Phil Cox

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Wounded hearts


6th June 2006

A few weeks ago, I wrote about:

Proverbs 4:23
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Sometimes - actually very often - out hearts get damaged because we don't guard them. But God does heal broken hearts:

Isaiah 61:1-3
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour.

By far the greatest healing experience that anyone ever has is, of course, coming to faith in the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself refers to this as being “born again”. But there are many people who have been born again but who still have deeply damaged hearts.

Life can feel like a boxing match. The idea of "guarding your heart" is not so far from the idea of a boxer raising his guard to protect his face and - yes - his heart. This is one of the first things a boxer learns to do. Why is it that we are so slow to learn to do this for our hearts?

Sometimes, a boxer is knocked out, or a fight is ended, after a single punch, but it’s far more usual for a boxer to sustain many injuries in the course of a bout. And those injuries have a cumulative effect.

I think that the human heart is rather like a boxer’s body. For most of us, it’s not just a single punch that has damaged us to the point were we don’t function as we could – it’s a whole series of body-blows.

So let's think about the human heart that has sustained bruising over a long period of time.

The Hebrew word translated as "heart" in Proverbs 4:23 is “leb”. The Strongest NIV Concordance defines "leb" as “heart; by extension; the inner person, self, the seat of thought and emotion, conscience, courage, mind, understanding”.

May I ask; how well have you guarded your heart – your inner person? Have you protected your thoughts and emotions? your conscience, your courage, your mind and your understanding?

I was interested to learn that, when a boxer manages to ward of a blow to the body or head by getting his arm in the way, he gets bruised on his arm. In the same way, we have tried to avoid emotional hurts but the very act of avoiding them has hurt us.

It’s also true of a boxing match that, although the boxer has a single opponent, the blows that injure him are of varying types and varying degrees of severity. But they all have an effect.

Nevertheless, a skilled opponent will discover which blow is particularly effective against you, and will use it repeatedly.

If you’ve been around a while, then your heart will have sustained a number of injuries. You’ve been wounded. How do we go about finding healing from those injuries?

This is part of my story:

For many years, I worked in the Information Technology industry. I’ve done many different jobs, including programmer, sales consultant, project manager, systems analyst and designer. I was quite good at it, and reasonably well paid. I wasn’t a high flyer, partly because I was never ambitious enough to put my career before my family or church, but I was doing OK.

One day, I went into work as usual, sat at my desk, turned on my computer and started to work. I stared at the computer screen for about 45 minutes, aware that I wasn’t actually doing any work and wasn’t actually able to read what was on the screen. I could see the words, of course, but I couldn’t understand them. I got up from my desk and started walking up and down the floor of my office. Half an hour later, I was still walking up and down the floor. So I went down the corridor to speak to my boss and told him what was happening. He told me to go home and phone the doctor. So I did.

Amazingly, my GP saw me at 2 o’clock that afternoon. She told me that I was suffering from “stress”. She said that we don’t use the expression “nervous breakdown” these days. I took a couple of weeks off work. I then tried to work at home for a while. I was getting a little work done, but it was less and less every week. Fortunately, the remuneration for my job included medical insurance, and the insurer paid for me to see a psychiatrist.

It’s an interesting challenge for a church leader and preacher to admit he needs a psychiatrist. I was supposed to believe in a God who is all-powerful, who loved me, who healed the sick. It’s also an interesting challenge for someone with a Ph. D. in Maths and a career in scientific computing. I was supposed to be intelligent and rational.

Soon after, I was in the Priory clinic.

I knew that if I didn’t recover, my career in IT was over.

I felt like I was such a failure as a person that my credibility as a Christian leader was shot to pieces.

I was so depressed that I couldn’t bear to live in my own house – and I feared my family life would be over.

In fact, it felt like my whole life was over. I started praying prayers of thanksgiving for the 47 years God had given me, because I wasn't expecting there to be a 48th. I contemplated suicide, knowing that God didn’t want me to do it – knowing, in fact, that I didn’t want to do it either. It was the disease in me that was pushing me to do it.

And,as a diabetic, I had access to lethal quantities of insulin – it would have been so easy to inject an overdose.

How had I reached this state? It’s impossible to be certain, but I’m sure that it wasn’t a single event or a single circumstance that did it. I had been bruised several times over my life and they had worked together to bring me low.

I hadn’t paid enough attention to my wounds. I’d kept busy, both in my secular employment and in serving God in His church. I’d had an ethic of just taking the blows and keeping going. At the time, I thought of this as being rather noble. In fact, it was crazy. Even a boxer takes a few seconds off after each round of the bout, to get some refreshment and advice, and a sit down. To let his helpers tend his wounds, in fact.

I would save you, if my words were persuasive enough, from ending up where I ended up. Take time to let the Holy Spirit of God tend your wounds. Take time every day to pray. And when you pray, make sure that some (but not all) of the time is actually about YOU. The Holy Spirit, the paraclete, wants to come along side you and help you. It’s vitally important for your spiritual and mental health that you talk to God about the wounds you experience – as soon as possible after you experience them. In this way, much of the cumulative effect of the wounds will disappear, as we allow God to start the healing process for each in a timely way.

I’m sure that many people were praying for me, and I’m grateful for every one of them, but the single event that seemed to make the biggest single difference in terns of my recovery was this:

In the clinic, I had a lot of time to myself. This gave me time to think and pray. I wrote down a list of all the events that seemed to me to have really hurt me. There were about twenty items on the list. I have no idea if this is above or below average. It’s a very individual thing. We have very different lives and something that hurts one person very much might not hurt another as much.

I then prayed over the list, and went through it and asked myself if I thought I’d recovered from each hurt. I’ve been a child of God for a long time, and I’d been prayed for on other occasions, and when I thought about it, I realised that I’d been healed of several of these things already – I just had to let them go. This left maybe 15 events that needed dealing with. I prayed them through one at a time – often I had to forgive someone, sometimes I had to ask Jesus to come and take the bruising away. The whole experience was much less painful than might be expected.

God just met with me. He proved the truth of Psalm 23:4 - Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me...

And I have known a remarkable healing of the stress, depression and pain that I went through then. In fact, some people that I meet don't believe that this story is true - because my recovery has been so complete.

For me, as for many of us, most of these blows have been words spoken by others.

Hear what the psalmist says:

Psalm 57:4
I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts — men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.

Psalm 59:7
See what they spew from their mouths — they spew out swords from their lips.

Psalm 64:3
They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows.

Some tongues have hurt us deeply. But some tongues bring us healing:

Proverbs 18:21
The tongue has the power of life and death.

Proverbs 15:4
The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.

Proverbs 12:18
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

I've learnt that:

  • I need to forgive those who had damaged my heart.
  • I need to spend more time with those who bring healing to my heart.
  • I need to take care not to invite too many of those who tend to damage my heart too much freedom to do so.
  • God really does bind up broken hearts (Isaiah 61:1) when we spend time with Him, and pray honestly about the blows our hearts have received.