Healing Our Wounded Hearts & Evangelization: Ten Tips for the Spiritual Battle

What is the character of God? What is His heart? At the core of Christianity is the belief that Jesus Christ, a man from Nazareth of Galilee in the first century AD, is “the image of the invisible God” — the “only Son” begotten of God; and that to know the Son is to know the Father. The Scriptures tell us,

No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.

John 1:18 RSVCE

Therefore, if we want to know who God is in truth, we must look to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In His words and actions and the pattern of His life, we discover the true character of God. We find these primarily in the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The rest of the Sacred Scriptures, interpreted through the lens of the gospels,[1] clarifies the picture even more. The whole of the Bible, read with Jesus Christ at the center, teaches us that God is a good, good Father, merciful and just; that He loves us beyond our wildest imaginings, and calls us to intimate communion with Himself. Indeed, as John the Apostle tells us,

God is love.

1 John 4:8

Obviously, it is very important for an evangelist to have a correct understanding of God and His character. And yet, simply reading the gospels and the rest of the Sacred Scriptures attentively and drawing from them the above conclusions about God’s character is not enough. This is because knowing God is not only a matter of the mind, but also—and most importantly—a matter of the heart. Reading the Bible should engage the heart, and this usually takes more time and effort than simply engaging the intellect. In this at least, knowing God deeply is no different than coming to deeply know a human person: intimate relationships take more time and effort than gaining more surface-level knowledge of a person.

For many of us, however, there is an obstacle to understanding the character of God deeply. Many of us suffer from wounded hearts. We were hurt by bad experiences that make it especially difficult for us to believe, deeply, that God is good. Though we try to serve Him, there is a part of us that withholds our trust. We love God, but not with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (see Mark 12:30). These wounds hurt our human relationships as well. Of course, all of us are wounded in some respect and to some degree (it is part of the fallen human condition); but some of us are more so than others.

What can we do about this? There are both natural and supernatural means that we can use to heal the wounds of the heart. Natural means include things like counseling or psychotherapy; and these, when done well, can be very helpful in the process of healing.[2] Other important natural means include getting sufficient exercise and sleep, avoiding idleness, and living a balanced life. The supernatural means are the various tools of the spiritual life: listening to the preaching and teaching of the Church, and experiencing God in prayer, in the sacraments, and in living the life of faith. Collectively, these means are the main tools of life in the Holy Spirit, and we all must “strive” in them (see Luke 13:23).[3]

Even if they are not always enough by themselves, the supernatural means of healing are the most important. For those of us with interior wounds, the effort required may be greater; but the need is also greater, especially for evangelists. We need to purify our hearts (See James 4:8-10), deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23); seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). We need to pursue the face of God like warriors and overcome every obstacle that stands in our way with the armor and weapons of the Spirit (see Ephesians 6:10-17).[4]

At the same time, we need to be patient and gentle with ourselves, knowing that God is patient and gentle with us. This is probably the most important part of the spiritual battle: that we habitually remember the Lord’s mercies; firmly grounding ourselves in the knowledge of His true character. God does not desire the death of the sinner, but that He be converted and live (see Ezekiel 33:11; 18:23). He seeks out the lost and rejoices when they repent (Luke 19:1-10; Matthew 18:10-14). He is always willing to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22). It is a battle in itself just to keep these things in the forefront of our minds.

Ten Spiritual Tips for Healing Wounded Hearts in Christ

Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.

Psalm 144:1 NABRE

How can we effectively fight the spiritual battle for healing? Here are ten tips:

1. Strive to understand more deeply the truth of God’s infinite divine love.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136:1-3 RSVCE

This is a call to prayerful study. Read the Sacred Scriptures and good books to better understand and appreciate the reality of God’s love, revealed in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. Understand that the saving love of God is at the heart of the gospel, just as the blood of Christ shed for love of each person is at the heart of His life and teaching. Understand that God IS love (1 John 4:8) and seek to understand this better. Pray and reflect upon these truths. Cling to them.

2. Strive to understand how the (at times) harsh divine punishments and “wrath of God” revealed in the Old and New Testaments is compatible with His infinite divine love, and in fact should deepen our appreciation of it.

I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath … But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.

In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; But with enduring love I take pity on you, says the Lord, your redeemer.

Lamentations 3:1, 21-22 RSVCE; Isaiah 54:8 NABRE

This is another call to prayerful study. Part of the difficulty in coming to know deeply the goodness of God, especially for those of us with wounded hearts, is reconciling the judgment and punishments of God with His love and mercy. Some people mistakenly “reconcile” them by an excessive focus on divine punishment that denies, at least in practice, the sincerity of God’s love. Others mistakenly “reconcile” them with a white-washed understanding of divine love that minimizes or explains away any reference to divine punishment.[5] Yet others emphasize both, but without integrating them properly. For them, God seems to have a kind of “split personality”: one moment He loves you, the next moment, watch out! But good theology and careful, faithful reading of the Sacred Scriptures would have us understand the punishments of God as acts of zealous divine love—teaching and purifying sinners, limiting and putting an end to sin, defending the innocent, and making things right. The more God loves us, the more He should hate whatever harms us; and sin harms us most of all.

One of the keys to understanding this, I’ve found, is becoming more deeply familiar with the history of the people of Israel in the Old Testament, especially through the lens of the biblical prophets. There is much that could be said about this. Suffice to say that the picture that this history paints is one of a God who punishes—because He must—but does not delight in punishing. He laments over our sad state— “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11 RSVCE; see Matthew 23:37-39). He is patient, wise, always faithful to His promises, and always leaves open the door to hope. In fact, by making wrong things right, the punishment itself makes the hopeful future possible.

Another key to understanding this is the biblical theme of fire: “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Jesus came “to set the earth on fire” (Luke 12:49 NABRE), and so “everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:49). Fire is a symbol of both love (see Song of Songs 8:6-7) and punishment (see Nahum 3:15, and many others). Fire is painful, but purifying: transforming what it touches, infusing it, and making it a source of light and warmth like itself. Yes, the damned in hell put grave and permanent limits on this process by their own free will. Nevertheless, from God’s side of the equation, His punishments are works of corrective, purifying love. Are we brave enough to accept this love, walking in His Way?

3. Continually make acts of faith in God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness, especially when you feel like you’ve failed to live up to His expectations. Also bring to mind the fruits He has already borne in you.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.

Psalm 68:19 RSVCE

When we don’t adequately grasp the immensity of God’s love for us, we tend to expect anger and disproportionately harsh punishment from God whenever we don’t live up to His call perfectly. But the Sacred Scriptures teach us that though we are all sinners (see 1 John 1:8-10), God is “slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity” (Exodus 34:6 NABRE).[6] Jesus Christ, furthermore, reveals that above all, God is a good and loving Father (see Matthew 5:44-45),[7] who loves us to the extent of pouring out His life for us (See Romans 5:8).[8] For those of us who are parents, our love for our children does not grow less because of their failings; and we do not kick our children out of the home for minor failings—or even for most major failings, especially when they fail out of weakness or they sincerely repent. It is no different in God’s case: “Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). In those moments when we feel condemned, we need to remind ourselves of the greatness of the love of God, our good Father. Say, “Lord, I believe in your love for me!” (See 1 John 4:16).

It is also important in these situations to recall the fruits of obedience that He has already borne in us. As the Sacred Scriptures say,

Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

1 John 3:18-20 RSVCE

Say, “Despite my many sins, O Lord, I see the fruit of good deeds that you have borne in me. Thank you for being my good, good Father; you have saved me from spiritual death.” It may be helpful to make such prayers at the beginning or end of each day, and you will find yourself making them also at other times throughout the day.

And remember that it is not the Lord, but the devil who is called “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10 DRA). God is the source of that insistent voice of conscience that gently calls us to repent and strengthens us to do so; but Satan whispers accusations that tear us down. Accept the voice of conscience; but reject Satan’s accusations!

4. In your prayer, acknowledge the reality of God’s discipline or punishment in your life, without letting go of the awareness of His constant love.

The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.

Psalm 118:18 RSVCE

We may be tempted to grumble about the difficulties and sufferings of life, but these are meant to help bring us to greater maturity in Christ. The Sacred Scriptures tell us that “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges” (Hebrews 12:6 NABRE); and that “he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share his holiness” (ibid. v.10).

Openly acknowledge this reality in your prayer, and humbly submit to it. Praise and thank the Lord for His discipline—for the difficulties and sufferings that He sends (or permits)—for they lead to your healing. When you are tempted to grumble, make an act of trust in the Lord’s providence: “Lord, your will be done. Bring to completion the work that you have begun in me.”

5. When you have failed to live up to your prayer commitments, make sure to at least to pray to God from the heart, in your own words, with faith and trust, acknowledging God’s patient love, even if just for 30 seconds or a minute.

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 NABRE

Every practicing Catholic, especially evangelists, should be spending some quality time with the Lord each day in what we commonly call “mental prayer.”[9] By it, we grow in intimacy with God and become more fruitful instruments of His grace for others. While daily mental prayer should usually be 15 minutes to an hour (or more), don’t fail to do it at all because you failed to do it for the amount of time that you’ve committed. It is not “all or nothing.” Think of it this way: Your Father loves you and wants to spend quality time with you each day. If, on a particular day, you fail to spend quality time with Him for the (let’s say) 30 minutes you’ve planned, then spend less time. Even if it is right before you turn out the lights and go to bed, spend at least 20-30 seconds speaking to Him from your heart—telling Him about your day and how you’re feeling; thanking Him, praising Him, repenting, and acknowledging His patient love.

6. Read and pray the Psalms.

Sing hymns to the Lord enthroned on Zion!

Remember your word to your servant by which you give me hope. This is my comfort in affliction, your promise that gives me life.

Psalm 9:12 NABRE; Psalm 119:49-50 NABRE

Certainly, reading and praying the Old Testament Book of the Psalms is good for one’s spiritual health. Its prayers have been repeated again and again, every day, by faithful Jews and Christians for thousands of years. But it is also widely acknowledged that reading the psalms is good for one’s psychological health.[10] In one form or another, then, our spiritual strategy should involve the praying of the psalms. The Book of the Psalms is the “divinely-inspired prayer book of the Church,” which covers experiences of both great blessing and great trial and expresses feelings ranging from joy and exaltation to deep sadness and despair. They engage our wounded hearts where they are at, and shepherd them towards hope and joy. They speak to us in new ways as we have new experiences and enter into new chapters of our lives.[11]

What are ways that we can engage with the psalms? We can read the psalm reading from the liturgy of the Mass each day. We can pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which features the psalms prominently. We can pray the Holy Rosary, for it is commonly known as “Our Lady’s Psalter” and when prayed well can imitate something of the spirituality of the psalms. Also simply opening up the Bible and turning to the psalms as needed can be a great practice.

7. Meditate on the Beatitudes and pray to acquire them.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Matthew 5:3-5 DRA

The Nine Beatitudes, found in chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew, are critical. They are the summation of the Christian life[12] and “are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching.”[13] In focusing on them, seeking to understand them, meditating on them, and praying for them, we can help ourselves transcend the spirituality of merely “do this, don’t do that” and finally “get to the point” of the spiritual life: reproducing the heart of Jesus in our own hearts.

8. Treat fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and excessive stress as enemies to be overcome; pray against them.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.

John 14:27 DRA

In gradually putting into practice the above tips, we become true spiritual warriors engaging bravely against the devil in the battle for our souls. The devil wants us stuck in things like fear, anxiety, anger, depression, and excessive stress. Even if he fails to make us fall from sanctifying grace, he’s often content if he can simply keep us wallowing in the muck of these feelings and the lies that are behind them. That way, even if he cannot drag us to hell, he will gravely limit our fruitfulness for the Kingdom of God. But we can fight back by putting the above tips into practice (they all should contribute to inner freedom from these feelings) and by specifically targeting with prayer our fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and excessive stress. Put them directly in the crosshairs by petitioning God about them. Regularly ask God to free you from these things, taking up the Lord on His promise: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 RSVCE).

9. Go to Jesus instead of your usual distractions.

Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7 NABRE

Suffering from fear, anxiety, depression, and/or anger, we likely (and understandably) have certain unhealthy behaviors that we have been relying on to console us or distract us from these negative feelings and thoughts. These behaviors may or may not be sinful in themselves, but they have become counterproductive. They temporarily distract, but ultimately perpetuate our problems. Often, these behaviors involve some kind of excess or other disorder in food, drink, entertainment, shopping, use of media, or the way we treat other people. We seek rest in them because we are weary and carrying heavy burdens. But Jesus says,

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30 NRSVCE

Perhaps our behaviors have “worked” for us for a time, but now they have become an intolerable yoke. Now it is time to remove the heavy yoke, and take up the light yoke of Jesus. Put rules, guidelines, and other limits in place to bring these behaviors under control. Get the help of others. Turn to Jesus as much as you can, instead of turning to these behaviors. Ask Him for help, and for the wisdom to know how to fight the battle. You won’t be able to do everything all at once, but with God’s help, gradually you will conquer the enemies of your soul. You will almost certainly lose some battles; but be persistent, and Christ will win the war.

10. Don’t burden yourself with too many expectations, beyond what is helpful.

Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Isaiah 41:10 NABRE

These have been spiritual tips for healing our wounded hearts, in Christ. They are not strict moral requirements. They are not meant to put an intolerable burden on one who already suffers. Perhaps you cannot do all of them? At least not all at once? No matter. In sincerely doing those things that you can, you are already on your way to overcoming the obstacles in your life. The key here is to let the knowledge of the goodness of God sink deeply into your hearts. Don’t mistake the means for the end.

And don’t forget that healing takes time. As you follow some of these tips, pray also for the various virtues you need. Especially humility, patience, and love.

A Healed Heart Bears Witness to Christ

Stir into flame the gift of God that you have … For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.

1 Timothy 1:6-7 NABRE

What does all of this have to do with evangelization? As we come to know God more deeply, according to His true character, and as our hearts are healed, we are prepared as living witnesses to the love and transforming power of the Lord. The gospel will be all the more credible because we have been visibly changed by it. We will have greater testimonies to share of God’s salvation in our lives. Finally, we will be greater instruments in the hands of God in spiritual warfare for souls: as we successfully carry out this warfare in ourselves, we can better do so for others as well.

Look thou upon me, and have mercy on me; for I am alone and poor. The troubles of my heart are multiplied: deliver me from my necessities.

Psalm 24:16-17 DRA

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 NABRE

References:

  1. The gospels are at the heart of the Sacred Scriptures and shed unique light upon them. Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 125, 127. <-
  2. You have to choose someone you can trust will not undermine your commitment to follow Jesus Christ. Whenever possible, try to find a counselor/therapist who is also a committed Catholic, or some other kind of Christian. <-
  3. See also Luke 12:31; Matthew 6:33; Hebrews 12:13-15; 2 Peter 3:14-15. <-
  4. See also 2 Corinthians 6:7; 10:3-5. <-
  5. This error seems to be the most common in our time. It may often represent an attempt to compensate for a hidden fear that God is not actually good. <-
  6. See also Numbers 14:18; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3; and others. <-
  7. See also John 5:20; 16:27; and others. <-
  8. “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Whatever Jesus says and does reflects the heart not just of Jesus but of the Father as well: “If you know me, then you will also know my Father. … Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:7,9). <-
  9. Mental prayer is a time of personal reflection, meditation, and prayer from the heart. A time of communion with God, often using sacred images, the Sacred Scriptures, or some other holy book as material for consideration as one carries on conversation with God. Father John Hardon, S.J., defines it this way: “The form of prayer in which the sentiments expressed are one’s own and not those of another person and the expression of these sentiments is mainly, if not entirely, interior and not externalized. Mental prayer is accomplished by internal acts of the mind and affections and is either simple meditation or contemplation. … In mental prayer … the memory … offers the mind material for meditation or contemplation; the intellect … ponders or directly perceives the meaning of some religious truth and its implications for practice; and the will … freely expresses its sentiments of faith, trust, and love, and (as needed) makes good resolutions based on what the memory and intellect have made known to the will.” Catholic Dictionary: An Abridged and Updated Edition of Modern Catholic Dictionary (New York: Image, 2013), “mental prayer.” <-
  10. See Mental Healing and the Psalms. <-
  11. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 2585-2589. <-
  12. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 1697. <-
  13. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 1716. <-

Author: Mr. Mark J Hornbacher, OP

Mark is the Vice President of Programs and Director of Theology at St. Paul Street Evangelization. He has a MA in Theology and a B.Phil from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and a BA in Theology from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. With Steve Dawson, he is the co-author of Ordinary Christians, Extraordinary Signs: Healing in Evangelization. He is a lay Dominican, and resides in Sterling Heights, MI with his wife Gayle, and their two sons.

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