasn’t until three years later when I had my first experience with depression that I realized something was really wrong, and that all I had done was stuffed those hurt places deep down and covered them with layers of work, college and social media.
By God‘s grace, he allowed me to experience the healing that I needed, even years after my dad‘s death. What I realized, though, was that the reason I didn’t go right after he had passed away was because I didn’t feel like I deserved to. I didn’t think that I was suffering badly enough to have to seek help, and because of that, I stuffed a lot of emotions deep down inside and put on a happy face. It wasn’t until they couldn’t stay stuffed anymore that I finally had the freedom to say yes to the journey of healing and grieving.
Matt Fradd recently had Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, on his podcast, “Pints With Aquinas,” to discuss her own journey and the healing God has brought her. While I would encourage everyone to give the interview a listen, there are many nuggets of truth that I gleaned and that encouraged me in my own most recent healing experiences in counseling this past fall.
Matt and Sister Miriam discussed this lie that we believe about ourselves — that we don’t deserve healing for our wounds, no matter how big or small they seem to us. We think there’s something wrong with us if we are hurting or that we should just be able to “get over” our hurts, which often stops our journey of healing before it ever begins. While many of us believe this lie, Sister Miriam said, “There’s nothing wrong with you, your heart’s just been broken.” And our broken hearts are in need of the Divine Physician to come into those hurts and wounds, to bring his healing balm to them.
The effects of our wounds
Sister Miriam went on to explain that if we don’t seek healing, our wounds are likely to cause us to live in either excess or defect. We can live excessively in our wounds and act out of them, motivated by them to numb ourselves and to ignore things, which ultimately continues to hurt us. Or we experience defective living from our wounds where we are sad, lonely and hurt, and we try to hide them by driving them deep down. Ultimately, living out of a place of woundedness not only affects us but can prevent us from loving others.
Rather than bringing us to any sort of freedom, living from our wounds only continues to cement them more into our identities. Our decisions are made in hurt rather than in freedom, and as we try to circumvent the hurt, we end up being defined by it. Sister Miriam reminds us, however, that “The only way to resurrection is through.” It is only through allowing our wounds to be healed, rather than avoiding them, that we are able to be made into new creations in Christ. Our wounds will always be a part of us, but we can become living icons of Christ and his love when we allow his grace to heal them, making us whole and glorifying the hurt parts of us with his goodness.
We can imagine the wounds of Christ, the nail marks in his feet and hands and his pierced side. When the resurrected Christ came to meet Mary Magdalene, the apostles and the men on the road to Emmaus, his wounds were still present. Christ’s wounds were what aided Thomas to believe that Jesus had risen. Christ did not reject or ignore his wounds, but he allowed them to bear witness to his own resurrection and to give greater evidence of his glory and goodness. And he wants to do the same for our wounds, too.
Sister Miriam also explained that it’s not just about healing our initial traumas, but the vows, promises and lies that come from those hurt places. When we incur hurts, we tend to start seeing the world and ourselves differently because of them. This can shape our worldview and cause ripple effects in every corner of our lives.
When I was in middle school, I was made fun of for one of my physical features. It didn’t take long for it to sink deep down into my identity — that I wasn’t beautiful because of this particular feature. I truly believed that lie of being “not enough,” and as my husband and I went to counseling, I realized how many of our hurts in marriage stemmed from that initial lie. We realized that seeking healing from that lie would be step one to seeking healing in our marriage.
This helped me to realize that many of the ways I reacted to stress and frustration in my marriage were simply a symptom of a hurt that I had incurred earlier in my life. But, if I hadn’t started to process those past experiences, I never would’ve been able to start to heal and truly understand my actions in the present so that they could be remedied.
Whether it’s our family members, spouses, friends or mentees, our model and experience of the pursuit of healing can either help or hinder their journey and ours. Sister Miriam said, “We will only be able to walk with (others) and accompany (others) to the extent that we are willing to go into our own soul ourselves.” The phrase “hurt people hurt people” reminds us that those places in us that are not conformed totally to Christ can get in the way of the grace that God is constantly pouring out upon us. This can ultimately place stumbling blocks in our relationships and friendships.
Jesus wants your healing now
The good news is that Jesus wants to bring healing to these places, and he wants to do it now. Sister Miriam explained that Jesus, being fully human, understands the deepest parts of our experiences, especially in the areas of hurts and wounds. But he also shows us the way to hold our emotions, our traumas, and our hearts in holiness and virtue. He shows us what it’s like to live fully alive, free from the burdens that our hurts have placed on us. Jesus is the ultimate model of what it means to not be held back by the hurts we’ve incurred.
Matt Fradd went on to say that the language we use to talk about healing is the language that takes the theology of grace and puts it into a tangible experience. We can talk all day in theological language about the effects of grace on our souls, but it is through healing and redemption these ideas become real and tangible. We can give glory to God because we don’t just know the truth with our minds, but we’ve experienced it with our hearts as well.
Sister Miriam emphasized that God, who is the creator of all things, can use the psychological sciences to transmit his grace and his healing power. He, having created all things, is the one who set into motion all the ways that we function on a physiological level. So he knows and can reveal how we are to be healed in those ways as well. Because of this, we should be able to trust that those Christians bringing healing through the psychological sciences and through prayer and the sacraments are offering us a real experience of Christ and his grace to heal and redeem.
My experience of counseling has been nothing short of what Sister Miriam and Matt discussed as a “healing of the heart.” While we tend to think that avoiding our wounds is protecting ourselves, we are ultimately building up bigger and bigger walls to God’s grace when we avoid seeking the healing we deserve.
I challenge you to, in prayer and spiritual direction, open your heart to let God speak into this area of your life. Give him permission to reveal to you those places in your heart that are most in need of his healing. Pray with them and discern if seeking outside help for them is something that could benefit you and your relationships, both with God and others.
While a spiritual director can aid in an immense amount of healing, a trained and trustworthy counselor or therapist will also have the tools to bring healing in other areas of your life. It’s okay to seek and search to find the counselor that best fits what you are needing. Pray and ask the Lord to bring you to the right person.
If finances are a problem, ask if the counselor or your parish have any sort of aid or scaled payment plans available. If schedule is your issue, ask what is the least necessary in your schedule and see if it can move to the back burner for a time. If worthiness is your stumbling block, take it from me that you are worthy of healing! Ask around and see if others have benefitted from the experience of counseling. Let their experiences inspire the courage in you to seek help yourself.
And ultimately, remember that God wants your healing more than you even do. He wants you to be whole. He wants you to be free. He wants you to be fully alive. So ask yourself what is keeping you from being whole, take God’s hand, and run after the healing he has for you.