Memories  by Altie Metcalf.  Used with permission.

Memories by Altie Metcalf.
Used with permission.

Beyond Our Wounds:
Carrying Past Hurts and Trauma

Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost •
November 4, 2018
Pastor Jeff Wells

Scripture Lesson: Genesis 32:22-32
(adapted from The Message)

Jacob’s encounter with God left him with an injured hip. Whether it was a bone bruise or a torn ligament, it must have been a serious wound because it left him with a limp, at least temporarily. He certainly wouldn’t forget that encounter or the pain he experienced. Perhaps, this wound was a way for God to remind Jacob of his brokenness – and in that sense, perhaps it was a gift. But Jacob also received a name change that symbolized his desire to be transformed and his intention to reconcile with his brother, Esau, who he had tricked out of his inheritance. It marked Jacob’s journey toward healing.

We all carry wounds, wounds and trauma, from our past. We often spend years and a lot of energy hiding our hurts, in denial about them, or trying to prove they don’t affect us. In other cases, we feel the effects very deeply and often feel incapable of breaking free from their grip on our lives.

Even when we are able to face them, often our wounds are very deep and take a long time to heal. Sometimes we are left with long-term effects that we have to learn to live with. Diane is dealing with that sort of long-term impact after breaking her foot two years ago. Of course, our woundedness is more than physical. Frequently, our emotional and spiritual wounds and scars seem more difficult to live with than the physical ones.

Our wounds are often very heavy to bear. Many of us are scarred by abuse, by sexual harassment, by racism, by broken relationships, or from being rejected because of who we are.  Such wounds can hold us back and damage our sense of well-being and wholeness.

I attended a clergy spiritual retreat on Wednesday this week that was led by a colleague from Pennsylvania named Beth Jones. Beth was a local church pastor for many years. But now, she is in an extension ministry as a certified nature and forest therapy guide. She leads groups into the wilderness to learn how to connect with God, deepen their spiritual connection with nature, and find healing. Beth told the story of her first solo backpacking trip. She said she stuffed her backpack with every piece of clothing and equipment she could imagine she might possibly need on the trail. The trouble was she was absolutely miserable. She was trying to climb the trail with 65 lbs. on her back. She had planned to hike and camp for several days, but by the next morning, couldn’t go on. She headed back down the mountain. Beth ended her story saying, “The weight I carried into the wilderness was proportional to my fear.” Couldn’t we say the same about our lives? The weight we carry is proportional to our anxiety, our fear, to the heaviness with which we carry our woundedness. What wounds and traumas do you carry? What scars are still visible? In what ways do they keep you from experiencing wholeness and abundance?

Take a moment for silent reflection on the wounds and traumas you carry.

The question we face whether we carry past hurts and wounds, but how we carry them. Our ability to move forward healing and wholeness in our lives is either limited or expanded by how we carry our woundedness. We can carry our wounds heavily or we can grow to be able to carry them lightly enough that they do not keep us from being open to love and affirmation, do not restrict us in building on old relationships or discovering new ones, do not prevent us from embracing the ways God is loving us and guiding us to a richer, fuller existence. This journey we are all on is not simple, easy, or painless. It may require a lot of struggle and hard work and tears. But transforming and lightening our wounds is possible.

The great spiritual writer and teacher, Henri Nouwen, wrote this:

“You have been wounded in many ways. The more you open yourself to being healed, the more you will discover how deep your wounds are. You will be tempted to become discouraged, because under every wound you uncover you will find others. Your search for true healing will be a suffering search. Many tears still need to be shed. But do not be afraid. The simple fact that you are more aware of your wounds shows that you have sufficient strength to face them.” [1]

Remember that Jesus was wounded too and permanently scarred. When he appeared to his disciples, he showed off his wounds so they would believe. But while his scars remained, they did not keep him entombed. They did not prevent him from resurrection to a new and transformed life.

Our journey toward lightening the weight of our wounds may include psychotherapy, spiritual counseling, meditation, yoga or a combination of methods and practices. Our healing will certainly require finding support in relationships and in community with others – a 12-Step group, for example, or our community in the Church of the Village, or the community that gathers for the Hope for Our Neighbors in Need food ministry.  

Surely, each of our journeys and our collective walk together include deeply connecting to the loving, healing Spirit of God present in all of the practices I mentioned and more. God’s Spirit is present and active in our healing whether we recognize it or not.

We may bring our woundedness and our burdens to a therapist, a counselor, a pastor, to a friend, to a loved one, to a supportive group or community. And, we bring our burdens directly to God, knowing that God wants to help lift that weight from us. Who are the persons in your life with whom you can share your deepest hurts? What are the communities in your life in which you can find support, encouragement, and comfort? How can you open yourself to the healing, loving Spirit of God that is offered to you? Can you learn to carry your wounds lightly so you can grow, flourish, and experiencing abundance, love, and joy?

Let us pray: Healing and Loving God, we are weighed down by the hurts and traumas of our past. We are burdened by guilt over the ways we have harmed others. We are in pain. Yet, we long for transformation. Help us to let go of our need to pretend we are invincible and that we can handle our brokenness on our own. We long for healing friends and community. We yearn for your Spirit’s power to help us ourselves from the grip of our wounds. Help us to carry them lightly and to move into a new place, an open and expansive space in our lives, a space full of light and love and liberation.

Let’s sing together, Come Bring Your Burdens to God.

When we have felt wounded or traumatized over a long period of time, we can almost develop a need to carry that weight. We can become afraid of what life might be like without it. Or, as Nouwen says, we fear the struggle and pain that will be required to explore our wounds in order to release them. But as we learn not only to carry our wounds more lightly, we also can get to the point of being able to let go of parts of our woundedness.

Let’s talk about trees. This time of year, especially in colder climate areas like the Northeast, a lot of trees release their leaves. They have evolved to do this to protect themselves from holding the extra weight of ice and snow. An average mature tree releases 1,200 square feet of leaves that fall to the forest floor. The leaves provide compost to enrich the soil below that then continues to nourish the tree. But here is a key piece: the places on the tree where the old leaves used to attach become scars under which new buds are ready to burst forth. These points become the “eyes” of the tree that allow it to detect the nights getting shorter and the days longer so that they know when it is time to come out of their winter rest and grow again. The trees are able to “see” the light because they released their leaves.

We, too, need to lighten our load – not for winter, but for opening to new seasons in our lives. We need to release some of the hurt, the pain, the depression, the resentment weighs us down. Your struggle may leave you with a limp or a scar, but that scar is more than a reminder of your trauma. It is also a portal to new possibilities in our life. Like the bud scars on trees, this is the place that allows you to see the light growing brighter. Through the Spirit of love and grace, through relationships and loving community, God offers you the power and the courage to release the hold your wounds and trauma have over you. In Psalm 18, we hear David cry out:

“God reached down from on high and took hold of me;
  he drew me out of deep waters.
God rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but God was my support.
God brought me out into a spacious place;
God rescued me because she delighted in me. [2]

Never forget that God loves you and will never leave you alone. Dare to rely on deep relationships, communities of love and grace, and the spacious places God is leading you to for your healing and transformation.

I invite you, as you feel moved, to go to one of the candle stands and light a candle as a gesture of your commitment to the journey of releasing a wound or a burden, of daring to allow the light of God in. As we do this, we will sing the Taizé song printed in the bulletin and shown on the screens.

Jésus le Christ / Jesus, the Christ / Cristo Jesús

JesusLeChrist.jpg

[1] Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
[2] 2 Samuel 22:17-20 (Adapted from New International Version)

Copyright © 2018 by Jeff Wells
All rights reserved.