Why Is Healing So Hard?
Tina and I met together for counseling several years ago to work through some traumatic experiences from her past. A year after our work together was done, Tina came in for a “check up.” She shared with me that within that year, she had undergone surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy for breast cancer. What she said next shocked me.
Counseling was more painful than what I have been through physically in the past year. I’m so glad I went through this healing, but I never dreamed it would have been so difficult!
Many people say “no” to healing because they don’t want to go through the pain of uncovering buried feelings, fears, and memories. They choose to limp through life rather than pursue the arduous path of freedom from the past.
Why does healing have to be so difficult? Isn’t it enough to have suffered through the trauma in the first place? Surely, God is able to miraculously take away the fear, the pain, and the sadness. Yet most often He asks us to walk through grief and sorrow to get to the other side of healing.
Having walked with many through their healing from abuse, betrayal, loss, and disappointment, I’ve often wanted to ask God to speed things up, but God has never been in the business of shortcuts. His healing is sure and miraculous but often demands our patience through stretches of doubt. When God heals our brokenness, His ways are not like our ways.
I’ve been reading through the account of how God delivered His people from the land of Egypt, and I think there are many parallels for us in our journey of deliverance and healing.
Although God hears and sees suffering, His deliverance isn’t usually immediate.
When we read the Old Testament stories, sometimes we don’t put them in sequential order and we miss the big picture. The Israelites didn’t start out as slaves in Egypt. In fact, Egypt was initially a place of provision. Remember, Joseph was sold into slavery there. He interpreted Pharaoh’s dream about a coming famine and rescued his family from starvation. It was about 400 years later that we pick up the story of Moses and the Israelites’ oppression. God’s people had been suffering for many years before God told Moses His plans of deliverance.
In our human understanding, we ask, “God, why didn’t you come sooner?” Maybe you wonder that about your own situation. Why does healing have to come now instead of God protecting you from the harm to begin with?
Cecil Murphy, a godly man who experienced childhood sexual abuse, asked God this same question. Cecil concluded, “I serve a God of presence, not a God of protection.” While God did not protect the Israelites from cruel treatment and oppression, He was with them.
God said to Moses, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8).
Throughout Scripture, we see God giving encouragement to men and women like Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Daniel, Mary, and Paul based on the fact that “I am with you.” This is not a trite comfort when we consider that the God of the universe sees, hears, and cares through our pain.
God has a purpose in delaying deliverance.
When Moses first announced to the Israelites that God intended to rescue them, they were filled with joy and worship. “So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed low and worshiped.”
As you seek the Lord for healing, there will be seasons where you see His grace and rejoice. And then there will be other seasons in which the road to healing seems far longer and more painful than you thought. This is what happened to the Israelites.
As Moses began to ask Pharaoh to let the people go, things got worse before they got better. Pharaoh was furious and made the burden of oppression greater by telling the Israelites to make bricks without providing straw. These same Israelites, who believed and who worshiped, were soon complaining when immediate deliverance didn’t come.
They said to Moses, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Moses couldn’t argue with them. He turned to the Lord with the complaint, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”
Friend, you may feel exactly like this along the road of healing. Maybe you cry out to God, “This isn’t healing at all! Why did you give me false hope?” The Lord would answer you the same way he answered Moses. He reminded him that He would keep His promises and deliver them by His mighty hand. It wasn’t the way they imagined or the timetable they had hoped for. Yet, God asked the Israelites to trust in His sure deliverance: “I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”
God had work to do. His purpose was not simply to free the Israelites, but to make himself known as the Lord God. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that His mighty power would be displayed before the world.
Throughout their deliverance, the Israelites not only had to wait on God, they also experienced some frightful plagues. Some of the plagues, including frogs, flies, and gnats, affected them as well as the Egyptians. They also witnessed the horrific screams from darkness and death all around them. As miraculous as the parting of the Red Sea was, can you imagine the fear of walking through it with walls of water standing on each side? All of this had to be very traumatic.
On the road to healing, many of us also experience great difficulty in the midst of God’s deliverance. Although there is no Pharaoh, there is an enemy who does not want to let you be free to worship God. In a sense, there is a heavenly battle over the redemption of God’s people. We know who is victorious, but the warfare is traumatic nonetheless.
Often the familiarity of bondage is more appealing than the fear and pain of deliverance.
Throughout Israel’s deliverance, those in the middle of the drama wished that Moses had never come to help them. Although they had been in bondage in Egypt, it was a comfortable and predictable bondage.
"If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
If you are in the middle of your healing journey, you may honestly wish you’d never started. You feel stuck; you can’t go back to where you were, but moving forward just seems too painful. But just as God was faithful to deliver His people out of bondage, He will be faithful in your journey!
I’ve met many men and women who felt stuck in the process of healing and wanted to go back to a predictable bondage. They wish they’d never found the porn or wished the memories of the abuse could have stayed buried. God may have promised a place of healing and rest, but it seems so far off!
The healing journey takes faith. God will finish the good work of healing that He began in you.
Our deliverance is ultimately about God, not about us.
As humans, the most natural thing is to assume that we are the center of the story. Your tragedy is about you, and God is simply a supporting character in your drama. While this is a normal assumption, it is also a false one.
God cares deeply about each one of us, but He is the center of the story. Your journey isn’t ultimately about you... it’s about Him.
There were over a million people (many Israelites and others who joined them) who journeyed out of Egypt. We only know a few of their names. Each one of them participated in one of the greatest events in human history, but the memory of them is completely gone. The only important One to remember is Yahweh, the Almighty God. Everything that happened was ultimately about His great love, power, and the sovereignty of His will.
While your healing journey is very personal, its greatest purpose is to testify to the Healer and Redeemer. Fifty years from now, the memory of our lives will be gone, but the testimony of God’s faithfulness will pass from generation to generation.
Questions for personal reflection:
Read Psalm 139. What does it mean to you that God is with you through your healing journey?
How have you been tempted to “go back to Egypt” in pain rather than continuing on the path of healing and deliverance? When you feel this way, what can help you persevere?
How is God being glorified through your story? How is He making himself known through your life?
You may also find the following resources helpful:
God's Healing Stinks (blog)
Healing After #MeToo (blog)
Java with Juli #42: Healing from Trauma (exclusive)
Java with Juli #154: Healing Doesn't Happen Overnight (exclusive)
Why We Don't Experience Victory (blog)
Java with Juli #254: Sex, Race, and Healing: How We're the Same and Different (exclusive)