When I, or anyone else experiences great pain in our lives, our natural and immediate response is to wall ourselves off from it. Psychologists have all kinds of different words for this reaction, but simply put, we attempt to numb the source of our pain.
Everybody numbs in their own way. Some people go shopping and spend money to forget, some go to movies, and others pour into their work life. In worse cases, there are people who find an escape through drinking, drugs, or similar distractions.
Some, like me, binge watch Netflix.
When I first found out about my dad having cancer, my response was not "normal." I did not break down in tears or begin to imagine scenarios without him. Instead, I began to withdraw, emotionally, and physically. I found myself spending hours engrossed in one show or another, sitting in my bed, away from everyone else. When I unplugged, all I heard was silence. The thoughts I did not want to think would return, and I found myself desperately seeking distraction again. The words I would use to describe my feelings at that time are helpless, isolated, and afraid.
For me, a Christian who is solidified in his faith and his understanding of God's power, these were emotions that I did not know how to process. On the one hand, I know that there is suffering in this world, there is pain beyond measure, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. God doesn't always step in and save the day.
On the other hand, read through the gospels and you see countless story upon story of Jesus healing those who come to Him in faith. The blind see, the lame walk, and the mute proclaim Jesus as their Lord. For me, I felt stuck in the middle. I was struggling to choke down the lump in my throat while at the same time attempting to see the good in the situation.
All this emotion was piling up, and I found myself becoming depressed and even more distant than I had been previously. There seemed to be no outlet for my feelings, because to express them seemed like I was not trusting God to act. My feelings of pain were twisted in my heart into being synonymous with a lack of faith.
So I was left with the numbness.
I didn't really understand what I was feeling, but I knew that I was numb, and I was hurting. In the course of the next couple months, joy slowly began to retake my heart. I began to reconnect with my dad, and my family, and the feelings of hurt did not seem so harsh as they did at first.
It wasn't until I was asked to speak on the topic of lament with our middle school students at church that the feelings came back in full strength. The concept of Lament is basically that we have to trust God enough to cry out to Him with the pain of this world. I knew I trusted God to make the best of a difficult situation, but sadly, I did not trust God enough to be painfully honest with Him about my hurt in this situation. My heart had no outlet for my pain except to numb and distract myself from it.
While allowing yourself to feel the pain around you seems scary, and un-natural, I can tell you honestly that while it is more painful at first, in the long run it hurts much less than the pain you feel when you are alone, isolated from the very people and God who love you most.
Putting a band-aid on a cut that hasn't been cleaned out just creates an infection that is much worse than the original injury. I felt like all I did was try to cover up my pain temporarily, but I didn't realize how nasty my injury would be when I finally had the courage to peek underneath the bandaid and see what it looked like.
It was gross. The pain that I had covered over previously had sat and become much worse than it was to begin with. It took a lot of honesty, and a good bit of pain to let all the things I was feeling out. It took courage to speak honestly with God, but in the end, I know that I placed my hurt in His hands, and I trusted Him to do what is right.
Allowing yourself to feel the pain is the hardest, but also the most courageous thing you can do. It is the only way to truly allow your heart to heal.
Thanks for reading, and if you're going through something difficult right now, please send me a message! I'd love to and hear how you're doing and pray for you. -Evan