All of us have wounds of some kind. Oh, not just the physical scars from surgery or childhood scrapes (my husband has a couple on his forehead from when his siblings played “magic act” and he, as the youngest, had to be the
victim assistant inside the box while they plunged knives into it. Yikes!) But all have emotional or mental hurts as well: being the last one picked for a team, not being invited to a gathering of friends, neglect, misunderstandings, losses, insults, teasing, hazing, betrayal, even sometimes cruelty and abuse. All of us, if we live long enough, will experience some kind of trauma.
Telling someone they need to “move on” from whatever has hurt them is not usually the best advice. How do you “get over” the loss of a loved one or a deep wound that still affects you today? In many ways the pain grows less intense over the years, but still leaves a tender, sensitive place. And something that has been long forgotten may rise up and wound again when memory resurrects it.
On the other hand, there is a difference between the residual soreness of a wounded place and just wallowing in our hurts, feelings, and woundedness. Sometimes we can hinder our healing by nursing our wounds and focusing on them to the exclusion of everything else. We can also grow worse if we let it get infected by growing bitter or resentful.
One of the best examples in Scripture of “handling” hurts is Joseph. First, “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him” (Genesis 37:4). He probably didn’t help that he had to bring “a bad report of them to their father” (verse 2). Then he had dreams about his brothers and parents bowing down to him. I’ve heard Joseph faulted for “bragging” to his brothers about this. Maybe that is what he was doing, but I don’t really get that sense just from the text: it looks like he was just sharing his dream with them. In those days dreams were often prophetic, and maybe that was one way God was speaking to the family about the future. But whatever the case, the brothers “hated him even more for his dreams and for his words” (verse 8b). Their hatred ran so deep that they conspired to kill him (verses 12-20) until Reuben intervened. Then they decided they’d just sell him and lie to their father, saying an animal had attacked him (verses 21-35), ignoring his pleas (Genesis 42:21). So as a young man, probably a teenager, he was removed from the only home he had ever known, taken to a strange country, sold as a slave (Genesis 39:1-6), tempted by his master’s wife (39:6-12), lied about and thrown into prison for doing the right thing by resisting her, (39:13-23), forgotten by those he had helped who had promised to help him in return (Genesis 40).
Joseph could have been angry, depressed, or bitter. He didn’t have a Bible, Christian counselors or friends, church, Christian music, or many of the encouragements to our faith that we have today. He only had the truth he had been taught as a child and the Spirit of God. But He took comfort in God and stayed close to Him, acknowledged His control over the circumstances of His life (Genesis 45:4-8), served God the best he could in every situation, cared for the needs of others (Genesis 40), and forgave those who had wronged him. Throughout his story in Genesis 41-50, he rose to leadership and maintained a good testimony, and “the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (Genesis 39:3). Eventually God delivered him from prison, made him Pharaoh’s second in command, used him to save Egypt from famine, and restored him to his family. He named his second son Ephraim, meaning “Fruitful,” saying, “For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” He acknowledged the affliction, but he focused on the fruitfulness God allowed in it.
And even greater than Joseph, consider the Lord Jesus, who was misunderstood, probably more than any man, betrayed, deserted, beaten, unjustly tried, and condemned to death though innocent. He forgave His enemies (Luke 22:34) and “suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:21-24). Therefore, Peter says, “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps (I Peter 2:19-21).
I’m not saying we should ignore or “stuff” our hurts down: if we don’t deal with them, they’re likely to come up again and cause even more pain. But there are ways of dealing with them that can enable them to be used of God.
One thing I have to remind myself of when hurt or angry to to stop feeding the fire, to use a different metaphor (or, to stay with the medical one, stop poking and picking at the wound). I can tend to replay an incident over and over in my mind, thinking “I can’t believe they did that” and speculating why they did, which usually makes thing worse, because we rarely come up with the right reasons. Each rehearsal of it only fans the flames or keeps the wounds open, and I literally have to tell myself to just stop and think about something else.
Sometimes it is hard to know when to confront someone who has wronged us (Matthew 18:15-17) or just overlook the offense (Proverbs 19:11; 1 Peter 4:8). But either way, we must forgive them, not because they “deserve it,” but because of the great offenses we have been forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35). It’s not just good for mental health; it’s a command (Matthew 6:9-15). But God has forgiven us so much: how can we withhold forgiveness to anyone else?
Then we can follow our examples here. We can remember God is in control and seek what He has for us to learn from it.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, ESV)
Whatever God allows in our lives, He can use to mold and shape us. A hurt we have experienced can make us more mindful and compassionate towards the hurts and needs of others or even lead us to minister to them. Just this morning on Facebook I saw this quote from Paul David Tripp (I don’t know if it is from a book or a speech): “The hard moments are not just for your growth in grace, but for your call to be a tool of that same grace in the life of another sufferer… God intends for you to give away the comfort you’ve been given.” We can turn our focus upward towards the Lord and outward towards serving others. We can put away bitterness and anger (Ephesians 4:31-32). We can “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). When the wound feels tender, we can let it be a reminder of God’s grace to help us overcome and even triumph. We can encourage ourselves in the Lord and trust him to make us fruitful even in our affliction.