Transforming, Healing LOVE

by Pauline E. Doty

With mental illness and #MeToo, I have miracles of healing in ongoing recovery process, forgiving myself and others.

The path of recovery, healing, forgiving, and finding hope has been my journey. Thank you, God, for all of your love and mercy that have kept me these 74 years!! It has been a whole lot to go through, to live through. When I review my hardest years and hardest losses, I see again and again the loving work of the Holy Spirit, Redeeming Love, and Amazing Grace.

A sophomore in college, at 20 years old, I caved into psychosis. After several weeks in a state mental hospital, finally I knew I had experienced serious mental illness. There were so many unanswered questions. Some months later, with extraordinary gifts of courage and support, I was back in classes and struggling to find my way. I took Philosophy of Religion and learned about Process Philosophy. I began to understand and believe more in the God of persuasive love, not the God who many believe judges and condemns people to hell.

Why is there so much suffering and evil in the world? Why is there acute mental illness, even for people like me who were trying hard to follow Jesus?

As I struggled with my questions, I concluded it is not “God’s will” or the “devil’s fault” so many persons suffer with mental health issues, reckon with trauma from childhood, and war continues to destroy whole nations so needlessly. I affirmed in faith that this is the present state of the world, with the gift and dilemma of freedom. And God is suffering with the pain, the evil, and the tragic death of persons and the environment as we are.

In therapy I began to look at all my relationships. I needed answers, and I wanted to find and be a part of the “answer:” How to provide hope for the world, and hope for persons like me who suffered with acute mental illness and ongoing challenges with depression. There was so much pain and tragedy.

In therapy sessions I had the courage to talk about all the feelings and history of my childhood and adolescence. Many times I had not felt loved by my father. In fact, his many harsh attacks with physical punishment had left me with loads of anger buried inside. Could I forgive?

As I shared with counselors, went to church often, and kept a daily practice of prayer, journaling, and meditation, the transforming work of healing and forgiving grew year by year. I was growing into the faith that I was a beloved daughter of God. I was beautiful, deserving, and gifted.

In a revival meeting, I “heard” the Holy Spirit confirming my “call.” I changed my major to religious studies and decided to go to seminary. I took theology and philosophy seminars and practicums in pastoral care. I was learning from and through my story of brokenness, healing, and recovery.

Yes, there have been many times in my life when I did not feel confident. My healing and forgiving journey from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse has been a long process. When the painful and abusive experiences have been too many as a child and teenager, and new wounding messages and relationships follow later, the extreme need for grace and healing, mediated through loving relationships, therapy, meditation, and prayer are key.

Like Hagar, the mistress servant of Abraham, I have lived through harsh realities of “wilderness.” Yet the many, many encounters with God’s loving presence protected me and healed me in the midst of suffering. I stayed in therapy, and worked with all the pieces of my forgiving journey.

Grace brings me the strong message that God loves me, forgives me, and will enable me to continue growing into mature spiritual adulthood. I stay with the forgiving journey. It is a process. Grace enables me to forgive those who have hurt me. Grace enables me to forgive myself. I am freed to love and accept myself and to love others. I don’t have to go on in despair, wishing to die, to give up. The “demons” and despair of my past and present are overcome.

My journey of healing continues in all the tensions and times when I suddenly drop into more suffering, depression, and uncertainty. The questions of evil and suffering are never easy to reckon with or to reconcile. I am still growing into the beautiful, creative, loving, engaging, and forgiving woman that God meant for me to be.

We will spend our whole lives affirming, and teaching about the faith answers, and still know our moments of personal inadequacy when we are face to face with great injustice, severe mental or physical pain, unending suffering, and mass shootings. I return again to read Apostle Paul’s Love Chapter (I Cor. 13). It helps to sustain me in my most troubled hours.

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love (I Cor. 13:12-13).”

Here I AM! GRATEFUL for how God continues the healing and growing, strengthening and forgiving work in me today and in all these years. I can share my love and support with others. Often there is a strong sense of gift and miracle as I listen, respond, and pray with others. This sense of gift and miracle is not unique with me. It happens in many ways every day as pastors, chaplains, counselors, rabbis, priests, imams, gurus, and individuals listen, pray together, and share compassion.

I am grateful for each time I share conversation, careful listening, and encounter a great sense of loving Presence as our prayers together enable peace, healing, and acceptance.

My grounding position for faith, hope, forgiving, and healing includes a great appreciation for my Christian faith heritage. And I’ve come to believe that God is working in and through all religions to teach people to grow in compassion, as we learn to love ourselves, love others, and work for peace in our world.

We live with fear for our future with all the issues of climate change and the threat of nuclear war. The number of people with mental health challenges has risen during these COVID pandemic years along with gun violence, mass shootings, and deaths by suicide.

There is waste and loss in this creative process, but it seems to be the only way that God’s higher values of freedom and creativity can be accomplished in this world with imperfection at all levels. It seems to be the only way to build the kingdom of God, the divine commonwealth, on earth, as it is in heaven.

On this healing journey, I will continue to learn, practice, and teach redeeming love and non-violence. It is not an easy path. But I believe this is how we find and keep hope, and receive healing, as we face all the challenges of our personal lives and our divided and suffering world.

As I prayed in 2017 and wrote in my journal, I pray again today:

Lord, release me! Forgive me for not being able to forgive completely. And grant me a new experience of releasing my pain, my shame, my anger, my outrage. For how I’ve been put down. So my forgiving many persons will take me to another level of freedom and loving experience for myself and others. Lord, let your will be done in my life! For whatever you have for me to do. With however many days you have left for me to serve, to share, to teach, to love.

I know in my best assessment that You, Loving Creator, Holy Spirit, Jesus the Christ, enabled or allowed this very exact journey for me, so I would be most able to see and experience the world of tragedy and loss, and to see, experience, believe, and participate in the transforming “power of the resurrection” working in me and in others! To enable the bringing together of all God’s people. For One Family. No more Jacobs and Esaus! Betraying, competing, and then wanting to kill and destroy in jealousy and fear. No more believing that God wants to favor one race over another, one tribe over another! Jew is not more than Greek, or more than Palestinian.

So heal me today, even more, as I present myself to you for loving service. I review this past history, and I’m grateful for every year, every step that I have been following, seeking healing, forgiving, and Peace. Your transforming grace has been so present for me. In every counseling session. In many friendships. In many spoken and shared prayers. How your mercy has continued.

I thank you, Mother Father God! For your mercy and love today. May your echoes of Mercy and whispers of Love grow even stronger in my ears, in my life, so I can be bold to share more of the truth, and your healing work in my life.

In Christ’s name, Amen.

Pauline is a retired chaplain, and provides leadership for NAMI Connection Support groups. She earned her M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary, Th.M. from Columbia Theological Seminary. She is the author of Echoes of Mercy, Whispers of Love: My Journey and A Theology of Hope (AuthorHouse, 2010) and From Despair Into Healing: Workbook for Spiritual Change (AuthorHouse, 2022).

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Love Does Not Control: Therapists, Psychologists, and Counselors Explore Uncontrolling Love