I’m standing before my old high school.
It’s been ten years since I touched the door.
But to heal the old pain we must face it again
So I’ll walk down that hallway once more.
I have come to this ten year reunion
For my heart is still prisoner of war.
That’s what I came back here for.
Last Chance Waltz by David Wilcox
Recently, I attended my high school reunion. Reunions always have an element of bitter-sweetness to them. I enjoyed catching up with friends, sharing happy memories, and seeing if “Most Likely To Succeed” actually succeeded. My childhood friends and I found ourselves acting like teenagers again—dancing, staying out late, and eating pizza at one o’clock in the morning. Then there were the haunting emotions of the heartbreaks I suffered as a child, my grandfather’s death, and our family’s tragic collapse. All the joys and sorrows of youth came rushing back throughout the weekend, reminding me of who I used to be and tempting me to doubt who I am today.
On the first night of the reunion weekend, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since high school. Trying to recall my name, he said, “I’m wracking my brain trying to remember your name, but I know you’re Steve Noel’s girlfriend.” I awkwardly responded, “Actually, I haven’t been Steve Noel’s girlfriend for a long time.” I reminded him of my name, he apologized profusely, and we laughed.
It was funny until it happened again the next day.
Steve and I dated through high school and college. Throughout our relationship, I took pride in being his girlfriend. He was four years older (which at 17 was a big deal), good looking, going places, and I could beat him at Pac-Man. Our relationship was fun and exciting. We were young and in love. In the words of Jerry McGuire, he completed me…or so I thought. In return I wanted to be his dream girl, which meant becoming whatever he wanted me to be. Over time, my worth and identity came from being “Steve Noel’s Girlfriend.”
At some point we began to experience difficulties that neither of us were prepared to handle with grace and maturity. Harsh words and destructive behaviors lead to break-ups. After days, sometimes weeks of silence, one of us would give in and we would reconcile. This cycle repeated itself numerous times throughout our relationship. With each break up, I became more desperate to hold on to him.
Unfortunately, as much as we tried to control the rollercoaster of emotions we experienced, they continued to plague our relationship. After years of wavering between youthful love and debilitating heartbreak, our relationship imploded, and we went our separate ways. I moved to the south, and he moved to the other side of the country. I faltered trying to discover who I was without him, buried the pain, and never addressed the issues within my own heart that created the dysfunction in our relationship.
In his book The Problem with Pain, C. S Lewis writes, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Until the age of 28, I ignored the megaphone in my head and continued to live out of the immature, wounded child.
As a young girl I experienced two devastating traumas: my father’s departure from my life when I was three and sexual abuse. These two events caused me to develop negative thought patterns about myself, men, and God. Outwardly I had it all together, but inwardly I was in a constant state of turmoil hoping no one would look deeper into my heart and discover the dark secrets that lay within.
My father wasn’t present to teach me how to live out of my true identity – a beloved daughter, who was loved and cherished. The lack of my father’s masculine voice affirming me as I grew into my teenage years caused me to seek it out in ways that were inappropriate and devastating to my heart and soul. As time went on, the chasm that began the day my father walked out grew wider and deeper within my soul.
Leanne Payne calls this living from the center of the false self. In The Healing Presence, she writes, “To live from the center is to live from that which is not real but illusory; an illusory person living in an illusory world.”
On the outside, I became an expert at creating the illusion of having it all: beauty queen, best dressed, make-up in place, and on the arm of the cutest guy in town completed the picture of having everything.
My inner world was a different story. I lived in a constant state of analyzing what others thought of me and adjusting myself to who they wanted me to be because I was desperate for acceptance. I didn’t know who I was or what I was supposed to be apart from other people’s opinion of me.
When Steve entered my life, I expected him to fill the chasm in my soul and make up for what I didn’t get from my father. Throughout our time together I unconsciously demanded him to tell me who I was, convince me I was loved and cherished, and assure me he was proud of me. Desperately, I wanted him to fix what was wrong with me. Make me better. Fill the chasm of pain within me.
The truth is neither Steve, nor any other human being for that matter, could fill the vacuum left in my heart when my father left. He could never heal the wound in my soul from childhood sexual abuse. He wasn’t created to fix me or restore what was broken from my childhood.
When I met Donny (the man who eventually became my husband), I didn’t want to repeat the mistakes I had made in the past. I knew when I met him, he was special. Everything within me wanted our relationship to work, but I didn’t know how to fix what was wrong with me.
In Master and the Disciple, John Gaynor Banks writes, “There is a Center in every man in which and through which God works. To that Center He speaks; through that Center He acts. When man discovers his own divine Center, he stands at the gateway of powerful living.”
After years of trying to ignore the pain, hoping it would go away, I did two things: I looked to the One who created me and asked Him to restore me to my true Center. From the Center, as Banks says, is where God worked, spoke, and acted to heal the wounds within me.
His life-saving work began when a friend recommended I read, Broken Image and Crisis in Masculinity by Leanne Payne. After finishing Leanne’s books, I attended one of her conferences where God brought His truth and healing to my most painful memories.
“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20-21, The Message).
After years of running from the pain, I faced it head on in the Presence of Jesus. He took the “young me” to the painful memories of life without Daddy and the terrifying memories of being molested.
In her teachings, Leanne describes the healing of memories as: “In prayer for the healing of memories, we simply ask our Lord to come present to that place where we were so wounded (or perhaps wounded another). Forgiving others, and receiving forgiveness, occurs. In prayer for the healing of the heart from fears, bitterness, etc., we see primal fears as well as lesser ones dealt with immediately: those fears that the sufferer often has not been aware of, ever been able to name-they only know that their lives have been seriously restricted and shaped because of them.”
As God healed the “young me,” a woman I hardly recognized began to emerge from the ashes of my life. I stepped out of the illusionary person I created in order to survive the traumas of my young life and into my true self, finally becoming the woman God created me to be.
Although God is the Healer of our soul, we partner with Him in His redemptive work by making three essential choices:
First, we choose to forgive the people whose actions altered our life forever. Failing to forgive those who have sinned against us fills our hearts with bitterness, anger, and resentment. Over time, our unwillingness to forgive becomes our greatest obstacle to wholeness and freedom.
As I returned to the place of wounding, Christ went with me and enabled me to forgive those who sinned against me. He didn’t change the past, but He changed my reaction to those traumatic moments.
At times the most difficult person to forgive was (is) me. In reaction to what I experienced, I sinned against and hurt others. I can’t change what I did, but I can confess it to God and ask Him to bless those whom I hurt with healing and wholeness.
Second, we receive forgiveness from God. When we forgive others and receive God’s forgiveness for our sins, God’s Spirit has free reign to radiate deep healing throughout our heart and soul. Knowing God forgives us transforms our spirit, soul, and body. It restores His image in us.
Finally, we begin to love and accept the person God created us to be. Leanne writes, “However much a person lives out of diseased attitudes and feelings toward the self, to that extent he will fail to find and live from his true center where God dwells, and empowers him.”
Accepting myself was the biggest obstacle to overcome. The rejection from my father, the shame of abuse, and lack of masculine affirmation throughout my childhood caused me to have massive amounts of self-hatred. My mind needed to be renewed and new thought patterns developed. It took time and perseverance to be comfortable being me.
On the final morning of reunion weekend, I woke up early and looked out on the lake. It was covered with a dense morning midst. It reflected the way I felt after a weekend of remembering the past. As I stared at the water, the unhealed memories came rushing back. Desperately, I wanted to hear Steve tell me he was proud of me…or did I need to hear those words from my dad? It didn’t matter, I wanted to hear them. Buried in the recesses of my heart I heard myself cry, “He’s not proud of me.” The longing, the pain, the sadness, and the tears that lay dormant for years were unleashed as I admitted my need.
I’m proud of you, Betty.
An unexpected voice spoke the words I longed to hear my whole life. My Father, my heavenly Father, was proud of me. Reality collided with my wounded soul.
If you’ll let Me, I’ll restore your heart.
God was offering to give me back what I gave away long ago. He was offering to fill those places in my soul that needed a Father’s love and affirmation. As the morning mist began to dissipate over the lake, the heaviness in my heart lifted.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, NIV).
Walking into the true self begins when you give God access to the pain you buried long ago. Standing in the Father’s presence, you receive His forgiveness, give it to those whom you have wounded, and accept the person He created you to be. In those sacred moments you hear the words your heart needed to hear long ago…
I’m proud of you.