Beverly and I were recently at a wedding in California near where we used to live. When we first lived there, we worked at a lifestyle center. We had been invited there to develop a mental health component to supplement the 18 day residential program. Residents who chose were exposed to both the health and mental health components, and God did some very powerful healing as the result of the program. During the three years we were there, I also developed a Bachelors degree in Biblical Counseling at he college. All went well at first. There was positive energy and excitement about our being there and what we were doing. People were being helped and drawn closer to Jesus. They gave powerful testimonies about the benefit the experience had been to them.
But there were persons in powerful positions who did not understand our work and could not in their minds reconcile our work with the writings of Ellen White. They called for meetings to try to point out our “errors” and to suggest that we simply take our guests through the book Steps to Christ and pray with them as their therapy. We wrote and responded with extensive information to support what we were doing, but to no avail.
It got to the point where these powerful persons said to administration, “Either they leave, or we will.” The Board intervened and moved our program out from under the supervision of these persons, but when clients would register for our program, they were told not to work with us, and that we were of the devil.
After three years, it became clear that we needed to leave. Bev had been urging me to leave for a while. Michael hated being under the rigid rules that were imposed. I resisted for a while because I saw the value of what God was doing in people’s lives there, and of the degree program at the College. However, when a reorganization occurred and our program was put back under the supervision of a physician, I knew it was time to go. So, at the end of the school year in 2000, we gave notice and left.
With this backdrop, during our recent trip to California, I felt an urge to return to the lifestyle center. I didn’t quite know why, but sensed that it had something to do with healing and closure. Bev agreed to go with me so we drove there together. It was sunny when we arrived. I kept myself open to whatever feelings and experiences that were to come. We drove up the driveway onto the property, passed the Inn and parked behind the cafeteria. After we got out of the car, we walked to the Inn, and upon entering, saw two men who were seated, talking at a table. As we greeted them and began to talk about our history there, they told us that they were planning to start an emotional healing component that sounded very similar to what we did when we were there.
It felt good to know that they were finally open to emotional healing. It was as if God was saying that they had not been ready for what we did when we were there, but that He was affirming our ministry. We exchanged contact information and took a tour of the renovated Inn building. When we left, we drove to the places on campus where we used to live, did a quick drive around the campus and left. There was certainly still pain there, but it was not overwhelming. I had previously made a conscious decision to forgive those who had hurt us there.
Soon after that we attended a spiritual conference One of the teachings the presenter shared was the Journey of Reclamation where God had taken him back to places of pain in his life if a very miraculous way. These places had been so painful that he did not want to go, but God had so clearly arranged the circumstances that he surrendered to going to the painful places. As always, God had special gifts of healing for him there.
One of the most striking aspects of “reclamation” is the understanding that when we are hurt or traumatized at a point in our lives, we disconnect from a part of ourselves in that place. It is a form of dissociation that helps us to survive the pain when we are unable to experience the safety of God in that moment.
When God leads us on a Journey of Reclamation, He intends to restore (Joel 2:25) the years that have been lost. He wants to reconnect us with those lost parts of ourselves so that we be whole. There are some essential elements to the Journey process:
1. Return to the place of pain (Hosea 2:14). God often arranges circumstances so that we can physically return to these places. However, that may not always be possible. Therefore, God may take us back in our memories as we sit quietly with Him.
2. Experiencing the pain. It is natural to try to avoid pain. That’s what most of our addictions are about. For many people, the pain has been so overwhelming that going back there is quiet terrifying. Therefore, it is important that they first find a safe place where they experience God. This can be a literal place like the place of personal worship each day. Often, however, it is a safe place in the mind that we can see and experience in our mind’s eye. Experiencing God there and allowing Him to take us to the places of pain where we can be comforted is vital to this kind of healing experience.
3. Grieving the losses. Allowing ourselves to grieve with God is very healing. Some people grieve very openly with deep sobbing and many tears. Others grieve more quietly and internally, but grief connected to the pain of loss is necessary. It is important to identify what part of you was lost. For example, for me at the lifestyle center, the attacks were on our professionalism, the legitimacy of our ministry, the methods we used, our spiritual connectedness with God and our personal value.
Often the impact of these losses as adults are connected to similar childhood experiences. In other words, the power of a present experience can be greater when there remains significant children pain or shame that has been unresolved. We relate to the present experience with the tools or coping strategies of the child we were when the original pain occurred.
4. Reclaiming the part of you that was lost. Work with persons who have dissociated due to trauma reveals that it is important for them to reintegrate the parts of themselves that were lost during the traumatic experience. Similarly, during the Journey of Reclamation, when God arranges for us to re-experience a painful event from our past, he knows that there is a part of ourselves, most often of our child, who we need to embrace. He may give us a picture of that child when we revisit painful places and invite us embrace that part of our child. This work can be done in a safe group. God is not limited in the ways he works with us to reclaim our past.
As for me, I am still on my Journey of Reclamation. I see more clearly why God led me to return to the California lifestyle center. In addition to this experience, God has allowed me to go to other places that were important parts of my past. The most important thing for me is that He is with me on the journey. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Openness to God’s leading and healing is what is important. May God bless you as He leads you in the reclamation of your past.