Imaginative Prayer: Inner Healing

Imaginative Prayer: Inner HealingIn the last post, I tried to explain how using our imaginations could help us experience Jesus in the present and future. In this post, I want to go the opposite direction: experiencing His presence in our past. This form of imaginative prayer is called inner healing. But what possible benefit could there be in opening up our memories to Him? I think the benefits can be massive. Let me explain.

Traumas and Their Message

The way we see ourselves, others, and God is powerfully shaped by our life experiences. Sadly, there are singular events of pain that can shape so much of our inner life. We call these events traumas. Neurologically, the brain cannot organize and file away a trauma, as it does all other memories. Psychologically, traumas become trigger points from which so much dysfunction emanates. Spiritually, traumas feel like massive splits in the human soul.

On top of this, traumas deliver a message. We absorb that message unconsciously, even though it is deceptive or false. One of the core messages repeatedly hammered into me from my experiences of abandonment was this: No one will come for you. You are on your own to figure life out. This message then formed the warped lens by which I saw everything else.

We need healing from traumas and their messages. We need inner healing prayer.

The Process of Inner Healing Prayer

Inner healing prayer is imagining the presence of Jesus in our memories. This is not inventing some subjective reality. It is  calling to mind the solid, objective reality of Jesus’ presence where we have forgotten or missed it. For the truth is that He inhabits all space and time, He who was and is and is to come.

The process here is fairly straightforward, even though there are nuances and pitfalls. When I take a man into inner healing prayer, he brings up the memory of the trauma in his imagination, inviting Jesus to enter that memory. I then ask him to describe what is happening. It’s always surprising.

Often just realizing that Jesus was there elicits the healing. Nothing more is needed. At other times, Jesus does or says something that prompts a radically new perception of the memory. The split in the soul begins to close. The trigger point of dysfunction resolves. The memory left hanging in the brain is filed away. The sudden change can elicit wonder, joy, and tears.

But inner healing prayer is no magic. Neither is it some instant curative. After inner healing, a man will still need to be intentional about meditating on scriptural truth, choosing holiness over sin, and walking with Jesus. Inner healing prayer is part of the quick work of God. But His slow work of purifying our souls must still goes on with our participation.

My Experience of College

The best way to understand inner healing prayer is to hear a personal story. I have walked many men through it. But here is an example from my own life.

For years, my college experience felt like a black hole from which I was always running away. During that time, I had constant career confusion and was plagued by philosophical questions about God. I experienced emotional volatility and fell into periods of deep depression. On top of this, demonic oppression gnawed at me. I experienced this as a spiteful questioning of God and a continual pressure that pushed me toward the edge of non-being. It was terrifying. I hid most of this from my friends, often because I had no language to explain what was happening to me. On the surface, I appeared well-adjusted. Underneath, it was a surging chaos.

My Experience of Inner Healing Prayer

When I left college, I hoped to leave all of that behind as well, but it followed me like an unwanted shadow for decades. I never felt settled. A part of me was stuck as a young man in college.

Finally, I got the courage to ask a spiritual director to take me through inner healing prayer. She started by asking me to recall an experience of joy I had during college. One of the few I remember was playing the guitar with friends on a grassy courtyard of the quad. I went there in my memory and invited Jesus to enter. What happened next was totally unexpected.

I saw the face of Jesus as a huge bas-relief coming out of the stones of the quad and then moving along its walls surrounding me. In unmistakable imagery, Jesus was assuring me that He had always been there, both in my joy and sorrow. He saw me and knew me. I was not alone in my suffering. In that moment, something shifted inside me forever. All I can say is that my college days no longer held me hostage. I was not stuck there as a young man.

Some Final Words

If you want to know more about inner healing prayer, here are two suggestions:

  1. There are a number of books out there about this. One of the most provocative, theologically and practically, is Seeing is Believing by Gregory Boyd. Anything by Leanne Payne or Terry Wardle is also good.
  2. Come have a conversation with me about it. To start, email me at [email protected]

Finally, know that Jesus is in the business of healing. And He’s really good at it!


Photo Credit: Alex-Woods via Wunderstock (license)

4 Responses

  1. In am almost 70. Just yesterday I had a dear friend admonish me about my financial anxiety after we get to a new post pandemic normal. I was told God would be there and fear was a sin. As I processed it today, I realized that the anxiety is a trust issue from my father’s suicide when I was 13, my mother’s alcoholism after, and then losing my brother in a house fire at age 19. Do not wait until you are 70 to allow God in heal you. Please open the door now!

    1. Gail, thank you for the strong encouragement to seek healing to all who read this. We all need it, and Jesus will do it uniquely for each for us. I hope you are experiencing more and more of His healing touch.

  2. Bill, this was beautifully written, and definitely enlightening. I appreciate the emphasis on the relationship between God’s quick work of inner prayer and the slow work of purifying our souls through participation and obedience to Him. I hope you are well, my friend.

    1. Daniel,
      Thanks for your comment. One of my mentors in the faith speaks a lot about the quick and slow work of God, the miraculous and the ordinary. Both are important and necessary for our growing union with Jesus. I have experienced this repeatedly in my own life.

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