By Jan Alkire
Originally appeared in “Chariscenter USA”, March/April 1992
When fifteen year old Elie Wiesel arrived at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz and saw the horror that lay before him, a memory seared itself into his brain: “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God end my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.”
Although many memories take us back to joyous times of life and love, others give rise to pain and hatred. Wiesel says the flames from the ovens at Auschwitz destroyed his faith. Yet Scripture tells us that remembering is good. How can we reconcile these opposites?
One way is through inner healing, sometimes called “healing of memories.” In inner healing we enter into prayer, bring a painful memory of a past event to the Lord, and allow him to transform that memory. The historical event retrains unchanged, but our view of it and our response to it change.
This is what Jesus did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-34). Their hopes for a Messiah had just been shattered by Jesus’ crucifixion; they couldn’t even see the risen Lord when he began walking with them. But when he took them back into Scripture and remembered with them all the events that related to him, their hearts ”burned“ and they began to be healed of the wound of their loss. Finally, as he broke bread with them ”their eyes were opened“ and they recognized the Lord. Sorrow became joy.
Hurtful memories vary in severity. Those as dreadful as Wiesel’s are like a third degree burn covering 90% of our mind and soul. Sexual abuse, abandonment, the death of a parent, abortion–remembering experiences such as these can leave us in a state of pain that paralyzes us and cripples our spiritual growth. A Gibraltar–sized rock blocks our paths, and we cannot proceed with our spiritual journey until we say “yes” to remembering these past events with the Lord so that he can heal us.
Virtually every person on earth needs some inner healing because we are born into a wounded world and make wounded choices of our own. Therefore, healing of memories needs to include the pain inflicted on us by others plus the pain we’ve brought upon ourselves. Often the pain we bring upon ourselves is in response to evil. For instance, revenge, condemnation, and unforgiveness are responses to evil, but they may be even more hurtful to us than the original evil itself. Like picking and picking at a sore, these attitudes keep a memory open and bleeding until it infects every part of our being.
Jesus never plays the “blame game.” In returning to a painful memory with the Lord, we never find condemnation of others or of ourselves. Instead, we find the truth, and that truth sets us free (Jn. 8:32). We see the event as God sees it, and that vision brings wholeness. By remembering our past pain with the Lord, what was once a festering wound in our mind and soul changes into a healed memory. Good Friday ends; Easter arrives. Then after that — finally — we can experience God and life more fully than ever before.
This newer, deeper fullness of the Spirit allows us to go forth into a world that cries out for God. When healed, our former wounds like those in Jesus’ hands and side are visible to others as scars. But also like Jesus, it is in these scars that the world recognizes God in us. Once remembered with the Lord, our past pain becomes a source of new life to others.