Hope for Hurts in Your Past

Dr. Lucy Ann MollFor Those Seeking Hope5 Comments

“Hurt people hurt people.” Popularized in the 1980s, this phrase has been repeated, tweeted, and “TikTok”-ed thousands of times. Perhaps you’ve used it with someone to help him or her make sense of suffering.

Its basic meaning is that people with hurts in their past often hurt others. A Hindu might call it karma. The apostle Paul used the metaphor of seeds, saying to his readers that “a man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7, NIV). Put another way, plant apple seeds, and get apple trees.

How might this show up in our lives?

  • A father who routinely discourages his son may raise an angry man (Eph. 6:4).
  • A wife with an uncaring husband may become embittered and super-critical of him and her life generally (Heb. 12:15).
  • A young woman who was sexually assaulted may feel deep shame and have difficulty maintaining loving relationships (2 Sam. 13).

In this brief article, we’ll look at how we express hurt, where it originates, and what the Bible says about facing the past so we can move forward in freedom.

Two excellent resources for further exploration are Uprooting Anger by Robert D. Jones (P&R, 2005) and Putting Your Past in Its Place by Stephen Viars (Harvest House, 2011).

Outward Hurt, Inward Hurt

Hurt can manifest outwardly. We yell, scream, stomp our feet, and make life miserable for the people around us—the proverbial two-year-old having a tantrum, but this time in an adult body.

Hurt can turn inward. We become self-critical tormentors hurling insults at ourselves: “You’re so stupid.” Or we consistently set impossibly high, perfectionistic standards, guaranteeing failure, and then become angry with ourselves (again) when we fail to meet them. Sometimes, we self-harm. Sometimes, anxiety fills us with paralyzing fear. Sometimes, we despair.

What is a difficult memory from early childhood? What emotions does it evoke in you? Does it remain painful? How has this past hurt affected you and others?

Where Hurt Originates

Hurt feelings flow from the wrongs we suffer and the bad choices we make. If someone steals your car, you will be upset. When your bank account is overcharged, you might become irritated with the customer service representative. If your parents divorced when you were young, you may blame yourself: “If only I were a better little girl, they would have stayed together.”

Stephen Viars uses a graph to help his readers understand and organize their hurts from their past.[1] It has four categories:

  1. You suffered a wrong and responded rightly. Example: Joseph in Genesis 37-50. He was sold into slavery, was accused of a crime he did not commit, and was imprisoned, yet he took no revenge and trusted God.
  2. You suffered a wrong and responded wrongly. Example: Naomi in the OT book of Ruth. Her husband and sons died, and she felt bitter against God.
  3. You made a wrong choice (i.e., are guilty) and responded rightly. Example: Peter denied knowing Jesus three times (Luke 22:34), was broken over his sin, accepted Christ’s forgiveness, and moved on (John 21:15-19).
  4. You made a wrong choice (i.e., are guilty) and responded wrongly. Example: David commits adultery with Bathsheba and murders her husband (2 Sam. 11).

Do you have any unresolved hurt? In which category does it fit?

What the Bible Says About Hurts

Scripture gives counsel to all the hurts we may have (2 Cor. 1:3-4). As our Comforter comforts us in our afflictions, we can learn to respond well (Phil. 4:9), whether we suffered a wrong due to no fault of our own or we made a bad choice.

Our past is not nothing or everything, Viars says.[2]

If you believe the past does not matter, you might take the bad advice to “don’t worry, be happy.” So you suppress your feelings and put on a good face, but all the while, you’re seething inside, and anxiety bubbles up. You might soothe yourself with ice cream or beer. You might develop an ulcer, too!

If you believe the past matters greatly, you might see yourself as a hopeless victim, blame everyone around you, and become bitter, affecting your work colleagues and your children. When your anger persists, depression is right around the corner.

God provides the better way forward: turn to Him.

This doesn’t mean forgetting in the sense that you cannot remember. This doesn’t mean getting even either (Rom. 12:19-21). Rather, you honestly face your pain, joyfully remember God’s faithfulness, and willingly confront yourself when self-confrontation is warranted. As you do this, you’ll move forward in freedom from your past hurt.

You can shed past hurts and embrace your new life. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Ideas for Reflection

  1. Identify hurts from their past and place them in categories 1 through 4, described above.
  2. Do you tend to think your past means nothing or means everything? How does this play out in your life?
  3. In a case of abuse, how might you find support?

[1] Stephen Viars, Putting Your Past in Its Place (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2011).

[2] Ibid.

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