Healing Shadows of the Past

“The people of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.”

“Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.

Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.” 2 Kings 2:19-22 (NIV).

The goal of any child is to be loved, and accepted. I learned it was not safe to be myself. If I ever was joyful it would be stolen and replaced with feelings of shame. In a dysfunctional environment I internalised a conditional love, perhaps if I listen more, or do more about the house, she will be happy. But from repeated messages of failure and shame come the feelings of not being worthy of love or belonging. Much of this was hidden from me. The work of the mind is to survive and for the ego this involves the pursuit of pleasure over discomfort. Denial, repression, displacement and projection are some of the defence mechanisms the ego employs to do this.

As a Christian the most important message of the cross is that of reconciliation. Jesus’ suffering reconciles us to God. Before knowing Jesus we are the metaphor of the water that is bad and the land which is unproductive. Jesus becomes the salt in our lives. In starting the journey of faith we are reconciled to Him first through baptism and then to ourselves and others (2 Corinthians 5:18). Reconciliation is the very purpose of being Christian, and we are all at different stages on this journey, and how far we go is dependent on our place when we start, as well as our response to the call of God in our lives.

All His work in me since I became Christian has been about building a relationship with Him and discovering who I am in Him. In the beginning I realised I was an enigma to myself. I could not easily answer simple questions about myself to others. We are what we experience of ourselves, and my focus had long been on what I did external to myself through work or activity. I was always on the go and I could really only define myself by my actions.

So three years ago and I started a journal about me, which I still add to from time to time. In it I recorded my favourite things such as music, films, books, and what I was grateful for or still dreamed of. I went on to keep a daily journal that is mainly my conversation with God, whereby I have downloaded thoughts or emotions, reflected on things I’ve learned, prayers for others, quotes and scriptures that have meaning to me etc.

My sense of God calling me into an ever deepening relationship with Him, actually felt quite scary at first. It leads along a path I cannot as yet see clearly and to be comfortable with uncertainty is to accept our own vulnerability. Vulnerability requires trust, knowing that we are seen, heard and loved in spite of the shadows that surround and dwell within us. We are held securely in God’s hands. He is our anchor, outwardly shown in my life by the daily discipline of Morning Prayer.

This has all been useful, but God always uses people to lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, bringing forth revelations that are not easy or comfortable. Continuing down this rocky road requires courage as the mind is unpeeled layer by layer, to reveal its murky depths. It is impossible for humans to have a perfect understanding of truth without God, for without Him it does not exist.

The process of finding ourselves, is one of healing and purification, a journey that happens bit by bit. Just as the rain comes down to water the earth making it bud and flourish (Isaiah 55:10) as it does drop by drop or we would be washed away, destroyed by a flood.

The aim is not to ‘fix’ ourselves because this means we are dissatisfied with who we are, and God loves us just as much now as He did yesterday and will tomorrow (Romans 8:38-39, Psalm 136). We are to accept our imperfections and build ourselves upon them. This in itself can be difficult, especially when we have developed an internal dialogue that is self-critical and unloving. To receive God’s love we must first accept and love ourselves as He accepts and loves us. We realise on the path that what we feel about other people is how we feel about ourselves, what was previously buried now comes into our consciousness.

Our relationship with others is an indication of the relationship we have with ourselves. We must trust God on this journey and when we don’t trust others, we are also not trusting of Him or ourselves. Only when we see and realise our true self can we begin to heal and change that which holds us back from experiencing the fullness of God as love in our lives. The purpose of the path to wholeness is that it allows us to fully enjoy life with God as He intended (1 John 4:7-21).

To find ourselves and God our eyes must be turned inwards from what we do, see and experience externally, to contemplate that which is internal. It has helped that I am fully conscious of everything that I do, and say automatically or otherwise. We respond with emotion before thought, and so the realisation of why I have done or said a thing often comes afterward. But I know. I always know. And there are times of real discomfort to know my actions come from a place of buried fear and anxiety.

It is the ego which is responsible for distinguishing between internal and external factors. I realised mine was constantly trying to categorise my relational experiences into those of safety verses danger. In its search for meaning, it learned to respond with fear to that which it could not make sense of, or alternatively to seek confirmation of rejection to justify continuing avoidant behaviour.

The ego is influenced by the shadows of the past embedded in the unconscious mind and it tries to make sense of the world based on what was learned as a child. My mother said I was born old. But all that means is that from a young age I was very sensitive and modified my behaviour according to her emotional state. And as a teenager manipulation, control and oppression was my experience. I remember how often I would spend time re-arranging and organising my bedroom. Adult me knows now, this was my way of regulating my emotional distress without expressing it.

Now at this stage of the journey I have dug out the horrible internal narrative I have been telling myself, the experiences and consequent beliefs that underpin my shame and feelings of unworthiness. There is so much, that by themselves I could not pick them off one by one to challenge, and there is no fixing because that would be like trying to make the past un-happen which is not at all realistic.  

Instead I realised that treating them as a whole, as past versions of myself, I could heal them and lessen their influence with Jesus as my guide. The two ‘shadow selves’ being the hurt child and the rebellious teenager. By finding them, acknowledging them and their feelings, I can heal them with a loving narrative. I know that when I have seen teenage girls happy and giggly, I have felt joy for them. I have never wanted to say or do something that would take that from them nor could I. So I can use this to smile, love and accept my alter egos in the same way. Eventually with persistence their influence will wane, their shadows diminishing inside of the adult me in the present.  

On top of the learned internal narrative are the desires of the ego with which we are all born. These work subconsciously but manifest in part as a desire to have more. So daily we need to practice gratitude for what we have. We have enough, we are enough! To let go of thoughts that say ‘I want.’ Because the ‘I wants’ go on to become internal demands, the unsaid rules that our friends or loved ones do not know exist, but when they are not realised cause us to suffer.

The way to let go and to love is to keep good company and dwell with the Lord, for God is love (1 John 4:8). To realise His love surrounds us in every place that we are and is evident by what is seen in nature (Romans 1:20); easily felt when a sun beam heats your skin and its golden glow fills your eyes with light. But there are many ways. Imagination through guided meditation works – forming a picture of a beautiful garden, the sun beaming in the sky, a safe place to feel love and warmth, safety, relaxation and peace. Jesus is present with us, laughing joyfully, happy to be with us. We can also recite scripture or use the practice of meditation whereby we attain real lasting connection with the divine by listening in silence, being empty of ourselves and then filled up with Him.

Showing feelings can be hard when we have learned not to do so, and hiding is easy. We need to see ourselves as transparent, and open. I love the story of Zacchaeus who climbs up the tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus, but Jesus sees him and goes on to eat at his house (Luke 19:1-10). For God sees all and knows us well (Psalm 139).

The process of this healing and reconciliation can be likened to becoming a completely new vehicle and having to learn how to drive all over again! It’s tough! Yes I need support, yes I need encouragement, yes I, like everyone else in the world, needs to love and be loved. But in the absence of others, you can only start where you are. Deliberately choosing to be different every day, challenging negative emotions and the thoughts that made them with kindness, patience and most of all love, in relationship with God. It is enough. Building trust in His promises; I am with you, I will be your strength (Isaiah 41:10), I will protect you (Psalm 121:7), I will always love you (Lamentations 3:22), I will give you peace (John 14:27), I will provide for you (Matthew 6:31-33), I will answer you (Jeremiah 33:3) and knowing that we are chosen (1 Peter 2:19). These are just some of many reasons to be joyful on this spiritual journey! If we don’t learn to love the process then we are unlikely to see the results.

Finally I also love to reflect on these words from the hymn; Breathe on Me, Breath of God by Edwin Hatch, 1878.

“Breathe on me, Breath of God,

Fill me with life anew,

That I may love what Thou dost love,

And do what Thou wouldst do.

 

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

Until my heart is pure,

Until with Thee I will one will,

To do and to endure.

 

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

Till I am wholly Thine,

Until this earthly part of me

Glows with Thy fire divine.

 

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

So shall I never die,

But live with Thee the perfect life

Of Thine eternity.”

 

Prayer:

Loving God, thank you that you know us, see us, hear us and yet still love us. Thank You Jesus for the cross. We love You Jesus! Help us Father God, to love as You love us, with patience, kindness, and gentleness. Let us always trust in You Lord, always hoping, always persevering when times are hard and the path ahead challenges us. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.  

 

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