Last June, I wrote a blog called Making Peace with the Past. Many comments and nods of affirmation happened after it was published, so I guess it hit a nerve. In it, I referenced comedian Lily Tomlin who is attributed with saying: Forgiveness is “letting go of every hope for a better past.”
I said then that wanting the past to be better is what keeps us tied to past pain and hurt. How do I let go of every hope for a better past, or let go of better behavior on my part or on the part of another person? This is a big question for most of us. Part of the problem is that sometimes the past still does damage today. This is what leads me to revisit the subject.
One of the realities of being human is that hurt sometimes stays alive long after the fact, sometimes after many years. Ask a person who has been sexually assaulted. This level of trauma can stay alive for years in a visceral and devastating way. Lurking just beneath the surface, the past is still alive and doing damage like a smoldering cancer.
Sometimes lesser emotional hurt can be the unwanted gift that keeps on giving because we have not found a way to break the cycle or unhook ourselves from the pain. If only we could locate that inner reset button!
How do we get unhooked from the pain of the past and how can that lead to inner freedom?
What did Jesus do? I think of so many Gospel stories of people possessed by demons. What suffering they endured, sometimes so much so that they were exiled to the outskirts of town, held with chains or were kept hidden from view. Each time, their suffering isolated them from others, making healing all the more difficult. How many of us suffer a kind of secret isolation because of smoldering pain?
When I read the Gospel stories, I am struck by the simple key that unlocks healing. Jesus names the demon –calls out the demon—and by naming it Jesus expels it from the suffering person. Think of the Gerasene demoniac story in Mark 5:1ff, in which Jesus confronts the demon. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Remember?
Jesus healed by naming and in the naming, there is a grace. What an amazing gift we can give another person, by being willing to listen to another person’s pain. To know the name of another person’s suffering, I can offer acceptance, non-judgment, and a non-rationalizing embrace. This is a key that can unlock the heart of another person and begin a freeing, healing process. The future becomes expansive and light-filled for someone who has been respected enough to be heard and whose experience is not judged. This is what Jesus did for those who were possessed by demons.
Our faith is a faith in the flesh, capable of containing all our hopes and dreams, drawing us into an expansive future, a counterpoint to the sometimes ancient history of personal pain.
In Mark’s Gospel, the man who was healed, “went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.”
We cannot change the past, and yet, an expansive future becomes possible because in the naming there is grace. There is life after old hurts are acknowledged in prayer and in person. A door opens, a future unfolds, and the time comes to marvel again at the goodness of God.
Perhaps this prayer might be yours:
Dear God, help me to admit that old pain still does damage today. When someone I know is hurting, give me the grace to be there for them. When my pain is too great, give me the faith to bring it to You and give me the courage to name the demon to someone I trust. Open my heart to a new moment, a new future. I ask in the name of Jesus, the Source of all healing. Amen.