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?
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