This post is the third post in a series based on a conversation with Rich Plass on the Saturate Podcast. You can listen to the episode here.
Jared Pickney: That’s helpful. Would you say that one of the reasons we struggle so much to have healthy relationships is because of hurt? Because of past wounds we’ve experienced, which then broke trust and made it very difficult for us then to engage in healthy, long-term relationships?
Rich Plass: I would agree with that, Jared, wholeheartedly. I think we underestimate the power of the early years of our lives. Paul calls us to press on, but he’s calling us to press on in faith. He’s not calling us to ignore what we have lived or dismiss what we have lived. And the truth of the matter is, it’s our childhood journey in which the primitive structuring of our brain is being mapped neurologically. Our family of origin is designed to teach us how to be in relationship in healthy ways, but because of a fallen world and because we’re all sinners and we sin against each other, we get wounded and we wound others.
And when we’re deeply wounded by chronic dysfunctional behavior or sinful behavior in a family system, I think here of some form of abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or as van der Kolk points out in his book The Body Keeps the Score, chronic neglect is as traumatic for a child as if they were physically abused. There can be deep wounding that happens.
And so then we form ways or strategies of self-protection. And those self-protective strategies become our way of being “me.” And they may not be very helpful for relationships frankly; in fact, they may undermine the very thing we long for in our attempt to live in harmony or in our marital relationship in an intimate and life-giving way.
I’m mindful here of Curt Thompson in his book Anatomy of the Soul. He makes the comment that 80% of the emotional conflict that arises in marriage is within the human soul prior to our even knowing our spouse. What gets surfaced in marriage isn’t caused by the marriage. The marriage is only drawing it out of us because marriage is the most intimate relationship we have, and therefore, it accesses the earliest and most primitive, formative parts of who we are.
Things show up in marriage that totally surprise us sometimes. You folks in ministry have listened to plenty of marriages and you’ve heard the comment, “Well, she was never like that before we were married.” “He was never like that before we were married.” Well, what’s happened? The structures that defend us and protect us when we have to be close to someone come online in marriage and they show up.
A real part of our journey is the journey of healing our wounds. And I think theologically as leaders, we need to make two big distinctions. One is we need to repent of our sins. That’s true. We’re culpable beings, responsible persons, and when we do that which is wrong, we need to turn from it. We need to seek forgiveness. We need to confess to our Lord.
But at the same time, we don’t repent of wounds. We heal wounds. And so when Jesus came to save us, He came to both forgive us and heal us. The journey of becoming whole people in Christ.
Brad Watson: That’s so good. I think that what you’re describing with marriage even kind of relates to Christian fellowship or Christian community. There’s a lot of stuff that comes out when people are in a community or in these relationships within the Church. A lot of times people would say, “Well, church is super messy. And I’m not like this outside of the church, but in these relationships, this is where this mess comes out or this relational dysfunction.”
Rich Plass: Well, what should we expect? First of all, God loving us, God’s taking that a whole lot more serious than we are many times. He’s really interested in healing us. So He’s going to. He’s going to surface these profound parts of who we are, these early, primitive parts of who we are. He’s going to bring them to the floor. And how does He bring them to the floor? Well, He doesn’t necessarily do it by us reading a book in our quiet study or in our family room or front room next to a fireplace. He does it in the matrix of relationship, right?
It’s in the context of relationship that we begin to see our impatience, or we begin to see our critical spirit, or we begin to see our need to have power or to manipulate. We see that when we start paying attention relationally, and of course that’s exactly what the Holy Spirit is going to do. He’s going to draw to our minds how we’re doing relationally because He’s invited us fundamentally to be people who love one another, which is a relational journey.
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