by James Rudy Gray
David Semands has written, "Emotional problems often result from the kind of god, the kind of people, the kind of life we saw, as we looked through the relational windows of our childhood."
Much of what shapes our lives happens to us before we ever start to school.
Charles Dickens wrote, "In the world of little children, the greatest hurt of all is injustice."
To be treated badly is a tragedy. To think we are bad because of the way someone has unjustly treated us is worse.
Several years ago, I heard Charles Stanley share about some of his negative experiences growing up. He spoke of living for so many years as a Christian with several emotional bags weighing him down. A teacher humiliated him by indicating he was not as smart as the rest of his elementary grade class. The pain of rejection not only hurt but haunted him. He struggled with self-esteem. Finally, he was able to empty the bags and move on in his walk with Christ.
How can we help people who come to us with pain and heartache that reach all the way back to their childhood? We can offer platitudes or we can help them identify the pain, take it to Christ, and see it in the light of His grace and their standing in Him.
I believe when we are hurt or damaged emotionally as children we can often carry that pain throughout our lives-at least until we deal with it redemptively. Along the way, the pain of that initial hurt grows as we grow. It can affect us in ways we never imagined.
Norm Wright has noted, "Before you can make peace with your past, you have to cope with rejection, which is the feeling of not being loved or wanted by another person. You feel cut off, isolated, and often lonely." Rejection is perhaps the worst emotional pain there is. The power of the rejection people feel is in direct proportion to the importance of the one who rejected them initially.
The good news, of course, is that Christ Jesus does not reject those who trust Him. However, the lingering effects of childhood injustices can have a negative impact on us as adults. Some of our counselees will agree that they are loved, accepted, and forgiven in Christ but it seems like it is no more than cold rhetoric. The truth of what they profess has quite often not changed the way they think about themselves and especially their past.
We have a tendency to reject ourselves when we have been rejected by important people in our lives. Unfortunately, in our society, parental rejection of children is not uncommon.
How can we help people deal with the pain of rejection that has grown as they have aged? We can help them know who they are in Christ. We can help them apply their position in Christ to the experiences that hurt them in the past. Sometimes it helps to have our counselees write out a narrative of the hurts (not just what happened but how they felt about what happened). This may take several pages. They may not want to share it with their counselor. That is okay. The important thing is that they do the work. Next, they should bring this information (the personal narrative) to the counselor in a sealed envelope. After discussing what is represented in the envelope and dealing with what they will talk about, the counselee can then be encouraged to cancel the debt inside the envelope.
Forgiveness is the biblical word. They may feel like the people that hurt them do not deserve to be forgiven. That is all the more reason they should be forgiven, because if they deserved to be forgiven, they would not need to be forgiven. Rejection is painful, but unforgiveness is an emotional prison. When this type of genuine, Spirit-empowered forgiveness takes place, freedom is the inevitable result. I have asked people to burn the envelope (outside) in my presence. The symbol of destroying the contents of the envelope can be empowering to the person we are trying to help.
Early traumas and rejections are powerful, but a person can move to a place of healing as well as spiritual and emotional health. By identifying and facing what is buried in his heart and practicing the discipline of forgiveness, the runner in the race of life can run better than ever because the bags that weighed him down have been lifted by the power of forgiveness.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.