The following is based on a talk given by a priest who works with married and engaged couples in the Archdiocese of Washington.
When we find ourselves frustrated with our own shortcomings and how they are affecting our loved ones, we often think we know what we need to change about ourselves, but the Lord usually has other plans. There are deeper wounds he wants to get to first because they are much more serious.
One example of this in Scripture is the men who bring the paralytic to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. They think they know what needs to be healed in the man—his paralysis. But the first thing Jesus says to the paralyzed man is: “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus knows that the interior wounds the man has are the first things that need to be healed, because they are preventing him from receiving Christ’s divine life and entering into his eternal reward.
Just as a doctor needs to check a patient’s symptoms to diagnose the problem, so to do interior wounds need to be diagnosed to figure out the source of our unhappiness.
A lot of the spiritual wounds we have come from our mother and father. Whether they intended to or not, our parents most likely did things that negatively affected us and can remain with us the rest or our lives. For example, if your parents are perfectionists, this can affect your self-esteem because you may think that nothing you do will ever be good enough. If you’ve been abandoned by them or have felt like they have abandoned you, you will most likely be especially anxious when you feel like someone is abandoning you or not tending to your needs later in life. If you have been abused by a family member in any way, this could affect your ability to be intimate with a loved one later in life, both physically and emotionally. All of these things can leave lasting wounds that can bubble up in other ways later in life if they are not dealt with properly.
To Find Healing, Focus on Causes, Not Symptoms
If we still carry some lingering resentment from something that was said or done to us when we were younger, this can affect how we treat our spouse and children.
If we get angry or impatient easily or find it difficult to forgive, it’s important to ask: why? Why do we feel this way? God doesn’t make us this way. God doesn’t create us to be angry, bitter, resentful, etc. It is obvious that part of the reason is the effects of sin, but part of it is also what has been done to us. Wounds from the past still affect us today. People often say that they get impatient or angry easily—this could very well be from a sensitivity to something from the past that has not been healed. It’s akin to having a cut on your arm—if pressure is applied to it, you will probably howl with pain.
These kind of wounds are often passed down from generation to generation. What are some negative memories of your mom or dad? How did it make you feel? Have you forgiven them? Is there still resentment because of that experience or something else? How has that wound affected your marriage or your parenting? Are there other wounds from your past that affect how you treat your spouse or your children? Have you ever spoken about this with your spouse?
Two of the greatest sources of tension in marriage are bad communication and unmet expectations. Consider if there is any resentment in your marriage about anything. This is a door that the devil uses to get in to destroy marriages and bring division.
So how do we find healing? We first need to bring everything to the Lord with complete honesty, bluntness, and even tears, and this is perfectly okay. Jesus is the healer of all our wounds. He is the one who has created us, so he knows what we need at the deepest level.
Some of you may find this difficult if you believe that God the Father is a judgmental, perfectionistic, hard-driving father. If this is the case, you’ll never want to be near him. If you’ve felt like you’ve never been loved by your dad, for example, it will be much harder for you to experience the love of our Heavenly Father.
It is best not to focus on the symptoms of a wound but instead to focus on the cause of them. It does no good to try and bury them further and say, “It’s in the past; it will go away.” This doesn’t work—it will only make the wound worse because then we aren’t getting to the root of the problem. Covering a wound up with bandages may stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t mean the underlying problem is healed.
Talking About the Past Is Painful, but Necessary
Explicitly forgiving our parents (or any other family member) for hurting us and telling them how we feel is very difficult, but it is also very necessary. It’s important to remember that forgiving our loved ones does not depend on them—it is an act on our part of freedom. If we don’t forgive somebody who has hurt us, it’s like carrying a heavy object around with us wherever we go, and it will affect everything we do—resentment must simply be let go of. It’s important to formally renounce resentment and unforgiveness through prayer.
When addressing past wounds with your parents, keep in mind that it will probably not be helpful to immediately overwhelm them with all the things you felt you were wronged by in childhood. Act with prudence in bringing up this sensitive topic. If you specifically address this in prayer beforehand, the Lord will show you if there is something that really needs to be addressed personally with your parents. If you don’t feel comfortable at first, you may gradually sense the freedom that you want to have (that you don’t have at the moment) to be able to talk about a wound with them in the future.
As for your own children, don’t let yourself become overly worried about how your wounds are affecting them. Most people, especially kids, have the ability to forgive you for a wrong you may have done, especially if you ask for forgiveness soon after the incident occurred. This kind of conscientious approach will go a long way toward insuring that our shortcomings will not affect our family with any regularity.
God Sees Us As We Are: His Infinitely Lovable Children
It is vitally important to renounce the lies that we often hear in our heads—“you’re not good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, smart enough, hardworking enough,” etc. They’re all lies from the devil, who is the father of lies. That’s a way the devil uses to get into our lives. When we accept and believe the lie, then the devil has a foothold.
We must renounce these lies because God did not create junk. God created us to be infinitely lovable and extraordinary. That’s how we are in his eyes. That’s how he sees us right now. It’s like how we look at our children. We know they are not perfect, but we nevertheless look at them with great love and love them as they are. God loves us into being where we need to be.
Think of the woman at the well in John’s Gospel who had five husbands who didn’t love her—that doesn’t say anything about her worth. Jesus responded to her with patience and love, showing to her her true worth in his eyes. We have to agree that we are who God says we are and not as other people try to define us as being.
Receiving the Love That We Need
Getting good spiritual direction from a trusted pastor or priest is key to finding healing. Please note that this should not be seen as a substitute for getting counseling/psychological help, if necessary. We must remember that any wound takes time to heal.
Our spouses play a key role in healing as well. Hearing a kind word from our spouses—something from the heart that isn’t flattery or said to get something—can be very healing. At the same time, it’s vital to have permission to be direct (in a loving way) with your spouse if there is an issue in the relationship that needs to be addressed.
What all of this really boils down to is receiving the love that we need. Never take that for granted—the need we all have to hear something good about ourselves. Jesus has plenty of good things to say if we go to him in prayer—give the Lord the chance to tell you what he thinks. When we have the courage to take off the bandages and ask the Lord’s help to see what’s there (with the help of a spiritual director/counselor if necessary), prudently but candidly discuss what we find with our families, and offer forgiveness where needed, the Divine Physician will reward our efforts by healing even our deepest wounds.