By Dr. Charity Byers
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (NIV)
You’ve been hurt. I don’t know what they did to you. But, I know it hurts. Maybe it’s a fresh wound, or it’s one that is still lingering in your heart.
Ministry life is pretty painful sometimes, and women in ministry are walking around with wounded hearts way too often. You are dealing with imperfect, broken people every single day. And, as leaders, you take the most hits.
Maybe your recent hit was from a church member who is criticizing you again. Maybe it was from your husband who’s been at it again with pornography. Maybe it was from your boss who gave you a performance review that sounded completely opposite from the praise he’s been giving you for the last six months. Maybe it was something else.
No matter what has hurt you, I would guess it feels like one of your worst nightmares. Your heart is in deep pain and it can be utterly consumed by the pain you feel. Many of you might feel like you’ve been hurt too many times before, and you are at the max of capacity for how much pain you can absorb.
When a heart has been hurt that deeply, it desperately wants to feel safe from more pain. It feels like it can’t take one more ounce of pain, and it simply doesn’t want to hurt any more. The hurt heart becomes desperate. So, the hurt heart begins to tell you to do things, think things, and feel things that it’s convinced will protect it from more pain. As it gets more hurt, it has to try to make its voice becomes louder and louder. It also has to to try to convince you of things that draw you away from God’s way of grace and healing because those don’t feel safe at all to the hurt heart.
Consider the following messages that the hurt heart often tells us and consider how its messages push against God’s ways of grace and healing:
1) “Holding onto resentment is the best way I can protect myself from getting hurt again by that person.”
One of the primary fallacies your heart tries to convince you of is that holding on to resentment is the best insurance policy against more hurt. That’s because the hurt heart sees a lot of danger in forgiveness. It doesn’t want to turn soft on and open itself to a person who’s hurt it because it fears giving up the perceived control that withholding forgiveness provides. Your hurt heart might also tell you that forgiving someone again makes you a fool, especially if the same offense has happened multiple times.
The hurt heart sees a lot of danger in forgiveness.
So, the hurt heart will tell you to try to protect yourself by staying angry and withholding forgiveness from the person who hurt you. It will tell you to hold onto resentments. It will try to convince you that you aren’t ready to forgive. It will try to convince you that holding onto resentment gives you power that you need and it makes you smart. The hurt heart is convinced that staying resentful will keep you on guard, keep your defenses up, and be in the best position to protect yourself from the person who has already hurt you or in other similar situations.
The hurt heart is wrong about this. Holding onto to resentment may keep you from being vulnerable. But, it won’t keep you safe from heartache. That’s because bitterness is the ultimate kind of heartache! God provides your heart freedom when you separate from resentment.
Moving beyond resentment also doesn’t have to make you a fool. You don’t need to be angry in order to have your eyes wide open and make wise decisions about how you are going to move forward in relationship with someone who has hurt you. Forgiving someone doesn’t have to equate having zero healthy boundaries with people, especially those who haven’t shown trustworthiness or redemption from past mistakes.
The bottom line is that you don’t need to remain resentful to accomplish self-protection. When you move past resentment, you will actually have a healthier picture of what is truly needed to protect yourself. You’ll be able to more objectively evaluate the other person’s heart and decide whether they are trustworthy or repentant from past mistakes instead of just expecting them to hurt again, like the hurt heart will try to tell you.
2) “Acting resentful (cutting them out, bitter attitude, withholding forgiveness) is the best weapon I have to make them understand how much they hurt me.”
Your hurt heart may tell you that resentful actions will show the other person the magnitude of your hurt. It is convinced that by staying angry and not giving an inch with the other person, you can make your message the most clear to the other person. It tries to convince you that a dramatic display of your pain is the only way to get someone’s attention if they seem to be blind to the pain they’ve caused you. The hurt heart will tell you that you can only make them fully understand how much you’ve been hurt if you say no when they ask for forgiveness or make your forgiveness conditional. The hurt heart will tell you that getting the other person to feel your depth of pain is the only way to get them to develop some empathy for you.
The hurt heart is clearly mistaken. All that a dramatic display of your hurt accomplishes is making the other person feel attacked. It causes them to put up their defenses too. All that creates for you is a bigger battle….and you’re likely to get hurt again in that battle. It’s simply not true that the only way you can help someone see how much they’ve hurt you is by staying angry.
All that a dramatic display of your hurt accomplishes is making the other person feel attacked.
You actually have the best chance to show them the depth of your pain through authentic communication. It is through authentic communication that you actually share a message that reflects your true feelings–hurt, sadness, rejection, insecurity—rather than just anger. Anger is the feeling that is masking the deeper pain, and all that dramatic displays of pain and withholding forgiveness communicates is anger. So, you’ve really not done justice to communicating your pain until you enter authentic communication.
If your attempts for authentic communication seem to be falling on deaf ears, then don’t fall back on efforts to show your pain through resentful actions. Continue to remember that these efforts are communicating the wrong message and really only inviting a further battle for you. Take it to prayer and entrust your feelings, rather than continue to let the hurt heart guide you to behaviors that only lead to more pain.
3) “I need justice before I can move on and forgive.”
The hurt heart wants justice. It wants rights to be wronged. It wants people who don’t get it to finally understand that what they did was wrong. It wants justice served before forgiveness takes place. It wants the apology and ownership of wrong behavior from the other person in order to move on. The hurt heart is afraid that other people will be hurt down the road by this person if justice isn’t served.
The desire for justice before forgiving leaves you stewing in your resentment, where you continue to feel angry and unjustified. Remember, that the hurt heart is just trying to take on a role that belongs to God and trying to force its timing on the process of justice. It’s holding on to control, which feels really good after it’s felt so vulnerable. But, it is just stalling the process of moving through your pain. Waiting for justice before dealing with your pain, leaves you with an open-ended relationship with your pain. Who knows when, if ever, justice will come on this side of heaven.
Remember, that the hurt heart is just trying to take on a role that belongs to God and trying to force its timing on the process of justice.
Do you see the backwards logic that the hurt heart is using to influence your response to your pain? On one hand, the hurt heart is crying out to never be hurt again by saying “protect me!” But the ways it tries to teach you to do that actually keep you stuck in your hurt! Can you see how attempts to protect you actually set you up for more hurt? In essence, the hurt heart tries to convince you to keep your pain and anger alive and fresh. Even though the hurt heart really wants nothing more than to not be hurt again, it’s backwards methods to try to accomplish that keep you stuck in pain, breed bitterness, and lead you toward isolation.
You can’t listen to misguided logic of the hurt heart. The hurt heart is trying to lead you away from God’s ways of grace and healing. The problem often is that hurt is so powerful that even an intelligent woman like you can easily part with the Godly perspectives you teach and preach to others all the time. The things the hurt heart says feel true because of the magnitude of the pain.
You have to listen to the wisdom of the perfect logic of God. Remember that He isn’t trying to set you up for pain by prescribing a pathway of grace and entrustment. You know that his intentions are good. Jeremiah 29:11 (TM) says, I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out–plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” If you hope to be protected from more pain, then listen to His ways of grace, mercy, and healing because they can ultimately accomplish that for you.
Dr. Byers serves as the Executive Director of Clinical Services for Blessing Ranch Ministries, a non profit dedicated to providing transformational soul care for Christian leaders.
As a licensed Psychologist, she provides Professional Counseling Services to Pastors, Missionaries, and other Christian leaders.
While she connects well with all leaders, she has a particular passion for serving women in ministry.
Dr. Byers’ educational experiences include a B.A. in Clinical Counseling and School Psychology from Western State College of Colorado, an M.A. in General Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado, and a PhD. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver.