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Monday, September 06, 2004

My journey in spiritual and emotional healing ...

Recently, I read Proverbial Wife's very insightful post on her personal experience of counselling, and decided that I would share my own journey in this regard. In fact, one reason for me to start this blog is my desire to share and journal my life-journey through the pain and hardships as well as the blessings and joys.

A few years ago, I was taking an online course from FullerOnline, an excellent course authored by Bobby Clinton on Leadership Development. Clinton is the author of such books as The Making of a Leader and co-author of Connecting: The Mentoring Relationship you need to Succeed in Life.. Part of the course requirements included writing a personal biography and applying the principles of leadership development learned in the course onto one's own life story. I found it hard going as I reflected on what God had been teaching me over the course of my life. Halfway through the course, I found myself bawling my eyes out each time I went to my computer to work on the lessons. Towards the end of the semester, my instructor advised me to go for therapy as she said that she had never read anyone's life story with so much incidents of "loss" in it, and suggested that it is probably a good idea that I seek counselling to process my past and pain. I did not realize how important those words were. While on the one hand, I realized that it is probably prudent to take the advice of a professional who has "been there and done that," I was also a little hesitant about the costs of counselling sessions.

Not long afterwards, I visited a church fellowship that sponsored a series of teaching sessions from
Resurrected Life Ministries on the healing of the body, spirit and mind. Through the teachings of Molly Sutherland, I came to a whole new appreciation of the meaning of Christ's death and the efficacy of his healing, not just physically and spiritually but also psychologically.

In fact, one of the constant struggles I had during that period was griefing for my mom's death which ocurred a few years prior to that. My grief was not just for my mom's passing, as painful as that experience was, but also for some very perverse and selfish reasons. Let me explain. A recurring image in my mind was a few days before my mom slipped into eternity when she was hanging onto my arms and screaming at me to "Save her." I felt powerless as I saw the fear in my mom's eyes. I was paralyzed. I wanted so much to ask her to trust in Jesus, but words couldn't come out of my mouth. I was devastated that as a filial son of a Chinese family, I wasn't able to save my own mom. I felt ashamed as a Christian in a non-Christian family that I was unable to lead my mom to Christ. Even after a report by the missionary nurse who shared that she was able to share with mom the following day, and mom had then acknowledged Christ as Savior, the joy was only momentary. As soon as we heard the news, we organized for a Chinese speaking pastor to come to the hospital bed to speak to mom. She was already in a coma by then, but she was able to initially respond to our calling out to her. We asked mom to blink her eyes if she could hear us. She did. We introduced the pastor and the pastor proceeded to talk to mom. The pastor explained if she so desired and if she acknowledged Christ as Savior then he would baptise her. No response. He tried a few more times, but there was no response from mom. We called her name. No response. Did mom hear us but refused to acknowledge Christ? The nurse had reported that she did acknowledge wanting Christ in her heart the day before. Did she make the commitment? Is she really saved? Those questions haunted me. I felt miserable that as a Christian, I had not been able to lead my mom to Christ before she died. Perhaps all this has to do with my evangelical heritage and makeup. So, as you can see, I was carrying a lot of baggage, although most of it can be attributed to self-imposition and pride. Whatever the source, it was real pain and grief that was haunting me daily. I was also hurting from the fact that mom's death was untimely, that she had to suffer so much pain and agony in the last few months of her life, that dad and the rest of us missed her so much. I was grieving from inumerable hurts and pains.

The way the healing took place was especially significant to me. Molly had just completed her first teaching session. During the session, I had heard her teach about the power of Christ to heal and about the need for us to appropriate the healing power of Christ to our lives. She also referred to the need for us to stand in Christ, independent from our adolescent dependence to our parents, and be our own adult person in Christ, in fullness of adulthood and making a conscious decision in our minds to follow Christ and allow His Spirit to rule in us. In fact, as I tended to do in those days, as I sat there listening, I had analyzed her lesson in my mind, offering silent critiques and ways to improve and organize the lesson, or to put things in a different way, sometimes questioning the theological basis of her assertions and other time, the logic of her presentation. As I sat through the session, very little was happening at the heart level. It was at that point very much an intellectual, cerebral exercise.

At the end of the lesson plan, Molly said that her lessons are incomplete without practical application. She asked for a volunteer to come forward to the front for "prayer ministry" so that she can pray for that person and for her to demonstrate the application of her lessons in holistic healing. In a very strange but vivid way, I heard the Spirit prompt me, "I want YOU on that chair!" I dismissed it immediately as this was the first day that I had stepped into this church and the people there were strangers to me. "All the more easy for Me to work with you!" I heard the Spirit nudge. I ignored Him. I veered my eyes when Molly's eyes made contact, as she scanned the room, looking for the elusive volunteer. The Spirit's urgings were firm, constant but gentle. I could feel my heart pounding and see my shirt throbbing along with my chest. But still I resisted. Finally, someone put up his hands to volunteer, followed by another. I let out an inaudible sigh of relief. As the class broke up for ten minutes of coffee break, I rose from my seat, and as I did so a smiling cheerful lady sitting in front of me turned around, looked me in the eyes, and sincerely asked, "Hi, would you like to have prayer ministry today?" I looked at her, hesitated, smiled and said sheepishly, "I wouldn't mind, I suppose!" So, she went up and said, "Hey we have another volunteer here." Initially I thought I was safe since strictly speaking I was the third to volunteer, when Molly said that we really only have time for one person for the practical prayer ministry. But then she said, since we have three volunteers, we will draw lots. We will put a number each on three sheets of paper, fold them up and put them in a basket. She would then lay hands on them and pray over them. Then we will ask the three volunteers to pick one piece of paper each. The person who picked the number "1" will have the privilege to take part in the practical prayer ministry. When I heard that, I knew in my heart that it would be me who would be picked. And, sure enough after we had gone through the motions, mine was the one left with number "1". The Lord works in mysterious ways!

Molly had us all re-arrange the seating, so that she and I were seated in the center with the rest of the group seated around in a circle. She commenced by asking a series of family of origin type questions, and then proceeded to zero in on my issues - which had to do with my grief, my recurrent flashbacks to my mom's cries for help and my helplessness, and most of all, my guilt about being an unfilial Chinese offspring and unworthy Christian son. She then asked me to visualize the putting off of my "generational" sins and idol-worship of my ancestors. She asked me to visualize the breaking away of the spiritual umbilical cords that bounded me to the emotional and spiritual generational ties with my father and mother. She asked me to visualize the putting off of the guilt and sin of my past and the putting on of the grace of Christ my lord. She further asked me to visualize handing over to Christ the burden that I had carried all this time with me in regards to my mom's death and the question about her salvation. "It is no longer your responsibility. Hand it over to the Lord. And realize that He has died for that grief, that pain and that guilt too." She then asked everyone in the room to extend their hands towards her as she lay hands on me to pray for me. It was a moment of release for me. It was a moment of deep healing.

Ever since my mom passed away, I had not felt as free from my grief and my pain. It was a burden lifted away. As I handed my burdens over to my Lord, I was able to deal with what happened and was able to hand it over to my Lord to take care of the past, and release me to be more effective for him in the present and the future. I honestly felt I had recovered and I did not need any further counselling. I thought that from then on I was able to go on my merry way! In fact, it was quite smooth sailing. I was able to apply the principles in my daily walk. I no longer had those painful flashbacks of my mom's desperate cries for help. I was able to place my mom in my Lord's hands and I was able to enjoy the blessings of a closer walk with Him.

However, as the years passed, I gradually found other issues re-surfacing that were hurting my relationship with my wife, my children and people around me. I had to face my demons again. And once again, I was encouraged to seek counselling. This time around, I decided to make an appointment to see a counsellor. I will share a little more about my journey through the counselling experience in a later post.

| 2 pre-Haloscan comments:

Hey there I posted this on Lucy's blog and I read your own post and thought you might be interested in this comment as well.

Hey Lucy and friends,

I would have responded to your post on suffering earlier, but I've been busy with the Coast Guard.

Okay... as you may have guessed, Lucy :), I have some objections to the 'theories' put forward by you and your readers.

Firstly, lets cut to the heart of the dilemma here. It is this: If God is good and all-powerful, then he must be responsible for the suffering that exists in the world, or at least be able to put an end to it (it's the same thing really). Since suffering exists, and continues to exist, then either God is not good or all-powerful, or suffering is in fact good.

Let me make it clear that this is an absolute dillema. It does not matter if most suffering is justifiable or redemptive- if even one whit of unecessary suffering exists in the world, if even one bit of natural evil exists, then God is not perfectly good, something that I believe is a very important axiom in all your personal philosophies.

What I have stated here is the 'Argument from Evil', a rather classic argument against God's existence, and one that has never been satisfactorily answered on logical or reasonable grounds.

Most of your arguments seem to seek the second way out of the dilemma, in that suffering is not evil. For surely we cannot deny God's responsibility for suffering. Let me use the following analogy, and perhaps you will see how He must be responsible for our suffering.

Let's say I am a reality television show producer. I am producing a reality television show called "Heaven on Earth". This reality show involves putting couples on a deserted island, and having them search for clues in order to discover the secret to getting off the island. When they get off they get a million dollars to live happily ever after.

However I have made it rather difficult for them. I have chosen an island that is filled with poisonous snakes, and I have also set many hidden deadly pit traps. I know for sure that at least some of the couples will die because of them. Others will be horribly injured. I've also poisoned some of the food supply, which is very scarce anyways so some will also die of starvation or food poisoning. Also, the couples don't know this yet but they may find out through clues, those who do not find the secret after 2 months will be taken away and shot.

My choice of the contestants has been equally disturbing. Some of the couples I know will break up and hate each other under the stress. (and they will be guaranteed to be shot because you can only win together). Others are simply not bright enough and will surely not uncover the clues. Some are convicted mass murderes, and will probably kill or rape some other couples. Some are already infected with deadly diseases and will probably infect the some other couples as well. Anyhow all this is necessary because it's important that the couples work hard in order to win the prize, they shouldn't just simply be given it. And it doesn't matter that some of them are guaranteed to fail.

Now would you absolve this tv producer of blame? What if he said that those people had free-will, and could avoid the traps and find the clues accordingly? Would that make it okay? I'll let you draw your own conclusions?

This analogy is pretty much the same as to God's position in regards to our world. Much like the tiger and the lamb, God lovingly crafted AIDS, the ebola virus, the heat wave that's causing famine in africa, the chemicals and neurons in a psychopath's brain that drive him rape and murder... God even knows when a single hair stirs on your head, right? Either he is somewhat evil, or those things and the suffering they cause are not.

So fine, let's try to rationalise the suffering as ultimately good. Leibnitz tried this, being quite the intelligent philosopher he realised that this world would have to be the best possible of all worlds, and so POOF, therefore it was, QED. However the vast majority of philosophers since the 19th century have not agreed.

I won't pick through your arguments, try to refute them point by point, as this comment is dragging on and most of you have probably stopped reading by now. Hopefully that's because I'm boring, and not because you instintively fear that which might erode your beliefs. Suffice to say that yes, you can ascribe as many benefits as you like to suffering, be it yours or others. But at some point this begins to stretch the limits of credulity, and becomes almost perverse.

Sure, it might be comforting to believe that all suffering results in greater good, but is that really plausible when we look at the sheer wretchedness of the world.
Children in southeast asia are born into a brief childhood of poverty and ignorance, whereupon they are sold into sexual slavery and endure a few years of unimaginable perversities inflicted upon them before they succumb to STDs or abuse. Would you, Lucy, have the gall to tell them that their suffering builds their character, or that it serves some greater good. Oh, and this suffering does not make them saints. I have seen how suffering affects people, and as often as not it slowly warps them, breaks their minds, makes the fearful and greedy and larcenous and cruel. Can anyone truly believe that there is not a single instance of unjustifiable suffering in the history of the world? If, like you say, there is a God who sends a child into the world only to die a quick and painful death in order to "have a redeeming quality on other people", then I reject this God, I curse Him. Where is the justice in that, what child wishes to be a human sacrifice?

And do you believe that the world is perfectly just? I don't mean humans or our institutions, but the natural world itself. How else could it be, for its Creator is perfectly just. Indeed it must be just how some are born stupid, or ugly, or mentally retarded, or with defects that will make them social rejects and never allow them to find love with another. Yes, how just God is to create some who will never even hear of Him or His son, so that they might burn in Hell, unredeemed. Yes, how just is He that he might create a world so obscene that a poor boy like myself is misguided by his reason into doubting His existence and thus consigns himself to hell as well.

sigh... yes, perhaps I am bitter, but it is not at the natural world- you cannot get angry at pure absurdity, but it is at those you would rationalise away our suffering, who would look on it as a 'good' and expect redressing in the afterlife.

SHP- Yes, one solution to this dilemma would be to say that God is not all-powerful. However we must make God quite weak and inneffectual if he cannot make the world a better place then it is now. Could he not make the ebola virus a little less deadly, people a little nicer, less suicide bombers' bombs go off? In any case such a fudging of the nature of God is unnacceptable to most Christian theists. Your comment also shows how so much of this talk about God is completely pure speculation, with no basis in reality. We can make up whatever reasons for why God allows suffering, why suffering is 'good', how " Victory was achieved when God the Just One, the Holy One, the Creator of the World, died the sinner's death and bore the eternal wrath of divinity upon Himself." But it's all nonsense, it's all mere idle thought with no real justification. You could think these things if you like, but why? The only reasons is because you wish to, because it comforts you. Make up whatever pleasant illusions you like- I will face cold reality honestly.

Let me conclude with a quote from David Hume, from 'Of Providence and a Future State', which you should all read if you want to hear this argument from a master. He is saying here that if you draw your belief in God from your experience of the world then you should have no reason, and indeed no need, to reverse this logic and alter the characteristics of the world, since these are the very characteristics from which you supposedly drew your belief in God:

"You seem not to remember that all your reasonings on this subject can only be drawn from effects (your belief in God) to causes (the world) and that every argument deduced from causes (your belief in God) to effects (the world) must of necessity be a gross sophism, since it is impossible for you to know anything of the cause (God) but what you have antecedently not inferred, but discovered to the full in the effect (the world)."

I hope this has informative, and please remember I mean only offense to your beliefs, and not to yourselves as individuals.

By Blogger feelinbyronic, at 10:41:00 AM

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your comments. You must have meant to respond to my "Victory in Death?" post which were some reflections in response to the traditional "Problem of Pain" question. It indeed is a question that is dear to my heart as well. I do not take this question lightly. I do not share your view that God is like your TV producer. I think His Reality TV Show is much more interesting myself! ;) But I do share your frustration with the "hiddenness" of God. Many a time I have struggled with the questions regarding the existence and amounts of pain, suffering and evil, gratuitous or otherwise, in this imperfect world of ours.

I see that you have gone through all sorts of philosophical arguments concerning this issue, so it is pointless for me to recount for you the different philosophical arguments in defense of the thesis that God exists.

After all, in philosophy, there are both sides to the question for just about any issue. For instance, although Hume's atheistic arugment from evil is often quoted by atheistic philosophers, the same philosophers might argue against his conclusions in the area of causation, epistemology and metaphysics. In fact, some might probably disagree with his entire philosophy, yet would happily promote his atheistic argument! Of course, that doesn't mean his argument is ineffective and that its conclusion is suspect. I am merely trying to point out the fact that there is much disagreement in philosphical positions about many, many things, not just in theological, or religious ones. And, just because there are opposing points of views, and seemingly insurmountable arguments to support one view, doesn't mean that other arguments in support of an opposing view doesn't exist and aren't equally valid.

Just a simple illustration might help to illustrate this point. In classical logic we have the law of non-contradiction. It is a sacred law. However, in higher order logics, we now have to accept the existence, or truth of paradoxes and dialetheas (true contradictions), as examples. Why not give up the law or contradiction? No, we don't. We hold each principle as true, and we stretch the limits of human understanding and realize that there is a limit in what we know, and some things are true even if it seemed that they are false. So, I think, it is with religious knowledge. We cannot fathom many of the things that we put our faith in. However, as Anselm declared, we "do not seek to understand in order to believe, but [we] believe in order to understand." I am not championing blind faith when I say this, but rather a dynamic faith in a God who is loving enough to come down to show us the way. To use your analogy, he is the like the TV producer who came to live among the island of poisonous snakes, diseases and quarelling spouses to make the way for all the couples to escape and win that million dollars!

Yet, the pain, struggles, suffering and discomfort that we all experience in are real. In Jesus, we are able to find comfort that He has gone before us, and suffered the death of a sinner and that He cries with us. Having examined the philosophical arguments against the existence of God from evil, I find them to be inconclusive, and having examined philosophical arguments for the rationality of belief in GOd (I will post about these later), I accept my faith in Christ as a rational, warranted position for a well-educated, contemporary thinking person such as myself. Yet, I struggle with my faith and struggle with the pain and suffering that occurs around the world. I cry with those who lose their children and those who go through unnecessary pain. Some may call mine a blind faith in spite of the plain "facts of suffering and evil". I call it a living faith. It is a living, dynamic faith in a loving, and personal God. A faith I hope and pray you will share one day.


By Blogger thebloke, at 11:48:00 PM

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