At the beginning of this year, I was still grieving the alleged murder of one of my dearest friends, and I was feeling hopeless that I could ever find peace and healing again in life. My creativity and passion for life had shriveled up, and my heart was completely numb.
At some point, all of us will feel the impact of tragedy—whether it’s pain from our past that gets brought back up, the death of a loved one, or even just the onslaught of horrific events around the world that we hear about on a daily basis.
Over the summer—after a month-long illness, meaningful counseling sessions, and many intense times with God—He worked healing in my heart in some incredible ways. Here are some things I learned about healing from past pain and tragedy:
1. It’s OK to Stop Doing Something That’s Hindering Healing, Even if People Expect You to Do It.
This summer, I took a break from blogging because I was only feeling obligated to do it. There was no real passion or joy left. I felt guilty about that, but when I stopped, I felt so much relief. As soon as I gave myself some space, I was able to really focus in on some important things—like healing and writing a book. Over the summer, my joy has come back. I even started missing blogging a little.
2. Slowing Down and Resting is Really Important.
This summer, I got sick for over a month, which ruined nearly all my summer plans. While it makes me sad that I didn’t get to go on some of my expected adventures, the illness forced me to slow down. I couldn’t even concentrate, my head hurt so badly some days. So I did nothing. I read (when my head didn’t hurt). I wrote (when my head didn’t hurt). I processed. I healed emotionally, physically and spiritually. God really spoke to me during my month plus of illness, and it’s because I had ample time to listen.
3. Sometimes, You Just Have to Let Yourself Feel All the Emotions.
At the beginning of the year, I was trying really hard not to feel anything. My heart was numb. Well, the dam broke this summer, and I was feeling things so intensely for a while that I thought I might be going crazy. Every day was up or down. I’d be so angry one day and then so full of joy the next.
But through all that, I was able to process some very buried emotions that needed to come out. I detoxed from past wounds that had poisoned me for years. My heart cleared and cleansed, and I settled down, and I found peace. But it only came by being completely emotionally honest, which is always scary, because it feels so out of control.
4. You Never Realize You’re Healing Until You Look Back and See How Far You’ve Come.
Needless to say, when I started the summer, I was in a really bad place. I didn’t think I could ever heal. Gradually, a change has come. I can feel it in the beat of the rain and the whispers of the wind. Something changed this summer. I softened. My hardened heart softened.
Healing takes time. It’s easy to look at myself and see all my faults and how imperfect I still am. But then I think back to a year ago, and I realize that I have grown. It’s been up and down and backwards and forwards and sideways, but yes, the growth is there.
5. Forgiveness is Vital to the Survival of Any Pain or Tragedy.
Through my healing process, I learned to choose forgiveness over bitterness, cynicism and hatred. I forgave. It’s been a hard, hard battle in my heart, but now that I’ve made the choice, I feel so much lighter.
Forgiveness helps you release the stifling control of the past; it drops away from you like a stifling cloak so you can move and breath and dance once more. Forgiveness doesn’t make you forget the past, but it changes the way you relate to the past. It’s a process, and it will probably never stop. Now that I know it’s truly important, I’m willing to choose it again and again, over and over, for the rest of my life.
6. Love Never Fails.
I’ve realized that love is worth it—even if you’re hurt in the process, even if the world thinks you’re strange to love, even if you lose those you love.
It’s not violence that frees us. It’s not war or vengeance or hatred. It’s not being more clever or cruel or calculating than the people around you. It’s love. I want to be a loving person. I want to give, even if the world takes and never says thank you. Love heals our broken hearts.
7. There is Always Beauty, Even in the Darkness.
This world is often so dark and painful. It seems like so much unrest and war and hatred is spilling all over. But there’s so much beauty, too. It comes in the smallest ways—when the sunset strikes clouds blossoming with red, when you share laughter with friends over a silly inside joke, when you take a small step toward reaching out to love another. It’s all beautiful. Let’s fight for that beauty in the way we live our lives.
The road to healing is never easy, and I will assure you that these lessons are very difficult to learn. I’m not sugarcoating the painful agony of love, forgiveness and healing. Learning these lessons is the hardest thing anyone will ever do, and it will take a lifetime of practice.
But I’m here to tell you—it’s worth it.
Editor’s note: This article originally ran in 2014.