I see so many people sharing the meme that says, “When you can tell your story and it doesn’t make you cry, that’s when you know you’ve healed.” I wholeheartedly disagree.
When someone we love dies, do we ever stop grieving? Do we really want to? When we experience any loss at all, there is grief. And grief means the person or circumstance was important to us and is part of our story. Is an end to grief really healing or just ignoring and trying to forget? Sure, tears may dissipate, but I don’t believe they have to disappear in order to heal. In fact, I would argue that allowing them brings far more healing. I believe every moment of our lives, good or bad, is an important part of our story and should never be forgotten. We need to remember our pain so that one day we can recognize and celebrate the good that God made from it. When we look back and see the beauty that was brought from our brokenness, do tears of gratitude or even continued sadness that it happened mean lack of healing?
My thinking on this has only recently begun changing. I used to agree with, and probably even shared, the meme in the past. For so long I thought that if I forgave someone or let God have control of a hurtful situation, I shouldn’t feel pain anymore. I beat myself up as unforgiving because seeing the person who hurt me or thinking about the situation still caused tremendous pain. I thought that feeling hurt or angry meant that I hadn’t really let something go; that I hadn’t truly released it from my grasp. But we can’t just stop pain and anger like that. Our feelings are a gift from God meant to be felt, not repressed. I hope I never stop becoming emotional about my story because it means that every bit of it was important to me. And every bit of it is important to God.
So, if lack of tears isn’t an indicator that we’ve forgiven, released, or let something go, how do we know that part of us has truly healed? I’m not entirely sure and am open to suggestion but I have some ideas. I suspect that we have truly forgiven when we can pray blessings on the person who hurt us and truly mean it, or we can be grateful for someone’s joy even when we don’t feel it ourselves. I wonder if healing looks like smiling at the memories of loved ones even through tears. Maybe it has to do with being able to think and talk about the terrible wrong that was done to us without fear because God hasn’t given us that spirit, but one of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Jesus said “do not fear” quite a few times but I’m pretty certain He never said, “do not cry.” He would have looked pretty hypocritical if He did. I wonder if releasing something means we stop feeling powerless under it because God is powerful in us. Maybe it really means I have released myself, allowing myself to feel the way that I feel without shame. I wonder if it means we have sound minds because the broken person or circumstance is not plaguing our thoughts constantly, dipping us further and further into despair. I wonder if healing means believing that we no longer need whatever caused our hurt because we have all that we need in Christ. We may still want what we lost in our lives and wish things were different, but we admit that we don’t actually need it. Maybe we accept that we may never get what we want but we start to believe that’s okay because we will always have what God knows we truly need.
One of the definitions of release is to disentangle. I have a hunch that the things I still haven’t let go of are the things that are still tangled up in my identity or the way I believe and think. If the hurtful thing that happened is governing the way I think or act on a daily basis, I don’t think it has yet been released. Another definition is to allow something to move or act freely. If someone’s actions continue to cause me great distress, I don’t think I’ve let go of my control. I can still grieve, yes, but harm myself with constant stress over someone not acting how I think they should act is more than just grief.
One of the hardest definitions of release for me personally is to remove restrictions or obligations so that they become available for other activity. The problem is, I don’t WANT them to be available for other activity because that means they’ve truly left me, that something else was more important to them than me. I really struggle accepting that rejection and loss. So I wonder if healing in that area might be a strong sense that I am never rejected by God and that His acceptance and presence is more important to me than that of others. I think maybe I’m allowed to be sad that these people or circumstances are out of my life, but perhaps healing means that I don’t feel ultimately rejected because I know that I always matter to God. I think healing is a strong sense of who I am to God overpowering who I am/am not to the person who rejected me.
Another definition of release is allow to return to its resting position by ceasing to put pressure on it. This one is all about control. I’ve tried so hard to manage every circumstance and every person in my life so that I never have to get hurt in any way. But all of this pressure just ends up hurting me even more and ruins my relationships anyway. Healing = rest. There’s that ‘rest’ again.
The last definition of release that I’ll mention is to discharge a debt or surrender a right. If someone hurts me, I want justice. Technically, I deserve justice. But justice is not mine to take. It is God’s. Healing in this area may mean to stop thinking in terms of what the person owes me, but of the gratitude that we both owe to God for not enacting His justice on us.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). I speak this verse to myself more often than any others and I think it may have a lot to tell us about knowing when we have truly released something into the care of God. When we have forgiven or let something go, we can receive healing when it no longer fills us with fear. We are no longer afraid of rejection or ashamed of the way we feel. We recognize God’s power in us to overcome that shame and to know who we are in Him. We are able to love and bless others without fear of rejection even when they hurt us, because of God’s love in us. And we have a soundness of mind, a mind that no longer spins with anxiety and “what ifs” and “I should have done thats”. We have a mind at rest when we release the control of hurtful situations to God.
Healing doesn’t mean we stop crying. I think it means we cry without fear or shame. I think we have truly let go of control when we are no longer controlled by what happened. I think we have released when, despite continued pain, we are at rest with our heads on our Father’s chest, even if we are still crying in His arms. So, don’t be fooled by inaccurate memes. Our Father cares about our tears.