This post was written for Bonnie Gray’s #OneWordLent prompt:
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds…
~~ Psalm 34:4-7, 18, 147
As I sat reading the prompt for today, my eyes and heart lingered on the words “binds up”. The past few days I’ve been reflecting on how God uses shock to “bind” us “up”, to cocoon us until our body, mind and soul are ready to be unbound by Him for healing, a healing that involves the painful peeling back of the bandage and uncomfortable release of the wound to the strong rays of the sun from which they have been hidden for so long.
As a child, I was given the gift of feeling the pain of another, even where the person concerned was unable to express the pain within them. And it is a gift God still uses to turn me to those suffering around me, whether I know them or not. As a pre-teen this gift became what I would come to view as a curse because rather than releasing the one I saw in pain to the comfort, protection and healing of the Lord, I held on to both him and the pain I felt tightly, even as he was ripped from my arms.
When I was almost ten years old, we adopted my then fifteen month old little brother from a Romanian orphanage. As the oldest daughter, I quickly assumed the second-mothering role, especially stepping in to help my Mum when the stress and exhaustion fell heavily upon her shoulders, as a mother of six children, who ran a busy household and also supported my Dad as a teacher at the school he was the principal of. I remember often taking my youngest two siblings away to the playground or off to play to give Mum a break. Later, I’d also help my little brother with his homework.
From the beginning my heart was filled with deep love for my brother. As a nine-year-old, I’d visited him in the orphanage, where I’d seen babies rocking to and fro, babies isolated from all human contact due to their AIDS status, and listened to my parents talk of many of the children in the local orphanages missing what we take for granted: warm, regular physical affection – hugs, kisses, being talked to. And I remember the pain gripping my heart, in having to leave my wee brother behind in the orphanage, where he’d spent almost every single day of his short life, as we returned to Germany, to wait on the adoption procedure to be completed. So, the love in my heart only grew, when he finally joined our family.
I saw him struggle in many areas of his life because of his traumatic start to life. The torn bond between him and his biological mother at two weeks old would have impacted him greatly, as would have the almost fifteen months of minimal love, physical affection and care. What none of us then fully realized is that the trauma lying within him directly contributed to his rebellious behaviour, especially with those he loved and trusted the most. But even then, I did recognize a hurting child beneath the exterior rebellion because of the gift God had given me. However, rather than release him in prayer, I tried to protect him from my parents’ exhausted and frustrated discipline, making it clear I did not agree with their decision to repeatedly choose not to spare the rod, lest they spoil the child. Not surprisingly, my “meddling” was not appreciated. But rather than choose to turn the hurt, rejection and grief I felt, upon my parents turning me away, to my Heavenly Father, I held tight to both the heaving emotions within me and to my wee brother. The anger within me grew, as I felt my brother being ripped from my arms, as my capacity to protect him was taken from me.
In my childish faith, I came to see God as having deserted both me and my brother. I saw my parents as an extension of God and their actions therefore as proof of God’s disapproval and anger at me. And so, I turned away and held tight, teaching myself to hide all I felt deep within me to avoid any and all disapproval and disappointment.
Slowly, but surely, I changed from a carefree, exuberant child, to one who retreated behind her books, rarely sharing what was going on in her life and never ever daring to speak of the fear growing within her, the more shame and guilt she buried deep: a fear of God’s eternal wrath. I know my mother recognized a change within me, as she tried to uncover what could have undermined my confidence in life and prayed repeatedly for God to build it up again. But as the days, weeks, months and years passed, what had first caused me to turn away from God became hidden behind a numbing wall: a front of perfection and silent retreat into myself. Even I couldn’t tell you then what it was that caused me to fear both God and life itself. All I knew is that I had to get as far away from God’s wrath as possible, a decision that ultimately caused me to travel to the other side of the world, as far away from protective parental eyes as possible, and as far away as possible from the push to attend church, a place that only exacerbated my fear and feeling of unworthiness.
Fast forward twenty years and that same frightened child had turned into a devoted wife, mother and teacher, who worked herself into the ground, bound by an unrealistic fear of human disapproval, disappointment and anger. In trying to suppress the fear beneath, I turned any and all offers of help away, even as I felt my body heave with the weight of two years worth of sleep-deprivation from prenatal insomnia and an unsettled, often ill child thereafter, and almost four years of combining pregnancy, motherhood, teaching and study. I had loving family and friends walking beside me, but I didn’t know how to let them in to really help. And exactly into all this came the call from my Dad on the other side of the world: tumors growing in my mother’s brain, she’s in hospital, surgery Thursday, a chance she’ll wake up having lost the ability to speak, or worse. The numbing wall around me began to crack.
But with each growing crack, I did what I knew best to numb it: busy myself into oblivion. And only now do I look back and see God at work, even then. Protected as I was from the pain and fear beneath, not only from watching my mother’s body be irrecognizably broken from cancer, but also from what I’d carried since I was a little girl, I was gifted the opportunity to care for my mother in her own home, supported by hospice staff and family, until she took her last breath. It enabled me to be there for my Dad, to carry others in their grief, after her death, until the numbing cocoon within me was pierced open nine months later by the force of PTSD-induced flashbacks of my mother’s last hours, right after two months of blissful and restful peace as a stay-at-home Mum, with one month spent soaking in the sun and my family in New Zealand.
So, now I look at the words of the above Scripture and see God binding up my wounds, hiding them from the searing, yet healing light, so that I could be given a gift precisely in my and my mother’s suffering:
- It gave me the opportunity to serve my mother, as she had done me her whole life.
- It blessed me with the ability to walk beside my Dad in his suffering.
- It enabled me to step into the suffering of those around me and be present for them.
- And most importantly for my own life, the exacerbated busying of helping others to stifle the fear and pain of my own, intensified the light of Grace that met me: the blanket of Peace that clothed my mother, a mother who, unlike me, was choosing to feel each shard of pain intensely, the ache that poured out her eyes, the only form of communication afforded her in her final weeks, testifying to this.
The contrast of my inner tension in numbing the heartache within, to my mother’s peace, precisely in facing the heartache, spoke volumes. I saw God move into my mother’s broken weakness in His power and was reminded of the same Power that had poured out His Love and Peace upon me, releasing grief into tears, as I surveyed His Majesty in the landscape before me, a mere months before my mother’s breaking body lay before me.
And so, God’s binding up of my wounds is a testament to His Glory and Grace. He tells us in His Word that He makes all things beautiful in His Time. His way is not our way. His thoughts are not ours. But truly behold Him at work and you will see Him for what He is: a faithful and loving God, who takes every single wound, binds it up for protection and exactly at the right time, peels the bandage off to expose the cocooned trauma, grief and pain to His healing Light.
Nine months after my mother passed away, He did exactly that, waiting until my body, mind and soul had descended into a deep rest, after being fed a diet of His Word. He had bound my wounds and held them together, until He had prepared me to face the peeling off of the bandage: the facing of the searing pain in the Light of His Love. And now another year later, I am beginning to taste true healing. Praise be to our Powerful, Almighty and Glorious God!!