Isn’t it rather convenient to have to excuse a person’s behavior because of his past? Like, when you begin to understand why this person acts this way or why he looks at things this way, you are cornered to a point of surrender, painfully dismissing his actions as part of his being wounded? But why does something in you feel violated, offended even, at this reasoning? Put in a general context, it does make sense. Can’t we hold him, or any person for that matter, accountable, at least, for the things they must surely be aware of? Otherwise, every other criminal in prison would not end up locked in jail if we always used the excuse that their crimes were a result of their brokenness and therefore they can be given a pass. Clearly, the law worked on behalf of the victim, because people were held accountable for their actions. The perpetrator was made to understand at least two things: his actions were not right, and his actions merit consequences. Even as kids, we know this.
We’re no longer kids, but the principle applies just the same. Actions have consequences. So what do you do when you’re in a situation where you were hurt by someone so wounded, he’s even unable to recognize his faults? Do you give him a pass? Do you tell yourself, “he’s hurt so he doesn’t know any better?” Do you confront? And when you do and it backfires, resulting in more misunderstanding, how do you respond? Then what about your own feelings? Your own hurts? Do they mean nothing?
Sharing this predicament with my mentor a few days ago, he understood where I was coming from. On the one hand, you point out the person’s inability to recognize his faults because of his miry, painful past, which has somehow shaped him and his thinking and perceptions and actions. Instead of feeling anger, you feel compassion for the person because you believe he wasn’t doing it intentionally to hurt you. You know the adage hurt people hurt people? It applies to him. When I listened to him talk and provide his “explanations”, all I could see was a broken person with so many hurts and so many deep-rooted issues, affecting how he acted and thought and felt. He believed in so many lies and deceptions, and have also not turned to God for help to overcome his situation and his tendencies. This person clearly needs Jesus and needs to heal from inside out, that was what I thought. Some of my friends were less enthusiastic with the analysis.
“Stay away from a guy like that.”
“He’s obviously a player.”
I also drew reprimands (justifiable, to some extent) when I tried to be the bigger person and reached out, regardless of my own pain. “Consider your own heart.” “He also has to come around.” “Focus on your own healing.” My more mature counselors termed him a classic case of someone with “abandonment issues.”
On the other hand, you also point out the importance of choices and free will, how a person, given the right tool, the right environment, the right company, would be able to cope well with their past and come out stronger, better, even wiser. You see and read about so many stories like this, how a person, despite their poverty and impoverished state, overcame and made a successful life for themselves. You see children, despite coming from broken homes where alcohol and drug abuse were rampant, changed their life positively. You also see people who overcame failed relationships and instead of recoiling in self-pity, in self-doubt, in anger, and bitterness, they learned their lessons, healed well, and moved on over time.
Having said these, and looking at my current situation, I think the biggest factor was really God and his grace. There’s just no way for me to miss that even with what happened in my own life. I also have a hurtful past, like most people. But I overcame my hurtful past because I have God who loves me, fiercely, to death, so that I might be reconciled with Him. He not only addressed our brokenness and struggles, He has also given us his Spirit so we can be victorious in the struggles to come. He used people and circumstances to help us heal. We had community –a group of people who were loving us, not giving up on us, believing in us, helping us process things and wisely guiding us. We weren’t alone in our pain: we were able to share it. We have Jesus who gives us hope.
So doesn’t that apply to him, too? I trust that God loves and cares for him much more than I do, and because the very nature of God is love, he longs to reconcile people to him and heal them from their brokenness and sins. Whenever I come to this realization, instead of anger and bitterness, I’m reduced to a state of surrender: Lord, would you also come to the aid of this person? Would you be the one to heal him? Would you meet his aches and make Him aware of his need for you? Would you help him see that his bullet holes can never just be healed by band aids or covered by fig leaves?
Often times, we wish it were always this easy –that people would just recognize that their pain can only be healed by Jesus. Sometimes, we just wish people would naturally draw to God and not have to take matters into their own hands, because then it becomes tricky. Instead of turning to God, they turn to everything else: busyness, endless activities, relationships that have no boundaries, idols of the heart, wealth. True healing, I believe, primarily comes from being reconciled with God.
Healing from a past wound also does not happen overnight. For some people, it takes years. We always wish healing was as easy as applying cream, dressing the wound, and letting it heal from that point on. Adam and Eve would tell us firsthand that it wasn’t. They tried to cover their shame and nakedness with garments made from fig leaves –which is pretty symbolic of the effects of their sin, when you consider that fig leaves are itchy and irritating and would beckon you to always scratch it. But God clothed them in animal skin –much more comfortable, as his way of “healing” them from their nakedness. God’s healing is different. But just the same, he still sent them out to the world they never imagined and they still had to face the consequences of their choices. The eating of that fruit was a thing of the past. They wouldn’t recover from that anymore. They now carried with them a curse, a baggage from that sin. And so we see today, people in all forms of brokenness, carrying all sorts of baggage and wounded pasts, and we know that only Christ can truly heal.
Then we come to our own wounds, our bullet holes. The part our friends have admonished us to “consider”. When I was sharing with another friend about my recent aches, I was struck with something she said. “You still did that, in spite of your pain?” I wasn’t being a martyr or anything. At the core of it, I just wanted to not “complicate” matters and focus on reconciliation. I didn’t want relationships to be ruined, I didn’t want friendships to be broken. I was also just thinking of how precious time is and how I don’t want to leave with any regrets or any broken relationships. Somehow, my wanting to reconcile ironically meant that I would also inevitably get hurt, which is what’s actually happening now.
My mentor told me to also focus on my own heart, and do what I need to do to heal from this. “Don’t give him ammunition. You have the right to withdraw because his healing is not your responsibility.” Let God take over.
Now I started by asking, “can’t we hold him accountable for his actions?” The simple answer I can give as a Christian who is more mature is, yes, I can. You start with your own action point, and then stay on that side. If you choose to confront and bring up the issue, do not waver and go back and forth. You also put to task the community of believers in your midst, so that in the same way, he may also know the joy of accountability.
And as for my own pain? Yancey said pain demands to be felt. There’s no way around it. “Let it hurt, let it bleed, let it heal, let it go.” Let it rip hard, the kind of ripping that isn’t like slowly-removing-band-aid-from-your-skin. Instead, rip it in one go, distance yourself, and deal with it. You just can’t fix bullet holes with band-aids, so said Taylor Swift. I’m wounded, and I can’t heal if I only put band aid solutions. Sometimes, the ripping hard is what’s necessary. It’s also what’s most painful.
Reflecting on this Bible passage to help me understand the brokenness of people and the struggles of sin, from Romans 7:14-25
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!