I don’t know if there is any expression of Christian prayer more vexed or fraught than prayer for inner healing. I have seen people carrying great burdens due to trauma, or mental illness, or some other wound of the soul, who go through the motions of seeking medical or psychological help but struggle to set those processes in the framework of their faith and spirituality; or who don’t know how to make connections between their beliefs and ideas about God, and relationship with God, and their own complex and difficult lived experiences.
Which is why I was so glad to come across this very simple, but profound, spiritual exercise for inner healing.*
“Take a “needs mending” inventory. Set aside time for several days or weeks to be in the presence of Jesus with your wounds. Gather a list of wounded places and tender relationships that need mending. Simply gather the list. Let it grow as other wounds come to mind. Leave it with God.
At another time, come to God in a safe and quiet place where you can attend to the list in the presence of the great Physician. Breathe deeply. Inhale the closeness of Jesus. He is nearer than your own breath. Don’t hurry. Wait in his presence.
When you are ready, set the list before the Lord and wait. What one item seems to have your attention? (Attend to one wound at a time. Don’t move on to another wound until you sense that the time has come to do so). Ask Jesus what he wants to tell you about this wound. Listen. What do you sense the Lord is saying to you?
Respond to Jesus. Trust Jesus to do what he needs to do. The fruit of healing may not be a big feeling of release at the time of prayer, but changed internal responses as time goes by. Over time you may notice that your internal responses to people and situations begin to shift. Talk to God about this.”
There are several things about this exercise which I particularly like. I like that this exercise recognises that our needs for healing are complex and that healing unfolds over time, but also treats those needs with seriousness and does not dismiss or belittle the heart’s yearning for wholeness.
I like that it makes no assumptions about what kind of wound you are dealing with, and therefore does not make prescriptions for fixing it, other than bringing it to the One who knows all things. It also makes no assumptions about your support network; this exercise is equally valid whether you are working with a team of professionals and have an extensive network of helpful family and friends, or if you have not been able – for whatever reason – to surround yourself with other personal support. It does not rely on the expertise of a religious professional or the constancy of a prayer partner, both of which might be lacking. (Having seen too much damage done by inaccurate “diagnosis” and inadequate or misguided attempts to help, I am wary of solutions which rely on them!)
I like, though, that this exercise doesn’t assume that it operates in isolation. It is clear that ongoing prayer for healing of this kind draws its substance out of the reality of our lives, and is shaped by and responds to our relationships and context. This exercise then can become the place where all of the different strands of understanding our wounds – medical, psychological, religious, social and so on – can be integrated and given over to God to form something whole. It gives a sense of having something to do, in the face of wounds which can seem overwhelming and incomprehensible, and thus lifts the dead weight of despair and helplessness which compounds so much human suffering.
Like everyone else, I have my own wounds, some of them sometimes terrible and burdensome in their darkness. But finding this exercise, I feel that perhaps I have a way to form connections and integrate those wounds better than any other “method” I have encountered before. I intend to try it; my biggest problem is likely to be finding the quiet and private time, the greatest luxury in the life of a working mum!
*This exercise is taken from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.