Objectivity is difficult whether we are angry or grieving. But objectivity is what we will be after in this reflection. To this point in this series, we have focused on being emotionally connected to and gaining a fuller understanding of the personal significance of the things that hurt you. We focused on feeling understood. This reflection will feel different. We will focus on you having a clearer understanding.

The question we want to set ourselves up to answer is, “What can or should I learn from this experience?” You won’t have a definitive answer to this question when you finish this article. Sometimes, we never get a completely satisfying answer to this question. But we can begin to arrange the raw material we need to answer this question, to whatever degree a satisfying answer exists.

Like the previous reflection, we will be taking a deeper dive into material you’ve already begun to compile. Review the “events” and “aftermath” time zones on your timeline. These are the time periods we will be exploring in greater detail. Review verses 9 to 22 of Psalm 44 again, that is the disposition in which you will likely remember these events. We will be looking at the raw times that prompted our pain. But our approach will be more forensic than expressive.

We can freely admit, we will likely be tempted to become defensive while doing this kind of work. If we mistake “objective” to mean “value free,” then it feels like we’re being asked to remove the wrongness from what happened. That would be infuriating. But objectivity doesn’t mean we declare a bad situation less wrong; it means that we examine the situation to learn more than to feel.

If you feel a wave of defensiveness, pause. Don’t be rushed. Take the time you need to grieve. Just because we are at this point in our series, doesn’t mean you are at this point in your journey. It may be that you need to work on this section in several, smaller iterations. Be as good and patient with yourself as you would be to a friend on a comparable journey.

When we’re done with this work, it should feel like you peeled the soundtrack away from a movie script. The script is what contains the “facts” of the movie. Who did what and when? What was said? Who said it? When were critical decisions, who made them, and what did they know at the time? The soundtrack is what accentuates and builds the “emotions” to the script. We want to be able to evaluate the movie script of your painful experiences with less impact from the soundtrack.

When this exercise is complete, we want to be able to do two things.

  1. Identify critical junctures in our painful experiences.
  2. Think well about responsibility allocation related to our painful experiences.

Critical Junctures

A critical juncture is a point in our life story that results in significant changes. Sometimes we are aware that a critical juncture is happening. For instance, when we made a decision about college or a first career, we knew these were moments that would impact the direction of our life. Other times we are not aware a choice will be significant. For example, we may have gone to the library to study many times and not much came of it, but then one time at the library we met the person who would become our future spouse.

Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking just because something was a critical juncture, you should have seen it coming or known to do something differently. That is often a recipe for false guilt. Discerning how to think about our responsibility and other’s degree of responsibility in these critical junctures is the focus of the next section. To the degree you can postpone wrestling with that question, it will help you gather the relevant information to do that work well.

We will explore six question clusters to dissect what we could or should learn from our painful experience. There may not be answers to each question for every painful experience.

  1. What are things I should have done differently?
    • Limit your answers to actions or responses that were wrong, not just ineffective.
    • These are things for which the appropriate response is repentance.
    • The best word for how you feel about these things should be “guilt.”
  2. What are things I wish I had done differently?
    • Limit your answers to things you could have reasonably known to do differently.
    • These are things for which the appropriate response is to grow wiser.
    • The best word for how you feel about these things should be “regret.”
  3. What are things I wish I had seen more clearly?
    • Limit your answers to things that could be known without the perspective of hindsight.
    • These are things for which the appropriate response is to grow more situationally aware.
    • As we grow more situationally aware, we lose childlike innocence. Learning what faith looks like without this innocence will become a major theme in the rest of our journey.
  4. What are ways I was sinned against?
    • Limit your answers to actions that were morally wrong, not just personally hurtful.
    • These are things for which the appropriate response from those who hurt you in these ways is repentance. The forgiveness may or may not result in the restoration of trust.[1]
    • From this material, you are seeking to grow more relationally wise.
  5. What are ways or times my interests were neglected?
    • Limit your answers to forms of care that could be foreseen as needed without hindsight.
    • While these things may not have been sinful by the people around you, they were hurtful. The appropriate response for neglect is acknowledgement that demonstrates a growing awareness of what a nurturing response would be.
    • These responses are what cultivate a restored trust.
  6. What are key moments that no one could foresee or change?
    • This is where painful moments go that do not fit one of the other categories.
    • These are aspects of your experience which can only be grieved. There is no guilt to repent of, folly to learn from, or offenses to mend.

After you complete your answers to these six questions, share them with a trusted friend, pastor, or counselor. These are “laundry sorting questions.” If answers get in the wrong pile, like a red sock with your white linens, the rest of the process is unlikely to go well. The ability to be vulnerable enough to allow someone else to speak into these kinds of questions is a sign of significant growth. You should be encouraged, even if its uncomfortable.

Responsibility Allocation

Now that you have your lists, it may be helpful to organize them further. This can help you begin to “see” what you can begin to “do” to appropriately process your pain. You will notice there are three columns. The first column represents areas where the active response belongs to you. The second column represents areas where the active response belongs to another person (i.e., friend, family member, colleague, etc.). The final column represents things over which no person, only God, had any control.

The three rows represent the kind of influence the active person had over the events. The first row includes actions that are morally wrong, so the individual committing those actions should repent. The second row includes actions that are foolish or short-sighted, so the person learns. The third column includes things that are “just hard,” so if a person was involved, they sympathetically acknowledge what happened; or if its only in God’s providence, we grieve that the painful event happened.


My Responsibility

Other (Who)

God’s Providence




(Foolish or Short-Sighted)



 Just Painful
(Hard, but Not Bad or Foolish)





Filling out a chart like this doesn’t “fix” anything. But it can give us a sense of direction when we’ve felt overwhelmed for a long time. It helps us identify what can be done with each of the hurts we’ve experienced, so that when we’re ready to engage that part of our recovery, we know what a restorative response would look like or what we could rightly expect from others.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What did you learn from sorting key events from your painful experience in the six questions?
  2. What did you learn from placing your answers to the six questions into the responsibility allocation chart?

* * * This article is part of a series entitled Anger with God: Grappling with God Amidst Life’s Greatest Pains and Betrayals.

[1] For more on the relationship between trust and forgiveness see: www.bradhambrick.com/forgiveness.