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“Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smited by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.”

- Isaiah 53: 4-5

Dear Brother, Dear Sister, Dear Friend,


           Most of us do not really want to hurt. As human beings, we are born with instincts that direct us to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This is a fact of life. Yet people are complicated. Sometimes we get used to suffering and it becomes difficult to imagine life without it. We all have different stories about the sources of our pain. Some of us survive trauma, bullying, or abuse. Some of us internalize low self-esteem after years of subtle negative messages and overt emotional attacks. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by guilt and shame that we blame ourselves for everything wrong with the world. Whatever the cause, pain sometimes eats at our hearts and kills our joy. It is exhausting, and yet familiar. Some of us do not know what life would be like without it. If we are honest, the thought of truly healing and leaving all the hurt behind can be frightening.

            Yet Jesus did not suffer, die, and rise again for us to persist in our misery. He came to set us free. Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus goes to his home town of Nazareth, reads the following passage from Isaiah, and later states that these words are fulfilled through him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4: 18-19). If Jesus came to heal our spirits and free us from evil and sin, why are the burdens of sorrow and guilt so difficult to escape?

            Sometimes we find ourselves trapped in abusive situations. Suffering continues because we have not yet escaped the root experiences that cause it. Maybe you depend on a parent or romantic partner for shelter and all the basic necessities of life. If that person hurts you, you might stay because you feel like you have nowhere else to go. Or perhaps you feel paralyzed by violence, threats, fear, and manipulation. Maybe somebody in your life does everything they can to control what you think, feel, and do. Despair seeps in whenever we cannot find a road to freedom or hope.

            If this is your situation, know that God is with you. He is by your side, suffers with you, and wants you to find liberty and peace. Pray for the wisdom to know all your options, and pray for the support you need to survive and thrive. Open your heart and let God guide you through this. When you are ready, there are resources in place to help.  Whether you want to escape or remain living where you are, you can reach out to counselors, advocates, support groups, faith-based social service programs, youth groups, shelters, legal supports, crisis lines, child abuse lines, and helpful people who have been through similar situations. If you feel ready to connect with support of any kind, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. The person who answers will help you find the resources you need and make a plan to stay safe.

            Whenever you choose to make a change or act, it is important to be safe and thoughtful. It is always dangerous to leave an abuser. You need to make sure you have a solid place to land and people around who can help protect you. Only you know what you need most. To begin building your plan, talk it over with God in prayer, then reach out to trusted people and competent professionals who can help you stay safe. I hope and pray you find your way to a better situation soon.

            Sometimes we escape painful situations but the after-effects will not go away. We still believe the hateful words someone said to us years ago. We still think the person we see in the mirror is ugly and worthless. We still feel depressed, miserable, anxious, or hopeless. Sometimes we might even wish we were dead or think the world would be better off without us. In other words, it still hurts. And the shocking truth is that sometimes we do not really want to feel better. Sometimes we cling to the sorrow, emptiness, despair, and shame. We refuse to let it go.

            There are many reasons why we hold onto our pain. For some of us, it is all we know. Change can be terrifying, especially when changes in the past have been chaotic, unexpected, or hurtful. Sometimes we come to resist change because we have learned to be afraid of it.

Other times we do not let ourselves even want to feel better because we are afraid of being disappointed. We think, Why should I try to feel happy when I will probably fail and then feel worse than I already do? It seems easier to persist and survive that it does to expend energy and effort in what feels like a lost cause.

            Furthermore, if we are honest, sometimes there is a morbid satisfaction in being unhappy, dwelling in self-pity, and forever licking our emotional wounds. It does not feel good, but on some level it makes us feel alive. The pain of the past becomes a little less horrible if we focus on the rush of today’s heartbreak or crisis. It is an emotional form of self-harm, and like actual physical self-harm, it is a coping skill that leaves behind its own damage.

            Another reason we cling to pain is that it sometimes becomes the glue that holds together our relationships with friends or dating partners. Bonds formed over stories of brokenness and suffering can be powerful, but they quickly become unhealthy if they are not balanced with mutual support and honest joy.

            And, of course, many of us remain miserable because we think we do not deserve to be happy. Deep down, we believe our suffering is a result of our own sins and failures. We punish ourselves as if justice demands it.

            Change might make things worse, but it can also make things better. We often need to give up an old way of life before experiencing something new. As Jesus says in John 12: 24, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” At some point, we need to take a leap of faith and use our reason, our resources, our healthy relationships, and our trust in God’s guidance to leave the past behind and move forward.

            If fear of disappointment holds us back from trying to be happy, then despair wins before we even try to make things better. We may not be able to make all our problems go away overnight, but we can take one step at a time, search for signs of progress, and celebrate each small victory. God’s grace will heal us in time.

            Hope prevails when we continue believing in the saving power of God and keep moving forward. We feel most alive when we love God, serve our neighbors, and bring other people joy. It is hard to love and serve when we are miserable. Furthermore, relationships built on selfless love, kindness, generosity, and trust are healthier than those built on a mutual hatred for life. Of course, we need to be authentic. As we build trust, it is good to share experiences of vulnerability and pain. But the purpose of sharing must be to bring each other healing, not to dwell together in endless, hopeless misery. Love demands that we work for the other’s good, for the other’s joy, for the other’s healing. 1 Corinthians 8: 1 teaches us that, “… love builds up.” If we truly love one another, we must help build each other up into the people God made us to be.

            When we feel we do not deserve to be happy, we must remember that God’s unconditional mercy rests at the heart of the Christian message. Jesus did not save us from sin because we earned it. Jesus saved us because God wants us to be in joyful relationship with Him regardless of the past. As St. Paul writes in Romans 8: 1-2, “Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death.”

            I cannot convince you to desire joy. I cannot make you want anything, and I should not even try. You need to live your life and walk your emotional journey with God. For the sake of your own happiness and well-being, I hope you come to a place where you are ready to give God your pain and let it go. Are you there? Are you ready to begin healing? I hope so. The sacrifice of Jesus was great, and it was made in love so that we may enjoy life and love one another.

            So please, I beg you, pray. Invite the Holy Spirit to come upon you and refresh your soul. Ask God to heal your wounds and work through them to deepen compassion for yourself and others. Reflect on the words of Jeremiah 17: 14, “Heal me, LORD, that I may be healed; save me, that I may be saved, for it is you whom I praise.”

            The journey through healing is different for everyone, but God always walks with us as we make our way. As I studied social work in graduate school, one of my professors, Wendy Lustbader, explained that one key element of healing is telling one’s story of pain or trauma in the presence of a caring other. You can begin by telling your story to God. Pray. Journal. Talk to your Creator about the things you have been through and the things that hurt. God wants to listen. When you are ready, find a person to talk to, whether they be a friend, family member, pastor, or therapist. Find someone you trust who wants to listen and wants to help you heal.

            Professor Lustbader also taught us the importance of ultimately moving toward a place of compassion and understanding for those who hurt us. This often seems unfathomable and impossible, yet it is a clear calling of our faith as Christians. Jesus says in Matthew 5: 44-45, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Jesus is not asking us to ignore, rationalize, or accept abuse. Rather, he is asking us to see our enemies as human beings loved by God, hope for their redemption, and pray for peace. When we understand the stories of our enemies, our eyes open to their brokenness and miracles happen in our own hearts. We realize, perhaps for the first time, that what happened to us is not our fault. The people who hurt us were broken by sin long before we came along, and we have power through Christ to replace the bitterness in our hearts with mercy. Step by step, day by day, we can let go of the past and begin again.  

            As we move through healing, we often realize that histories of pain deepen our compassion and move us to active roles of loving service. Meanwhile, we must celebrate that we survived, enjoy life, and thank God for each new day. When we decide to be happier, everything changes. In my early twenties, I convinced myself I had to be celibate because I was gay. When I opened myself up to the idea of dating, I was convinced no one would ever want me. I remained hyper-functional during this season of life and excelled in school and work, but on the inside I was an emotional mess. I took long walks around my hometown and thought over and over again about how lonely I was. I was convinced nothing would ever change. I made family and friends miserable by talking endlessly about how I never felt like I belonged anywhere and that I did not know what I was doing with my life. I felt ugly and worthless. People would say wonderful things that would cheer me up for a moment, and then I’d fall back into the same old slump. It may sound pathetic, but there were many days when I woke up, dragged myself out of bed, stared myself down in the bathroom mirror, and said out loud, “A few more decades of this and then you get to die.”

            And the sad truth is that, miserable as I was, part of me kind of liked feeling this way. There is something romantic about crying alone while listening to depressing music at maximum volume. And through all this period, I felt close to God because He always met me in the pain. I meditated on Scriptures about dying with Christ so that I might rise with him. I felt like God was the only one who understood me and like I was achieving great spiritual depth and maturity. I now realize that I was less like a wise old sage and more like a sobbing child being comforted by a loving parent. I did grow closer to God through this struggle, but God never wanted me to sit around moping and wanting to die. God made me to love and serve with the joy of the Holy Spirit alive in my heart. God held me close in those difficult days because I was broken and hurting. But as I healed, I came to realize that God holds me just as close in moments of peace and joy. Love remains through times of hardship and times of prosperity. That is why sorrow and defeat never have the final say no matter what our circumstances may be. We can always abide in the love of God, no matter what. We are made to love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves, and we are called to do these things at all times, no matter how we feel.

            One of the key milestones in my journey took place when I realized I could do a lot more good when I am healthy, happy, and filled with God’s peace. I do not need to be fake-happy all the time or sugary-sweet in all my interactions with others. I need to be authentic and let people know I have ups and downs. To pretend otherwise would be a lie, and God wants us to tell the truth. But through the hills and valleys of life, I need to open my heart to the healing love of God. I want to do God’s will in my life, and it is hard to hear God’s voice when my mind is filled with the banging clamor of misery and self-doubt. Emotions are contagious, and I would rather make other people happy than sad.

            And so, today, open yourself to the Holy Spirit of God. As is written in Psalm 95: 7, “For this is our God whose people we are, God’s well-tended flock. Oh, that today you would hear his voice.” Let God speak to you, fill you, heal you, and love you. Believe that God can bring you joy, because He can. As Christians, we believe that the words of Isaiah 53: 4-5 prophesy about the healing power of Christ: “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smited by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” Accepting God’s healing is not always easy. We need to tear down walls and defenses to give God access to our wounds, and we might feel worse for a short time before we feel better. But if you are ready, the journey is worth it. God will give you peace and transform you into the person the world needs you to be.



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