After my workout at the gym one day, while doing a routine stretching exercise, I heard a snap. Immediately I felt a sharp pain in the back of my leg. I knew instantly I’d pulled my hamstring. Serious? I was being careful! I was doing everything right! How did that happen? I wanted to scream. Someone helped me up but I could barely walk. I hobbled home, frustrated and angry.
So I found out that typical injury symptoms for this kind of injury includes tightness, general soreness, dull ache, throbbing, sharp pain, and numbness. I treated it as best I could but recovery was more painful and lasted longer than I anticipated. It sidelined me for six weeks. Eventually I was able to put more weight on that leg but I found myself “baby-ing” it, holding back from my usual intensity for fear of re-injury. I even adjusted my workout routine that didn’t require use of that muscle. I didn’t want to risk the possibility of re-injury or more pain.
Life is full of hurt and woundedness. People wound us with words said or inconsiderate, even abusive, behavior. These injuries can occur any time, taking us by surprise, even when we are doing everything right. No doubt it is hard when something happens to you that isn’t your fault. You feel betrayed often by the people you should been able to trust the most. The temptation is strong to react to this kind of injury by “tucking in” and self-protecting. When we do, we begin to live dutiful, guarded, and cautious. In other words, we numb. And as Brene Brown insightfully taught, we don’t get to selectively numb our emotions. When we numb the bad, we also numb the good things like joy, contentment, and gratitude. Sometimes we vow to ourselves that we will never be hurt like that again. The problem is that this “shift” is so imperceptible. Our hearts have turned and we don’t even know it. So we hobble around with a tightness, a dull ache, most often a numbness, in our soul, with little to offer those we serve.
With my torn hamstring I knew I needed physical therapy. I had to work to re-strengthen that area, or a scar tissue would develop that is not as flexible and may lead to the same reoccurring injury. We need the same prescription for our spiritual injury.
Sometimes, however, instead of pursuing healing, we focus our attention on anything that would distract us from the source of the pain, (family, pleasure, “I think I’ll redecorate the house.”) More often, and even more destructive, we become frozen in time at that point of hurt and we allow “scar tissue” to form in our hearts. When that happens our lives soon become defined by our pain, and we wonder if we will ever fully recover.
Hebrews 12:14-15 offers us a stern (and scary!) warning: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Emphasis mine.)
When we “baby” our pain (rehearse and retain it), a bitter root forms and grows deep in our hearts, and, like a physical injury, it can “sideline” us. According to this passage in Hebrews, what it actually does is cause us to “fall short” of the grace of God in our own lives. In other words, if we don’t pursue healing (forgiveness), God’s creative, dynamic, life-giving activity and on-going work of healing and restoration gets cut off and our ability to experience his transforming presence will diminish. (That’s how I like to define grace: God’s powerfully creative, continually redemptive work in our lives!) This is the grace that keeps us alive spiritually! What we discover is forgiveness is more about us and our well-being than being about someone else and what they did. This makes unforgiveness is no small thing! Unforgiveness will keep you from experiencing the fullness of your life with God and all that He has for you. Tragically and ultimately, the writer of Hebrews tells us, without pursuing healing from injury, our soul will atrophy because it has been cut off from the life-giving flow of God’s gracious work in our lives.
No doubt life is messy and sometimes it hurts even when we are doing everything right . There are no slick formulas that make it all better. The soul’s journey to back to heath is not so much about “Take one of these and you’ll feel better in the morning,” as it is a long but grace-filled process.
So how does one rehabilitate the soul? That’s for tomorrow.