Prayer to heal the heart

Pastor, psychologist teach pastors to ‘focus on Jesus, ask him for help, see what happens’

July 23, 2014 | Feature | Volume 18 Issue 15
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld | Alberta Correspondent

Who gets the help when a pastor marries a psychiatrist? At the 2014 Mennonite Church Canada minister’s conference, the answer was no joke, yet everyone left feeling better.

Dr. Karl Lehman, a psychiatrist, and pastor Charlotte Lehman team up in both life and work to teach people how to help each other heal through prayer. While the concept of healing prayer is nothing new, the Lehmans’ Immanuel Approach offers an accessible method for both pastors and laity. Sharing anecdotes from their own lives and considerable teaching experience, the Lehmans encouraged pastors to pay attention to their own healing needs so they can be available to others.

Charlotte referred to pastoral work as “a crucible to squeeze out any unresolved issue you have in there!”

The method recognizes where God is in good memories, and uses this felt presence in the healing of painful memories that block emotional health. While Karl emphasized that he usually teaches this approach over a few days, the basic concept was surprisingly simple and practical enough to be immediately helpful as pastors interacted with each other.

In groups of three to five, pastors practised the initial step in the Immanuel Approach by sharing a happy memory and reflecting on where Jesus was in it. Verbalizing the memory—the felt presence of God—in community is meant to engage the relational part of the brain that needs to be working for a person to move into healing. After listening to whatever surfaced in sharing, participants explicitly invited God to be present in the moment, and then to bring forward memories where healing is needed. Those who felt uncomfortable with what surfaced were encouraged to recall the happy memory they had described earlier. This is the built-in “safety net,” making use of the technique possible for those at all levels of training in the technique.

Karl summarized the Immanuel Approach succinctly when he said, “Focus on Jesus, ask him for help, see what happens. That’s basically what you do.”

Gay Kauffman of First Mennonite Church, Calgary, said that, although the material was familiar to her, “I found the workshop helpful for working on my own woundedness as well as for helping others in my practice of spiritual direction. I believe that bringing Jesus into our memories of painful events can be a powerful, life-changing practice. I hope to use the practice of healing prayer first on resolving my own past traumas before using it on others.”

David Martin, MC Eastern Canada’s executive minister, has a background in neurological science and pastoral ministry, and is familiar with the Ignatian spiritual practice the Lehmans referenced. While the material was known to him as well, Martin appreciated the way it was blended into a whole. Their approach is “potentially something simple, easy and powerful for healing,” he said.

Martin said he was also intrigued by Karl’s stories of teaching the technique to traumatized populations in India, Asia and Uganda. “There is power for this to be a lay movement for healing in the name of Christ with the church fronting it,” he said.

To see links to more Assembly content, go to Stories and images of Assembly 2014. 

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