How to treat relational burns

Jan 18, 2022 | 1 comment

While cooking lunch, a colleague’s gas stove had a mini-explosion and she experienced second-degree burns. The burns were severe enough she was flown to Beijing for access to better medical care, and her parents flew from America to to be with her.

Though this was several years ago, watching the process of treating physical burns had me wondering if similar lessons could be applied to less-literal, though not less-damaging burns.

Because we live in Eden Lost, we know what it’s like to be burnt by one another (and sadly how to use our words and actions to burn others).  We can experience first, second, and third degree relational burns.

Want to know how creative we have gotten at burning one another? Here is a short list of burn victims:

  • Esau—burnt by his brother and mother
  • Jacob—burnt by his father-in-law
  • Blind man—burnt by gossip (was it his sin or his parents’?)
  • David—burnt by Saul…again and again
  • Uriah—burnt by his commander-in-chief, David
  • Moses—burnt by those he was leading
  • Naomi—burnt by life’s experiences (famine, relocating, death of loved ones, and death of desires)
  • Tamar—burnt by her brother
  • Jesus—burnt by a kiss from a friend (and really, us all!)
  • Elijah—burnt by exhaustion
  • Mary—burnt by words said against her son
  • Mary and Martha—burnt by the delayed response of Jesus
  • Jeremiah—burnt by people’s non-responsiveness
  • Joseph—burnt by his brothers, later his employer’s wife, and later still by someone who forgot him
  • Jonah—burnt by perceived unfairness of God

Burnt by family, the government, leaders, friends, strangers, those we are to serve, life experiences, gossip, even at times it seems by God. This is most definitely not an exhaustive list and as you read this, you could add your own name and way of being burnt to it.

Among those listed, we know that not all of them healed from their injuries. Healing, sadly, is not a given. However, there are—and I want to avoid oversimplifying the process—actions that we can borrow from treating a physical burn and apply them to emotional and relational burns.

1. Admit you’ve been burnt. This seems too obvious to state, but if you don’t admit that something has happened, you will live with a wound. A wound that though others may not see, they will know something has happened to you.

2. Get help. At times getting help will involve professionals. If you have a second- or third-degree burn you are probably going to need expertise beyond your mom, school nurse, or good friend.

3. Your wound will need to be cleaned out and this may involve scraping off dead skin. If you don’t scrape the dead skin off, you run the risk of infection that could spread beyond the original area wounded.

4. It will hurt to clean and re-bandage the wounds, but you will need to do this on a regular basis until healing occurs.

5. Monitor for signs of infection and be faithful in taking antibiotics.

6. Lean hard into communityLet them cook for you, carry you, and spend time with you. Do not feel that you need to reach out to them at that time.

7. The process might take a lot more time than you would choose. Let me repeat: the process might take a lot more time than you would choose. I’m sorry.

8. As you do one through seven, pray. In the Psalms, David models howling out to God in the midst of life’s trials while weaving in God’s faithfulness and David’s dependence on God. You can do likewise.

Physical burns need to be treated immediately, the main change I’d make to relational burns is that the timing of treating it probably will start later and go longer.

I don’t want to minimize the real pain and loss that burning causes, whether by the sun, by cooking, or by the hands of another. But God has not abandoned us in Eden Lost. You can heal and out of your experience, minister to others in their time of need. {And if you’ve burnt someone, it is never too late to confess and repent.}

Question: What’s helped you heal from a relational burn?

Is this true of you: You know that Christ died for your sins . . . but are you living like you believe that? As you help people grow in their faith, can you adequately teach them about forgiveness? Sadly, too many Great Commission workers can’t. Don’t let that be true of you. In this workshop, Shonna will equip you to answer three key questions about forgiveness. Get Forgiveness 101 today.

Amy Young

Life enthusiast. Author. Sports lover. Jesus follower. Supporting cross-cultural work.



1 Comment

  1. Julie Breuninger

    Love using medical metaphors for truth – might have something to do with my medical training! There are just so many rich illustrations! I did a lot of wound care in my career….deep wounds have to heal from the inside out. You can’t just patch them over on the outside, wounds must heal from the inside. So true in life…. and cleaning out the infection is key to healing! Also proper nutrition is important in healing. What kind of a diet are we feeding our hearts and minds in order to bring about healing? Thank you for this great article!


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