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In Order to Heal, We Must Feel

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Good morning my friends! I am currently rereading a book by Stephen Arterburn, entitled Healing is a Choice: Ten Decisions that Will Transform Your Life and Ten Lies that Can Prevent You from Making Them.* It is quite brilliant. Each chapter talks about a lie that we often believe, and the truth that sets us free.

In Chapter 2, the Big Lie is, “Real Christians should have real peace in all circumstances.” Is this something you have believed? To some extent, I have. When I was living with my abuser, I put on a fake happy face at all times. I didn’t think I had a right to feel the pain I was feeling, mainly because I didn’t realize I was being abused. Even after I left him and my world had crumbled apart, I still had a difficult time acknowledging the pain I was feeling.

Arterburn says that,

“The claim of instant peace can lead us to constant and ongoing pain that will not die until we feel it, express it, understand it and resolve it. The big lie prevents us from healing. It moves us into superficiality and fake connection.”** Tweet This

He says we should never shame a person who isn’t feeling joy during their hardships. We need to give ourselves (and others) opportunity to work through the pain, and realize the reality of it. If we don’t, we attempt to bury our pain. But, he says, “This pain is never buried dead. It is buried alive, and must be fed every day.”*** This buried pain will cause a person to do anything in order to find relief:

  • spend money
  • have sex with strangers
  • gamble
  • eat too much
  • take drugs or alcohol.

Here’s an example of what this might look like. If I am fiery angry at my ex for how he treats my kids, I don’t eat a carton of ice cream to numb my pain. If I am afraid because I am not sure how I will pay this month’s rent, I don’t drink a bottle of whiskey. If I am sad and lonely, remembering the good things about my past relationship, and wondering if I did the right thing leaving it, I don’t go shopping with money I don’t have. None of these actions helps me deal with my anger, fear, and loneliness. Instead, I must live in my pain, feel it, explore it, and find out what is at the heart of it. I must ignore my desire to hide from my pain, bury it or smother it.

Arterburn claims,

“You must feel before you can heal, or you will remain wounded. And, you will wound those around you who get too close.” Tweet This

He says that our emotions are gifts from God. They tell us something is wrong, not that we need to instantly change. When we deny our emotions, we aren’t using them as God intended. Having painful emotions is like having a fever. When we have a fever, we know there is something wrong with our body. We either have a virus or an infection, and we need to do something. We might need to rest, drink fluids, or go to the doctor. But that fever won’t let us do nothing. If we do nothing, we get more and more sick.

What if feeling my pain is so terrible, I can’t handle it? That will often be the case. God gave us people to help us when we can’t carry our own burdens. (Galatians 6:2). This might be a friend, a mentor, a pastor, or a professional counselor. I believe in the benefit of having a good counselor. I have had more counseling than anyone I’ve ever met. I am not sure what would have happened to me if I hadn’t. I shudder to think what I might have done or who I might be now. Not that I am perfect, or perfectly healed. I believe we will never be perfectly healed until we are with Jesus. But, feeling my pain and sharing it with others has freed me.

Arterburn shares an example of Jesus feeling his pain and dealing with it (see Matthew 26). Just before He knew he would be crucified, (the most painful death known to man), Jesus poured out his fear and agony to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was so grieved, he sweat drops of blood. He did not minimize, bury or ignore his pain.

Can you imagine one of his disciples saying to Jesus:

  • “Jesus, stop feeling so bad. You should feel real peace about this,” or
  • “Hey Jesus, you are going to make us look bad if you act like you are in pain instead of getting over it quickly,” or
  • “Jesus, how can you let this get to you? You should be joyous that your upcoming suffering is going to save the world.”***

I know, those examples sound silly. But don’t we say things like this to each other, and to ourselves?

In this chapter, Arterburn tells the story of “Laurie.”**** Laurie went to a little church in a small town of Texas. Laurie’s husband carried on an affair behind her back. She found out about it because she found a receipt to an hourly motel on the seat of their car. At that time, they were two months behind on their mortgage. The thought of him spending money for a hotel to have sex with another woman almost broke her. She confronted him immediately. Seeing her pain caused him to feel enough sadness and grief to end the affair.

He began to change. He went back to church, and admitted his sins. Others in the church took a look at their own lives and began changing as well. People in the church envied Laurie for having a husband who was so devoted to her and to the Lord. She was so fortunate!

But, Laurie was feeling anything but fortunate. She was ANGRY! Her husband had cheated on her, and now everyone was looking up to him because of his transformation. Instead of having someone’s shoulder to cry on, and people listening to her, people reacted to her pain with statements like,

  • “You should be happy he is so changed.”
  • “God works everything out for good.”
  • “Surely you should have worked out your disappointment by now.”
  • “Your anger is a sin you need to repent of.” 

These statements didn’t help. In fact, because those around her wanted her to hide her pain, Laurie became angrier and angrier. She needed to feel the pain of his betrayal with some safe people, rather than skip over her emotions and feel “instant peace” like her church friends wanted her to.

Laurie’s feelings needed to be resolved, and they also pointed to some undone business. Yes, her husband had changed. But, he forgot his wife’s pain, or ignored it. Restitution was needed. He needed to show her that he was willing to pay the price for what he had done. He might have,

  • Offered to give up his Saturday golf game to take care of the kids so she could have time for herself,
  • Offered to pay for a counselor, and been willing to go with her,
  • Offered to pay for her and a friend to go to a spa for a week, or simply
  • Asked her what would help her most.

If he had done these things, and if someone had come alongside her and helped her deal with her justifiable anger, Laurie would have had a chance to heal, instead of hide her emotions.

Isaiah, speaking about Jesus, said in verses 53:3:

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.

Jesus understands our pain. He experienced it just as we do. We can turn to Him and other safe people and be real about what we’ve experienced.

Question: How have you handled your pain in the past? What things did you do that were helpful or not helpful? Please share in the comment section of this blog. 

I pray the Lord and some safe people will come alongside you and help you feel, then heal your pain.

Many blessings to you all,

Caroline

P.S. In my book, Journey to Healing After Emotional Abuse, I talk about the need to mourn your losses in order to heal from abuse. This is at the end of my chapter on self-care. To read this chapter, click here.

 

*Stephen Arterburn, Healing is a Choice, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005).

** Arterburn, page 43

*** Arterburn, pages 33 – 34

**** Arterburn, pages 28 – 36.

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