Two years ago, I sat in a therapist’s office in the greatest distress I could imagine.
Where are You, Lord? If You love me, why would You allow me to suffer like this?
I had always been distrustful of the mental health-care system, yet there I was, desperate for whatever help I could get. Our insurance provided me with 6 counseling sessions to pour out a lifetime of confusion and pain to this complete stranger. Much of it is a blur now… lots of talking, crying, folding and then unfolding the Kleenex in my hands. I was a soul in anguish, clinging to the hope that people care, that God cares and that I could be healed.
It turns out that talking to someone who had no connection to me was a good thing. It was a safe place for my screaming conscience – the deceived part of me that had forbidden me to speak of the darkness I unknowingly carried for so long. I had been taught (in words and actions) that to expose sin was shameful and dishonorable. This was supposedly God’s way, so of course my conscience was screaming — nevermind that it had been manipulated, I was violating it.
I was thankful that I could specifically ask for a Christian therapist. Whoever I met with would need to understand spiritual health, as well as spiritual abuse. The cry of my soul was not for broken earthly family relations. I was relieved that I was being set free from lies and confusion, to release the truth and the flood of anger that comes with having to hide hypocrisy. The cry of my soul was for my Heavenly Father. My suffering was so intense that I couldn’t sense His presence with me, at all. I felt nothing but numbness and fear, which cried that He was gone.
Over the course of our visits, my therapist affirmed me by validating the abuse I had lived with. Along with that healing response, she continually pointed me to God’s Word. The plan of action would be to learn to live by God’s promises alone, despite the numbness and the accompanying fears. Easier said than done. I often wonder how many of us do not realize how feeling-led we truly are.
The time I spent in therapy was brief, but so helpful. We exchanged hope-filled good-byes and I got on with life. I’d learn a lot over the next two years – devouring everything I could find to help in the healing process. Little bits of understanding continually came into my life through pastoral counseling, friendships, conversations, books, radio broadcasts, blogs and support groups. I could see that God was reaching out through all of these means, teaching me that healing cannot happen in isolation – nor are His resources limited.
We all need deep, soul connection and lots of it. Our stories will have differences, but there will also be similarities. I’ve received great comfort having others share their deepest pain with me. It didn’t matter that many were strangers. The thing is, they weren’t strangers to suffering. I’m also learning to offer my pain to a hurting world, along with testimony of the One who heals.
I’m still healing…letting grace, truth and time carry me along. A few weeks ago, I decided to re-visit my therapist. I sat in that familiar spot, feeling much stronger than I had two years before. I was glad to report lots of progress, but there are still lingering struggles to contend with. Mostly that I still cannot sense God’s presence the way I once had. There had been a powerful emotion that seemed to fuel my faith – better described as passion — that substance that seems so necessary to life.
This is a question I’ve had to keep hammering out: Is passion the most critical element that will sustain us through our darkest hours? The answer is no. I shared with my therapist how I’d come to this conclusion by looking to Jesus’ example just before His crucifixion:
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” –Matthew 26:36-39
We know the rest of the story. He continued to the cross, despite His feelings. Just before bowing His head and giving up His spirit, He said,
He persevered to the very end. Perseverance has little, if anything, to do with feelings. Perseverance is “Steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose; steadfastness …in the face of obstacles or discouragement.” (American Heritage College Dictionary)
Our passion (or feelings) may only take us so far when facing darkness. There may come a point that they leave us overwhelmed and in anguish. In that place, it has to be perseverance that carries us to the end. This isn’t based on some strength we muster in and of ourselves. It’s the finished work of Jesus Christ that gives us the confidence to keep going, despite our feelings.
Since my feelings and emotions had been sorely manipulated throughout my life – the only way out of deception was to lose them. This would be the way to freedom from abuse, but it was also a path of intense suffering.
My therapist and I could see that God has been at work all along to heal and strengthen me as only He can. She offered these encouraging words:
“Passion is the heart, perseverance is the mind.”
It’s natural to long for good, strong feelings, but our Heavenly Father wants better things for us – freedom, courage and perseverance. I want so much to share the rest of my life – the sweet love, laughter and simpler things that I enjoy daily with my family (and I plan to) but it’s important for me to share what God is doing in my soul – to love deeply. Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice was not in vain. Because of Him, death and darkness do not win. We can know He’s with us, not based on our feelings, but on His Word. Let’s keep on keeping on, together.
“The righteous shall live by faith.” -Romans 1:17
Your friend in life, faith & art – Jamie = )