Healing Line

Healing Line

How I Discovered Inner Healing

by Judith MacNutt
Winter 2016

The silence in my office was broken only by the long deep sighs of my newly assigned patient, Elizabeth [name changed]. She had been admitted to the psychiatric unit of the hospital after being rushed to the Emergency Room following a serious suicide attempt. She had spent months stashing away sleeping pills and then, in a clear, calculated way, wrote a farewell letter to her mother (who had never been able to show her the love she needed), drove down to the ocean, consumed a large quantity of pills and alcohol…and then waited. Within a few hours she was discovered and rushed to our facility for treatment. Although she was deeply disturbed at failing in her suicide attempt, I would not describe her as a resistant patient. Yet she was hard to work with because she had accepted her emotional death and was ready to plan her physical death as soon as she could arrange it. Only twenty–seven years old, she looked like a much older woman, broken and shattered by life. No longer trying to disguise her pain as most patients do, she wore it like a veil draped around her fragile spirit. My encouragement and human care failed to retrieve her from the pit into which she was slipping. Even to speak was too much effort for a woman so wearied by years of turmoil and pain. Instead of words her sighs and silence spoke volumes. Her hopelessness filled every corner of the room, and slowly it began to infuse my spirit, too. As I counseled her, Elizabeth revealed numerous sickening events in her fractured past. Her father had raped her, and her baby son had died. I was deeply concerned about Elizabeth, and intended to present her case to the staff consultation the following morning.

Pray for Their Healing

That evening in my comfortable, safe home, far removed from the locked doors of the Psychiatric Unit, I prayed to a God whom I loved but didn’t know very well. I had always successfully managed to separate my spiritual life from my clinical profession. But now, after years of observing wasted lives, I realized nothing short of a miracle would make any difference. Something had to be done about Elizabeth and all of the countless others who were crushed and barely existing on the edge of life. “Lord what can I do?” I repeated over and over, hoping against hope that for once I would hear an answer. After waiting for what seemed like hours, a warm, loving presence entered my room, and I sensed God’s love and deep concern for Elizabeth and all the others I had been praying for. Then came God’s strong, steady, loving response. “Bring them to me…pray for their healing…I will restore them.” The Lord then directed me to read Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken–hearted…”(NIV)

Suddenly everything became so obvious; a veil had been lifted from my mind. It was not what I had to do, it was what God wanted to do. These broken, desperate people were God’s children, God’s creation, the ones Jesus had died for. Of course God wanted to heal and redeem them. I was being called upon to journey with them, and the Lord would gently, lovingly rebuild everything that had been destroyed. That night, I contacted several devoted Christian friends and shared my excitement with them. One by one, they committed themselves to pray for Elizabeth and others.

Returning to the hospital the following morning, I asked to see Elizabeth before the staff meeting. She was markedly changed! Her depression had lessened considerably and she wanted to talk! Although her speech was slow and halting, she began to reveal her innermost fears, disclosing much more than the factual list of traumas she had presented before. She said she felt differently and shared something she had experienced the preceding night. She described how she was awakened around 11:00 p.m., precisely when we were praying. She became aware of a light in her room, although the lights were out, except for a hall light filtering through her open door. The light (which she recognized as coming from Jesus) enveloped her, spreading warmth and healing love throughout her body and spirit. For the first time in her life, she felt protected and loved. This presence remained with her all through the night, strengthening and ministering to her. Though her outward situation remained unchanged, her heart and deep mind were being healed. As her daily therapy progressed, the walls of pain and isolation slowly eroded. In time she relived each memory while the Lord’s healing power transformed and released her. Everything the Lord had promised me was now becoming a reality. Elizabeth was soon released to outpatient therapy where she continued in her new–found freedom. During the first week I started praying for them, several other patients displayed such marked improvement that I could only attribute their change to the power of God. What an exciting and life–changing discovery this was for me as a therapist! The implications were revolutionary. Therapy alone was not enough; healing prayer had to be included.

Psychotherapy is based on the idealistic assumption that, given the truth about self, a person will choose to change. But that doesn’t usually happen. Studies show that one–third of the people undergoing psychiatric care show improvement while the other two–thirds either refuse to change their attitudes towards life or simply find themselves incapable of making the necessary changes. We have all experienced how extremely difficult it is to change our own lives. If you are struggling with depression, psychosis, a broken marriage, the loss of a loved one, or extreme fear and anxiety, you may be paralyzed by the overwhelming task of trying to change. Even if a counselor is successful in uncovering the suppressed or repressed root cause of the problem, the patient lacks the energy to respond. Oftentimes the release of repressed information into the light of consciousness is so traumatic that it drives the patient into a relapse. Issues such as self–worth, shattered will, and impaired self–image are at the heart of most of our dysfunctions. I discovered within each client a distorted image that continuously condemned and criticized the person’s true self. This harsh inner judge grows stronger through the years and becomes very difficult to silence. It distorts our feelings, as well as our thinking, and puts us at the mercy of anxiety and fear. Emotional honesty becomes impossible because of our wounding, leading to distortions in our understanding and in the expression of our emotions. We learn sick ways of responding to the dysfunction in our families and environment. Denial becomes a way of life because our pain is so intense. Shame dwells in the very core of our inner self…a shame that tells us that we are no good…that we are a mistake. Eventually we grow out of touch with our real needs and feelings. The purpose of our existence becomes confused, surrounded by mystery and pain. Coping mechanisms are failing, my life is out of control, and I am powerless to control my own destiny.

After nearly twenty years of individual and group counseling with people who exhibit varying degrees of emotional health, I have come to believe that a deficiency in love is at the heart of most of our trouble. The greatest longing of our hearts is to be in union, to love and to be loved. God has created us in the divine image, and God desires union with us; therefore our hearts cannot be at rest until this desire for union with God is satisfied.

Likewise, as we journey toward God, our hearts also seek deep, loving, intimate relationships with other human beings. Unfortunately, we live in an age of isolation and broken hearts. From the time we are conceived in our mothers’ womb, the single most significant force that will shape our lives is love. Our lives are shaped by those who love us, by those who refuse to love us, and by those who can’t love us. We need to be loved into being, first by God, then by others. Those who are born into rigid, disengaged, emotionally unavailable families may need to experience the healing love of Jesus much more than those who are born into nurturing, loving families. In my counseling I saw the effect of this deprivation of love experienced in early childhood, indeed sometimes even from conception.*

Our wounded inner child perceives the world and relationships with fear, suspicion, and mistrust. And yet, the opposite is also true — we keep on reaching out for love, affirmation, and deep relationships. Human love, as wonderful and life–giving as it is, cannot completely heal our suffering inner child. What I found, though, was that the timeless, healing power of God’s love can reach that inner child and bring the wholeness and freedom that we all long for.

Healing of Memories

This is not just a metaphor — an imaginative pretending. In some mysterious way, when I asked Jesus to heal the destructive aspects of my patients’ past, it would happen. Sometimes he would even appear to the person. In other words, prayer really can change our lives. This method of prayer has been named inner healing, the healing of the heart, or the healing of memories. Through inner healing, God goes into those regions we cannot reach and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God can truly heal and transform our painful life experiences, allowing us to be free from the bondage of unexplored memories. (Later I found out that others were making the same exciting discovery about prayer: Agnes Sanford, the pioneer; Ruth Carter Stapleton; my future husband, Francis; and many others.) This healing process is crucial for two reasons: First, our wounded, separated inner child needs to be integrated with our adult; and second, our memories are crucial to the way we experience life in the present and they can easily cripple us.

We found that much of our patients’ pathology focused on their early childhood experiences. Scratching the surface of a seemingly happy adult, we often discovered an alienation between the adult and the wounded child. The neglected child is sealed off from life. This is especially true if I suffered abuse as a child. Once that abuse is internalized, it is difficult for me to believe that I can ever be acceptable, since my own mother, the person who knew me best, couldn’t love or accept me. (It is significant that recovering the “precious child” is a primary focus of Adult Children of Alcoholics.)

Things seemingly forgotten have the potential of becoming a great source of harm. These secrets of the soul dwell in the darkness of our shame. These crushing, painful memories can rise up to destroy us in body, mind, and spirit. We may be able to survive with broken bodies but not with broken spirits: “The human spirit will endure sickness; but a broken spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14, NRSV).

In the process of inner healing, our wounded memories become a source of healing. When Jesus begins to release the inner child into the light of his healing love that longed–for integration with the adult occurs. Often someone will say, “I never knew she [the inner child] was so beautiful and full of life!” In order to bring about that change, we must uncover those root memories—something traditional psychotherapy is good at. But what I discovered is that through prayer we can then drain those memories of their poison through the healing love of Jesus. Once we identify the pain and bring it into the light, Jesus can transform it and free us from its crippling effects. He doesn’t erase the memory, but he does remove the devastating effect of the memory. After prayer we can still remember what happened, but the memory no longer has its old power over us.

For example, one woman I prayed with several years ago shared a secret about how she had been sexually abused. She felt deep shame in telling me how, as an eight–year–old, climbing the dark stairwell in her apartment she was molested by a neighbor. When he left her she began to weep and ever afterwards had become deeply fearful. She had never shared this devastating experience with anyone until she trusted me enough to bring it out of the darkness of her past. When we prayed I invited Jesus to go back to that little girl sitting on the stairs weeping and to fill her with his healing love. At this point she was thrilled to see Jesus loving and holding her as a wounded, weeping little child. With our Lord’s help she was able to forgive her assailant. After that she found herself free from the bondage of this shameful memory. Her self–hatred disappeared and she was able to relate to men without shuddering fear. A simple prayer which took only a few minutes, accomplished more than months, or perhaps even years, of therapy.

The following is a beautiful testimony describing the kind of healing that we often see the Lord perform. Mary (as we shall call her) came to us for prayer for healing. She had suffered all her life from depression and was fearful of people and relationships. My husband, Francis, and I prayed with her over a period of several days. The moving account of her healing was chronicled in her journal, which is shared here selectively.

June 9

After arriving at my motel I opened scripture to Isaiah 1:18: "Come now, let us talk this over, though your sins are like scarlet they shall be white as snow, and though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." The Lord spoke to me through this passage, revealing to me that he would heal any of sin's damage within me.

June 10

I was terrified waiting to see Judith. Once inside her office I told her what was going on inside me. I heard a voice saying to me, " You're a fool for coming, because nothing is going to happen!" Judith assured me that something was going to happen. After we talked, Judith prayed with me. Then I saw a tiny embryo encased in cement . . . a bolt of lightening hit the tiny prisoner and broke the casing loose. After that I saw the infant lying outside the casing. A light came onto the scene and shone on the infant. The baby turned pink and then red. I watched the baby receiving new life. A voice came to me and said, "I sent you as my gift to your parents." At this point I realized how rejected I had felt, and that I wished I had never been born. Since Judith's prayer I have been slowly coming to life and realizing how good it is to live, to have been created . . . to be human, to be flesh, and to have the incarnate Word become flesh of my flesh.

June 11

As we prayed, Jesus came to me in the Spirit and led me through the home I was raised in . . . The Lord also took me to the barnyard of our small farm and just stood beside me . . . As we stood in each of these places I remembered how deeply I had been hurt there. As we went back to these places he healed me of what had happened to me in each place. (In the barnyard for example, my mother had told my older brother to throw a bushel of rotten tomatoes at me as punishment. I was thirteen years old and it was such a blow to my meager self–esteem!) Still in the Spirit, Jesus and I reentered my home. This time we went up to my room. I was crying because of a terrifying nightmare. My Dad and Mom then began to fight because I was crying. Against my Mom's wishes Dad came to me, carried me downstairs and rocked me to sleep. As Jesus showed me this scene, my father changed to Abba, God the Father, rocking me in the chair. Even as I type this, it brings me great emotion.

June 12

As I prayed to be released from rejection I sensed God the Father, my Abba... putting his arm around me and showing me to myself as a small child. He could not get me to love that little child. Finally, I did manage to ask the child if she would forgive me for not loving her all these years. After further prayer I began to feel a genuine love for her. Since that time, my attitude towards myself has changed as much as night and day. The Lord has taught me to minister to myself in a very loving way; and as I do so, I am beginning to have a generous love for other people. This healing has brought me an awe and wonder of being human.

Three weeks later she wrote us a beautiful follow–up letter that included the following section:

Years of compressed depression are fading away, and the wall between myself and humanity is progressively dissolving. The healings I received were very deep; God continues to unfold the beautiful wholeness he intended for me from conception. It seems that when darkness reigns within, you do not realize what it's like to be free. Well, I feel great! I feel good about myself and my decisions. It's like a dream, hoping that peace I experience is for real — and forever!

As I recall this marvelous example of God’s healing love in Mary’s life, I am filled with joy. Healing is real and forever!

*Francis and I have written about this at some length in our book Praying for Your Unborn Child (Doubleday, 1988).

Judith MacNutt Judith MacNutt is author, teacher, conference speaker and co–founder of CHM. Winter 2016 Issue