Emotional Bruises

brown and white bear plush toy

Sometimes I notice a bruise somewhere on my body and can’t remember how, when or where I received the injury. Maybe it was when I was looking down at my phone and walked into a doorjamb? Or when I hit my shin on the dishwasher door when it was open? If I think about it long enough, sometimes I remember.

It doesn’t really matter if the injury isn’t serious. But if I have several random bruises at the same time, it should signal that it’s time for me to slow down my pace and pay attention to how I’m moving through the activities of my life.

This truth applies to emotional bruises too. This world can really beat us up sometimes. Have you noticed that, or is it just me? No, of course you have. The world does a good job of hammering us if we pay any attention to current events and if we transact much business out there. Cruelty, tragedy, and injustice pack a punch, even when they are not happening directly to us.

But it’s not just the world outside family and church that batters us.  In fact, we often get more banged up by words and interactions with our brothers and sisters inside our circle than by those outside of it. Sad, but true. On strictly a human level, it is the ones closest who can hurt us the most.

In the garden of Gethsemane, when our Messiah was praying and preparing for the agony he was about to endure, he asked a few of his close disciples to pray and watch with him. Was that asking a lot? It doesn’t seem so, but they just couldn’t stay awake. And on the same night, to know that one of them, Peter, would deny three times even knowing him!  I bet that hurt the Lord’s heart more than it did to have hundreds of people he didn’t know turn away from following him.

Jesus submitted to lashes and thorns and scorn and mocking by the Romans and the Sanhedrin, but he also received the emotional bruises of rejection, denial, and betrayal by his friends and relatives. Who was at the foot of the Cross, willing to lock eyes with him in his final moments? His mother, a handful of other women, a repentant thief, a centurion overcome with the fear of God, the Apostle John, and a few others who had made the trek to that awful hill to witness the scene of Jesus’ Passion. He didn’t have a lot of true friends left, and that must have been hurtful.

I never have and never will experience anything that excruciating. I am not pierced, tortured or whipped emotionally. Mercifully, these days I only get relatively minor emotional bruises, ones that fade away with time and don’t leave scars.

But when I sense that I have been emotionally bruised by those who love me, I consider it important information about the health of my own soul and the soundness of my relationships. I believe that we do teach people how to treat us over time. I own my part in it and take responsibility for the bruises I may have inflicted upon them.

If emotional bruising is only occasional, and not part a pattern, I’m apt to shrug it off as an anomaly. Maybe they’re having a bad day and are taking their own offenses and injuries out on me momentarily, even unconsciously.  I will take the blow. The Lord does this all the time, for all of us, and we do well to imitate him.

But when a pattern is revealed, I have learned to slow down and communicate. To value the relationship enough to acknowledge and repair the injury and refresh the love and connection between us.  To look at the bruises together, however small, and learn from them.

I think this is what Jesus did with Peter on the beach after his resurrection. Three times Peter had denied him. Three bruises. Three times Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me?”

“Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Then feed my sheep.’” (John 21:17)

How good and kind the Lord was to Peter, creating this intimate opportunity to restore their relationship. Peter felt the ache of conviction and it matured him.

Lord, let us learn the lessons of our bruises, heal and forgive quickly, and get on with feeding your sheep.

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