Opening the Door to those Painful Memories

I used to work in an office that had layers upon layers of dysfunctional relationships, and the only effective way to avoid the drama was to go work somewhere else.  Almost everyone eventually did leave; but while they were there, they had to put up with being in a place where once-reasonable adults openly hurled insults, undermined each others work, and maliciously spread gossip.  It was traumatizing for a lot of the folks who survived it.

The other day, a friend in my current workplace asked me some questions about that old job, and when I began talking about it, I felt myself getting stressed.  I unconsciously began fidgeting with my hands, shivering slightly, and breathing more shallowly.  It was like I was back in my old office again.

I was disappointed at how easily I plunged back into my old reality.  It reminded me of a friend I was talking to a while back.  He had spent a great deal of time in isolation as a kid because his parents got home from work late and no one else was around.  As I asked probing questions about what it was like for him to spend so many hours alone, he got choked up.  And my friend, who is not known for being sentimental, lost his composure and wiped a tear away.  He was back in his old house.  His old house was still inside him.

The Spaces that Define Us

We have spaces inside our souls that look just like the places where painful things happened – the middle school bathroom where we were bullied, the closet where we discovered pornography, the bedroom we were in when our parents said they were getting a divorce.  And when we stumble upon them, we have a choice: We either preserve them like shrines in our souls, or we invite the Holy Spirit into those spaces.

The choice is harder than it seems, because on the one hand, it’s hard to open the door to those spaces and revisit the pain.  And on the other hand, those spaces give us a sense of identity.  We might even enjoy, in a twisted sense, the cheap significance that comes with being a victim.  But if we’re going to move forward without being defined by what happened in the past, it’s going to require housecleaning in our souls.

We’ve got to invite the Holy Spirit into those spaces, to heal the open wounds that resemble a door to a middle school bathroom, a closet, a bedroom.  And when we step into those places with Him, we must allow the Word to wash over the memories that keep those spaces alive inside us.

It will not take the memories away, but it will redefine them when we begin to see that “[we] have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer [we] who live, but Christ who lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20).  And if we suspect that these spaces are inside us, but we don’t even know where to start in locating them, we can always join David in praying the prayer from Psalm 139:22-23:

Search me, O God, and know my heart.
Try me and know my thoughts.
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

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  1. Graeme Phillips

    I suppose this is getting into the subject of Christian counselling. My pastor wrote a book about this subject ( He also wrote an article at , though it speaks more about admonition.


  2. Josh, great essay. And so true. But I’d like to add one more reason we often have a hard time letting go. It isn’t always that we enjoy the “cheap significance”. Sometimes, it is that holding on seems the only place where outrage at the offense can exist, especially if the offense occurred in secret or isn’t believed/understood by parents. It can feel like “If I don’t stay outraged by this, no one else ever will.” I certainly felt this way, until I realized that actually God did see, and was outraged …. when that truth finally took hold in me, letting go was possible. And that made all the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Annie, that is such a wonderful point. Thank you for sharing it.


  3. Rebecca

    Annie, I agree with you and feel the same way.

    Josh from what your saying here in this post and previous posts to move forward you must read the Bible and talk to someone you trust about what happened. Would that be correct?


    1. Not exactly. I think we need to be vulnerable with the Holy Spirit and with other people, and we need to believe and saturate in the truth about ourselves, which, for believers, is found in Scripture.


  4. lynettedavis

    Great post. Thank you for sharing it with me.


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