Have you ever listened to a song for what feels like the millionth time when suddenly out of the blue it resonates with you in a fresh, new way? T. Swift’s recent album 1989 has been my go-to car jam album since its release date, but it was only recently that her song, “Clean,” began tugging on my heart strings.
Pain is messy. Life leaves scars that we can’t imagine ever healing from. Words sting, relationships end, jobs are lost, dreams shattered, innocence violated, hope crushed. The weight of our darkest moments and deepest shame crushes us, threatening to suffocate the essence of our very being. Life hurts. But we don’t have to live in the hurt and pain.
In the midst of brokenness, we aren’t broken; we’re just bruised. We have dirt on our faces and mud clinging to our clothes. We’re stained, battered, bruised. But there’s healing in those places waiting to be discovered, waiting to be experienced.
This year I’ve battled with my own bruises and mud stains. I’ve cleaned my wounds and searched for healing like a treasure hunter mining for gold. I’ve fought for healing. And in the fight, I’ve frustrated myself. I wanted healing to be a quick, microwavable process, but it turns out that healing takes time. Healing takes work. Healing takes patience. And healing feels a lot like drowning.
As I struggled to win the war against my battle scars, I learned a few things:
- You can’t tell yourself, “You’re healed now.” Healing takes time. And it takes a whole lot of work. I used to think that age-old sayings like “time heals all wounds” and “it will get better with time” were simple cliches. However, those simple cliches have proven to be true. In my healing process, I couldn’t tell myself, “Emily, you’re all better.” I just had to wake up, put my feet on the ground, and start each day with crisp determination to keep fighting.
- Healing is a result of a consistently relentless mindset. We can’t white-wash our clothes if we continue to stomp through mud puddles. To truly experience healing, we must extract the source of our pain along with any resemblance of it. What people, places, movies, music, TV shows, websites, and events immediately escort you back to that moment, that memory? Romans 6:12-13 says, “You must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life.” Don’t. Even. Run. Little. Errands. We can’t be friends with the enemy and bamboozle ourselves into believing we won’t get burned. Playing with fire at the end of the day is still playing with fire. It’s time to let the pieces go—every single piece.
- Sometimes feeling like you’re drowning is the best thing that can happen. As the water of my hurt and pain filled my lungs, it felt impossible to breathe. It felt impossible to think. It felt impossible to function. I didn’t know how to move forward. Waking up and putting one foot in front of the other felt like one big, fat lie. As I painted on a smile for the world, my lungs were caving in. I was suffocating. I was dying inside, completely crushed by the weight of the mud on my face. I desperately wanted to scrub my skin clean, but I didn’t know how to do that. And that was the best thing for me. In not knowing what to do, I had to get on my knees. James 4:10 says, “Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.”
- Dirt can be washed off. Bruises do heal. My pain isn’t the end of me. Hurt is a chapter of my story—and will show up in future chapters because we’re human, I’m human. But the hurt written into the pages of yesterday doesn’t need to be re-written onto the pages of today. Today’s slate is clean. I can become clean. I am clean. Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “Forget about what happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”
- Healing isn’t a process I journey through alone. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” As I clawed my way to self-imposed healing, I failed to see that God was already ahead of me. He had never left me. He didn’t forget about me or leave me stranded. He strides ahead of me. He’s right there with me. He won’t let me down. He won’t leave me. My God isn’t a God seeking to drown me in guilt or shame or regret. His goal isn’t to hold me under until I suffocate, choking on my sin and the pain others have inflicted on me. He reaches out his hand beckoning me to come up out of the water, out of my shame, out of the pit of pain. This is my God.
It’s been months since my moment, my memory of pain and hurt. It’s felt like an uphill climb that didn’t have an end in sight. But today, typing these words, I see the truth: I am finally clean. What was once just a fun car jam session song stopped me in my tracks this week and with tears pouring down my face, I looked up at a cloudy, stormy sky and said the words, “I think I’m finally clean”—and actually believed them.
The healing process is a journey that won’t be conquered overnight. There isn’t a check box system where after completing each step, you’ll find complete healing. Yes, there are steps to take. And yes, there are plenty of tips and tricks to discover healing. But I’m discovering that my healing didn’t come after a set of check boxes. My healing came on a day I wasn’t expecting it. I had fought and scratched and clawed my own way to healing before, but it wasn’t until I stopped trying so hard that I was finally able to come up for air. I’m beginning to see that it’s in embracing the aspects of the journey where pain and hurt and shame and betrayal help us become more of who God made us to be that true healing is discovered. And it’s in that discovery that the dirt is wiped off our faces and we can look at the perfect storm around us and say, “I’m finally clean.”