How do we let go of a traumatic, disappointing, or abusive past? How can we forgive (including self), release, be healed, and move on?
Sadly, there is no magical wand. Christianity doesn’t offer magic, or the easy way out. Releasing the past doesn’t mean ignoring it, or running from it.
Releasing the past means journeying straight through the trauma and the memories in order to reach the other side. And that’s the hard part.
None of us are born trained in the ways of suffering. Most often we don’t know how to deal with it, which makes the struggle all the more exhausting. It’s like a marathon; you can’t complete the entire race the first time you try. You have to train for it.
Train for suffering? That doesn’t sound fun.
True. And it’s not fun—yet it’s necessary.
Releasing the past means running straight through it. That’s tiresome. Most of us haven’t built up enough stamina for the entire journey. At some point we get stuck and when we do, it feels like we’ve fallen into the Molasses Swamp.
How do we get unstuck? How can we begin to move forward again?
First, take a look at exactly where you’re stuck. What’s that all about, deep in the core of things?
I’ve been stuck ruminating over the betrayal of an intimate friend. I just can’t believe this person turned into someone I could no longer recognize—or, even worse, I realize he was never the person I thought he was. All my perceptions are now out of whack—my perception not just of him, but of myself, my past, even the entire world around me.
In order to heal this deep wound, I knew I had to get down to the interior of things. Turning to God in prayer, kneeling in Adoration, I felt compelled to ask myself the tough question of where, exactly, I was stuck. Was I stuck trying to figure out why this person had betrayed me? Or was I actually stuck on self-recrimination and reproach, trying to make sense of how I “allowed” the betrayal in the first place by allowing that person into my life?
Judas came up to Jesus at once and said, “Hail, Master!” And he kissed Him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here? Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
(Matt. 26:49-50, Luke 22:48)
Even though I’d been focusing on the why of the betrayal, and how this person could have turned out to be someone I’d least expected, I realized that the issue was less about what he’d done to me and more about myself—my own reactions, my own perceived culpability. Even though I rationally knew the betrayal wasn’t my fault, my interior heart—broken as it was—persistently placed the blame squarely on my own shoulders.
It was then that I realized what I needed in order to begin healing. I had to release my feelings of guilt and self-blame, my constant self-reproach and self-condemnation. That interior negative voice haggling and continuing to abuse me needed to be renounced, rejected, rebuffed. That voice was the voice of lies. I didn’t need to listen to lies any longer. I had to reject all thoughts of being unlovable, unworthy, naïve and stupid for “letting” abuse and betrayal happen to me.
I realized I needed to love myself as Christ loves me.
Have I accomplished this? Does my sudden realization equal sudden, complete healing? No, not at all. Healing is a journey, and every good journey takes time. I’m not only willing, but I’m grateful to take the time. Time is one of God’s gifts to humankind.
To love means to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. This vulnerability isn’t merely a giving of self to others— it’s also a giving of self to self.
And that’s the most difficult of all.
How do we go about this, though? Again, there’s no magic wand. But, there is the grace of God.
The sacrament of Reconciliation is such a tremendous gift. “Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true ‘spiritual resurrection,’ a restoration of the dignity and blessings of life, of which the most precious is friendship with God” (CCC 1468). In Reconciliation we can pour it all out. He’s listening (and I’m not talking about the priest, although of course he’s graciously listening, too).
Also make sure to begin or continue an active prayer life. Even when you feel your prayer is dry, that God isn’t listening or responding, He is. Remember, everything is in His hands, and within the scope of His divine timing. When you feel a dryness in prayer, God may be calling you to patience and perseverance, which means He’s building spiritual stamina within you.
In that case, watch out for wonderful things to come.
The movement of the Holy Spirit is an interior movement, a subtle shift, a small still Voice within (1 Kings 19:12).
The blessings of the Holy Spirit usually aren’t instantaneous. He’s not found in a great, strong wind, He doesn’t shake us like an earthquake (1 Kings 19:11).
The Holy Spirit moves slowly within, because slow is the only way to truly heal. Yes, that feels frustrating when we’re stuck in the Molasses Swamp. I understand. I’ve been stuck there, too.
Been there, done that. A lot.
Even so, it’s the only way. If you try to walk on a broken leg immediately after your accident, you’ll do further damage. Despite frustration, restlessness and the driving desire to be healed and get on with life, weeks of rest are necessary.
It’s the only true way to heal.
When you feel stuck in the Molasses Swamp and unable to release the past, bring to God these feelings of despair and frustration.
But, don’t expect an immediate response or an immediate release. God works in His own time. You can’t visibly see the healing fusion of bone as you lie in your bed, bored and restless, wishing you could just get up and move on and be done with this healing business. Even so, healing is taking place, internally.
When you’re stuck in the Molasses Swamp, recognize those times as God calling you to be present, wanting you to slow down. This means slowing down your mind, your activities, your desires. Slow down, and allow Him.
Just allow Him.
Maybe you need to rest in His arms as He strengthens you to eventually resume your healing journey. Or maybe He has even bigger, grander plans for you.
Enjoy this time. Patience is a virtue.
Stop thinking so much about healing. Let God. Your exterior efforts may be getting in the way.
Spend time in Adoration, asking Jesus what wounds of your heart need to be healed.
Keep doing this, day after day.
Ask Him to eventually, in His loving time, heal them all so you can be released from your past.
Don’t rush the process.
Patience is a virtue.
The deepest freedom is in truly knowing God’s love. Not with your head, but within your recovering heart.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
This is really helpful! Truly! I like your opening comment that we heal by going through our suffering and pain not by going around it or trying to escale it. I am paraphrasing you, so forgive me if I didn't word it quite right. This reflection also made me keenly aware that I need to stop blaming myself and to forgive myself. I am going to work on that.