Debriding the soul

They call it debriding.

Although there’s a number of methods for doing so, many burn victims are familiar with one of the most excruciating methods of debriding. In surgical debridement, the dead tissue of the burn victim is selectively removed, inch by inch, piece by piece, until as much of the burnt tissue as possible is gone, and the growth of new tissue can be promoted.

Utterly painful to the patient, it allows the new tissue a secure foothold to begin its progress in filling in the wound. Sometimes, as the wound heals, more debridement is necessary to assist the healing process. Each time is painful to the patient, yet necessary to the healing.

Compared to the process of physical healing, with excruciating steps such as those described above, the process of healing from emotional trauma would seem to pale in comparison. We think of emotions, and picture something abstract, unnoticeable, out there in an existential sense. Perhaps that’s our way of protecting ourselves – picturing emotion as this vague nothingness with no real meaning, drifting in the ether.

Yet, what is it about emotional healing, about healing from emotional trauma, that is so painful?

The Psalmist cries out in Psalm 69 for healing, and as we read it, we can sense the depth of anguish, the inconsolable feeling of the Psalmist as he cries out for relief:

Save me, O God!  For the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.  I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.  My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

What could have possibly brought the Psalmist to such a point, that he grew weary, parched, weakened in looking for aid from God? What could possibly have brought the Psalmist to such a point of feeling overwhelmed?

There’s more, though. We read the Psalms, and gradually realize that this wasn’t the only time that the Psalmist felt overwhelmed, helpless, weary, drowning in the midst of his misery.

In December 2010, something happened that almost overwhelmed us. Suddenly struck with a medical emergency during which I almost lost her, we lost a child. I often tell people I’m a father of four, but always, in the back of mind, exists the knowledge . . . the striking, sobering fact . . . that I’m a father of five, but won’t meet one of them until eternity.

Over the years, I’ve developed an ability (or a curse, however you want to look at it) to keep my emotions under the surface. Like a boiling riptide, simmering below the surface, ready at any moment to tear a person away, always there, but never gone. Maybe it’s the Irish & Scottish parts of me; stoic above the surface, but below . . .

A dear friend that was present in the waiting room that day while she was in surgery once told me that they’d never seen me like that before. I vividly remember the feeling; I was blank. She’d been wheeled away in a rush; nurses running back and forth, hurriedly, frantically. I’d said what I knew I needed to say before they took her, and believed that I’d meant it when I said “we’ll be alright”.

But when I sat down in that thinly padded chair, in the sparsely decorated corner waiting room down the hall from where they were beginning to try to save her life, with the lonely phone on the desk in the corner, forlornly sitting there, each of us willing it to ring with good news, I knew . . . my one thought . . . was simply a name in the form of a question . . .


Perhaps that echoed what the Psalmist felt when he said his eyes grew dim. Perhaps he too wondered where God was, watching with a dim hope, wondering, waiting . . .

I mentioned debriding. The process of healing from emotional trauma is a difficult one, fraught with heartache, pitfalls, anguish, silent suffering. Sometimes we see the debriding process, as the emotional wound is healed, the dead tissue stripped away to aid in the healing process. The tears are vivid, evident, plentiful. Often though, we don’t see the debriding process, as that wound is stripped of its dead decaying tissue, as the wound is slowly excruciatingly brought back to a place of healing.

It’s those moments of silent debriding that are most painful; sometimes they begin with a whisper, a dream, an imagined conversation, wondering what it would be like. Other times, it’s sudden, onrushing, like that riptide, with no warning, but vicious in its strength and overwhelming in its ferocity, tearing your feet out from under you, as you struggle for the surface, a foothold, gasping for air, crying out for help.

And, sometimes, it’s a shared moment, when two victims, in the midst of daily actions, share a dream, speak of a moment when something reminded them, when a sudden whisper brought it to the forefront.

The Psalmist doesn’t end with his dimming reality, where God seems to not exist. He cries out:

Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.  Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.

He cries out, begging for mercy, for a sense of the love of God to be shown in his life. Like the suffering soul, aching from the debriding nature as pain and sorrow revisit time and again, he declares his distress.

And God answers:

When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive.  For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

In the moment, sometimes we find ourselves like the Psalmist, blankly staring, wondering, asking . . .


And always, often not when we expect it, but always, God answers.

The debriding process may be continual, sometimes without warning, always painful; but there’s always the knowledge, distant as it may seem at times, that the pain will end, and when it ends, oh . . . it will be glorious.

When the humble see it they will be glad . . . For the Lord hears . . .

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