- Association of Certified Biblical Counselors - https://biblicalcounseling.com -

How to Deal with Bad Memories

Heath Lambert: Our guest this week is Dr. Robert Jones. Dr. Jones is a Fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He is the professor of biblical counseling at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an ACBC-certified training center, and he is the author of several really great books. But this week we have him on the podcast to talk about the issue of bad memories. And the issue of bad memories is a really huge and expansive topic. But this week we want to talk about a very specific manifestation of trouble with bad memories and that is bad memories as they relate to a specific relationship. We are aware of many situations where a married couple, parents and children, friends. We exist in relationships, where we sin against one another, sometimes we can sin against one another in grievous ways and that can create ongoing damage in the life of the relationship. And it’s often the case that those bad memories of what happened in the relationship, create ongoing difficulty in the current relationship. Namely, it’s hard for me to relate to you in a positive and in a fruitful way because I’m remembering the horrible things that you did to me.

So, Dr. Jones, we are glad that you’re here. What, practical advice would you give to us from the Scriptures to help us know how to navigate relationships that are complicated because I remember bad things you did to me?

Robert Jones: You know Heath, I think this is a very common problem. I think all of us to some extent have those kinds of memories and particularly, when you’re dealing with some of the very serious kinds of abuses, that may have occurred and are very challenging for us. Yeah, I think the place we have to start as Christians, as biblical counselors, and helping people; we must help people think about God, in all this. We must start with the Lord in our thinking. And I say that because the temptation of course, in any kind of conflict, any kind of bad relationship that’s problematic is to focus on the other person. And so I think the starting place for us to recognize is that we belong to Christ. And a passage that I always think of when I think about ways that people have maybe mistreated me or rejected me or hurt me in some way in the past is Psalm 27:10.

It’s a text that maybe many are familiar with and it basically says that though, my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. And I love that passage because it reminds me that even though the person I’m wanting to have this relationship with has done me wrong, it reminds me that there’s a bigger identity that I have. And so I think we must always start with the vertical relationship. We must start with how we connect with God and that we see that our identity is in Him. What does that look like? That means as I approach talking with that person that day, I’m going to recite and remind myself of Psalm 27:10. I’m going to pray, I’m going to look at some of those passages in the Psalms that remind me in the midst of hardship and suffering who I am.

Closely related to that, before I get into the things I need to do to talk with the person but closely related to that I think is having a proper view of trials. What is God up to? Why has God allowed in my past this hardship to come into my life? And here we’re just talking about the biblical category of trials. How do we think about trials and mistreatment? And, you know, a classic picture there is the story of Joseph in Genesis, mistreated by family members, mistreated by bosses, bosses’ wives. The whole story of Joseph’s life found in Genesis 37 to the end there, his perspective is glorious. He realizes in chapter 50 verse 19 that, I’m not in the place of God. I’m not going to judge you, which is the temptation when someone’s wronged us, of course. But also, I realized God has a purpose in allowing this in my life. So these are the things we must start with. And it’s kind of counterintuitive perhaps for us to focus on the things of God initially. But we must start there.

I think as we move from that we have to recognize what it means to be forgiven by God, ourselves for our sins. And I think one of the takeaways from the cross, I think, Matthew 18, the parable of the forgiven servant teaches us this, that no one has ever sinned against me as much as I’ve sinned against God. And so, this person has wronged me, but I have to recognize that my sins against God for however many years I’ve lived, I’ve failed to love the Lord my God will all my heart, soul mind, and strength every day of my life since I was born. I mean, that’s a huge sin debt. God has forgiven me. And so, when we understand the cross in that way, I think it postures our heart toward grace, compassion, and forgiveness.

As we move towards the person, I guess my counsel tends to reflect on the Galatians 5 fruit of the spirit, a very practical passage that we need to think about there. There are times depending on the severity of it, and if we’re talking about a severe situation, I need to be able to wisely and lovingly confront and bring up that. But only after I get that identity with the Lord settled…

Heath Lambert: When you say confront are you saying the person who’s struggling with the bad memories would need to confront the person who did the thing that created the bad memories?

Robert Jones: Yes, thank you for that. Yes, we want to be able to have a kind, but direct conversation about how what you did in the past toward me has affected our relationship and has made it hard for me to go forward. And can we talk about that? And the whole matter of conflict resolution I think kicks in at that point 

Heath Lambert: What do we do when the bad memory is something dangerous? Maybe there was sexual abuse, maybe there was physical abuse, something truly dangerous. Someone might be listening to this and they’re remembering something like that. How would we help them know whether it is safe to confront in such a situation? 

Robert Jones: Yeah, I think when in doubt, we ought to consider bringing in a pastor, or some respected third party. If we’re afraid of having that conversation in that setting there, I think that’s important. If we’re talking about something that was, indeed, a criminal act, then at some point, we may need to decide, we need to call the police or, you know, report, those kinds of things and we’re talking about criminal or abusive behavior like that. 

Heath Lambert: So, we’re talking about how to fight this temptation to indulge a bad memory that is blocking fruitful relationship now. You’re talking about some really helpful categories of trusting in the Lord, understanding the purpose of trials, understanding my own sin debt with the Lord. What else would you help us to think about? 

Robert Jones: And with my own sin debt with the Lord even though what the person has done to me is very serious I must, and this is a hard thing for us to do, of course, I must make sure that I’ve done proper self-examination. I’ve got to look at the planks in my eye and you know, if I was a child and I was abused, that’s a different discussion. But if we’re talking about adult things, there might be ways in which, while I haven’t done a serious thing against you, there might be things that I have nevertheless done that have provoked, not caused. I think it’s a huge categorical distinction we must guard in the Bible. Because the Bible doesn’t make the other me, the cause of your abuse. But it does say there’s ways in which perhaps I’ve provoked, that. Counselors, we have to handle that very, very gently, of course, because we’re going to be subject to all sorts of criticisms. Whenever we even talked about the idea that I’ve contributed in some way to this breakdown if someone has abused me, but we have to look at that and then as I said, I think we move forward with the fruit of the spirit. And we may have to as I said confront and bring up the hard thing. Can we talk about this? And can we invite a third party to help us work it through?

Heath Lambert: You know, and I know that there are people that are going to listen to this. They’re going to be thinking about this horrible thing that’s happened in a relationship. They’re safe, they’re not in danger, but maybe they’re in the house with a wife who has sinned against them, grievously or there with a husband who sinned against them grievously. And they’re listening to what you’re saying, and they believe it, they believe they need to trust the Lord, they believe they need to understand trials, they believe they need to look at their own sin. And yet they’re saying the temptation to be bitter is so strong. What do I do when I’m feeling so tempted to hit him or to scream at her or to get my pound of flesh? In that moment of temptation, what can I do to fight?

Robert Jones: One of the things I have to do, is pray, but I also need to get out of the room. I need to exercise self-control. I need to recognize that this is a relationship that tends to provoke me. And if we’re talking about any kinds of incidences of violence, I need to call the police. I need to get the pastors and leaders of the church involved as best as possible. And I said I may need to duck and get out of that situation and go to those authorities that God has placed over us.