Today we continued our difficult series about family — both earthly and spiritual families. You don’t have to have trauma and abuse in your past to have baggage that you need to heal from.
Sandra shared what her own family was like — she was one of 6 kids. They were middle-class suburban, her dad worked in middle management, her mom was a housewife. She was always physically safe and provided for, and grounded in the word of God.
But even in her childhood, there were things that were difficult. Her dad was raised without much affection, and so he raised his kids the same way. He was not affectionate or compassionate. In addition, he was impatient and grouchy, always irritated about something, and so he was a scary figure in their house. Every small infraction led to shame, and she never felt at ease.
There was always a lots of tension in the family, especially during times when they were all together, such as meal time. They sat at an 8 sided table, and she sat next to her dad. He would get angry at everyone about small things, like his milk not being cold enough, resulting in Sandra always being tense through every meal and not eating much.
Her childhood was also filled with very firm messages about the roles for females. Her mom was homemaker, who cooked, cleaned, and raised kids. Her dad never changed a single diaper. (Before this sermon she called her mom to double check this fact and her mom said, “Men didn’t do women’s work, especially if they were jocks.”)
The thing to be if you wanted to get attention or praise in her family or her church was a boy. The boys were taught sports and important ideas, the girls were mostly taking up space. Her church repeated these messages. They taught that women should not wear pants (much less preach), and when one young adult in the community tragically committed suicide, people said it was because her mother went to work full time.
Her mom was fine with this tradeoff of having to cook and clean because she loved having her babies around. But Sandra was not quite like this. She hated to clean, and (especially when a young adult) was not much of a cook, and kept setting wooden spoons on fire.
What she really wanted to do was to give sermons and be a church leader, but all of the messages of her childhood told her this was wrong, unacceptable and could even damage her kids. For her four brothers, every possibility for the future was wide open. But for her and her sister, there was just one option (be a housewife and mother), and harsh social judgment if they did not live up to that.
These messages in her family and church influenced her view of God, who she saw as her dad — Impatient, and shame-based. She worked overtime to avoid the many, many land mines (wrong music, wrong clothes, wrong language, wrong friends) and tried not to make all the grouchy, judgmental men in her life mad.
So even though she did not have abuse and neglect, she still had stuff to heal from. She had to reconcile the conflicting visions of wanting to be an educated woman and a church leader versus what she was taught she was “supposed” to do. She also had to deal with anger — at the church, her dad, and God, and learn to celebrate who she was.
How do we get healed?
The road to healing is different for each of us. But one important thing to remember is that God wants you to be healed, because you matter and your story matters. This is a journey God is calling you to.
Not only that but if you yourself are not healed, you will not be able to help others around you heal, and this is part of what the church should be about. And finally, if you are a parent, not being healed can cause you to inadvertently pass on the damage to your kids.
If you are suffering from unresolved brokenness, here are some steps to healing:
1) Be courageous and tell your story to someone. It could be a good friend or a therapist (or both). But let someone in. This is an act of courage because it feels uncomfortable to expose our vulnerabilities, but the affirmation you receive can be extremely healing when you hear (and hopefully internalize) someone else say that what happened was not okay, and was not your fault. We all need this affirmation. Even though other people have had it way worse, it’s still okay and helpful to acknowledge the stuff from our past that was not okay.
2) Have a boundary. Learn to say “No.” Your acquaintances, friends or family do not need to have full access to every part of you. Sandra illustrated this with a sparkly pink hula hoop. We protect our minds by not letting in thoughts or ideas that don’t belong there. We protect our hearts by not allowing people to speak to us in nasty ways and make us feel bad; and we protect our bodies when we don’t allow others to physically harm us.
She likes the illustration of the hula hoop because some people have big walls, or barbed wire around their hula hoops which hurts others. Other people don’t even have a hula hoop, they just have a flimsy piece of string, which is too weak. The hula hoop is a great metaphor because it keeps “unauthorized” people at bay (not too close but not too far) without hurting anyone.
But there is one person that we should always invite inside our hula hoop, and that is Jesus. He is inside helping us discern when to say yes, when to say no, and helping us identify what we feel okay with and what we don’t.
3) Bring Jesus into your story.
In addition to your hula hoop in the present, it can be enormously healing to invite Jesus into your past as well. What this looked like for Sandra was to imagine that 8-sided table from her childhood where she sat anxiously next to her dad, and she invited Jesus to be an observer and comment on the situation. She heard his compassionate words saying, “I can see why you felt that way.” Once she did this, she then invited Jesus to move into the seat at the head of the table where her dad sat, and notice how he acted differently from her dad, and what sitting there with Jesus feels like, and notice how it feels to feel safe and free from anxiety. Through this exercise, she learned to hear Jesus’ voice instead of her dad’s.
(You can learn more about this technique (and others) in a book called “Healing The 8 Stages of Life” by Matthew Linn.)
4) Make a choice to forgive.
Sandra once heard someone say “we do not heal in order to forgive, we forgive so that we can heal.”
This is brilliant and true.
In Matthew 18:21-22, when asked how often we should forgive another,
Jesus said, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (And some translations say seventy times seven). He meant a LOT. We should forgive continually. When we have Jesus inside our hula hoop he can teach us the compassion and love necessary for this constant forgiveness.
Forgiving does not mean we jump back into relationships with the ones that hurt us. Sometimes we forgive then go our separate ways. But the forgiveness is critical so that we can proceed in Love instead of bitterness. The unforgiving heart is a bitter heart and it will eat away at other parts of your life.
5) Be wise.
Wisdom is knowing that we cannot change people or control them. Sometimes people simply do not change. We can only control and change ourselves. So wisdom is embracing this and making the conscious choice to have no expectations of the other, and only focus on what we can do, namely: Love, Forgive, Love, Forgive, Love, Forgive, repeat…
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