Updated: Mar 8, 2022
This text from Matthew was written as part of the inauguration of the Lord’s ministry, as he brought the message and freedom of the Kingdom of God to a lost and broken world. Since that day there have been countless examples of how light has penetrated the darkness, and the story of Formational Prayer is part of that historic narrative.
I never set a career goal of being associated with emotional healing. My plans were focused upon being a church leader and teaching in the academy. However, thirty years ago, a journey not of my own choosing changed the direction of my life, and from that unchosen path formational prayer was born, much to my own surprise. It was birthed not through study and research, but from the darkest days of my life to that point.
At a time when outward appearances gave the impression that my life and ministry were successful, I began a descent into the muck and mire of emotional darkness. Unaddressed wounds of the past had caught up with me, and I entered a season of debilitating depression and agoraphobia. My efforts to navigate this darkness failed, and I ended up in a psychiatric hospital for extended treatment and care.
The people who served at this hospital were compassionate, as well as knowledgeable about trauma and emotional wounding. It was a Christ-centered program, so scripture was well integrated into my care. Gratefully, they were able to help me understand why I was in a mess, and after a season they enabled me to limp back into life.
Something, though, was missing. I had a better understanding of wounding, as well as some skills for living, but the grip of darkness still had its talons around my throat. I desperately wanted more than understanding. I needed an experience of Presence and freedom.
On a wintry night, soon after leaving the hospital, I sat by a fire in frustration, not even sure what it was that I needed. I did not feel like reading scripture, for it seemed silent to my dilemma. Eventually, I turned the pages of my bible and came to the story of Jesus in Gethsemane. It was then, while reading that story, that light began to penetrate the darkness.
When Jesus was hurting, the Father did not give him understanding, or a text to memorize, but instead an experience of spiritual presence. I knew at that moment that was precisely what I needed. It was not enough that I understood the toxic nature of past emotional wounding. I needed an experience of light coming into that dark past, and at that moment could feel it was precisely what the Lord wanted for me as well.
I began reading books on memory, behavioral science, neurobiology, and inner healing prayer. I was profoundly impacted by the short phrase mental time traveler from Endel Tulving, an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist. Tulving said that it is possible for people to re-experience memories as a way to process the unhealed past.
If that were true, it occurred to me that I could re-experience my unprocessed wounds and un-grieved losses, not just as painful flashbacks, but as experiences in which I could encounter God’s healing touch, as Jesus did in Gethsemane.
By following the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I started to construct a framework for deep healing. I knew I needed to allow myself to fully experience and express whatever emotions surfaced, not trying to censor or control them. That way I could grieve the loss instead of ignoring or minimizing it. I believed that God wanted to lead me in a time of prolonged healing. With the Spirit’s help, I decided to put my plan into action.
This journey into my toxic yesterdays with Jesus began to free me from the prison of my unhealed past. As memories of trauma surfaced, I was able to meet the Lord and experience a deep, step-by-step release, one that concept-driven behavioral science didn’t touch. After what had seemed like a never-ending season of mourning, joy began to break into my heart like dawn’s first light.
My healing didn’t happen overnight, but the days led to weeks, then months, and ultimately to years of deep emotional healing. Along the way, God opened doors for me to share my journey with other broken people. I was amazed at how it resonated. Whenever I presented the basic framework for deep emotional healing, which became known as formational prayer, people wanted more.
Today, thousands of people have experienced emotional healing through formational prayer. Like I did, they have experienced light dawning in the land of their own darkness. That light is the presence of Jesus, who longs to meet us in our wounded past, bringing the freedom of God’s Kingdom into the broken places of our lives.
Terry Wardle is the founder and President of Healing Care Ministries. He is a popular author and dynamic speaker who leads seminars and retreats that equip pastors, counselors, clinicians, lay people and spiritual directors. Terry and his wife, Cheryl, have three adult children and six grandchildren. They reside in Ashland, Ohio.