Anyone who has seen the movie Good Will Hunting will know the famous “It’s not your fault” scene. Even if you haven’t seen it, the moment stands powerfully alone, uncomfortable at first, until you cannot fail to be pulled into the breakdown of emotion that Will (Matt Damon) displays. It is raw, it’s real and its punches hard because we’ve all been there. The moment when pain has been too tightly bound up in our heart to let anything else enter- and the moment when our heart can’t take anymore and lets the pain come screaming out.
The truth is, we don’t get taught how to suffer in life. We don’t get taught how to suffer well. And we don’t get taught how to heal either. We were not made for suffering, it was a tragedy that came in with the Fall. It doesn’t come naturally to us. And like Will’s character in Good Will Hunting we often suffer from things that are categorically not our fault. Healing feels impossible. We want to bypass everything and rush to the part on the other side where we don’t hurt anymore.
But suffering is a journey, not the destination. And suffering well is the beginning of the journey to healing. It hurts to engage with suffering, but in my experience, it hurts more to attempt to ignore it. This article is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is an attempt to share the tip of the iceberg of where to start healing. Healing always involves God, whether very directly or through other people. Part of the struggle is trusting that God is there when everything in us feels the complete opposite. We hope that these seven tips can begin to help you on your way. If you are suffering, please know that we are praying for you.
(Please be warned, the clip contains strong language).
1) Begin By Asking
“Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:4)
“What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)
“Go, your faith has healed you.” On numerous occasions in the Gospels (Mark 5:34, Mark 10: 52) Jesus says this to those He has healed. It is not their goodness that heals them, nor their talents or success. Their faith in asking Christ and believing that He will heal them is what heals them. While we may have many absolutely legitimate reasons for being in pain, or being angry, healing requires that we lose our pride, lose our desire to fix ourselves and lose any potential thoughts of revenge for another that may be part of our distress. This isn’t easy. It requires letting go. But it also means that in one sense, we don’t have to organise our healing ourselves. Rather than thrashing around like one drowning in choppy seas, we can let go and float on the waves, allowing God to work through our pain and reach us. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)
2) Time- But Not As You Know It
Its an old cliche that gets trotted out again and again; “time heals all wounds”. This seems insultingly simplistic, as though to suggest that if you just cling on for long enough, ticking off the years, things will magically heal themselves. I would suggest that this is better thought of as healing takes time. The difference is subtle but important. Healing does take time. This means that you may not find healing immediately. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t working in you little by little, working with your situation, personality and the people around you. It means that, even if you don’t feel it, God is, layer by layer, helping you to heal. It might take hindsight to see that, but you can be confident that, no matter where you are, something is being done to help you.
3) Speak Aloud Your Pain
Whatever way you choose to do this, do not go at it alone. Find an outlet for your feelings. Pain festers in silence. Speaking aloud your pain is extremely powerful. Shame can hold us back, but words destroy shame. Pride can make us cover our pain, but in sharing we may discover that others have also suffered in the same way. In sharing we can also benefit from the wisdom of others. Share with a trusted friend, find a suitable therapist or talk things through with a good priest or religious.
4) Sleep, Eat, Water, Repeat
Pain makes us go back to basics. At least, it should encourage us to go back to the basics. If you are going through a particularly painful time, if you are experiencing one of life’s rock bottoms, don’t forget how much our bodies and our minds work together. Don’t skimp on the boring necessities of life. After the shock, rest. Cut back non-essentials. Try to sleep for longer than you do so usually. Eat well and often. Drink more water, stay hydrated. Take relaxing baths. Allow your body the energy it needs to help your spirit heal.
5) “Pain Demands To Be Felt”
A standout quote from the teen novel “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green is, “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt”. The scary thing about healing is that it asks us to go directly to our pain and walk through it. Running from pain, avoiding it, or attempting to numb it in unhealthy ways only prolong the pain and often leave us with more in the long run. But suffering is only the journey and healing is the destination. Although healing takes time, the aim is not to stay stuck in the pain forever. Christ offers us the sure hope of His healing and that is something that we can take absolute confidence in.
6) Prayer with a Friend
Sometimes suffering increases our prayer life and we may find it easier to pray. Other times, suffering leaves us stilted and unable to communicate with God at all. In these times, asking someone to pray with us and for us can help us find healing. When we don’t have the words, others do. When we have given up on hope, others can remind us of the plans God has for our good. (Jeremiah 29:11). Other people can bring in a fresh perspective on our situation. In these situations, God works through those around us to bring us His healing. Ask a faith-filled friend to pray with you, or find passages in the Bible to share with you. “For the word of God is alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12) Never underestimate how powerful a piece of scripture can be in helping us find solace and love in a painful time.
7) Prayer with God
Pain, when it is unbearable, is often because we cannot see the reason for it. Meaningless suffering is unbearable, it makes us want to crawl out of ourselves and seek solace in other ways. A search for meaning in the suffering is therefore part of the healing process. Suffering with meaning is bearable. Not nice, but it can be endured because we can trust there is redemption in it. Though it may not always feel like it, God does not play games with us. He does not hide deliberately. But He works at our pace for our healing, so that everything may be done right and well. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it is often only afterwards that we see exactly where God was working when we thought He had walked out of our life.
Prayer, over time, allows us to discover how God was present in our moments of suffering and loving us through it. It means that when we are in pain, we can stop the metaphorical screaming and be silent, knowing and allowing God to whisper to us in our poverty and neediness.