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Healing for Damaged Emotions
By David A. Seamands
David C. CookCopyright © 1981 David A. Seamands
All rights reserved.
One Sunday evening in 1966, I preached a sermon called "The Holy Spirit and the Healing of Our Damaged Emotions." It was my first venture into this area, and I was convinced that God had given me that message, or I would never have had the courage to preach it. What I said that evening about the healing of the memories and damaged emotions is now old hat. You will find it in a lot of books. But it wasn't old then.
When I got up to preach I looked down at the congregation and saw dear old Dr. Smith. Now Dr. Smith had been a very real part of my boyhood. When my wife, Helen, and I first heard that we were appointed to our present pastorate, a few elderly faces appeared in our minds to trouble us. Dr. Smith was one of them, for I wondered how I could ever minister to him. He had nearly scared the life out of me with his preaching when I was young, and I was still uneasy in his presence.
When I saw him in the congregation that evening, my heart sank. But I went ahead and preached the message that I felt God had given me. After the service, which was followed by a very wonderful time for many at the prayer altar, Dr. Smith remained seated in the congregation. I was busy praying with people at the altar; somewhere back in my mind, I was also praying that he would leave. He didn't. Finally, he came up to the altar, and in his own inimitably gruff way, he said, "David, may I see you in your office?"
All those images from the past arose, and the frightened little boy inside of me followed the old man. As I sat down in my office, I felt somewhat like Moses must have before the fire and smoke of Sinai. But I was so wrong about him–I hadn't allowed for change. I had frozen him at one stage and hadn't let him grow.
Very kindly, Dr. Smith said to me, "David, I've never heard a sermon quite like that before, but I want to tell you something." His eyes got moist. He had been an outstanding evangelist and preacher for many years and had won thousands to Christ. He was a truly great man; but as he looked back over his own ministry he said, "You know, there was always a group of people I could never help. They were sincere people. I believe many of them were Spirit-filled Christians. But they had problems. They brought these things to me, and I tried to help. But no amount of advice, no amount of Scripture or prayer on their part ever seemed to bring them lasting deliverance."
Then he said, "I always felt guilt in my ministry, David. But I think you're onto something. Work on it; develop it. Please keep preaching it, for I believe what you have found is the answer."
When he rose to leave, my eyes were wet as I said, "Thank you, Doctor." But most of all, I was inwardly saying, "Thank You, God, for Your affirmation through this dear man."
Through fifteen years, as tapes have gone out all over the world, letters and testimonies have confirmed that there is a realm of problems that requires a special kind of prayer and a deeper level of healing by the Spirit. Somewhere between our sins, on the one hand, and our sickness, on the other, lies an area the Scripture calls "infirmities."
We can explain this by an illustration from nature. If you visit the western U.S., you will see the beautiful giant sequoia and redwood trees. In most of the parks the naturalists can show you a cross section of a great tree they have cut, and they will point out that the rings of the tree reveal the developmental history, year by year. Here's a ring that represents a year when there was a terrible drought. Here are a couple of rings from years when there was too much rain. Here's where the tree was struck by lightning. Here are some normal years of growth. This ring shows a forest fire that almost destroyed the tree. Here's another of savage blight and disease. All of this lies embedded in the heart of the tree, representing the autobiography of its growth.
That's the way it is with us. Just a few thin layers beneath the protective bark–the concealing, protective mask–are the recorded rings of our lives.
There are scars of ancient, painful hurts ... as when a little boy rushed downstairs one Christmas dawn and discovered in his Christmas stocking a dirty old rock, put there to punish him for some trivial boyhood naughtiness. This scar has eaten away in him, causing all kinds of interpersonal difficulties.
Here is the discoloration of a tragic stain that muddied all of life ... as years ago behind the barn, or in the haystack, or out in the woods, a big brother took a little sister and introduced her to the mysteries–no, the miseries–of sex.
And here we see the pressure of a painful, repressed memory ... of running after an alcoholic father who was about to kill the mother, and then of rushing for the butcher knife. Such scars have been buried in pain for so long that they are causing hurt and rage that are inexplicable. And these scars are not touched by conversion and sanctifying grace or by the ordinary benefits of prayer.
In the rings of our thoughts and emotions, the record is there; the memories are recorded, and all are alive. And they directly and deeply affect our concepts, our feelings, and our relationships. They affect the way we look at life and God, at others and ourselves.
We preachers have often given people the mistaken idea that the new birth and being "filled with the Spirit" are going to automatically take care of these emotional hang-ups. But this just isn't true. A great crisis experience of Jesus Christ, as important and eternally valuable as this is, is not a shortcut to emotional health. It is not a quickie cure for personality problems.
It is necessary that we understand this, first of all, so that we can compassionately live with ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to work with special healing in our own hurts and confusion. We also need to understand this in order to not judge other people too harshly, but to have patience with their confusing and contradictory behavior. In so doing, we will be kept from unfairly criticizing and judging fellow Christians. They're not fakes, phonies, or hypocrites. They are people, like you and me, with hurts and scars and wrong programming that interferes with their present behavior.
Understanding that salvation does not give instant emotional health offers us an important insight into the doctrine of sanctification. It is impossible to know how "Christian" a person is, merely on the basis of his outward behavior.
Isn't it true that "by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:16)? Yes, but it is also true that by their roots you shall understand, and not judge them. Over here is John, who may appear to be more spiritual and responsible as a Christian than Bill. But actually, considering John's roots and the good kind of soil he had to grow in and out of, Bill may be a saint by comparison. He may have made much more progress than John in really being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. How wrong, how unchristian to superficially judge people!
Some may object: "What are you doing? Lowering standards? Are you denying the power of the Holy Spirit to heal our hang-ups? Are you trying to give us a cop-out for responsibility, so that we can blame life, or heredity, or parents, or teachers, or sweethearts, or mates for our defeats and failures? In the words of Paul: 'Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?'" (Rom. 6:1).
And I would answer as Paul answered that question, "God forbid!" What I am saying is that certain areas of our lives need special healing by the Holy Spirit. Because they are not subject to ordinary prayer, discipline, and willpower, they need a special kind of understanding, an unlearning of past wrong programming, and a relearning and reprogramming transformation by the renewal of our minds. And this is not done overnight by a crisis experience.
Understanding these things will protect us from two extremes. Some Christians see anything that wiggles as the devil. Let me say a kind but firm word to young or immature Christians. Throughout the centuries the church has been very careful about declaring a person demon-possessed. There is such a thing as demon possession. On rare occasions, during my many years of ministry, I have felt led to take the authority of the name of Jesus to cast out what I believed was an evil spirit, and I have seen only deliverance and healing.
But only careful, prayerful, mature, Spirit-filled Christians should ever attempt anything in the nature of exorcism. I spend a lot of time in the counseling room, picking up the pieces of people who have been utterly disillusioned and devastated, because immature Christians tried to cast imaginary demons out of them.
The other extreme is an overly simplistic pat-answer syndrome, which says, "Read your Bible. Pray. Have more faith. If you were spiritually OK, you wouldn't have this hang-up. You would never get depressed. You would never have any sexual compulsions or problems."
However, people who say such things are being very cruel. They are only piling more weights on a person who is in pain and unsuccessfully struggling with an emotionally rooted problem. He already feels guilty about it; when people make him feel worse for even having the problem, they double the weight of his guilt and despair.
Perhaps you have heard about the man who was traveling on a dinner flight. When he opened his prepackaged meal, right on top of the salad he saw an enormous roach. When he got home he wrote an indignant letter to the president of that airline. A few days later, a special delivery letter came from the president. He was all apologies. "This was very unusual, but don't worry. I want to assure you that that particular airplane has been completely fumigated. In fact, all the seats and the upholstery have been stripped out. We have taken disciplinary action against the flight attendant who served you that meal, and she may even be fired. It is highly probable that this particular aircraft will be taken out of service. I can assure you that it will never happen again. And I trust you will continue to fly with us."
Well, the man was terrifically impressed by such a letter, until he noticed something. Quite by accident the letter he had written had stuck to the back of the president's letter. When he looked at his own letter, he saw a note at the bottom that said, "Reply with the regular roach letter."
So often we reply with the regular roach letter to people suffering with emotional problems. We give pat, oversimplified answers, which drive them to deeper despair and disillusionment.
What are some of these damaged emotions? One of the most common is a deep sense of unworthiness, a continuous feeling of anxiety, inadequacy, and inferiority, an inner nagging that says, "I'm no good. I'll never amount to anything. No one could ever possibly love me. Everything I do is wrong."
What happens to this kind of person when he becomes a Christian? Part of his mind believes in God's love, accepts God's forgiveness, and feels at peace for a while. Then, all of a sudden, everything within him rises up to cry out, "It's a lie! Don't believe it! Don't pray! There's no one up there to hear you. No one really cares. There's no one to relieve your anxiety. How could God possibly love you and forgive someone like you? You're too bad!" What has happened? The good news of the Gospel has not penetrated down into his damaged inner self, which also needs to be evangelized. His deep inner scars must be touched and healed by the Balm of Gilead.
Then there's another kind of person that has, for want of a better term, what I call the perfectionist complex. This is the inner feeling that says, "I can never quite achieve. I never do anything well enough. I can't please myself, others, or God." This kind of a person is always groping, striving, usually feeling guilty, driven by inner oughts and shoulds. "I ought to be able to do this. I should be able to do that. I must be a little bit better." He's ever climbing, but never reaching.
What happens to this person when he becomes a Christian? Tragically enough, he usually transfers his perfectionism onto his relationship with God, who is seen now as a figure on top of a tall ladder. He says to himself, "I'm going to climb up to God now. I'm His child, and I want to please Him more than I want anything else."
So he starts climbing, rung by rung, working so hard, until his knuckles are bleeding and his shins are bruised. Finally, he reaches the top, only to find that his God has moved up three rungs; so he puts on his Avis button and determines to try a little harder. He climbs and struggles, but when he gets up there, his God has gone up another three rungs.
Some years ago I received a telephone call from the wife of a minister friend of mine, asking me to counsel her husband who had just suffered a complete nervous breakdown. As we were driving to the hospital, she began to talk about him. "I just don't understand Bill. It's almost as if he has a built-in slave driver that won't let him go. He can't relax, can't let down. He's always overworking. His people just love him, and they would do anything for him, but he can't let them. He's gone on and on like this for so many years that finally he has broken down completely."
I began to visit with Bill, and after he was well enough to talk, he shared with me about his home and his childhood. As Bill grew up he wanted very much to please his parents. He tried to win his mother's approval by occasionally helping her set the table. But she'd say, "Bill, you've got the knives in the wrong place." So he would put the knives in the right place. "Now you've got the forks wrong." After that it would be the salad plates. He could never please her. Try as hard as he might, he could never please his father, either. He brought home his report card with Bs and Cs. His dad looked at the card and said, "Bill, I think if you try, you could surely get all Bs, couldn't you?" So he studied harder and harder, until one day he brought home all Bs. Dad said, "But surely, you know, if you just put a little more effort into it, you could get all As." So he worked and struggled through a semester or two, until finally he got all As. He was so excited–now Mother and Dad would surely be pleased with him. He ran home, for he could hardly wait. Dad looked at the report card and said, "Well, I know those teachers. They always give As."
When Bill became a minister, all he did was exchange one mother and one father for several hundred of them: his congregation became his unappeasable parents. He could never satisfy them, no matter what he did. Finally, he just collapsed under the sheer weight of struggling for approval and trying to prove himself.
A famous God-is-dead theologian was being interviewed. The reporter asked, "What do you mean by God?"
"God? God, to me, is that little inner voice that always says, 'That's not quite good enough.'"
He didn't tell us much about God, but he did say a lot about his own personality. And I presume that such sick people produce sick theologies. Oh, how the perfectionist complex defeats people in the Christian life! And how it even keeps people out of the kingdom!
Then there is another kind of damaged emotion that we can call super sensitivity. The supersensitive person has usually been hurt deeply. He reached out for love and approval and affection, but instead he got the opposite, and he has scars deep inside of him. Sometimes he sees things other people don't see, and he tends to feel things other people don't feel.
One day I was walking down the street and saw supersensitive Charlie coming toward me. I usually give him a lot of attention, but that morning I was very busy so I just said, "Hi, Charlie. How are you?" and passed on by. When I got back to the office, a church member called me on the phone and asked, "Are you mad at Charlie?"
"Well, you know, Charlie Olson."
"Why, no. I saw him down the street." Then I suddenly realized that I hadn't given Charlie the appreciation and the affirmation I usually do, knowing he is supersensitive.
Supersensitive people need a lot of approval. You can never quite give them enough. And sometimes they seem very insensitive. They have been hurt so badly that instead of becoming sensitive, they cover it by being hard, tough. They want to get even and hurt others. So quite unbeknown to them, they spend their lives pushing people around, hurting and dominating them. They use money or authority or position or sex or even sermons to hurt people. Does all this affect their Christian experience? Yes, very deeply.
Then there are the people who are filled with fears. Perhaps the greatest of them all is the fear of failure. These damaged persons are so afraid of losing the game of life that they have a simple way out: never get into the game; just sit on the sidelines. They say, "I don't like the rules," or "I don't care for the referee." "The ball isn't quite round." "The goals are not right."
I remember some years ago talking with a salesman in a used car lot. As we looked out the showroom window, we saw a man who was going around kicking tires on the cars. He was also raising the hoods and banging the fenders. The salesman said disgustedly, "Look at that guy out there. He's a wheel-kicker. They are the bane of our existence. They come in here all the time but never buy cars because they can't make up their minds. Now watch him out there. He's kicking the tires. He'll say the wheels are out of line. He'll listen to the motor and say, 'Hear that knock?' Nobody else can hear the knock, but he can hear it. Something is always wrong. He is afraid to choose; he can never make up his mind, so he always finds an excuse."
Excerpted from Healing for Damaged Emotions by David A. Seamands. Copyright © 1981 David A. Seamands. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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