Healing from Past Hurts

Before Jonathan Goforth became a widely-used missionary to China, he was a farm boy eager to go to Knox College in Toronto in the 1880s. Jonathan originally wanted to go into politics, but God saved him and called him to the ministry.

His mother, noted among the neighbours for her fine needlecraft, worked far into the night putting her best effort on the finishing touches to shirt or collar for the dear boy who was to be the scholar of the family (Rosalind Goforth, Goforth of China, p. 29).

Jonathan’s heart thrilled as he thought how soon he was to live and work with other young men who, like himself, had given themselves to the most sacred, holy calling of winning men to Christ. He had visions on reaching Knox of prayer-meetings and Bible study-groups where, in company with kindred spirits, he could dig deeper into his beloved Bible. So his joyous, optimistic spirit had reached fever heat when he arrived in Toronto and entered Knox College (p. 30).

However, instead of finding kindred spirits, Jonathan became the object of ridicule. “He was unconventional to a degree, and utterly unacquainted with city habits and ways” (p. 31). He realized his lovingly homemade clothes “would not pass muster.” He didn’t have much money, but he bought some cloth to take to a seamstress for a more appropriate outfit. But some of his fellow students found out.

Late that night a number of them came into his room, secured their victim, then, cutting a hole at one end of the material . . . they put his head through and forcing him out into the corridor, made him run the full length up and down through a barrage of hilarious students (p. 31).

Later, Jonathan became involved in a ministry to reach people in the slums. His “enthusiastic innocence” annoyed and amused his fellow students.

He became a subject for an ‘Initiation Ceremony’; hailed at midnight before his judges, students of Knox College, he was subjected, I learned, to indignities, and warned against further breaches of good form by his tales of his ‘experiences with sinners’ (p. 33).

Goforth was deeply hurt, not so much for himself, but that such a thing should happen in a Christian college (p. 33).

Jonathan reported the latter incident to the principal, who soothed his feelings but took no action against what he deemed “a silly prank of foolish boys.”

Many of us have experienced hurt from the past. Sometimes it’s been in the form of passive neglect. We have easily made friends in other schools or neighborhoods, but for some reason, in a new place, we can’t seem to make headway socially. People aren’t actively rude or mean, but we always remain at the bottom of the social pecking order, never really a part of the group.

Other times, like Jonathan, people experience active hazing, ridicule, meanness. Sometimes one person becomes the one everyone likes to pick on or make fun of.

Though I am thinking of incidents from school days, some of these things happen in later life as well.

And some incidents continue to hurt for decades.

What can we do to heal from them?

Draw close to God. After the first incident mentioned above, Jonathan

. . .knelt with his Bible before him and struggled through the greatest humiliation and the first great disappointment of his life. The dreams he had been indulging in but a few days before had vanished, and before him, for a time at least, lay a lone road (p. 32).

We see something similar in Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-50. His own brothers stripped him of the special coat their father had made for him, threw him into a pit, ignored his distress and cries (Genesis 42:21), and sold him into slavery. Then at his first place of service, he was lied about and imprisoned.

Just a few chapters later, we see Joseph taken out of prison and made Pharaoh’s right hand man. So, everything worked out for him in the end. But those chapters represent years of being alone. We see just a glimpse of Joseph’s suffering in the name he chose for his children: “Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.The name of the second he called Ephraim, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction'” (Genesis 41:51-52).

Though God made us to live in community, He seems to sometimes call His people to walk alone with Him for a time. David “encouraged himself in the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:6) when his followers turned against him, desiring to stone him. Joseph had to have done the same thing for him to later be able to face his brothers with grace and forgiveness and faith. Two life-changing encounters God had with Jacob happened while Jacob was alone. Paul spent a few years alone before becoming accepted by the other apostles and starting his ministry.

Though all others forsake us, Jesus never will. We can pour out our souls to Him.

Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!

(Psalm 142: 4-6)

Trust God’s providence. When Joseph finally met up with his brothers years later, he was able to say that God had sent him ahead of them to provide for them in famine (Genesis 45:4-8). Rosalind Goforth said of Jonathan’s “lone road” that “It is not hard to see God’s hand in this, forcing him out as it did into an independence of action which so characterized his whole after life” (p. 32). This doesn’t mean Goforth became a “lone ranger.” But he pioneered missions in many areas and had to stand against the tide of modernism when it crept in.

Wrongdoers aren’t off the hook just because God brings good out of their bad. But God has promised “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The example of passive neglect I mentioned earlier was my experience when we moved to a new area just before I went into 8th grade. I was so miserable, my mom had to almost literally push me from the car when she took me to school. Finally I found one other friend and then other acquaintances.

But I found out later God had a reason for keeping me from the popular group. Things were going on among them that would not have been good for me to be a part of. Plus, it would be just three years later before we moved to Houston and my life changed when I came to know the Lord. As hard as it was to move, it would have been even harder if I were more firmly entrenched with the group there. Plus, If I had gotten involved with them, my heart might not have been receptive to God later.

Some have used past wrongs to be more sensitive to others facing the same thing or to actively advocate for them.

Don’t get back at them. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).

Forgive and do them good. We might never again run into people who have hurt us. But they can keep hurting us if we hold onto bitterness. Jesus said, “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you” (Luke 6:27-28, NLT).

And Jesus provided an example Himself. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also 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” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Separate truth from the flawed vessel that contains it. Some who felt neglected or hurt at church have walked away from Christian community entirely. But that would be a mistake. As we get to know God and His Word better, we can discern His truth from the false actions of others who profess His name. I’ve always loved what Jackie Hill Perry once tweeted (though she is no longer on Twitter): “Do you know who God used to heal me of my church hurt? The church.” If we’ve come from a bad church situation, we can pray for His leading to the place He would have us.

Disconnect if necessary. Some hurts from school days are the result of the immaturity of fellow students. But some people keep their penchant for hurting people, either with ridicule or hurtful remarks or worse. Romans 12:18 tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” While we need to obey this admonition, it frankly admits that there are some people that we can’t live peaceably with.

Let it go. Sometimes, long after such hurtful incidents are over, our thoughts can wander back to them. It can take a while to process and heal. But we can get stuck replaying such incidents over and over, especially if we’re feeling down for other reasons. We can remind ourselves, “That’s over. God loves me and cares for me. He’s brought better friends into my life (if not, we can pray for them). He’s given me His grace and work to do.”

I am not a counselor, and my advice is only from experience and Scripture. There are some issues that are deeper than the kinds of things I’ve talked about. Some may experience post-traumatic stress. In these cases, it would be helpful to talk with a pastor, counselor, or trusted mature friend. Abuse needs to be dealt with.

Before Jonathan Goforth graduated, “every student who had taken part in what had hurt and humiliated him . . . had, before he left the college, come to him expressing their regret” (Goforth of China, p. 34).

Further, though his fellow students originally “set him down as a crank” for his “missionary enthusiasm,” “this did not cool his ardor, and his enthusiasm proved contagious. Gradually there developed among the student body a remarkable interest in the cause of foreign missions” (p. 53). When Jonathan’s home church could not afford to send him to the mission field, fellow students raised funds to send him.

Not everyone who experiences hurt and humiliation sees such a turnaround. But it can happen. Until it does, keep walking with God, resting in His love and grace, doing His will.

Updated to add: Donna has a beauitful post this week titled Wounded Healers which takes these thoughts a step further. Go often uses our wounds to develop a sensitivity to others and a place of ministry to them of the same comfort we’ve received (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

16 thoughts on “Healing from Past Hurts

  1. Loved the use of the aloe plant anchor graphic, and loved the post Ms. Barbara. Some hurts take a while to heal, but like the aloe plant, the pain can be soothed immediately by giving it to God. Funny, but have been dealing with a second-degree burn on my left wrist, right where it rests on my mouse pad, for the past couple of weeks. After protecting against potential infection, the rest has been to soothe the pain and allow it time to heal. Healing does not always come fast, but the process of healing can begin quickly. I remembered too that healing happens from the inside out. Appreciated your reminder to not repay evil with evil. Most personal hurts against me can be forgiven much easier than if something were to happen to those God has entrusted to me to love. Perhaps it’s the sheepdog in me, but in those cases, I will not allow evil the opportunity to cause harm if I am able. God’s blessings precious friend. I was reminded that even those rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem did so with a sword in one hand. Thank you so much for this piece.

    • I’m glad you caught that the plant in the graphic was an aloe plant! You brought out some great points–that healing takes time and comes from the inside out. Those wounded areas can be a little tender and sensitive until they are healed–sometimes even after healing.

  2. Thank you for these excellent ideas — I have an ongoing situation of hurt and can always use more strategies. I love that you were able, afterwards, to see possible reasons for some hurts you encountered. It is wonderful when God allows us those glimpses. But even when He doesn’t, hurts are definitely an incentive to draw closer to Him.

  3. Great message hear. I’ve been through hurt by the church in the Nth degree. You advice is right on cue.

  4. What an example from Goforth’s experiences! Looking back on a couple of times when my family and I were deeply wounded by the church or by a fellow Christian who “should have known better” I can say that all the advice you’ve offered is sound. It can take time, especially if the hurts kept piling on as often happens. I’ve learned that the negative emotions have to be acknowledged before healing can begin, and that forgiveness is an act of my will, not a warm fuzzy feeling. Thanks for sharing this encouraging message of hope!

  5. Lots of good advice here. It’s amazing how God can bring good out of bad circumstances, though sometimes we only see that many years in the future.

  6. Reading this was like a bit of redemption –> ‘Before Jonathan Goforth graduated, “every student who had taken part in what had hurt and humiliated him . . . had, before he left the college, come to him expressing their regret”’

    We don’t often see this in our own experiences. That there was a turn around in attitude and behavior made me smile in relief and thanks in reading this story this morning.

    And yes, disconnecting from those who are abusive is often the wisest, healthiest response. I appreciated that observation, Barbara.

  7. Very good counsel, Barbara. I am so glad you can look back at your painful experience in eighth grade and see how God was actually protecting you through that time. I have similar thoughts about some of the struggles I had in my pre-teen and early teen years.

  8. The hardest part in the healing process for me is forgiving myself. This is a beautiful and encouraging post, Barbara. I wish you well always.

  9. Barbara,
    What a wonderful message! My heart grieves for this young man–and for your struggle, as well. God certainly uses our stories to comfort and encourage others when we surrender the details to Him.


  10. Upon reading this again I am still so touched. I was bullied in highschool and it really took a toll on me. It wasn’t until after highschool that I came into “my own” so to speak. I seek to be the kind of friend that I want in return. Of course as adults and as Christians we seek out like minded people and use our discernment from God to distinguish possible new friends.
    Thank you bunches for sharing this with Sweet Tea & Friends this month sweet friend.

  11. Pingback: May Reflections | Stray Thoughts

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