Healing the Child Within
Being Reparented by Abba
We all have a wounded little child within. We are not wounded beyond repair, but we are wounded nonetheless.
Reparenting involves replacing the negativity and the hurtful experiences of childhood with the unconditional love of God. Much of the depression, negativity, anger, hostility, rage, addiction, abuse, and anxiety we experience has its roots in the family of origin. Something went wrong in the formative years; negative influences now plague us as adults.
No parent is perfect. Some are worse than others. The alcoholic or abusive parent damages children. So does the emotionally distant parent.
Even loving parents inadvertently wound their children. No judgement. Most parents do their best and have no intention of hurting anyone. Some of us were raised in fundamentalist homes where we got the message that we were worthless worms. Others of us were doted on, told we were wonderful, and are ill-prepared to face adversity. Some of us had mentally ill parents. Some of us didn’t have parents.
Parents and caregivers aren’t the only ones who wound. Teachers, coaches, peers, neighbors, extended family members, even the culture can also. We live in a fallen world, so we’re wounded.
God is love. God created us to be whole. God wants to help us break the bonds of the past, snap the negative cycles that weigh us down, and set us free. Doing so involves a gradual process; it does not come quickly, easily, or magically. Transformation and inner healing take time. We are not actualized, we do not become fully human and fully alive, overnight. It took a long time to mess us up. It takes a long time to be reparented. Maybe a lifetime.
God wants to heal the wounded child within us.
Do I really want inner healing? We are used to being wounded. We are comfortable wounded. What are our particular psychological infirmities are accomplishing for us? Have they come to define who we are so that without them we would feel nonexistent? Do we fear annihilation if the negativity, depression, or anxiety is removed? Does the infirmity of heart or mind bring us needed attention or sympathy? Are we afraid that without it we might not be loved? Would the giving up of an intergenerational family trait be subconsciously viewed as betrayal? What happens if we refuse to join the family dance?
Some of us would rather stay wounded than uncover what (and who) caused the wound. Recognizing that my parents or caregivers wounded me will necessitate the hard work of facing truth and working through forgiveness. Owning my woundedness may involve facing truths about myself I would rather avoid.
With the help of a spiritual director, we face truth about God, ourselves, and our families.
Spiritual health may involve a shift in our basic perceptions of who we are – no longer can we be defined by the personas placed upon us by parents, society, teachers, and peers. That can feel like annihilation, nonexistence, unless it is replaced with a new and richer definition of self as Beloved of God. Knowing the truth is the precursor to freedom – “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”.
So, I begin by praying something like,
“God, I want to want to be healed, help my unbelief and conquer my fear of nonexistence, help me to trust that you will replace the life I perceive to be losing with one far richer and greater, exchanging my narrow hemmed in bondage for the expanse of age-abiding life in the fullest. Help me to face the hard truths about who I am, knowing that I do so in the shadow of your unconditional love. Help me to be willing to betray that which deserves to be betrayed because it is unworthy of loyalty, and accept my adoption into your family. And, Lord, if I don’t mean this prayer, make me mean it.”
Then the healing can begin.
The next step is to use our imaginations to replace those who wounded us with Abba. (Not the band – Abba is a term of endearment for God, kind of like “mommy” or “daddy.”)
We must learn who God really is, not based on early experiences with our own parental figures, nor our encounters with churches, but by stripping away all our preconceived ideas and approaching the scriptures with open eyes and hearts.
Gradually, with the help of good spiritual directors, pastors, scholars, teachers, and mentors, who God really is comes into focus.
As we contemplatively pray, meditate, read scripture, and learn, we discover that God entirely loves, unconditionally forgives, universally accepts, always understands, ever embraces, and is kind, compassionate, wise and wonderful. As we steep ourselves in the reality of the true and living God, we gradually come to trust God enough to let go of our fears and our need to be loyal to that which is subhuman. Convinced at our core that God loves us unconditionally and eternally, we can then allow God to become the parents we need.
Being reparented by Abba involves revisiting our childhood experiences, especially the hurtful ones, as they would be if Jesus had been our parent. We replay the tape of our memories, slowly, one at a time, substituting Jesus in our imaginations for those who hurt us.
But painful memories are often repressed. It takes contemplation, mindfulness, and deep prayer for them to surface. God loves you and will not allow memories to surface that you are not strong enough to handle.
Rather than the caregiver who yelled, “You can’t do anything right; you’re worthless!” we see Poppa/Momma-Jesus smiling; we feel God’s warm embrace and hear our Abba say, “Don’t worry, we all make mistakes, it’s no big deal; I love you and I always will, no matter what.” We bask in the newly created memory and return to it often.
As each memory naturally arises, we replace the negative with Jesus – we see ourselves introducing him to our friends – “This is my poppa, Yeshua, he’s a carpenter and cabinet maker, he attends all my events, recitals and sports and cheers me on, he takes me places and spends time with me, and never has a harsh word to say. I love him so much because he loves me more than I can imagine.” (Or, if father images trigger you, substitute a female image that feels right, like Mary, for example.)
The slow wonderful process of being reparented by Abba transforms us, little by little, from fearful, depressed, addicted, abusive, angry people into people alive with the love of God. My goal is to accompany wounded people to the Great Physician, the Source of Perfect Love.
Lawrence R. Taylor, PhD
Christ-centered spiritual direction