We’ve all been told that the purpose of pain is to alert us that something is wrong. Pain, in this sense, is said to be our friend. Pain is the screaming fanatic that alerts you that your little toe just tried to serve as a battering ram for some piece of furniture. At the first hint of scorching heat, pain mobilizes a retreat from whatever you were starting to touch. Pain exclaims that something is not as it should be and calls for immediate remedy. But not all pains are quickly ameliorated.

I’m referencing emotional pain. It seems to have no regimented set of rules. Consider that sometimes when we should feel pain, we feel nothing. And other times, long after the cause of emotional pain has been removed, we continue to suffer as though the hurt were freshly being inflicted. Consider that while you can remember that you felt pain when you broke your arm, remembering that incident does not cause your arm to hurt like it did when freshly fractured. But, often, remembering an emotional hurt will bring the pain back alongside the memory. What is this phenomenon telling us?

Because we have been raised and educated to think that physical reality–the material universe–is the most real thing, we tend to act like things we can register with the five senses are more real than other things that are not perceptible by those means. But physical pain follows simple, but consistent rules. Remove the source of injury, heal the wound, and the pain goes away. Thinking about that former pain does not reopen the wound or rebreak the bone. Not so with those pains we suffer mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually. Indeed, we can be healed of such non-material pains, but many carry such wounds all their lives. Any remembrance or similar circumstance can trigger the hurt anew, or it can pull up walls of numbness, anger, bitterness, and turmoil. Why should this be the case?

The reason this is the case is that spiritual things are much more real than physical things. Harms that touch the body have far less power than things that touch the soul. Spiritual wounds can only heal when they are surrounded and supported in a state of spiritual wellness. And the only true source of spiritual wellness is God. Only the grace of Jesus Christ has the power to help us heal spiritual wounds.

When someone tears your heart out with cruel words or actions (figuratively speaking), you feel pain, anger, frustration, and sorrow. Your response to the pain is to react. Sometimes we get defensive and try to give back what we’ve been getting. Anger arises from feeling attacked and needing to stop the attack. Unfortunately, this tends to escalate the conflict as the hurts keep getting ratcheted up by each party. Other times we get away from the hurtful person, but then we keep rehashing what they said and did, only carving the wounds more deeply in our psyche. Venting about it to others is just another way we rehash, but in those cases, we are also spreading the infection of ill will. This is not healthy or helpful.

So, what should we do? We should take our emotional hurts to God and pour out our hearts in prayer. Since the spiritual is more real than the physical, God, who is the ultimate Spiritual Being is the most real thing there is. His help is greatest, His healing is the fullest. Then we need to forgive the person who hurt us. This does not mean that we trust that person. Forgiving others is taking their barbs out of your wounds and refusing to keep the cycle of hurt going. Since the spiritual is more real than the physical, the thoughts we have about others impact us the most deeply. Therefore, after forgiving another person, we need to pray for God to bless and help them. And then, maybe not immediately, a wonderful thing happens, the hurts and scars others have inflicted are healed by God’s grace and we are made stronger than we were.

One thing I’ve observed is that if someone gets burned when touching something hot, they don’t grab onto the hot surface with a death grip. Everyone knows that would only burn them worse, and it won’t help to cool down that surface. But too many people don’t apply that wisdom to hurts caused by others. If we’d only take these things to God and forgive those who hurt us, we’d be so much wiser and healthier. As Thomas Moore stated: “Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.”

Contact Pastor Lamb at leadpastor@ imlaycityamazinggrace.org