Volume 10 Number 1
Rise up and Walk
01 February 1997

No one gets through life without scars. Anne Marie Tate goes to the roots of inner healing

We are all life's casualties, to a greater or lesser degree. Some of the scratches we bear are self-inflicted; others are caused by third parties or by external circumstances. Sometimes we recall these hurts very clearly; at other times we only become aware of what has happened years later, when the moral or psychological scars cause problems.

In the Christian world to which I belong, we often draw inspiration from the Gospels. They tell a host of stories of Jesus restoring health to the blind, the deaf and the paralyzed. These physical complaints can be seen as symbols of the moral and psychological problems which often disable us.

The first step in inner healing is to name the problem. Sometimes we don't need hours of reflection to know that somebody has offended us deeply and that we harbour bitterness against them. Sometimes the source of our problems is less clear. Whichever, we have to identify that knot in the pit of our stomach.

Strangely, hurting other people damages the spirit just as much as being hurt by them. So both forgiving, and accepting forgiveness, are elements of healing.

Some 20 years ago my husband and I stayed with a Chinese headmistress in Hong Kong. She told us how, some years before, she had got up against the administrative chief of her school and, to her great personal bitterness, had been sacked. The arthritis from which she already suffered became so bad that she was confined to a wheelchair.

Years later, at the age of 80, she realized she had never given up her stubborn hatred of that administrator and she felt impelled to write and ask his forgiveness. To her amazement, she felt much more relaxed and started to walk again. Her inner healing had visible physical repercussions.

In our efforts to be good people, we try to avoid resentment by forgetting the hurts we have suffered. But the hurts we cover up poison our lives and separate us from other people. Unhealed inner hurts exile us to a spiritual and emotional desert.

The pain we experience is not always in proportion to the offence or events which have caused it. Temperament plays a part in the strength of our reaction.

I have come to the conclusion that 'trying hard' to overcome a problem does not work very well, and can even be discouraging. Take jealousy or anger: usually there is a memory that needs to be healed. Otherwise, whenever a similar situation arises, we revert to being jealous or angry.

As a girl I approached life with a victim mentality. At the age of 17, I confided to some friends my criticisms of my father and stepmother. One of them said to me, 'What you say about your parents may be true. But why don't you start living the way you would like them to live?'

I went off with pen and paper and thought about my life. I drew four columns and at the top of each wrote one of the four principles proposed by Moral Re-Armament: honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. At once unexpected thoughts came into my mind.

The first was about my elder brother's wife. Out of jealousy, I had treated her unkindly and even driven her to tears. I wrote and apologized. Then there were other things to put right - such as cheating in class.

In a strange way, these acts changed my whole approach to life. I no longer saw myself as a victim, but as an active player who could make something of my life.

Inner healing is a lifelong process, partly because our understanding of the intricacies of human psychology develops as we go along, and partly because we go on receiving and inflicting knocks. We need to face reality at each stage.

Some years ago my husband and I left a country which was on the verge of dictatorship. We sensed that we would not be able to return and knew that our friends there were going to go through difficult times. We wrote a number of letters, passing on a few last thoughts to help them in their ordeal, and put them in the post.

The letters had hardly gone when the frontiers were closed and all communications broken off. We were distraught. Had we exposed our friends to reprisals? We imagined our letters piled up in sacks waiting to be censored. We could not sleep.

One day, the old lady we were staying with at the time said, with extraordinary force, 'God has forgiven you, do you believe it or not? Now accept it and get on with life.'

It was as if she had flung a jug of icy water in our faces. We thanked her for showing us the way. It should be said, in passing, that we later learned that all our letters had arrived at their destinations without causing anyone the least problem.

We all have things we blame ourselves for having done. And we have all made choices which launched us on a false path. Someday we may suffer the consequences, and others with us. If we face the truth and know that God has forgiven us, we can become reconciled with ourselves and make a new start.

The 11th-century Muslim mystic Al-Gazali writes in his autobiography about a period of doubt and distress. God cured him, he says, 'not through any signs or sayings, but through a light which he placed in my heart'.

Later, at the height of his fame, he realized how he loved glory and experienced another inner crisis. 'I examined my reasons for studying,' he writes. 'Alas, it had not been sincerely to honour God but to collect praise and increase my own glory. I became convinced that I was on the crumbling edge of an abyss and that I would soon see hell's fire if I did not change my life.'

He fell seriously ill. The doctors said that the cause of his illness lay in his spirit and that he would only recover if he found relief from his anxiety. Al-Gazali finally made his decision: 'The one who answers the afflicted made it easy for me to drag myself away from all honours.'

My own inner tension has often arisen from the conflict between the person I would like to be and the person I actually am. I have been so eager to follow models! And yet I have often gone wrong through concentrating on the end result rather than trying to understand the basic approach.

The people we admire are that way because they have followed their own deep calling which has enabled them to give their best. The important thing for each of us is to achieve what we are made for, happily accepting our gifts and weaknesses.

Some problems will doubtless be with us till the day we die. In some cases, faith brings a cure; in others, it helps us to live with our problems and not be dominated by them. St Paul besought God to remove his 'thorn in the flesh'. There has been endless debate about the nature of this thorn: was it physical or psychological? In the end it does not matter much. What counts is God's response: 'My grace is sufficient for you.'
Anne Marie Tate

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