This is the 3rd is a series on how the imagination can connect a man to God. The first post offered some thoughts about the importance of the imagination. The second post shared how to use our imagination to read the Bible. In this post, I want to move in another direction: how imaginative prayer can heal a man’s soul. It’s called by various names, most directly inner healing prayer.
Inner Healing Prayer Explained
The idea of inner healing prayer is simple. It is bringing to the presence of Christ into memories and situations that have been pivotal and destructive. We do this by using our imagination to picture Jesus in the memory itself. The power of this simple idea is founded on two overarching truths.
- Jesus is everywhere, in all places, in all times, in all events (Matt. 28:20, Heb. 13:8). To imagine Jesus with us in a traumatic memory is not making something up that isn’t true. It’s the opposite. It’s calling to mind what has always been true. He was there with us even during those worst moments. It is through our imagination that we are able to access more clearly this eternal reality.
- Jesus doesn’t just heal. His very presence is healing itself. To sense His gaze, to hear His voice, to feel His love is to have sin banished, shame dissolved, and manhood restored. It is the healing of the fracture between a man’s head and heart, the closing of the divide between his public persona and private self, and the integration of his body and soul.
We know from recent neurological work that the brain itself can be healed of trauma. As a result, tools like EMDR and brainspotting have become much more prevalent in the counseling world. All of this substantiates the work of inner healing prayer. But it does not explain away the mystery or the surprise of what can happen when Jesus is present.
A Personal Experience
Rather than explain more about inner healing prayer (and there is much more!), I want to share two stories with you. The first one deals with one of my own experiences. I wrote about it at length in Chap. 9 of the Heroic book. Here is a summary.
One day in prayer on my back porch, Jesus pulled up a memory that had become the epicenter for so much destruction in my soul. I was thirteen, standing in my father’s bathroom looking at myself in the mirror and hating what I saw. As I left out of the door on my right into my parents’ bedroom, I remember longing to be one of the more popular or athletic boys in my class, but I knew I was stuck forever as me. It felt like a prison sentence. That event became the source of so much shame, jealousy, and self-hatred that would plague me.
But as I stayed in that memory, I suddenly saw Jesus there with me in the bathroom. He was looking in the mirror at me as I looked in the mirror. He didn’t say anything but simply opened the door out of the bathroom on my left. Instead of it being my brother’s bedroom, I saw a vast landscape of forests with high mountains in the distance. I knew immediately that Jesus was asking me to leave the self-hatred that had so corrupted me and go on a journey with Him. It would be a long way to those mountains, but arriving there, I would come into myself as a man, rejoicing in the life He had given me. Looking back now, this is exactly what has happened to me. I am still awed by the healing that moment produced.
The Experiences of Others
In my work as a spiritual director, I will offer inner healing prayer when it seems appropriate. One man came to me in a family crisis with one of his children and under a great deal of financial stress. He felt disconnected and angry toward God, yet he wanted to be close to Him again even though he felt resistance to this. I suggested to him the image of a chasm with a rickety bridge across it that he was hesitant to cross. It seemed to connect with him, so we went into prayer.
He imagined himself on that rickety bridge sitting down. It was dark and gray. But as he invited Jesus to be there, He came toward him on the bridge and sat down next to him. Then He put His arm around him and told him everything was going to be OK. Finally, He stood up and asked my friend to follow Him. What happened in that moment pierced his heart. It spoke into his present disconnection with God as well as his past disconnection with his father as a boy. It also became a watershed experience, opening new doors of healing and hope that seemed impossible beforehand.
I have many more stories like this one, all attesting to the potency of Jesus’ presence through our imagination. In each of them, I experience wonder and awe at how He manifests Himself. He is able to heal a man’s heart in profound ways.