When Hurt Keeps You Holding Back From God

Kathryn Maack

by Kathryn Maack


The trauma I experienced in my childhood made me an adult sooner than I should have been. I developed a strength and independence that helped me navigate things happening in my life — my parents’ divorce, abusive relationships, and more. In many ways I rose above my circumstances in victorious ways. However, as I’ve lived enough to process how I’ve responded internally to those formative years, I’ve realized that I formed some substantial walls around my heart, in a desperate act of self-preservation.

This wasn’t necessarily the wrong course of action; for me it was the only way I survived those seasons of pain. But as a believer, I came to realize some of the walls I built to protect myself from humans had also unknowingly been built with God. I found myself asking:

How can I trust God when the people around me haven’t always proven to be safe?
How can I give up control to God when I can only trust myself?
How can I express vulnerability with God when I have gotten so accustomed to being strong?

Head Knowledge vs Heart Trust

From the outside, people would say that I had a relationship with God. I was going to church. I was going to Bible study. The problem was, I was only relating to God with my head. It didn’t even occur to me, because of my coping mechanisms, that I wasn’t relating to him with my heart. I had not realized that as I had built walls around my heart with people, I kept God out of this inner sanctum as well.

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It’s easy to compartmentalize like this in the church. We can learn all about the Bible in a classroom, and then try to deal with our problems and emotions on our own when we pull out of the parking lot. We can somehow hold back our worries, our fears, or even our happy emotions from the God that is inviting us to come to him with all of who we are.

It’s not easy work to tear down walls. It’s hard to separate our view of God from our view of people in our lives that had a somewhat God-like position and didn’t come through. But it’s work that must happen as we move into healing and greater maturity. We must come to realize that God is trustworthy, that he will not fail us. He will be faithful and in his arms alone will we find the safety we so deeply crave.

Taking Down the Walls and Finding God as my Fortress

It was during my college years that I began to realize, for the first time, that I wanted the walls around my heart to crumble before God, and I wanted to pursue him wholly, with all of me: not just my head.

I had to give him the anger that was about to explode in major ways. I had to take him up on His promise that my heart could safely open up to him. I began to confess sin. And not just sin — the suffering too. I laid out all of my pain and worst feelings. I asked him to open my heart to him. I asked him to heal the parts that were wounded.

Old habits die hard, especially when they are inner hidden habits or coping mechanisms that we’ve developed in times of stress. I have had to recognize in times of anxiety that my immediate response is still often to self-protect, even with God.

But as I’ve grown more in my knowledge of God, I’ve recognized that I can come to him without pretense and without protection. I can tell him how I feel. I’ve actually realized that the words of Psalm 18:2 can be lived out as true. "The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Instead of building up walls between my heart and him, I can trust my heart with him. Inside the walls of his fortress is my safest place.

I don’t have to hold back. And guess what: you don’t either. God is our safest place, and he always, always comes through for us.



Kathryn Maack is the co-author of Whole: the Lifechangeing Power of Relating to God with all of Yourself, and cofounder and leader of Dwellings, a discipleship movement for small groups and house churches (@dwllngs). She is passionate about the future of the church and loves catalyzing ideas and people toward their highest kingdom potential. She and her husband BJ live in Little Rock, Arkansas, and have four kids: Libby, Anna, Rachel, and Andrew.