Agnes Sanford, cataphatic prayer, Christian Living, Church, Counseling, David A. Seamands, Emotional Healing, False Memory Syndrome, False Teaching, God, Healing, Inner Healing, Jesus, Peace, Prayer, Recovered Memory Therapy, recovery groups, Refuge, rest, Robert S. McGee, Sorrow, The Bible, The Search for Significance, theology
It’s a difficult thing, this healing from misguided therapy. And lonely. There are no awards. You don’t get a coffee mug, or a T-shirt saying “I survived False Memory Syndrome.” Or, for that matter, one saying “I survived bad psychotherapy”.
I have studied everything I can get hold of, and my brain feels stretched and tired. I’m discouraged. I feel I have so much to ‘unlearn’ that it’s not even funny. So much of what I’ve been taught in this long journey as a Christian, and, I’m ashamed to say, so much of what I’ve believed and taught myself, is not even scriptural. (Meaning, it can’t be found in the Bible). It wasn’t until I had the space, time, and opportunity this past year to actually unpack everything, and look at each and every book and teaching I’ve collected over the years, and consider honestly where and who it all came from. Because of crisis, because of having to leave an abusive situation and raise two kids on my own, while working and going back to school, I just kept “doing” without stopping. The only times I had to think were the times I spent walking, and talking to God, and trying to process everything that was going on.
But I never really unpacked all of these boxes until we got to this house. We never had the room, and I never had the time.
A couple of years ago, a co-worker asked me to come and be a counselor at her new place of ministry in the city. It wasn’t long before she asked me to teach the group Healing for Damaged Emotions, based on the book (and workbook) by David A. Seamands. The book is based on the popular notion that we all need healing from our past hurts and damaged emotions – that our inner child is controlling us because we have ‘unhealed memories’ that, through a process delineated throughout Seamand’s books, we can be now be healed, and so move on to living victorious Christian lives. How the church survived without this enlightened teaching for over two thousand years, I don’t know. What I hadn’t realized was how much of his teaching is based more on Eastern Mysticism than on biblical truth. It was an obscure reference in one of his books to his ‘ashram retreats’ that caught my attention. Not surprisingly, Seamand’s was raised in India, and his beliefs are more in line with other ‘Christian mystics’ who are also known proponents of cataphatic prayer* and methods of inner healing derived from the early synthesis of the teachings of Agnes Sanford and Carl Jung. Somehow, and without our noticing, these teachings have crept into the church to the point where we have an entire ‘recovery’ movement based on healing our wounded emotions and healing our inner child. We have sin-specific groups that are based not on fellowship and spiritual growth, but rather on our particular areas of woundedness and our identity as a victim. Self-love is the new mantra of the church, but it’s bad theology.
I taught this myself, and now regret it, using Seamand’s diagram of the rings of a tree, showing how an injury from way back in our past influences our behavior today. While I don’t dispute the notion that past injury can still affect us in the area of our current thoughts and behavior, the biblical standard of sanctification is pushed aside as a means of wholeness, and a self-absorbed victim mentality now presides over the throne room of our minds. The idea that the root of our problems is low self-esteem, as Seamand’s teaches, is as egregious as the idea set forth in The Search for Significance, by Robert S. McGee: that the root of all of our problems is the fact that we are believing lies about ourselves. The two teachings, taken together, result in a self-focused, lie-based theology rather than a God-focused, sin-based theology.
I think we’ve fallen far, and I know many, myself included, who have fallen hard. We are wounded, not so much by our memories, but by the constant refrain that the only way to achieve a victorious Christian life is to heal all of our old wounded emotions. The problem of course is that our emotions are going to, in all likelihood, be wounded again tomorrow. Unless you find someway to cauterize those nerve endings, they’re going to get hurt, time and again, for as long as you live on this earth. It becomes a never-ending process of self-absorption and introspection.
Does that mean we should never seek to be healed from past hurts? No. Nor am I a proponent of abdicating therapy, or counseling. There is a time and a place to find a safe, wise person to talk to who can help or offer a different perspective, but it should lead to growth, wisdom and maturity, not stress, confusion and sickness of mind and heart. It shouldn’t cost you your relationships, your job, your health, all of your resources or your education. What I am saying is that we need to be careful. Be very, very careful about jumping onto a bandwagon without first seeing it clearly for what it is.
The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. J.G. Kennedy
*Cataphatic prayer is prayer that “honors and reverences images and feelings and goes through them to God. This form of prayer also has an ancient and well-attested history in the world of religions. Any sort of prayer that highlights the mediation of creation can be called cataphatic. So, praying before icons, or images of saints; the mediation of sacraments and sacramentals; prayer out in creation – all of these are cataphatic forms of prayer.” (From Seeing is Believing, by Dr. Greg Boyd). This book, like many others written by popular Christian authors, promotes the use of imagery and visualization in order to experience God and achieve inner healing. God specifically forbids this, however, and likens it to the process of divination.