Taking Painful Memories Captive

painful memories

The issue of whether or not God heals painful memories can be somewhat controversial within the body of Christ. I had just finished reading an article by a Christian in which he called inner healing a bunch of psychobabble. I am not sure why I bothered to read it because I usually steer clear of articles that are filled to the brim with judgment and contempt. Why court any more condemnation than I already face?

But the Lord drew my attention to 1 Corinthians 10:5. Most Christians are familiar with this scripture. It reads:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I waited for Him to speak to my spirit about the application and then it hit me. Memories are thoughts! Painful memories exist as images in our brain. And just like all of our thought life, not all of our interpretations of our painful memories are accurate. Often we surround them with liespainful memories which are also thoughts. Even our memories are not exempt from distortion. We think of ourselves as accurate recorders of our own life experiences, but that is not necessarily so. If our memories were that good, we would all have gotten a 4.0 in school!

In fact, to bring our painful memories to the foot of the cross is to demolish those arguments and pretensions within ourselves that exalt themselves over the knowledge of God. As a person with a full catalog of painful memories, I can attest to the fact that often my hurtful experiences prevent healthy relationships with myself, others, and God.

I confess that I am often confused by the resistance to the idea of God healing our painful memories. He is omnipotent and yet, He cannot do that? But in my experience, both as a seeker and as a prayer minister, I regularly see Jesus come in and transform painful memories into peaceful, if not, joyous ones. Women with memories of sexual abuse and rape regularly heal from their wounds as Jesus reveals His sorrow over the event and as He removes their deep sense of shame. They forgive their predators and leave with their most degrading experience cleansed of agony.

The event itself did not change, but their memory of it has.

I used to wonder how He could do this, heal these experiences that live in the past. But once I realized that God lives outside of time, being the creator of it, all things become possible, do they not? Perhaps the fear lies in what Charles Kraft calls faith pictures. Many in the church fear that these constitute the idolatrous visualizations that many in cults and the New Age movement’s practices.

But again, I have to say that an image in your mind is a thought. Some thoughts are Christ-like. Others are not. But if we are to have the mind of painful memoriesChrist (1 Corinthians 2:16), do we say that Jesus did not experience visions, words from God, and faith pictures? He spoke in images, for that is what parables are. He regularly heard instructions from God and was even able to discern what was in the hearts of men because of this communion.

John 14:12 says:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.

In part I believe this means that we too will heal others, cast out evil, and raise the dead. But greater things covers a lot of territory. That I can regularly partner with God and see men and women healed of their painful memories seems pretty great to me.

I will always remember a young woman whom I’ll call Sarah. She suffered from a constant state of insecurity and anxiety. She felt as if she was always in trouble. Together in prayer, we asked where this feeling came from. Eventually, her mind took her back to a family vacation when she was three. Her father, an irritable man though not particularly evil, spanked her without warning when she tugged on his shirt to ask him a question.

Though not particularly painful, the spanking sent a clear and humiliating message to her. She felt ashamed and as if something were wrong with her that her father would treat her so without warning or explanation. Her thoughts ran along the lines of I am unloved, I am unsafe, and I am worthless. She was unable to experience the love of Christ because her feelings of unworthiness overshadowed her shallow assent to God’s unconditional love.

Enter Jesus. We invite Him to speak truth to these lies and suddenly, she sees Him there in her memory. He is dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, ready for camping. She puts her little hand in His loving one and He swings her up onto His shoulders and takes her around the lake, singing to her the whole time. Now the memory is no longer about the careless rejection of her father, but of the clear enjoyment that Jesus takes in her littlepainful memories self.

The fruits of the encounter are manifold. Sarah left her irritable boyfriend who could not be pleased. She ditched her critical friends. She formed new relationships with better people, healthier people. And as for that camping trip? She goes there often to spend time with Jesus. Seven years have passed since this prayer session and her face still beams when she speaks of it. Not only is the memory healed, but her heart is, too.

Inner healing isn’t the answer to everyone’s pain. But Jesus is. Our painful memories can be healed and our lives can transform for the better. Sometimes our painful memories are too much for us to bear alone, and we need our brothers and sisters in Christ to guide us through the storm to the Great Physician. But often, as the dark seas of our minds cast up painful memories upon the shore, we can walk down the beach with Jesus. He will pick them, the frightening creatures from the sea, and in His hands, they become beautiful shells in which we hear the wind of the Spirit.



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#Triggered: Burden-Bearing without Bondage


10 Replies to “Taking Painful Memories Captive”

  1. I just love this! I am always talking about how we should take captive every thought as well, but I guess I never put two and two together as far as painful memories go! What an excellent take on the whole thing! Thank you for sharing <3

  2. “Not all of our interpretations of our painful memories are accurate…” How interesting that our minds sometimes try to make sense out of a traumatic event, distorting it. And it’s beautiful how God heals a memory. It seems like it shouldn’t be possible. I love how you describe memories as thoughts, and to take them captive. Intriguing way to see it!

  3. Great encouraging post. Thanks for sharing. I think God can redeem (and thereby heal) our interpretation of the memory of events rather than necessarily the memory itself. Our feelings and subsequent pain associated with a memory is often shaped by our interpretation of an event, which solidifies in our minds as a painful memory. But maybe if we didn’t have the whole perspective but allow God to show us a new perspective, it allows us to reinterpret what happened and view the memory in a different way.

    It’s a bit like these movies or TV shows where it shows you one perspective, and then it goes back over those same events and shows a different perspective, and then you realise that you didn’t have all the facts to understand it properly.

    I’ve written about this subject myself (not the memories but the interpretation of events) on my on website.

  4. I know exactly how you feel. Sometimes I wish that he could just take the painful memories away, but at the same time I look at how far I have come since the bad experiences that I have had, and it helps me, because I know that God can turn something terrible into a beautiful testimony. Thank you, for sharing this.

  5. Heather Hart says: Reply

    I love this, Alice! I am reminded that there is no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ. The gospel is for our past, present, and future. Jesus can transform our thoughts and memories.

  6. Kimberly (CherishedWives.com) says: Reply

    This was a nice read, Alice. Timely too. I just got through writing a blog for next month’s newsletter about hoarding emotions and how sometimes we misinterpret an event (usually based on lack of information or maturity) and thus create a memory that is based on flawed information. I especially appreciate your take on women who recover from sexual abuse/rape. As a someone that dealt with that in my past, I found my healing and empowerment in forgiveness. Not in being a victim. Labeling oneself as a victim and allowing others to label you as a victim gives away all your power and I believe also prevents us from healing and forgiving.

  7. Donna Miller says: Reply

    I have been letting God take me back and give me His take on my memories, which always include Him in it. Thank you for this beautiful post!

  8. I agree Jesus is the only one who can heal us. There are things that can be worked through and come to reconciliation in the relationship… and still cause pain in a person. It is critical that we give those things to Jesus to heal and re-frame.

  9. This is such a great article Alice! Our perception of an event is our truth and reality if not held against anything else to test it. So for children and adolescents who don’t have the developmental capacity to critically think – this can often lead to skewed and inaccurate memories. When those memories are brought up and thought back into existence it is, indeed, important to test the truth and accuracy of the events to see if they need to be healed.

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