By Gail Johnsen

Rehabilitating the Soul – Part 1

After my workout at the gym one day, while doing a routine stretching exercise, I heard a snap. Immediately I felt a sharp pain in the back of my leg.  I knew instantly I’d pulled my hamstring.  Serious? I was being careful! I was doing everything right! How did that happen? I wanted to scream. Someone helped me up but I could barely walk. I hobbled home, frustrated and angry.

So I found out that typical injury symptoms for this kind of injury includes tightness, general soreness, dull ache, throbbing, sharp pain, and numbness. I treated my injury as best I could but recovery was more painful and lasted longer than I anticipated.  It sidelined me for six weeks.  Eventually I was able to put more weight on that leg but I found myself “baby-ing” it, holding back from my usual intensity for fear of re-injury.  I even adjusted my workout routine that didn’t require use of that muscle. I didn’t want to risk the possibility of re-injury or more pain.

forgiveness 1The reality of ministry is it carries it’s own kind of woundedness. People wound us with words said or inconsiderate behavior. These injuries can occur any time, taking us by surprise, even when we are doing everything right. No doubt it is hard when something happens to you that isn’t your fault. You feel betrayed by the people you should have been able to trust the most. The temptation is strong to react to this kind of injury by “tucking in” and self-protecting. We don’t pull ourselves out of ministry (or perhaps we do!) but we begin to live dutifully, guarded, and cautious. We vow to ourselves that we will never be hurt like that again. The problem is that this “shift” is so imperceptible. Our hearts have turned and we don’t even know it. So we hobble around with a tightness, a dull ache, most often a numbness, in our soul, with little to offer those we serve.

With my torn hamstring I knew I needed physical therapy.  I had to work to re-strengthen that area, or a scar tissue would develop that is not as flexible and may lead to the same reoccurring injury. We need the same prescription for our spiritual injury.

Sometimes, however, instead of pursuing healing, we focus our attention on anything that would distract us from the source of the pain, (family, pleasure, “I think I’ll redecorate the house.”) More often, and even more destructive, we become frozen in time at that point of hurt and we allow “scar tissue” to form in our hearts. When that happens our lives soon become defined by our pain, and we wonder if we will ever fully recover.

Hebrews 12:14-15 offers us a stern (and scary!) warning: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Emphasis mine.)

When we “baby” our pain (rehearse and retain it), a bitter root forms and grows deep in our hearts, and, like a physical injury, it can “sideline” us. According to this passage in Hebrews, what it actually does is cause us to “fall short” of the grace of God in our own lives. In other words, if we don’t pursue healing (forgiveness), God’s creative, dynamic, life-giving activity and on-going work of healing and restoration in our lives gets cut off and our ability to experience his transforming presence will diminish. (That’s how I like to define grace: God’s powerfully creative, continually redemptive work in our lives!) This is the grace that keeps us alive spiritually! This makes unforgiveness no small thing! Unforgiveness will keep you from experiencing the fullness of all that God has for you. What we discover is forgiveness is more about us and our well-being than about someone else and what they did. Thus, tragically and ultimately, the writer of Hebrews tells us, without pursuing healing from injury, our soul will atrophy because it has been cut off from the life-giving flow of God’s gracious work in our lives.

No doubt ministry is messy and sometimes it hurts even when we are doing everything right. There are no slick formulas that make it all better. The soul’s journey to back to heath is not so much about “Take one of these and you’ll feel better in the morning,” as it is a long but grace-filled process.

So how does one rehabilitate the soul? That’s for part 2.

Recovering From Injury – Part 2

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Emphasis mine.)

So I don’t think you need convincing that when we forgive; when we release others from the wrong they committed against us; when we give up our desire for revenge, it’s actually ourselves whom we are setting free. We are actually freeing ourselves from the anger, judgment, and revenge that threatens to “cause us trouble and defile many.” We know forgiveness is what’s needed if we are to move on and live free from the weight of all this. We know it us who suffers under the burden of unforgiveness. We know that we need to forgive with the same grace as we have been forgiven. We get it. There are enough blogs, articles and sermons about the need to forgive…for our own sake. But our actual experience of forgiveness often feels completely different than we imagine it to be.

Perhaps you had the courage and stepped across that line and took action: you made a phone call or met face-to-face over coffee or wrote a difficult letter. Maybe those that hurt you are not available for such restitution, but you vividly remember releasing your need to get revenge or see them suffer. Maybe you even said out loud, “I forgive you!” knowing that this came from a deep part of our soul and it was the realest thing about you.  Why is it then that every time you remember the moment of betrayal, all the pain comes rushing back again? I forgave them! You protest. Why does the pain persist? You thought forgiveness would stop the pain. And you feel ashamed or confused that it didn’t “work.”

It does. But forgiveness is not just a one-time event. It’s not a single moment in time. Forgiveness is on-going. Forgiveness requires that we forgive, again and again and again. So what’s with that? Does that mean we will spend a lifetime in a cycle of pain and forgiveness? Does it mean we will never really be free from the hold our pain has on our lives?

It helps me to think of forgiveness like a very large…huge… bell. Every time it makes its monstrous clang it causes you to remember that unforgettable moment of hurt and your pain comes flooding in. Yet with each clang, instead of this being a place of shame or anger, this becomes an opportunity of grace in your life to extend forgiveness. It is a sheer act of surrender but it becomes a place of healing. Then it clangs again. The pain returns and you tenaciously offer forgiveness again. And again. And again. Eventually, however, as all bells do, the clanging loses its momentum and power. Each subsequent clang gets softer, losing its strength. The frequency between clangs lessens and your healing comes, grace upon grace, with each intentional act of forgiveness. Until one day you wake up and, much to your surprise, you are no longer angry. There is no searing guilt. You are no longer consumed with the need for revenge. Forgiveness has completed its work. You feel truly free…for the first time.

The amazing thing is…you are now in a place of actually blessing those that hurt you. When fear and shame no longer control you, you stand at a place of living from a place of wholeness and are able to offer something life-giving to others.

Ministry will always be messy. Injuries occur even when we are following the rules.  The reality is we don’t have to hobble around any more. Is this easy?  It’s incredibly difficult. Daily we are confronted again and again with the choice of surrendering our pain or retaining it. True freedom and healing from our hurt is available but we must partner with the process. Yet, 2 Cor. 5:19 reminds us, “I want to remind you that you have a mighty God inside of you, he has not left you helpless.”

May you set someone free and find out it is you.


Gail JGail is the Pastor of Spiritual Formation and Women at Faith Assembly in Pasco, WA. She holds a Master’s degree from Spring Arbor University in Spiritual Formation and Leadership and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership. She is an author, mentor, blogger, life coach, and speaker. The mother of four and grandma to six, Gail and her husband, Darrel, have pastored for over 35 years and currently serve together at Faith Assembly where Darrel serves as lead pastor. Gail is also founder and director of Keeping Company With Jesus, a ministry which offers on-line, spiritual formation resources for anyone who desires a way of living that cultivates a life with God.  Website:


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