We Can Find Our Value By What Causes Us Pain

Here is an excerpt from Chapter Nine in my new book, Re-Framing Your Hurts: Why You Don’t Have to Fear Emotional Pain. This is a very different way to view pain that I learned  from Dr. Wilder in the 1990’s. It might encourage you to check out the whole book.
Sometimes as we believe lies about pain (the previous chapter), it helps when we bring the lies into the light and talk about them with people who know God’s character. It is then easier to see the lies for what they are. As we realize they are lies, we can see that the very opposite of these lies about pain is true—the amount of our suffering shows the amount of our value. Think about that—we hurt about things that matter the most. We are valuable because we hurt. We don’t grieve over invaluable things. We don’t worry about trash that is going to the dump. We don’t worry if a scrap piece of paper gets lost. We don’t pay attention to every flower that grows by the highway. We hurt over things that are valuable. We hurt over people, pets, some of our material possessions, and relationships. Think about Jesus on the Cross—the most valuable suffering of all.

Once we realize that our ability to hurt shows us how valuable we are, our eyes are opened; our perspective is different. The more our perspective on pain changes, the more we will begin to suffer well and stay relational when painful situations come up. This is what it means to re-frame our hurts. We’ll learn more in a later chapter about how to do this, but for now, it’s enough to begin to see that not all pain and hurt are bad. In fact, sometimes it shows us what we value the most—ourselves and those we love. Valuable things are worth going through hurtful feelings and situations.

As we begin to re-frame our hurts, our lives will change, slowly but surely, when we see ourselves as valuable. We will stop saying we are bad because we hurt. We will see our hurt from God’s perspective. We will be free to allow God to heal us from the chains that bind us. We will see how loved we are to share in the afflictions of Christ. (Colossians 1:24) We will know we are valuable.

(An exercise to discover what your heart is like is left out here.)

When we get caught up in the lies that we talked about earlier, we don’t get as many opportunities to see the characteristics of our hearts because we stuff, avoid, medicate, or fear feeling the pain. This is a trap in which the enemy loves for us to be caught. The enemy wants us to believe it is wrong or bad to hurt so that we will stop doing the good things that God has made a part of our heart. When we think something we are feeling is bad, we avoid it; when we get rejected, or reject ourselves, for living from our heart, that pain causes us to avoid those actions. Now the lies we believe about pain have kept us from living from the heart Jesus gave us.

We can live from our hearts when we know what to do with our hurts and pain. Knowing the characteristics of our heart helps us have courage to turn the negatives things that hurt us into positives. As we embrace what causes us pain (again we are not talking about abuse), we can learn something positive about our heart. For example—when I am honest with someone and they get upset with me, their upset can cause me to think I’m bad even if I was careful to share my honesty in a kind and timely manner. Even if some get upset, God does not want me to reject my heart because it was painful to live from it.

When we feel hurt and are not quite sure why, sometimes that hurt can show us a characteristic of our heart. For example, if we hurt more than is usual at being left out of an event, this could tell us we have a heart that is hospitable. If feeling betrayed is a big hurt, the characteristic of our heart would be that we are loyal.

We can not only learn to see the characteristics of our heart by what causes us pain, but we can also help others see how they are valuable when they hurt. It’s difficult to hear our hearts when we are hurting, but when we look at what makes us hurt—and what we have been avoiding because it hurts, we can find out that the opposite of the hurt is what is true of our hearts.

As we learn to find the characteristics of our heart by what causes us emotional pain we will be better equipped to help others. When we see another person in pain about something they think is bad about themselves, we can help them discover a characteristic of their heart. We can help them by looking first at what causes them pain. When we see someone hurting, it helps to say something like this: “It’s like you to hurt when _________happens. It’s OK that you feel (angry, sad, etc.) when that happens. You hurt because your heart is (kind, nurturing, loving, etc.)”

It’s common for someone to be hurting, but still avoiding the “real” pain that is going on. They are likely to say something like, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” Or, “There must be something wrong with me.” When we hear statements like that, we can help them see what the real pain is they are avoiding and how valuable they are to hurt like that.
People love to be told the characteristics of their heart, even when it doesn’t feel like it’s true at first.

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From the intro to–Re-Framing Your Hurts: Why you don’t have to fear emotional pain

My newest book is almost ready. Here is a short excerpt from the introduction.

Often times the feelings of hopelessness, anger, frustration, defensiveness, and acting out are symptoms of a deeper problem. Somewhere, deep inside and possibly even hidden, is older, unresolved painful wounds that are affecting our current situations. We fear facing or feeling our hurts and pain. We feel alone and without comfort. We may be looking for a quick fix to make ourselves feel better, but like putting duct tape on a broken water pipe, a quick fix will not help the real problem.

I’ve noticed over and over again that most people, even Christians, want to try “quick fixes” because they don’t know what to do with the emotional pain of past unresolved wounds. I’ve also noticed what this lack of understanding does to relationships. When we stuff pain and pretend it is non-existent, the pain of unresolved wounds and hurts impacts and can even destroy relationships. At the least, avoiding pain is a temporary fix that does nothing to solve anyone’s problems.

What if it were possible to learn a better way to deal with suffering? What if we could learn what to do with the pain and improve relationships? What if teens could learn to “suffer well” and not turn to drugs, alcohol, or sex because they were hurting inside? What if people could get deep healing for the wounds they carry and some of their pain would go away? What if getting free from past hurts led people to restore broken relationships? The answer to these questions is what this book is all about. It is possible to re-frame your hurts. If you want to learn how to re-frame your hurts and experience freedom from the fear of emotional pain you have come to a good place. Read on. . . .

Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

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An Easy Way to Journal and Interact with Jesus

Last month our Joy Starts Here/Atlanta conference gave us many practical tips.  The following was one of my favorites, taken from the book Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel. If you want to check out the book, click on the title. I have modified the exercise a little to make it more self-explanatory. I have also used this format orally, in group, guiding the group to listen to each step. It is a great joy-builder and it doesn’t take long to memorize the steps.  Give it a try and enjoy interacting with Jesus. It’s simple enough for kids & teens.

(From Joy Starts Here Conference 2015)
This is an exercise that will help you learn to hear God’s voice and to learn to journal if you so desire. As you progress through the steps what you wrote at first might change. Just write what you are hearing in your mind and trust it is Jesus if it fits His character. If you are alone, read aloud to Him at the end.

“The LORD said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.’ “ Exodus 3:7-8

Write down something to Jesus for which you are grateful or something that is bothering you:





I (JESUS) CAN SEE YOU (where you are, what you are wearing)


I (JESUS) CAN HEAR YOU (maybe your thoughts, your passions, your heart)


I (JESUS) UNDERSTAND HOW BIG IT IS (how it hurts, what you feel)

I (JESUS) CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT (might just be to trust Him, see how big He is, something for you to do)

READ ALOUD TO SOMEONE. After reading aloud, ask the other person to give you a word or two about how they feel. Share with each other how writing and hearing the entry helped you both.


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What is Hesed?

Yesterday I listened to a teaching that touched me deeply. I have to share what I got out of it because it’s something we all need to think about. My friend and mentor, Dr. Wilder, is the teacher and the story is personal to him. I’d heard him share it long ago, but yesterday it moved me in a new way once gain. Here is my synopsis of the teaching and the story:

In the Old Testament there is a word that is very difficult to translate into English. We try, but we fall short of the depth of the meaning. This word is throughout the Psalms and is used 248 times in the Old Testament. Paul struggles to show its depth of meaning in the New Testament with the Greek word ‘agape.’  This word is “hesed.” It is most often translated as mercy or lovingkindness,but can also mean grace, kindness, and love. We New Testament Christians try to come up with meanings of the English words we use to translate it—with perhaps the closest being something about God’s Enduring Love. God is so full of this word that He “heseded” the world so much that He gave His only Son.” It is used in Hosea 6:6, 10:12, and Micah 6:8 to tell us how the world will know we are His if we walk in this hesed.

Paul’s attempt to describe the Hebrew word with a Greek one in 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that hesed is more important than the gifts, prophecies, and miracles. C. S. Lewis tells us in Four Loves that it is the only love that can be commanded. But the command is to have love that endures, sticks it out, and never gives up. We will know in our lives when hesed has touched us, but probably notice less when it flows through us to others.

Here is an excellent story to illustrate the depths of hesed—God’s enduring, sticky, merciful, grace-filled Love.

“When I (Dr. Wilder) was about 19, I went to work in a camp that allowed seniors from the city to enjoy a week in the countryside with trees and flowers. One lady at the camp was very annoying. There was a special line at meals for those using walkers and that line was shorter. When the bell rang for people to begin going through the line, this lady rushed in and knocked over people, even those with walkers. She demanded her food and then pigged out. They tried having someone there to keep her at the back of the line, but it didn’t stop her. On top of that she stunk to high heaven. It was really bad. She refused to take a shower; she yelled at people and had a short temper. She was a very unpleasant person. Finally seven lady counselors dragged her screaming and kicking into the showers and gave her a shower. It was awful.

That afternoon I was talking to one of the men from the camp. He knew 19 languages; he was dressed nicely, a refined and educated gentlemen who he could talk about many subjects. The lady walked by who had been the bane of the camp. I said to the gentleman how glad we all were that they were able to get her cleaned up. The man then said to me, “That lady is my wife.” He then showed me the tattoo on his arm from one of the concentration camps. He said that his wife had been a concert pianist, a sophisticated educated woman. The Nazis had done brain experiments on her. He said, “’She has been this way ever since we were liberated. People say I should put her in a home. I just can’t do it.” At that point the husband had been watching her for over 30 years.

This is hesed. Then it dawned on me why she didn’t want to go to the showers.”

What an example of enduring, unconditional, merciful, patient love. The kind of love that can only come from Jesus.  Hesed, enduring love, is what the Psalms sing about. It is hard to describe with one word. Is it kind? Is it patient? Is it longsuffering? Is it merciful?  In light of this story, let’s look at our own lives and note what kinds of love we are showing others. Try reading some Psalms and substituting the word hesed where it says mercy. Check a concordance for all the places it is used. Think on these things.

“The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in hesed. . .” Numbers 14:18

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Forgiveness or Pretending?

Lately I’ve been thinking about forgiveness and how sometimes it is pushed as the cure-all for relationship problems. All of us have bad days when we grumble, snip, argue, or generally want to be left alone and do not act like ourselves. When these responses hurt others, they can be quickly resolved by asking for forgiveness and returning to joy (being glad to be together) with those whom we have offended.

But it seems to me that major hurts can easily leave us estranged from others if not addressed. How do we handle forgiveness differently when the hurt is major versus resolving every-day conflicts?

Trying to get through a major conflict without talking through what caused it and potential consequences from it is like being in a car wreck where there’s major damage to the car and then driving off and acting like the car’s alright. Would we ignore the hurt loved ones and just get into the car and try to drive away? Is it possible to think, “Oh, the car is messed up but it will be OK; it still drives.” I doubt many of us would respond this way. We would want to talk through the cause of the accident and the consequences it brings. We would not just “forgive and go on.”

So it needs to be with major breaches in our relationships. It can feel awkward and even scary to talk about the difficulties and to sit with others whom we’ve hurt or who have hurt us, but when major hurts happen they need to be discussed and learned from, not just forgiven. When we fear discussing and working through rifts, and decide not to talk it through with others who are involved, forgiveness can be more like pretending. It can be like getting in the wrecked car and driving away as if the pain from such an event doesn’t exist. Our fear over the potential conflict involved in working through major issues often keeps us from truly forgiving and reconciling. (For this look at forgiveness I am not ignoring the fact that some relationships can never be reconciled face-to-face and forgiveness has to take place in spite of never being discussed.)

Let’s look at this from another angle: How does forgiveness fit with identity? If we can see the other person as who they truly are in Christ, we can see that how they acted in the moment that caused us pain is really not how they want to act with us. It can help us overcome our fear of checking out causes and consequences together, and it can make resolutions easier. When major breaches happen, they most likely happen when we are not acting like ourselves. The hurtful behavior does not reflect who we are in Christ. Who we are, and who the other person is, is more important than what we did in the moment that the hurt happened. The relationship is more important than the problem. The problems get worse when fear is greater than the desire to return to joy (be glad to be together again). The questions are more like this: “Can I chance helping someone who hurt me see that their behavior does not reflect who they are? Am I willing to chance that they will blow up, attack, reject me, or not listen? Is it too risky to give a good shame message?” As we depend on God, He can work us through our fear so that relationships can be restored.

Like our car wreck illustration, if we look at the need to overcome fear of confrontation using a scenario where a child is being abused, perhaps it might be easier to consider what we need to do. This is not something that we would ignore or forgive and go on. If the fear is too great to speak up, we might need to get someone to help. Forgiveness is not a band-aid to make pain better without addressing the wounds. Big hurts are a big deal. Pretending is not the same as forgiveness.

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Experiencing Immanuel

For the last few years I’ve been learning how to practice the Presence of Jesus and also I’ve been teaching others this wonderful way to pray and live. In my small groups we do Immanuel Prayer at each meeting, asking Jesus to show us where He is in the room and asking Him what He wants us to know. As I have been learning and leading others to experience Jesus’ presence, one of my desires is that I, and others, will learn that turning to Him in this way can become a lifestyle—every day, all day, not just at our quiet time. I want it ingrained in my heart to turn to Him all the time, especially when I’m upset, and ask Him, “Show me where are You are right now” and/or “What do You want me to know about this situation?” Sensing and “seeing” Him in the room or car with me changes everything!

We can “sense and see” Jesus in various ways. It might be with words as an inner voice within our hearts, a knowing within our spirits, a shift in understanding, or a picture in our mind. We might have a feeling in our body or sense a memory. The important thing is to trust that we are hearing/sensing Him if what we hear is consistent with His character and the Scriptures.  And practice makes it easier.

I’ve noticed that some have a hard time sensing Jesus’ presence and so this week as I’ve been thinking about the Immanuel Lifestyle and reading a fresh book on listening prayer, some thoughts began percolating in my mind. There can be various hindrances to listening prayer, but for now I just want to look at a couple of them. It seems that our current Christian culture has been affected by past philosophers and their teachings that emphasize that we are to relate to God through our intellect (Descartes) or that we can’t find Him at all because there really was no incarnation (Kant). We may not know that we are affected by these beliefs and that confusion abounds from them, thus hindering our ability to practice God’s presence. Since I’m not a philosopher, I won’t try to analyze these beliefs, but after we look at another hindrance, I will simply speak to what might be a better way to approach a true relationship with the incarnate, risen, now-living-in-us Immanuel.

The other hindrance to experiencing Immanuel’s presence at which I want to look lies on the opposite extreme of Descartes’ teaching that we can only know God through our reason or intellect—the pitfall of worshiping an experience rather than God Himself. Many of us find ourselves on one extreme or the other: I have no experience of sensing that Immanuel is really here with me—I live only by faith with hardly any feelings. Or—I have lots of experiences full of emotion and unusual phenomena but my eyes are so focused on my experiences that when the emotions are gone or temporarily absent, I’m lost and believing I‘m alone. With either focus—reason or emotions—we fail to experience His presence.

So where is the balance, the middle ground, the path to experiencing Immanuel? Intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures plays a part and emotional results of touching the Invisible play a part, but neither of these can take the place of Jesus Himself. Not even serving Him can take His place. He lives in us, with us, around us, as us. He has given us the means to hear and see Him with our hearts. Either we haven’t learned or we have forgotten how to hear and see Him. Maybe we don’t believe it’s possible. Maybe we settle for less because something is blocking our way to experiencing His presence. Maybe we are stuck in old beliefs that it is “strange or wrong” to think we see and hear Him with our hearts. Like any other valuable lesson, experiencing Immanuel takes practice and that spark of faith that believes we can learn it. We can believe we are perceiving Him and hearing Him when what we see and hear fits who He is.  And we might be surprised to see how playful He can be.

I challenge you to turn to Jesus, to pray with the intent to listen instead of talking the whole time. Ask Jesus to show you where He is in the room right now. Ask Him, “What do you want me to know right now?” And after several times that you have “seen and heard Him” with your heart, dare to tell Him that if there is any dark place in your life, (bad memory) that it’s OK for Him to bring His light there and heal your wound by showing you where He was when that happened. Practice turning to Him all the time. He is always there, always loving, always wanting your best, always kind; always strong enough to handle whatever comes your way. Look at Him, see Him, sense that He is with you no matter what.

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Addictions and Attachment Pain

What do you turn to for comfort when you are hurting? Sugar? Drugs? Alcohol? Chocolate? Food? Sex? Excitement? Activity? A bad relationship? Did you know that these things we turn to when we hurt are substitutes for what our brains really want? Our brains were designed by God to thrive on joyful, relational connection to Him and others. God made us to long for someone to be glad to be with us; to be the sparkle in someone’s eyes. Our emotional brain is wired to be in joy-filled relationships. When we are not in relational joy, it hurts.

Babies arrive with this longing for relational joy and someone to meet their needs in a timely manner; to synchronize with their cries for help—or their smiles for love. When those around us do not connect with us when needed, we feel great pain. That pain is often left forgotten as we grow up, but the wound is there. Along the way, we figure out ways to dull the pain of cries–and smiles–left unheeded. Later, those things we turn to for temporary pleasure become monsters hounding us to be fed long after those early years are far removed. The pain we felt when ignored, neglected, dismissed, or even abused is called “Attachment Pain,” the worst pain we can feel. Those things to which we turn for temporary pleasure that cover the old pain are called “addictions.” The cure comes by learning how to quiet the monsters while experiencing joy-filled relationships with God and others who want to be with us.

Quieting monsters is not done by will power. Quieting monsters needs help from others who have better trained brains; people with trained brains that know how to quiet themselves, how to keep their relational circuits on, and how to pass their skills to others in attachment pain. The wounds that made the monsters need to be healed by Jesus. When unresolved wounds and attachment pain roar and relational circuits are off, bad things happen. It’s impossible to solve a problem when the RCs are off.

When our relational circuits are on in our brains, we see people as people rather than as a problem to solve. We care about their perspective, their feelings, and the possibility of working through something and keeping the relationship. When the RCs are off the opposites are true. We just want the person or problem to go away. We get defensive, attacking, and/or blaming. Quieting and restoring RCs go hand in hand. When we can quiet ourselves, get the RCs back on, work through an issue relationally, and be glad to be together in the distress, the monsters stay small and more manageable. In the process we are giving our brains what they want—relationship, connection, togetherness, belonging. These are the opposite of attachment pain and much more satisfying that the temporary pleasures. Healthy, joyful connections with others satisfy. When we get healing from our unresolved wounds and learn new brain skills for quieting and relating, those monsters will be overcome. The need for temporary pleasures to dull the pain will fall away. Authentic, joy-filled relationships in community are what we are craving.

Click here for another blog on addictions and the brain.

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