Ever have an emotional hurt from the past explode to the surface at a weird time? Take the infamous “Tamale Incident” at our house. One night as I transferred tamales from bubbling steamer pot to platter, my kitchen tongs betrayed me. Corn wrappers began unraveling and the tongs started slicing through the super-heated corn meal rather than lifting the tamales to safety.
My husband asked if I needed help. I said “No,” and was reaching for a big spatula to remedy the situation. However, within about 6.2 seconds of my reply, he stepped between me and the stove, removed the tongs from my hand like an FBI agent disarming a suspect, and took over the whole shebang.
Hell hath no fury like a woman de-tonged.Talk about your hot tamales. I was livid. I felt dismissed. Patronized. I let him have it with a speech about gender, power, and abuse of authority that really could have won me an Oscar. Pretty sure I was pointing with that spatula for emphasis.
However, as I laid out for him all the sins of men against women throughout all time, some part of me was wondering what the heck was going on down at my soul-level. This felt personal and painful, and when my stunned guy finally laid down the tongs and surrendered, we both realized my intense reaction had very little to do with tamales and kitchen tongs.
Turns out my soul needed to heal from some childhood hurts when I’d felt powerless and manipulated. That past pain was roaring back to life, and thank God for a wise counselor friend to help me discuss that pain and move toward strength, freedom, and peace.
As a bonus, McLeod learned that asking how he can help and honoring my answer, even if it’s “I’ve got this,” means a great deal to me. I learned that his intentions usually are kind-hearted, even if misdirected, and that we really are on the same team.
Truth is, we all need “Tamale Incidents,” though perhaps without blaming our partners and waving kitchen tools in their faces. We MUST be willing to let old wounds be brought to light so that we can be free from their power. Scripture sets a precedent with what I call the “Searching Prayer” and gives insight into why we need to open our hearts to healing.
Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV) says: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
That term “offensive” is from the Hebrew word otseb which can also be translated wicked, idol, and pain, and I believe all those meanings are present here. The psalmist is asking God to search out any wickedness like idolatry but also any pain that has set itself in opposition to His good, life-giving plan. How often has the pain we carry, not only from things we’ve done but from the wounds inflicted by others, kept us from living the abundant life Christ offers us? (See John 10:10) It’s like that old hurt turns itself into a little idol, demanding we bow down to it and let it control us. When we don’t let that pain come out into the light and be healed, we stay trapped by it.
So this is how my prayers are shaped by Psalm 139:23-24: Father, search out my innermost self. Bring to the surface the things that cause my anxiety. See if there are pain-idols trying to operate in my soul—those painful things of any kind that I don’t want controlling me like worthless idols. Show me how they are blocking me from abundant life and then reveal your path of freedom and joy. Amen.
I’d like to pretend I pray that way daily and allow the Holy Spirit to gently set me on the right path, healing hurts and correcting sins, but you already know I completely lost my cool over hot tamales not that long ago. Sometimes the process of dismantling pain-idols isn’t pretty or easy. Still, I take courage in this passage from the same psalm:
“You have searched me [past tense], LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” (Ps 139:1-4)
There is nothing I could bring to Him that He hasn’t seen already, nothing that is too complicated for Him to disentangle, and I am convinced that the God who is familiar with all my ways has every intention of leading me in His good, life-giving, everlasting way.