As a Christian psychologist, I sometimes feel like I’m in the crosshairs of pastors and therapists who disagree about the road to healing. Those who study theology and teach the Bible often emphasize the importance of God’s Word and prayer. Christians in the therapy world call out the importance of scientific approaches like the need to reprocess trauma or understand the impact of formative childhood experiences. I believe that both God’s spoken Word and His wisdom through creation are important aspects of healing. God has revealed Himself through the Scriptures (many call this special revelation) and through His creation (often called natural or general revelation). However, there is a third ingredient in healing that we often neglect: relational revelation.
While God has revealed Himself through the Bible and creation, the crescendo of His revelation was through the person of Jesus Christ. God came from heaven, took on flesh, and walked the earth in human form. The real physical presence of God changed the course of human history.
While none of us were alive when Jesus walked the earth, we are still profoundly impacted by His earthly ministry and eternally altered by His death and resurrection. Sharing the truth of the Gospel with hurting people needs to include not just biblical truth and practical application, but Jesus revealed through relationship.
Sexual wounds are always relational wounds. God’s Word is imperative for us to be able to discern the enemy’s lies. Wisdom principles can help us learn ways of coping and healthy living. But healing will be severely limited if we don’t interact with people who reveal to us the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
My friend, Sam, shared with me her history of childhood sexual abuse, followed by three teen pregnancies that ended in abortion. Now in her forties, Sam’s relationship with God has brought tremendous healing from her fear and shame. God’s Word has been a great source of comfort and healing, but His words came to life through people. Sam shared with me about the constant ministry her husband has been, loving her through the seasons when she avoided sex and hated her body. She talked about friends and mentors who didn’t judge her when she confessed her abortions or was honest about her difficulty trusting men.
VIDEO: "Was It My Fault?"
Although God can work however He pleases, I’ve never met a man or woman who has experienced significant healing without at least a few key people who journeyed with them. You don’t have to be a trained therapist or biblical scholar to have a profound impact on hurting people. Your love, compassion, and patience may be what God uses to reveal His character when someone doubts His love, compassion, and patience. Here are three things you can do to help those around you on their healing journey.
There is a sacred space when someone shares a secret. “I had an affair.” “I’m attracted to other women.” “I can’t stop looking at pornography.” “My father molested me throughout my childhood.” When these words are spoken, the person sharing is not asking for your advice but measuring your acceptance. The question that hangs silently in the air is, “Do you see me differently now that you know this about me?”
All forms of sexual brokenness, whether they resulted from our own choices or the evil acts of another, perpetuate shame. The enemy takes the opportunity to sear lies into the soul. This is a secret you must take to the grave. No one will ever love you if they know. You are forever tarnished. When one person shares a secret wound with another, there is the potential to either break or reinforce those lies.
Your verbal and nonverbal response to someone’s pain and brokenness can either invite or discourage them to pursue authentic relationships. This is not the time to remind them of sin or give advice on how to fix the situation. In the moment, simply love. Statements like, “I’m so sorry you suffered through that!” or “It took a lot of courage for you to trust me with that. Thank you for sharing so honestly” will go a long way to reveal the Savior who invites our honest confessions. Follow up such tender encounters with a note or text, reminding the person of your love and concern. We’ve all felt the regret and fear of an oversharing “hangover.” Your reassurance further reinforces the truth that your friend doesn't have to hide any more.
There are times when people have shared overwhelming pain and grief with me. Sometimes all I can do in the moment is weep and pray with them. Other times, God gives me the privilege of being a friend to someone who is hurting. Being such a friend does not mean that I have to meet all of their relational or counseling needs. Usually it means just being available. A text. An email. A call. Meeting for coffee and encouragement during a difficult season.
WEBINAR VIDEO: Tackling Shame
Many of our sexual wounds involve abandonment. Those you thought you could trust betrayed you. Someone you shared your heart and body with rejected you. Jesus reassured His followers that He would never leave or forsake them. He told us that our Father knows our needs before we even speak them. While I can never live up to those promises, just being a consistent presence in a friend’s life communicates that love is patient, kind, and does not give up. You don’t have to be perfect … just be present.
Sometimes as friends, mentors, parents, and counselors we forget that we are just a segue in someone’s healing. They don’t need us… they need the One we point to. The whole purpose of revelation is to reveal God. If we become the source of wisdom or comfort, we’ve missed the power of pointing to a well that never runs dry!
I love the example of John the Baptist. Did you know that Andrew and John (two of Jesus’s disciples) probably began by following John the Baptist? Then one day, John told his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He compared himself to the best man at a wedding who would never want to take the attention away from the groom. This should be our attitude. God allows us to journey with people for a short period of time, but ultimately our goal is to point to Him.
If you are kind, He is infinitely kinder. If you provide comfort, He is the Comforter. If you give wisdom, He is the wonderful Counselor. He is the Healer!
It is a great relief to know that, even as a psychologist, someone’s healing has never been dependent upon my ability to offer the perfect advice or say just the right thing at the right time. I mess up a lot. I sometimes fumble my way through awkward conversations and feel inadequate in my ability to always be available when someone needs help. Even with the best of intentions, we will fail. However, God uses very imperfect people to point to the One who will never fail.
People all around us are hurting. Every one of us is on a journey from brokenness to wholeness. I thank God for teachers and pastors who proclaim His Word. I thank Him for wise men and women who give needed counsel. But I also thank Him for the ways He has equipped you and me to be vessels who can pour out His love, encouraging each other to know and to trust our God and Savior.
You may also find the following resources helpful:
Reclaim 2.0 digital summit, Sept. 17–20
God's Healing Stinks (blog)
Why Is Healing So Hard? (blog)
Java with Juli #42: Healing from Trauma (member exclusive)
Java with Juli #154: Healing Doesn't Happen Overnight (member exclusive)
Java with Juli #254: Sex, Race, & Healing: How We're The Same And Different (member exclusive)
Why Your Story Matters (blog)