by Dorcas Denness

I said to Karen, “I’m so sorry to hear what happened to your relationship with Sam. It started like a fairy tale romance but ended with a crash. I’ve never seen you so heartbroken.”

Wiping away tears, she said, “I thought God had brought us together, but after many months, he rang up and ended it suddenly. My brother said, ‘I’ll look after you. Come and live with me. It’s going to take you a long time to get over this.’”

I said, “What a fantastic brother. It will take time to grieve and work through the issues, but it’d be a shame if you let yourself sink into depression. Could I share a lesson I learned, with you?”

Some years back, my husband and I poured our lives into building up an outreach team in a vibrant Christian hospital. Things came unstuck when another couple joined us, having a different philosophy of ministry. Both of us couples left for other work after many conflicts and failed reconciliation. My husband recovered quickly, but I kept grieving, feeling ripped out of a fulfilling ministry. While serving in other ways, I often rehashed the painful events.

A couple of years later, I met an old friend who asked, “How’re you going?”

“Muddling along. I get my jobs done, but often think about the work I loved and lost. It should have never happened, but it did.” Tears sprang to my eyes and my voice quivered. “I still haven’t found my feet.”

I thought she would sympathise and agree how wrong it had been, but she said, “How long are you going to keep grieving? Will you let this incident shape the rest of your life?”

I went away pondering her words. Why was my wound still so raw? As a Christian, I tried to follow God’s command to forgive, trusting the Lord to act (Romans 12:14-19). When I unloaded on friends, I felt comforted. Oh, how I longed to get out of the dumps, but thoughts of the past kept filling my mind like a movie. Talking and praying were cathartic, but I had slipped into a victim mentality.

A statement by Martyn Lloyd Jones spoke to me: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”

He was right. My Western upbringing had trained me to listen to my feelings. I decided on a different tack: to speak to myself instead of letting feelings direct me. Easy to say, hard to do.

I knew many relevant truths and principles from the Bible, things I’d gleaned during daily devotional times. So, when negative thoughts assailed me, I shielded myself with words of faith: I’m not going down that route. I’m not a victim but a child of God (John 1:12). I am in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Lord will work all things out for good (Romans 8:28). I must not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). I choose to follow Jesus, who kept his eyes on his Heavenly Father for direction. In all his sufferings he never ‘licked his wounds’.

The fact that Jesus didn’t ‘lick his wounds’ challenged me. Was my condition similar to the neighbour’s dog who had a festering wound? That beautiful Labrador kept licking her wound which made the lesion grow larger. The neighbour brought her to the vet who said: “If we stop the licking and give medicine, the wound will heal.” He put a cone around the dog’s neck so her tongue couldn’t reach the sore, gave her antibiotics, and within weeks she was completely well.

I learned a lesson that applies to many situations. So many of us have wounds that we instinctively lick. No doubt repeated licking eases the pain but long term, works against us.

I said to that young woman at the beginning of this article, “You don’t have to take a long time to recover. As a Christian, you have the wonderful resource of Christ who binds up the broken hearted. His word can overcome debilitating thoughts. You can’t change what happened, but you can change your response, which can set you free to function well in the future.” What happened to her? She bounced back much more quickly than any of us expected.

How long will we lick our wounds? May the Lord give us wisdom for how long, and the grace to lift our faces upwards to avail ourselves of the person and power of Christ, that we may reflect the glory of God through our difficulties.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?

Why the unease within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him,

my Saviour and my God (Psalm 42:11).

–  Dorcas Denness