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The Wall Around Your Heart
How Jesus Heals You When Others Hurt You
By MARY DEMUTH
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Mary E. Demuth
All rights reserved.
"Pray Like This": Pray First
JESUS STARTED HIS FAMOUS PRAYER WITH THREE WORDS: "PRAY like this." Not gossip like this. Not tell everyone else the other person's issues like this. Not stew on the issue until your heart embitters like this. Not grumble like this. Not avoid like this.
"Pray like this."
I'm typing these words after a hellacious bout of stress that's toppled our family and sent me careening for answers. Our youngest daughter experienced scary health problems, the kind that sent her to the hospital more than once. It almost seems counterintuitive to write those three one-syllable words.
So in whatever circumstance we walk, Jesus beckons us toward prayer, toward relationship with Him. The very essence of this prayer welcomes honesty, to let Jesus in on whatever stresses us out. Running to the Greek helps me (and makes my Greek-loving, theology-bent husband proud). The Greek word for "this" is proseuchomai. Pro means "to face or look toward." Euchomai translates "to declare out loud, express a wish" (I like that). In the New Testament, the word is always used in reference to God, and it sounds like the word for "worship," proskuneo. So when Jesus used this word, He communicated more than three words. We must speak to God face-to-face, sharing our hearts and burdens, and as we do, we choose to worship Him in the process. To let Him know how big He is in relation to our current pain.
But Jesus doesn't invite us only to Him in this prayer; He welcomes us into His community. I don't always run to others when painful circumstances squeeze life from me. I cocoon myself, cry, wallow, and give in to catatonic stares. I isolate myself. Although this recent trial has little to do with a painful relationship, the beckoning of Jesus remains the same. He wants to be a part of our pain, to walk alongside us through the bewilderment, to shoulder the burdens we pick up so quickly by ourselves. And He wants to invite us to community, so others can be His hands and feet when we can't feel or walk. His invitation in this prayer isn't simply to Him but to the family He created when He died on the cross and welcomed us into community.
Jesus welcomed me to Himself and to my husband (community) during a particularly difficult time in our marriage. I had a conversation with my husband about a couple we once knew. The husband had been chewing tobacco and hiding it from his wife. When she found out, she exploded. Although they were tentacled in the moment, the couple used that time of sheer honesty to start a new foundation in their relationship. I admired them, but I'm pretty sure I said, "Honey, if you ever do anything like that, I'll kill you." I said it with a smile. But my smile had teeth.
Flip forward in the DeMuth family album. For some reason, I couldn't use our minivan to go to the gym one morning, so I borrowed Patrick's truck. I needed something in the glove compartment. As I opened it, a little round can fell to the passenger's side floor. My heart fell with it. My husband was hiding his habit.
I wanted to yell. I envisioned a lot of ranting and storming about, arms flailing to the ceiling, voice attaining a high pitch. But instead I stopped in that moment, turned on the ignition, and drove to the gym. I stepped onto the treadmill, plugged in some worship music, and prayed like a crazy woman. Face forward, I let Jesus have every bit of me, every feeling of betrayal, every hot shred of anger, every gnarl of revenge. It helped that I ran fast and hard. My husband's deception, and my finding out without him first being honest, no longer felt larger than God. He would be with me. He would give me calm but firm words.
Since it had been early in the morning when I exercised, my tobacco-chewing husband was asleep when I arrived home. I watched him for a minute, wondering if there were other unsolved mysteries between us. And then I crawled in next to him. I placed my arms around him and said, "I found your can of chew in the glove compartment. Want to tell me the story?"
Oddly, we had a civil conversation. I didn't explode. I'd been one of those wives who had secret fears, particularly this one after our friends had walked through it. I thought beforehand that I couldn't bear up under that kind of trickery. But I did. By God's sheer and available grace.
Patrick apologized. He felt relieved, actually, to be found out. And he kept chewing but no longer in secret. The power of the secret faded, and he kicked the habit without me nagging or ranting or threatening.
Please don't think me a saint in this story. There are plenty of other stories where I bent my anger, angled it right at my husband's heart in the grip of rage. But in this instance, I chose to "pray like this," and it made all the difference. I focused on Jesus. On that treadmill, I thought of the cross, how Jesus suffered innocently for the wrong we did. His suffering gave me an invitation for kinship with Him. Still, I felt betrayed, lied to, and deceived. The weight of my husband's sin felt hot and sticky, and I suffered under it.
But in giving every single thought to Jesus in that moment, I opened the door for healing in my marriage. I can easily see how that one instance could've ushered us down a destructive path. And I realized that if my husband could deceive me, I truly couldn't change him. The only thing I could control was my response when I found out. I won't stand before a holy God and be judged for others' sins. Only for my own.
We forget that sin tends to abound, to grow, to flourish in the midst of angry arguments, where we can blame someone for the terrible thing he or she did. Our ungodly or uncontrolled response can add more sin to the mix until it becomes a volcanic sinfest. By taking my anger to Jesus first, I settled my heart, gave it some space to process and grieve, and experienced an odd sense of peace.
We tend to wall off our hearts in the aftermath of pain. Praying this way is preventive; it prevents the walls before we take up bricks. Prayer is proactive, restorative, and rejuvenating. And it begins with Jesus—who He is. Shane Claiborne emphasized the action portion of prayer when he wrote, "I've learned that prayer is not just about trying to get God to do what we want God to do but about getting ourselves to do what God wants us to do. Training us to be the kind of people God wants us to be."
At the genesis of the Lord's Prayer, we're reminded that we have to start somewhere after pain. What's essential? Why? And how can we begin to respond well?
Begin with Jesus
WE START OUR JOURNEY OF TRANSFORMATION WITH THE GOD-MAN who spoke the words of this prayer. Asking yourself Who is Jesus?—and being truthful in your answer—is the most important question you'll ever ask. Why? Because how we frame our answer determines how much we allow Him into our pain, whether past or present.
After a traumatic childhood, where God's name was a swear word, and my pleas to go to Sunday school were ignored, I had no idea how to begin with Jesus. I honestly didn't know He existed.
What I did know: something about me felt fundamentally broken. I had no safe place to talk through the devastation of my childhood, no one to tell about childhood rape at five or to talk about my father's death when I was ten. More than that, I believed I was a walking mistake, a fluke of a girl who shouldn't have been born, meant to be in the way—a nuisance. I didn't experience fond affection or nurturing. In almost every way, I lived alone, unable to rightly process the pain that others had inflicted my way. Had I never met Jesus, I'd have spent my entire life in reverse, reliving the aftermath year after year, learning clever ways to numb my pain, excite my life, or end it all.
In the eighth grade, the past caught up with me. I was a combustive mess, a volatile cocktail of unmet expectations, loneliness, anger, and fear. The actions of others piled on top of me, and I couldn't find hope in that darkness. I wanted to end my life.
Chances are, you've been in a place like that once or twice, where other people's actions have hijacked you. You're like Joseph from the book of Genesis whose brothers sold him into slavery. Through no fault of your own, you scratch around in an earthen pit, longing for rescue, only to be enslaved the moment someone pulls you from the hole. This is how people's lives venture into pain's path. They find short rescue only to live a lifetime enslaved to that pain.
I could not see out of the pit at fourteen years old. I didn't want to see out of it. I'd resigned myself to a sad life or no life at all.
He had other plans. He's the One who rescued me from the pit of other people's abuse so I didn't have to live back then in the fulcrum of all that pain. A year later, I heard the simple story of Jesus, told from the Gospels. Every week, the Young Life leader enticed me with more. Jesus hugged outcasts. He turned things around for broken folks. He settled disputes. He told the self-important to calm down and start loving. He played.
I could nearly see the dirt beneath His nails, hear the tenderness in His voice, and discern His laughter as He loved. Jesus changed every single thing about me because He embodied the opposite of the oppressors in my life. Where they came to steal, Jesus gave me life. Where they pushed for my destruction, Jesus provided exuberance. Where their neglect pushed me further into myself, Jesus opened me up like a gift.
At fifteen years old, I could barely contain all the Jesus stories. So I asked Jesus to please rewrite my story. I gave Him joyful permission to deal with the villains in my life, heal me from untold stories, and bring out a sweeter denouement. And He did.
Anyone dealing with feeling stuck after relational pain must start with Jesus, our empathetic Savior. Consider what Jesus experienced by the very people He created:
People mocked Him.
They abandoned Him.
They undressed Him.
Friends rejected Him and His message.
Even His disciples misunderstood Him.
Several wanted Him to be someone He wasn't.
Some spat on Him.
Many disobeyed Him.
Peter denied Him.
Judas, one of His closest friends, exchanged His life for pocket change.
Some took up stones to kill Him.
Others believed they were better than He was.
Religious people were wildly and terribly jealous of Him.
Many left Him at the point He needed them most.
We begin with Jesus because He understands. He lived through hell-on-earth, experienced everything we'll experience, and came through victorious in the aftermath. Because of His amazing empathy, we no longer need to lose heart. He who asked us to "pray like this" knew that we'd need this prayer. He knew we'd experience heartache. And He knew we would need a Savior who would "get" us.
His sympathy reminds me of this passage: "Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help" (Heb. 4:14–16 MSG).
To make it through to the other side of relational pain, we start with Jesus. And then we move to His affection.
Begin with His Affection
WE'D AVOID A LOT OF INSECURITY IF WE FULLY, WHOLLY BELIEVED IN God's wild affection for us. Once we've internalized that foundational truth, secure and loved, we begin to see that God also loves the people who have hurt us. But we cannot love our enemies until we see those twin truths: God loves me. God loves them.
In my late teens, a leader hurt me, discouraged me, and sent me reeling. Because this leader wore a ministry badge, the hurt felt even more cancerous. Isn't that how we are sometimes? We can excuse the shenanigans of others who don't know Jesus, but if the person is a Christian, particularly a leader, the pain feels deeper and harder and more perplexing. During this time as I nursed my bewilderment (and looking back on the story, I'm better able to see my dysfunction in our interchange), the leader experienced romance. I couldn't understand how anyone could love the leader. Why? How? All I could see was the blackness of the leader's sin, which made her all evil in my eyes. I defined her in absolutes, but I had absolutely no grace for her.
Immature and angry, I stewed about this for a month or two until I finally realized that Jesus deeply loved this woman. He died for her. He had fond affection for her heart, her dreams, her soul, her wherewithal. When I realized this, all my catastrophic thinking about how evil she was started to fade. I began to pray for her, see her in a different light, and eventually forgive her.
In another instance, I had an otherworldly anger toward the brothers who molested me when I was five years old. For my entire kindergarten year, they took me from my babysitter's house, pulled me into ravines and out-of-the-way places, and raped me. They asked their friends to join in. They threatened me.
"If you tell, you'll never, ever be able to have babies someday."
"If you tell, we'll kill your mother and father."
They pushed me down, placed dirty hands over my mouth so I couldn't scream, and did that awful, violating act. The only thing that rescued me that year was my ability to fake sleep and a providential move twenty miles away.
I could not see those boys in light of Jesus' love for them.
But eventually grace crept into my heart.
I realized those boys learned that behavior somewhere, whether they'd been abused by someone or found pornography that fueled their very real fantasies. I came to realize that they'd most likely been victims. And I thought about what would happen to people like that once they reached adulthood. Did they offend again? Tuck that awful stuff in a locked back closet of memory? Were they haunted by guilt? Once I explored those questions, I began to see Jesus' affection for those boys, now men. And honestly, if I saw them today, I would ask lots of questions, offer to pray, and tell them Jesus loves them. That's the work of Jesus, not me. Which is why we must begin with Jesus and His affection for the people who hurt us. And after we do that, our focus must shift heavenward.
Begin with Worship
IT'S COUNTERINTUITIVE TO PRAISE GOD WHEN PEOPLE HURT US. BUT it's the best thing we can do. When we were in ministry, Patrick and I endured deception, meanness, and undermining by people who were supposed to be Christian leaders. Some of the injury felt meaningless. We endured all of this while we walked through financial duress and culture shock, and our children had difficulty with demeaning teachers. On every level of our lives, we felt attacked. Many days all I wanted to do was stay in bed, never venturing out into the big, bad world. My capacity to bear more pain had been stretched to breaking.
The one thing that helped me through this time was a little ritual I practiced in the mornings. After we walked the kids to school or sometimes before, I jogged up the hill behind our home with my iPod tuned to worship. As I ran and listened to the words of songs extolling the beauty of God, renewal washed over me. Though my problems felt gargantuan, they shrank to their proper size in the light of God's greatness. The panic faded. The worry waned. And I found myself humming along to the melody while lavender fields and vineyards reminded me that God was a great Creator, and He was mindful of me, even when I felt small and buried beneath the sin of others.
When Jesus said, "Pray like this," He meant those words in the context of deep relationship with the Father—the Father who is worthy, otherworldly, almighty, pure, and loving. As we pray for people who hurt us, we must settle into God's worthiness in the midst of that pain. We do that by worshiping, taking the focus off our circumstances, and choosing to look heavenward to say and sing and write things about our impossible God.
It's a sheer act of will, this worship. Many of our painful relationships could be put to right, at least in the way we frame them, if we spent more time shouting about God's goodness than yelling at or about the people who hurt us. As we evaluate the difficult people in our lives in the midst of worship, we will be able to see them as gifts.
Excerpted from The Wall Around Your Heart by MARY DEMUTH. Copyright © 2013 Mary E. Demuth. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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