He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3
How did I not see this before? I stared at what I had just written and it was like a neon sign was flashing the answer to a question I didn’t even realize I had been asking. I was sitting in a training for cross-cultural workers and I knew the value in preparing spiritually and emotionally for a big transition. But what I didn’t expect was to receive a new layer of healing to an old wound I had thought was closed.
The funny thing about moving forward is that it often requires looking back first. I am coming to realize how healing is a process, sometimes a lifelong one. I want easy solutions, problems solved. Wounds don’t work that way. Scar tissue forms. Old injuries can reappear.
I sat back on my heels, blinking away the tears. I was supposed to be there looking ahead and here I was suddenly plunged into the past. For the first time in a decade, I could see a little bit of why I had been wounded in the first place…
Our move back to the States from the Middle East ten years ago seemed pretty easy to explain—we returned to help family with some unexpected difficulties. But the decision to return wasn’t made without a piercing of my soul, a breaking of our dreams, a deep fissure created in my heart. I was wracked with anxiety and shut down when I learned the pain my family back home was going through. Life from 6,000 miles away became unbearable.
Guilt and years of wilderness walking followed. Was I too weak to stay? Was it my weakness that shut down a dream we’d worked so hard for? Life kept moving and it was easy to just bandage the hurt and move on.
God gave me the gift of walking with a friend a couple years ago through her post-traumatic return to the states and all the shame and litany of questions that came with it. As we cried and prayed together, layers of dead tissue fell away from my own heart. You didn’t fail. You did what God asked. The anxiety you felt in a traumatic situation is normal and He can use you still. I said the words to her while God whispered to my heart that those words that were true for her were true for me as well.
So, imagine my surprise as yet another layer was being peeled away, showing me the work wasn’t done yet. Finally heading back overseas, we went to this training trying to become aware of issues that might arise before we moved. We were given a long list of values, things that matter to us in our daily lives—things like adventure, ethics, independence, privacy, rest. We were supposed to rate how much those mattered to us, then say how well that area could be met in our current culture, and finally how likely we would be able to meet that need in our new culture.
For example, if cleanliness was important to me and my nice, suburban home made that value achievable but I could never find a clean area in my urban South Asian home, how would that affect my daily life? Would it break me if something I held dear couldn’t be achieved? Would it throw me into a culture-shock spiral?
We narrowed down the list to our top three, the core values we truly need to see met in order to thrive. My pen had barely finished scribbling the words when the revelation came. I wrote: family, intimate friendships, job satisfaction/life purpose. All of the things I most highly valued had been missing from my life in the Middle East. My family was miles away in distress. I hadn’t established any close friendships in our country and had only an occasional email with close friends back home. Finally, we were stumbling through language school without any real role. I didn’t feel like I was achieving anything significant.
Stress and trauma hit and none of the things that made me feel stable or healthy existed in my life. Of course I shut down. I had nothing in my circumstances that made my life in that country feel valuable, so I ran back to the place I knew family and friends and a role caring for them would give my life meaning.
For the first time I saw myself as more than a broken, anxious person. I saw myself as someone who could change the scenario. If I knew why it happened before, maybe I could prevent it from happening again. If I understood what I needed to thrive in a stressful new culture, I could be sure to work towards meeting those needs when the stress set in.
In that moment I saw myself not as healed but healing, that it is a process. I realized the importance of knowing myself and constantly asking God to shed light on areas of wounding that I am not seeing. I am praying more specifically for my anxiety now, looking into the whys behind my brokenness and asking God to continue to bring healing to those places. The work isn’t finished in me and I’m not sure it ever will be. But I do know the One who binds up and heals and I’m asking Him to keep tending to my wounds.
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