My wife and I love the television series “N.C.I.S.” and, with approximately 20 million viewers watching per week, so do lots of others. Maybe you do. The U.S.A. Channel regularly airs old episodes. One of my favorites is the thirtieth episode (they’ve done over two hundred) called “Call of Silence.”
Ernie Yost, an elderly veteran Marine corporal and Medal of Honor recipient, shows up at N.C.I.S. headquarters confessing he murdered his best friend Wade Kean during a battle on Iwo Jima over fifty years previously.
Task force leader Jethro Gibbs does not believe Yost really committed the murder but instead is suffering confusion, brought on by the recent death of his wife, Dorothy. Dorothy had once been the girlfriend of Kean and Yost now believes he had murdered his friend during a battle so he could get the girl.
Traumatic events, such as the death of a spouse, can, indeed, trigger memories and emotions, but what we remember may not always be accurate. All kinds of things can cause confusion.
As the team reconstructs the events of the battle Gibbs gets more evidence that Yost had not killed Kean. The question remains, how to get Yost to remember what actually happened. How can an accurate memory be triggered?
Gibbs puts Yost in a room. Grainy old black and white film of the battle of Iwo Jima is playing on the walls. Because that island smelled sulfurous, Gibbs had lit matches to approximate the odor. He brings into the room in uniform a former Japanese Imperial Army lieutenant who now runs a local sushi shop. In short, Gibbs is doing as much as he can to re-construct the sensory information that had been impressing itself upon Corporal Yost during the battle.
It worked! Yost remembers he had not killed his friend but merely knocked him out so his injury-caused cries would not have alerted the Japanese soldiers as to their position. Kean later died of his wounds, not from Yost’s knockout blow.
Sensory data (the things we see, smell, hear, taste and touch) often get linked with emotionally heightened experiences and get bundled together in our memories.
Later on, we encounter a similar bit of sensory information and something is triggered. We may remember the past painful experience accurately, we may remember it in a distorted way, or we might just relive an emotion but not know why we’re feeling what we feel.
Years ago I was at an event in London. A woman I had never previously met walked up to me and slapped me across the face. Immediately she realized I was not Warren, the man who had left her at the altar. Warren and I wore the same aftershave lotion. That odor triggered hurt and anger in her.
How often do we feel strange or else act or speak wrongly because something triggers a response in us? How often do we deny ourselves the blessings God wants us to enjoy because something unresolved from the past is in the way? How can we be helped and how can we help others?
We tell our story to a sympathetic, mature and discrete person who will not laugh or judge. Sometimes just getting the hurts out is therapeutic.
We need to make sure that whatever memory we think we’re recovering is based on the facts. People have been wrongly accused of bad behavior, crimes even, because of a faulty “recollection.”
It’s unhealthy to keep things all bottled up. It’s also unhealthy, and it deepens the memories in our brain, to tell our story repeatedly and not move on. We also need to be careful not to share with those who might not be able to cope with our story. (It’s not just about our needs.)
This worked for Corporal Yost. But Christians know there’s more. Sometimes “just talking it out” is not enough. Moreover, while secular talk therapy has benefits, far greater are the benefits of bringing God into everything in our lives. What else is there?
One way God uses to heal is the ministry of “inner healing.” (For further information see chapter 6 of my book Christian Healing.) What do we do beyond simply “talking it out” to a Christian friend?
First, we take the bad memory to God in prayer. “Lord, you do not rewrite history but you can take away any negative emotions and influences [that event, that hurtful person] still has on me. Please heal me, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”
Second, we pray that God will cut any spiritual ties or bondages we may have to past hurts. Sometimes this involves the ministry of deliverance.
Third, we let go of any bitterness we feel towards the one or ones who hurt us. This does not mean we forego seeking appropriate justice when warranted. It does mean we positively pray for any who harmed us, as Jesus taught us to do.
Fourth, we confess any wrongs we have done in the event, even if most of the fault belongs to the other person(s). We confess any wrongs we did in response.
Fifth, we rededicate ourselves to the Lord and ask to be filled with the Spirit. +