The Journey To Feel Starts Small

Before my husband and I moved overseas, we met with a pastor who specializes in counseling ministers and overseas workers. At the very first session, he launched into ideas like pain, connection, and empathy. I was both unfamiliar and uncomfortable with much of the emotional language he spoke, but I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know what in the world he was talking about. So I just sat there, nodding my head silently.

As we continued with the counseling sessions, however, I realized that the reason I didn’t understand the language of the heart was because I had shut off my own emotions. I didn’t know how to deal with emotional pain, so I simply turned off my ability to feel — thereby avoiding the pain altogether. Our counselor described this phenomenon as an “intellectually-locked heart” or a “head-heart-disconnect.”

How had I disconnected my head from my heart? For starters, I had grown up in a military family that moved frequently. Each time I was at a new school, the other kids didn’t accept me. I often found myself alone and in want of friends. Weary of rejection, I turned instead to academics, burying myself in books and living inside my own head, where pain couldn’t touch me. Then in high school, I developed an eating disorder. Addiction to academics and weight control were two of the ways I avoided dealing with my emotions.

I looked good on the outside, though. I was a dedicated student and high-achiever. I was a “good girl” who stayed away from big, obvious sins. But I couldn’t relate to others without fear, and I couldn’t trust God to love and save me on His merit, not mine. My life was all about earning and performing, and there was absolutely no place in that life for emotions.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I knew happiness and joy, and was well-versed in emotions like anger, bitterness, and depression. But I had no ability to dip into the feelings underlying them: sorrow, sadness, grief, loss. I couldn’t feel my own painful emotions, so I couldn’t possibly feel the pain of others – which meant I couldn’t extend love to them, either.

Meeting with that counselor was the beginning of my journey to feel. My heart was locked up so tightly that I needed someone to guide me through the process — I could not have found emotional healing on my own. The counselor led us in prayers to ask God for healing. I asked God to unlock my heart from its lifeless prison, and He did. Then both my husband and I asked Jesus to heal our own separate unresolved grief and loss. And heal, He did.

I began to see that Jesus was right there with me, as I moved from home to home, from school to school. Jesus was right there with me, through every bad thing that had ever happened to me. He was with me when other kids made fun of me. He was with me when I was excluded on the playground. He was with me every time I uprooted my life and moved again. He was there all along — I had never been alone.

Jesus knew every teeny, tiny detail of my life, and He gave me the emotional healing I needed. I could now see Jesus walking beside me through some of my most painful memories. His hand was clasped in mine when I felt lonely and uncared for. His arm was around my shoulder at my most vulnerable point – when a church leader repeatedly took advantage of me in a sexual way. Suddenly my memories didn’t seem so painful anymore, because I could feel the tender presence of Immanuel, God with us, in those moments. I had buried my deepest wounds so far below the surface that I had to unearth them during counseling, but after Jesus entered into those experiences, they no longer hurt.

When Jesus unlocked my heart and healed my emotional pain, I started to feel other people’s pain – and that hurts. But now I can offer deeper, truer love to people, because it’s from the heart. I’m no longer stuck in my head, oblivious to hurting people. I no longer struggle with either restrictive eating or binge eating. I no longer suffer from obsessive negativity about my body, either. This is not to say that I never overeat or think negatively about my body, or that I always care lovingly for other people. It just means that these snares don’t control me anymore.

Our God delights in the work of healing. He created us in His image, emotions and all, and He knows every fiber of our being. He knows we are dust, and that we need Him desperately. He longs to bind up our broken hearts and free us from our prison chains. He is Jehovah-Rapha, the God who heals. He alone can mend our hearts; He alone can make bitter water sweet. His love can turn our mourning into dancing, and our sorrow into joy: our God is a healer of hearts.

 

How has Jehovah-Rapha been a healer in your heart?  Has your heart been locked up against the pain of your wounds?

Photo Credit : Unsplash

26 Comments

  1. Kay Bruner November 2, 2014

    I love this, Elizabeth!  It’s so counter-intuitive that feeling the pain helps the pain not control you–but it’s true.  I find staying with the pain is such hard work, but so worth it, because it means staying with the healing.  Thanks for sharing all this so openly.

    1. Elizabeth November 3, 2014

      Oh I know! Talk about hard work! I still know how to detach myself, so I have to consciously choose to be in touch with other people’s emotions (and my own).

  2. Amy S. November 2, 2014

    Thank you for this! As I read this it brings to mind a precious friend who has related similar experiences to me, and it compels me to pray for them more earnestly. It also makes me wish I could meet you in person, something I wish nearly every time I read your posts. God bless you!

    1. Elizabeth November 3, 2014

      I’m so glad this story has helped you understand your friend more deeply, and also helped you to pray for her more. Sending you, and her, love this day.

  3. David November 3, 2014

    Wow, Elizabeth, I can relate to your story in so many ways (too many). I praise God for “reconnecting” your mind and your heart and for allowing you to be the blessing you are to the Church here in Cambodia.

    1. Elizabeth November 3, 2014

      Thank you, David. I do want my story to give people hope, because after experiencing this kind of healing, I want everybody to receive it! It really changed the direction of our life, and the focus of our marriage. God has been merciful to this TCK. . .

  4. Laura November 3, 2014

    Elizabeth,

    “Jesus was right there with me, through every bad thing that had ever happened to me.” This truth is one I have clung to as I have walked the healing journey after a serious home invasion while serving overseas. Thank you for the reminder today that He continues to be with me during the difficult moments, which are a part of living overseas, not just the difficult moments, which are part of my healing process.

    1. Elizabeth November 3, 2014

      Oh Laura! I am so sorry for the trauma of your home invasion. That is an enormous thing to recover from. You have so much faith already, to trust that God is with you through it all. May He continue to remind you of His presence in small ways, and large, in the days that come, whether those days be good or not-so-good. Sending you hugs!!

  5. Danielle Wheeler November 3, 2014

    Elizabeth, we’re so honored that you chose Velvet Ashes as the place to share your story of healing.  May it be a beacon of hope to hearts that are longing for healing, but doubting that it can happen.

    I hope we get to meet in person some day…

    1. Elizabeth November 3, 2014

      Believe me, Danielle, the honor is all mine, after having been so blessed by Velvet Ashes myself! And I’m agreeing with you in prayer that this week, God might use our individual stories of healing to bring others hope that they too, can receive healing. The soul needs hope.

      (And I hope we get to meet in person someday too! Asia is just so big . . .)

  6. Amy Young November 3, 2014

    Elizabeth — this is a post to read again and again! It reminds me of what Brene’ Brown has said: you can’t numb the bad without numbing the good. We either feel all, or none. I think it’s so interesting God wired us to connect the good and the bad and not get to pick and choose (I think it’s pretty obvious why we don’t get to choose :)). Thanks for your story!

     

    1. Elizabeth November 4, 2014

      Thank you so much, Amy, for reading, and for welcoming me here. Feelings are such a strange thing, don’t you think?? I’m thankful for a Scripture that shows us God’s people being all over the map with regard to their feelings, so we know we can be, too. 🙂

      And I love Brene Brown!! Love her TED talks.

  7. Linda November 3, 2014

    As an adult who married a military man and moved over 26x before retirement and took up the second career which meant overseas yet again and move changes and moves there, my heart is often bound up in protective stance. Still. I can’t quite imagine how that has fully affected my kids who seems to cover the range on any given day of responses including my adult children. The negative does come through along with the displaced feeling they have sometimes. It can be haunting and learning to accept the wonder of our lives and the shelter of our Lord has its bumps and valleys. I am currently in a restless feet time. we have been in our US home for over 4 years; much much longer than anywhere doing my adult life or my kids!

    1. Elizabeth November 4, 2014

      Linda, thank you for sharing your heart here. I can tell a lot is going on inside you. 26 is a lot of moves. Military life always entails a lot of moves, but that is really a lot. And it can make you feel displaced. I totally get what you’re saying here, just trying to protect your own heart most of the time. So many goodbyes, so many hellos, so much transition. So much pain and difficulty woven in with the new and exciting homes, the interesting people you meet, and the extra travel opportunities when living overseas.

      And yes, military kids (who are also Third Culture Kids, or TCKs) do deal with a lack of belonging, simply because of the environment in which they grew up. I’m so glad you allow your children to experience whatever feelings they need to feel, in talking about military life and their mobile existence. That’s so important and helpful! Speaking for myself here, we TCKs sometimes feel guilty expressing our negative experiences for fear it looks bad upon our parents, whom we love and who we know love us. I know that when I express my negative feelings, it doesn’t mean I think my parents did something wrong or bad, it just means I am just processing life. And I would think the same goes for your children 🙂 You might be interested in Marilyn Gardner’s thoughts on being a TCK and on raising TCKs. She talks about releasing the guilt. http://www.alifeoverseas.com/to-the-parents-of-third-culture-kids/

      Many, many hugs to you this day, as I know there are so many emotions surrounding this mobile lifestyle gig. You have served your country and your husband well these many years, and you have raised your children while doing it. That is no small thing! I pray that as you feel restless now, after 4 years in the same place, that God will be with you in whatever path you walk next. That He will either quiet your longings to move, if you’re supposed to stay, or that He will lead you to a new place, if that is what His plans for you hold. Blessings.

  8. Jennifer November 3, 2014

    The journey to heal starts small… and the journey to heal, is just that a journey. Looking back over my life, becoming long now, I can clearly see it as so clearly as a journey, made one small step at a time. Sometimes seeming to go backwards. Sometimes very challenging to continue within. Yet clearly progress one step at a time. It is difficult to articulate and explain the reality of it, yet it is true. Many aspects of your story do deeply resonate with me. If I was to put something in I would say to people not to be afraid of taking a small step even if you do not think it will make a difference. Each small step you take is more step on the road of healing God so very much wants to bring. While I continue to walk through a challenging time in some ways right now, I can at the same time simply not deny the reality of what God has done throughout my life to bring healing to very deep pain and to teach me things I simply did not learn. And much of it was through just one more small step….

    1. Elizabeth November 4, 2014

      This is so, so true. Small little steps, and we are never finished! Never! Even when I wish we were, already. 🙂 Still make mistakes, still have hard times, but we do grow and change over the years. Sometimes I think we don’t even realize how we’ve changed unless we purposely look back at our younger selves. Then we can really see the difference.

      Thank you for encouraging people to take just one small step towards healing, even if they are afraid it won’t mean much. Thank you for reminding us that it does mean something. Blessings.

  9. Mary DeMuth (@MaryDeMuth) November 3, 2014

    This: “I looked good on the outside, though. I was a dedicated student and high-achiever. I was a “good girl” who stayed away from big, obvious sins. But I couldn’t relate to others without fear, and I couldn’t trust God to love and save me on His merit, not mine. My life was all about earning and performing, and there was absolutely no place in that life for emotions.”

    I’d like to use that quote in my upcoming book about self worth. Would that be okay?

    1. Elizabeth November 4, 2014

      Of course you may use the quote, Mary. 🙂 Thank you for thinking of it. Although I will say this isn’t my own personal blog, so I have to defer the question to Danielle Wheeler whether you also need to mention Velvet Ashes as the original source. (I have no idea how these things work, having never written a book myself!) But thanks for the comment, and happy book-writing 🙂

  10. Jenny k November 6, 2014

    Thanks for sharing…. I’m on that journey myself- to learn to feel again and it is hard and slow. I love how God is patient in the process and loves me enough to bring up this issue in my life that I can live more “abundantly,” but more days than not I wish the steps were a little bigger or faster.

     

    1. Elizabeth November 7, 2014

      You’re right, it is slow . . . and also quite scary, feeling things you’ve never felt before. I’ve had lots of starts and stops, moving forward, and then moving back a little. Which is probably why it feels so slow sometimes! So glad you are feeling God’s love in this process, though, that’s so valuable, and helps us keep going. I pray today you are filled with feelings of courage and hope on this journey. Hugs!!

  11. Karrie November 24, 2014

    This is quite possibly just what I’m feeling right now! What a coincidence that I happened upon this post today. The realization of my lack of feeling and caring for very much at all, hit me not more than a few days ago.

    My husband and I have done overseas work before, both before and after we met and married. Right now, we are preparing to go to India for at least four years. We have a six month old baby. I was a bit more involved in overseas work than my husband was before we were married and enjoyed going with him after we were married. I was always all about going into overseas work fulltime. But this time it’s different. I find that sometimes the very thought of going to India depresses me. Sometimes I feel excited to go and then others I really really don’t want to go! I find this very frightening and wonder what’s wrong with me. When I think about the people we’ll be interacting with and ministering to, I feel nothing. Nothing but fear. I don’t feel compassion or love or concern for them at all. Not even the thought of orphans brings a response other than fear. Orphans have always been a passion of mine and what I became interested in overseas work for in the first place so this is so frightening to me that I feel no compassion for them.

    When I think about God, I think how disappointed He must be in me. And how I’ve let Him down. I miss feeling close with Him but I feel like I’m drowning in a pool and I don’t know how to get out.

    Two years ago my dad, whom I was extremely close to, died in a tragic way which I witnessed. It was just a few weeks after my wedding. A few months before his death, we had a serious disagreement over something that both of us felt we were right about. We never were able to work it out completely completely. Many things were left unsaid and undealt with. So when he died I was also left with a huge ugly burden of guilt. What followed was a year of crying through the nights, taking my emotional wreckage out on my husband, withdrawing inward, and pushing God away.

    To top it off, my mother had a mental breakdown, went off the deep end, and was a completely different person causing her to turn on all of her children in such a way that it broke the entire family up. Most of my siblings don’t speak to her or each other. I had to stop talking to my mom as a way of self-preservation because she was doing such damage every time she talked to me. So it was like I lost my entire family in the space of one year. Prior to that, my family had been everything. We were very close with a lot of love and respect and amazing memories. I had the happiest childhood imaginable. So suddenly losing them all in such a negative way was  a huge, traumatic, and a shocking thing to me. I will never be able to reconcile with my dad and that hurts so much.

    This second year has been very healing and I have actually made huge strides in dealing with my father’s death. Obviously, the one person that I didn’t lose, was my husband. Through that year he was amazing. He never raised his voice or got angry. He was always loving and patient eve though I took everything out on him. I was a terrible excuse for a wife. And he loved me unconditionally through it all. So now this second year, even though I’veIve made strides at restrengthening my relationship with God, working through the loss of my father, and working through the sort of loss of the rest of my family (also while doing what I can to restore those relationships), I am also weighed down with a tremendous amount of guilt over the terrible whole first year of marriage I gave my husband. I can never go back and redo that year and give him the wonderful tender memories I dreamed on giving him. It just is so hard. Not that he holds it over my head in the last. Not even once. He’s forgiven me it all. This guy is amazing, he is my pillar. He had no way of knowing he’d have to live out the “for better or for worse” part of our marriage vows do soon, but he literally remained the loving, sweet, Christlike husband through out all.

    Anyway, we have done overseas work together after my dad died and I was excited to go and had a very wonderful time. I found it healing. What I don’t get is what’s different now. I feel as if I am more healed now than when I went earlier so what gives. Why do i feel even more numb. I definitely think I need counseling to try and get this worked out. I don’t think I should be on an overseas field without a heart of compassion; and my husband certainly doesn’t deserve an uncompassionate wife alongside him.

    Why is it that all I want to do is have a nice quiet little house in a nice neighborhood in the US with only good close friends coming to visit and just stay inside my comfortable little house and love my baby and my husband and keep them both safe forever and not have anything to do with the rest of the world. What ever happened to my passion for the lost and the unloved.

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