Imagine you’re in a terrible accident. You come-to and you’re lying on the roadside. Besides a few minor cuts and gashes, there is a deep wound in your side, bleeding heavily. As soon as you try to move, you know that something is wrong. You attempt to shift your legs, but they don’t respond.
A stranger from the gathering crowd rushes to your side. “Everything will be okay,” she tells you, a cellphone clutched in her hands. “Is there anyone I can call?”
The words of the strange woman comfort you. Maybe she knows what she’s talking about. Maybe she’s experienced this kind of trauma herself before. She appears to be so whole and healed compared to you at that moment that you can’t help but trust her opinion.
As you ponder her question, faces flash through your mind. You consider what you want at that moment. Comfort. Perhaps consolation at the loss of your vehicle. Encouragement to face the months of healing you have ahead of you. Someone to hold your head in their lap and tell you that it wasn’t your fault, that the other driver didn’t see the signal.
You know your best friend’s number by heart, so you rattle it off. But before you’ve finished you realize she lives an hour away from here and your co-worker’s house is only a short drive. He always keeps a first aid kit in the trunk of his car and you feel sure he would have good advice. As this thought crosses your mind another wave of pain rolls over you and the world disintegrates into blackness . . .
This is a silly illustration, of course, because we all know the right answer: You call an ambulance. No matter how comforting any other person will be, when you’re seriously injured you need someone who knows how to deal with injuries, you don’t need someone who’s going to try and make you feel better by telling you what you want to hear.
But often the way we deal with inner hurts and wounds is the exact opposite, the first people we go to are the ones who will comfort us and tell us it wasn’t our fault. Or, we hide and nurse our own wounds in private. But those actions actually hurt more than they help if they feed toxins in our blood like self-focus, self-righteousness, and feelings of betrayal, or distrust.
I have a friend who works in Delhi with spinal injury patients. She says a great majority of the time the permanent damage is not caused by the accident itself but by the actions of well-meaning friends and bystanders in those key moments right after the injury has occurred. Relational fallouts can be similar to real-world accidents in the trauma they cause in our hearts and minds. What we do with the broken part of us in the hours and days following will actually affect how well we heal.
When I was a child and I would fall and scrape my knee, I would go to my mom. She would cleanse it gently with iodine and put a band-aid on it. But if my mom wasn’t around and my dad had to play nurse, he would put alcohol on the gauze and scrub the gravel out of the wound. Of course, I would scream with the pain of it and complain that I shouldn’t have come to him at all, but those scrapes are nowhere to be seen now. I still have the remnant scars of wounds my mom treated, or even worse, those I tried to ignore or deal with myself.
My dad is still someone I go to when I get hurt, although these days it’s more often a broken heart than a skinned knee. His treatment is the same, he deals first with the things that would keep my heart from healing.
When I called my parents recently to talk through a blow-out I had with a friend, I confess I was mostly looking for my mom to commiserate and empathize, as I recounted, “And then he did this . . . and he said this . . . ” But my dad gently stopped me, “I know that makes you feel better now, but it’s only going to hurt you in the long run.” He reminded me that God was in control, that He was working for the good of both my friend and me, and that I could trust Him with my relationships.
The friend I’d quarreled with didn’t find himself in such good company, speaking instead to new acquaintances — people who didn’t know him or know me. And what they told him was that my actions meant I didn’t love him. By the time he recounted this to me, bitterness had overtaken his heart because of what they’d told him. We were able to talk through the wound and forgive each other, but those other things that had gotten in during the meantime poisoned our friendship for a long time after that.
When I asked my friend, “Why did you talk to those people? Why didn’t you talk to your mentor?” he said, “Because I knew what he would have to say would hurt, and I wasn’t ready for that.”
In that instance, I was the one who had done most of the wounding. But I can think of many instances in the past when I have been the one wounded, and I have avoided the people who would tell me the hard-truths, even telling my story in such a way that it won me sympathy and villainized the other person. What I was looking for wasn’t true healing, I was looking for the temporary pain-relief of hearing that someone agreed with me.
True healing requires that lies be cleaned out of the wound, and that what is broken be realigned to the truth of God’s word. The lies may be things the other person has spoken or things that we’ve believed ourselves. That’s why it’s so important to have people in our lives who we trust as truth-tellers. Once the poison has been drawn from the wound, only then will it heal soundly.
But spiritual paramedics can be hard to find. There’s not necessarily a number to call. For some of us, there may be no one in our lives who would play that role, maybe because we haven’t been looking for those kind of friends, or maybe because we haven’t been being those kind of friends . . .
I’ve had to repent for times when I’ve failed at this. My friends have fought with each other and both of them thought I was on their side because all I was concerned about was preserving my own friendships with them, not restoring their relationship to each other, or hearing God’s voice on the matter. To this day those friends harbor bitterness against one another and I wonder if it is because I was the one God had put there as His medic, and I didn’t do my job.
I hope you won’t choose friends like me. Well — I hope at least that I’ve become a better friend. But I didn’t start by pulling out the stethoscope. I started by telling my friends they always had the right to speak honestly to me, but especially concerning the sensitive places in my heart and life. Often, they asked me to do the same.
Parents can be great for this, but if yours aren’t, get a mentor who can fill that role. People of another generation bring a valuable perspective our peers can’t. If you feel like you don’t know who to ask, start praying that God will bring you mentors in your life. Keep in mind that even when He shows you, you may have to ask them yourself. No one gets a doctor by sitting in their kitchen hoping one might come to the door.
Whether a parent, a mentor or a friend, the people we let into our wounded hearts won’t always be as careful as we’d like them to be. That’s when we need to extend grace. God is the only one who is going to be both perfectly gentle and perfectly right in His response.
Make it your practice to take your wounds first to God. Before you talk to your best friend, or your mom, or even go over the incident again and again in your head (you know you do), let God into the gash inside you. He is the great surgeon of hearts. He also doesn’t need to be told, “And then she did this . . . and she said this . . . ” because He already knows.