I received an email after a recent talk from a woman who asked what to do with the pain she feels from being told most of her life that she is worthless and unlovable. As Pope Francis has been reminding us during this Year of Mercy, forgiveness is a critical step in healing from the wounds others have caused us.
Here’s my response to Kathy (not her real name):
I’m so, so sorry you’re hurting. I’m so, so sorry these messages (that you’re worthless and unlovable) have taken root in your heart.
This life is a battle between good and evil, truth and lies … and we are constantly lied to about who we are. When these lies take root in our sense of ourselves, we are not simply able to uproot them on our own. But this is precisely why Christ came into the world – to save us from the lies that cripple us and show us the TRUTH of who we really are.
I have been on my own journey in this regard, and I have found a great deal of healing by learning how to forgive those who imprinted these lies on my soul. Forgiving those who have hurt you and sent these messages that you are “worthless” does not mean sweeping the pain under the rug or trying to forget about it. Here’s a very important passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that takes us right into the heart of how to heal from the pain people have caused us and how to forgive:
It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession. (CCC 2843)
Kathy, the pain and hurt you feel can become a powerful prayer. When we offer our pain to God, it becomes redemptive, not only for the person pained, but also – and this is the real miracle of forgiveness – for the person who caused the pain in the first place. The reason people have caused you pain is because people have caused them pain. In this sense, the pain you feel is really a sharing in the pain that they feel.
And this is how the Holy Spirit can turn our pain into compassion. Com-passion means to “suffer with.” You are suffering with the people who caused you this suffering. Offering that suffering as a prayer for them is not only healing for you, through the working of God’s grace, it can bring healing to the people who caused you the pain in the first place.
This is how we fulfill Christ’s commandment to “love our enemies” and “do good to those who hurt us.” None of this is in our power to accomplish on our own, but it possible for the “heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit.”
Here’s a prayer that might help:
Come Holy Spirit, come Lord and Giver of Life, I offer you my heart and all of the pain I feel in being told by (fill in the blank) that I’m worthless and unlovable. Help me to see that (fill in the blank) is also in pain and has been told the same lies. I never asked for this pain, but now, I freely accept this pain in union with the sufferings of Jesus and offer it in intercession for all those who have wounded me.
Kathy, entering into a prayer like this can bring miracles into your life. It’s not a magic trick, though. We have to be willing to dig deep. And that can hurt. You may also want to look into some good counseling. I’m not a counselor. I’m just trying to offer you a little (I hope) helpful advice.
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