“Hurt people hurt people.” – Will Bowen
In reviewing my life so far, a similar dialogue between God and me happens as I am entering a space of reconciliation – from hurt and pain to forgiveness and healing. It usually goes like this:
Me: (exacerbated) God, I can’t believe [insert name of despicable person] did [insert vile deed]. I feel hurt and [insert litany of emotions].
… after I express how right I am and how wrong what happened was… for minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years …
Me: God, I hurt.
God: I know. Aren’t you tired?
After more delay, I finally acknowledge the weight and surrender saying, “Yes – so tired!” And then, the healing process begins. God tenderly invites me to shed my cargo. I do so – slowly. As I do, pressure is released and my hurt heart begins to beat differently than it did before. I notice this transformation and strength when I stumble into a similar scenario in the future but respond differently. Instead of hurt, my heart feels compassion. Many thanks and credit be to the Spirit of Love and Mercy. This is my God – God that invites and accompanies me into new life, recognizing my hurt and how it binds me, desiring only my liberation.
I went to live with my dad while he was experiencing health issues a few years ago. For almost a year, almost every moment with him hurt. The way he would look at me, the tone he used to speak to me, and the lack of attentiveness I desired all deeply pained me. What happened to the looks of acceptance and love he taught me? What happened to the voice that taught me my prayers as a child or cheered for me when I won my awards? What happened to his invitations to just hang out? The same mouth that had constantly encouraged and guided me for so long was now placing upon me some of the ugliest labels available. My heart was broken because I began to question what I thought I knew: that my dad, a man I adore, loved me in return.
I carried this hurt for months. I could not even look at my dad without wanting to cry or actually crying. All day, every day, I replayed the fights in my mind. I relived the meanness. I was re-hurt over and over again. Every day. Multiple times a day. I could not let it go. I was so tired!
Then, I decided to go on a silent retreat. No escaping the pain now! When I could not “focus” during one of the guided meditation sessions, I gave up trying. Instead, I cried and told God, “God, I hurt.” To my surprise, the response I heard was, “I know.” There was no minimizing my pain. No “hang in there, it’s going to get better.” The response was recognition of my hurt was real and known – no “solution” offered. I sat there crying with my unconditionally loving and intimate God, and God crying with me. That’s when my healing began.
Then, I began to pray for my dad using the Prayer of St. Francis. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon,” I begged. Slowly, over months with the same prayer, my clenched fists began to open and my stone heart began to soften to my dad again. Hadn’t my dad just survived a stroke before our time of fighting? Hadn’t he just come into the piercing encounter with his own mortality? How did I miss that he was afraid? He was hurting too. We were both so tired. My superhero dad was now human.
His behavior was hurtful and wrong – as were many of my responses. My opening to God helped me recognize both. As I let God show me my dad’s fear, my anger toward my dad slowly transformed into mercy and sadness for him. I slowly understood that my dad didn’t hate me, he was scared and hurting too.
I also recognized apologies I was withholding. I’m sorry Dad for storming out when all you really wanted was a kind hug but didn’t know how to ask for it. I’m sorry for deciding not to talk to you when I was hurting. I’m sorry, Dad, for forgetting the lessons of compassion you taught me in the exact moments when you needed me to exercise them.
“Things” aren’t the “way they used to be” with my dad or with any other relationship that has required healing and forgiveness. Nor do I desire them to be. We are different now. There are now scars of healing in our hearts – memories of all God has transformed, hopes for times when healing will again be necessary.
May I continue to trust God with my pain. May God heal my wounds with God’s healing water. In experiencing this, may I learn how to do the same.
“Hurt people hurt people. We are not being judgmental by separating ourselves from such people. But we should do so with compassion. Compassion is defined as a ‘keen awareness of the suffering of another coupled with a desire to see it relieved.’ People hurt others as a result of their own inner strife and pain. Avoid the reactive response of believing they are bad; they already think so and are acting that way. They aren't bad; they are damaged and they deserve compassion. Note that compassion is an internal process, an understanding of the painful and troubled road trod by another. It is not trying to change or fix that person.” –Will Bowen