We have all experienced the suffering of a painful memory. Many of us have had moments when something from the past has surfaced which led to emotions that we would rather not experience. Whether it be pain, embarrassment, sorrow, or even lust, often our memories are charged with such emotional content that we recognize the disorder within them. Christian writers have developed many strategies throughout the ages to work through and experience freedom from such disorders of the heart.
We must begin by learning to be gentle with ourselves. A very big danger for many of us is that we get into cycles of negative ruminations in which we mistaken the overcoming anxiety of shame with contrition. There is a subtle difference. While shame (understood in a very particular way here) is often the result of our holding on to the pain of the past in patterns of self-judgment and condemnation, contrition is a liberating experience of the Holy Spirit in which we experience our complete dependence on God. One reinforces our egos, although in painful ways, while the other broadens our horizons.
We must always understand that the working of the Holy Spirit leads us to greater faith, hope, and love. Often, our memories keep us from entering into the surrender and self-forgetting that is necessary to fully live in accordance with God’s will. To work through painful memories, there are many strategies that can be employed. If they are particularly serious, counseling is advisable. However, for less dramatic memories, we should allow ourselves to bring them to Jesus in complete surrender. This means exploring and talking through the past in an intimate dialogue with Jesus, allowing him to show his grace in the midst of our confusion and pain.
I wish there were more resources that could help people along this path, or at least that I knew more about such resources in my Diocese. The truth is that this is something I wish to develop more in the future. I know that Neil Lozano has a great series on Deliverance prayer that has produced much good fruit. He tends to work in Philadelphia. I am looking to develop techniques that are used by Spiritual directors I know and to integrate them into my ministry. I have heard that they draw their inspiration from elements of the Charismatic movement, though I cannot say for sure.
In the meantime, I believe that all people should recognize that Jesus wants to heal our memories through the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. A good confessor, a good spiritual friend, and daily meditation are the ingredients that help us to address the past. As we learn to bring these memories to the surface in an environment of Christian love and tender support, we soon learn that our demons are not as scary as we thought. We discover the power to conquer them and to experience the freedom of the Holy Spirit.