I wish I knew this when I first met Jesus
Eventually, most of us have to become very intentional about not taking Jesus’ love for granted. But this is not so in the beginning! When we first encounter that amazing grace, Jesus starts messing with everything that messes with us, and we are easily beside ourselves with gratitude and awe. I can remember a time when a simple bumper sticker that said, “Jesus loves you!” could make my heart leak out of my eyes. And I recall the bliss of singing a praise song and actually meaning it for the first time.
It was all so much relief, really. I had been carrying around all this pain from terrible losses and mistakes made either by myself or by those closest to me. The resulting spiritual wounds made me deeply insecure, fearful, and altogether skittish about the entire human experience, pretty much. Then suddenly, this all-powerful Jesus God-man bursts onto the scene with healing in His wings, promising to set me free from all of that! I believed Him, and felt as though I could fly!
But as I continued to grow and mature through life’s various phases, something weird kept happening. Sometimes the pain would return—all that foreboding fear and anxiety.
As a young adult away from home for the first time, and then again as a young wife, I felt it.
As I entered the professional world, and as we became a military family confronting the realities of war, I put up a desperate fight once again.
As I became a mother, and left my full-time job to stay home with our baby, there again were painful insecurity, fear and anxiety. My old nemeses.
Each major transition would rip open the gashes in my broken soul that I didn't know was still broken, often while creating brand new injuries in need of their own confrontation and healing. And each time, I’d get more and more discouraged. I thought I had already been healed. Past it. Set free. Had I not?
I was praying. I was trusting (or trying, at least). And still, I was hurting. I’d question God, and wonder if freedom was ever really mine—or if it ever really would be.
This most recent encounter came a bit unexpectedly. I was so relieved and grateful about my husband finishing up his time in active duty military, and our family returning to civilian life, I figured there would be all good, warm, fuzzy feelings. And there are definitely those! We are immensely grateful! But at the same time, this has been a difficult transition so far. Processing the reality of everything we just lived through and how it has changed us. Trying to start over again without the immediate company of others who have shared in the intensity we were just in. Trying to figure out what our new normal is. This is no easy feat. I know that now. And the old injuries have definitely not skipped out on this party. They've all turnt up.
I thought I had already been healed. Past it. Set free. Had I not?
This past weekend, in the midst of working through all of this and trying to make sense of my life once again, I found myself at an Empowered to Connect Conference for people who care for children from hard places—people such as adoptive and foster parents, Title 1 school teachers, outreach ministry leaders, probation officers, etc. I am none of these things at the moment, but I was there because my mother-in-law invited me, and my friend was facilitating the event. And they’re both privy to the fact that I am one of God’s own adopted, wounded children, so there was probably something healing for me to gain from learning what they were learning.
And there was! For instance, one important theme was this idea that trauma is developmental. This means that when we experience trauma in our youth, we process it over and over again throughout our lives, particularly at milestones. That's expected. Normal.
I once heard author and speaker Genevieve Kineke say something similar about the concept of forgiveness. She said we can only forgive an offense to the extent that we can understand it. As we mature, and our understanding becomes more sophisticated, we may find that we have to forgive a new level or aspect of the offense that we’ve only recently come to understand. We might end up having to forgive the same offenses over and over again.
So for some spiritual wounds, healing happens continually, because we are always growing. That makes sense.
I wish I knew this back when I first met Jesus. I wish some extremely wise individual had said to me then, “Christina, the healing that God is doing in your life right now is incredible! But listen, little sister… Don’t be surprised if and when some of these same issues come up again later down the road. Healing is a lifelong process. It gets deeper, and sometimes more painful. But that pain doesn’t mean it’s not working. In fact, it means it is. It means your growing soul is becoming less and less accustomed to those old injuries, and more and more at home with true joy and peace.”
Healing is a lifelong process. It gets deeper, and sometimes more painful. But that pain doesn’t mean it’s not working.
I think that little speech might have sounded a bit daunting at first, but ultimately, it would have spared me a lot of discouragement, and a few moments of panic and despair, wondering if Christ was really still winning after all this time.
When the old injuries flare up, I realize now that it is a different kind of pain than before. It’s the pain radiating from the spot where chains were, and not where they are. The agony of having been in bondage, though no longer bound. Like the Israelites leaving Egypt. Pharaoh may have pursued them on their way out, but they weren’t slaves to him anymore. They were already free. And so am I.
But like them, I am still on my way. Still unlearning slavery with every liberating step toward the Promise.
I may not be in heaven yet, but I'm also not in the same place I was in. I am closer now. And every time I reach another one of these junctures where the old wounds require mending once again, it’s another opportunity to pay close attention to how far I’ve actually come, and to surrender everything now, just like I did at first. When I do that, the gratitude and awe return in full force, and just like in the beginning, it becomes completely impossible to take Jesus' love for granted.
As I write this, it’s Holy Week at the end of a very long, desert-y Lent. While we're remembering all that Christ endured in order to save us, we have such a great opportunity to enter into His story, to unite all of our pain to His own suffering, allowing it all to die with Him once again. We already know the end game, and we all want to get there—to that glorious resurrected life in Christ. But as one of our priests reminded us in his homily on Sunday: suffering, death and resurrection belong together. And those who die with Christ will rise with Him. So for all my fellow lifelong healers awaiting the joy that is Easter Sunday, I will see you for now at the foot of the Cross, baggage in hand. Here we go again…