Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Ugly Struggle

Sometimes I'm shocked at myself at these seemingly unholy attitudes and emotions that get triggered unexpectedly.  Why am I shocked?  I don't know, truthfully, but I do my best to reason them down, remind them that they don't belong and shouldn't be around and should know better than to feel that way.

So far, that hasn't actually been very helpful.

The feelings are still there, except for now instead of being more sedate and holy, they've multiplied into feelings of injustice, hurt, fear, pain...magnified by my (or other's) lack of understanding, acceptance, reassurance...love. They wrestle around inside, pushing me to run and hide while simultaneously fighting to get outside.  The struggle is ugly and messy and fraught with danger for this recovering perfectionist who is fighting to let go of masks and enter into humanity more authentically than my less-than-perfect defense mechanisms have allowed.

When I fight to hide and win, there's no real victory because I pay in other ways - increased anxiety, heavy stress, debilitating depression- that wreak havoc on my natural body creating toxic overload, a prime environment for sickness and disease.

What I'm finding in my journey is that I need a safe place to allow these thoughts, attitudes and emotions to surface, be processed, learned from, respected, acknowledge long before they are corrected, disciplined, changed.  I'm not very good at doing that with myself, but I'm trying because I think that deep down we all need love and acceptance to come before discipline and correction is effectively possible.

If correction and discipline come first, my walls and my defenses deflect anything that might actually be helpful and constructive.  Love and acceptance are what's needed, a space that says "It's ok to voice your ugly thoughts and emotions here, to let them see the light of day, to cry your ugly cry and say things that you might not otherwise say because, baby, when you leave it all inside, pressed down in the dark recesses of your soul, it boils and festers and stinks and didn't some wise one once say 'out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks'?"

Pretending I'm not really feeling those feels and thinking those thoughts is denial.  Fighting with them only strengthens their hold.  Acceptance and love and bringing them into the light over time actually diffuses their strength and means less stink in the dank dark places and more light and hope and freedom.  Otherwise I'm left with a tightly controlled balloon that always seems to peek out behind the walls at inopportune moments, in the moment when that word or that phrase knowingly or unknowingly slings out a razor sharp rock that slices through the thin veneer and out comes all of that stored up mess I thought I was hiding so well.

I think love and acceptance looks like me being ok, as in I'm not freaked out, when there's some errant child running around inside my head.  I've learned this phrase: "Even though I have this __________ (thought/emotion), I completely love and accept myself."  This is usually used with tapping, but even just saying it to myself brings me to remembrance that I am deeply loved and accepted by God in this moment and He wants me to practice the same with myself (see Romans 5:8)

I recently learned a new journaling "technique" called Immanuel Journaling (you can find the journaling prompts here and the book here).  Following this flow of writing has helped me to better learn to sit with myself in these moments, allowing Jesus to be more present to me, to the real me (not that He isn't ever not present but if I'm not aware then I don't believe I receive the full benefits of having Him here), and to receive His healing comfort and experience His healing presence.

It's in the moments when I hear Him say: "I see you struggling with all of that guilt and shame and pain.  That's a pretty heavy load. How about I help you with that?" when the balloon deflates and the walls collapse and instead of pain and remorse and shame I feel hope and healing and release.

And it's really great to go straight to Jesus with all of that mess because He can handle it.  But I also think we are called to do this in community (which can be built into Immanuel Journaling).  Hosea says that He leads us with cords of human kindness and Paul that His kindness leads to repentance. Sometimes I can't get out of my triggered state on my own and need the kindness of a friend to help pull me back to a state of relational connection where I can receive the new thoughts that I need to think via the correction and discipline of God that is also so vitally important.

But first things first: kindness, love, acceptance leads to relational connection which then can lead to repentance which brings a state of openness to discipline and correction...(I think...My rational mind is coming up with all sorts of exceptions to that principle but I think it's safe to say that at least for me personally, if you were to approach me in this way when I'm struggling with thoughts and emotions that may not seem very holy and righteous, I'd come out on the other side of that conversation more healed and whole than if you handed me the list of why they are wrong and what I should be doing instead which I have been SO GUILTY of doing. Ugh. And I also think that there are quite a few others out there, too, that would do well with this approach, particularly children.)

So, practically, what does creating a safe space in community look like?  I think it starts with conversations that demonstrate an honest curiosity into what is going on by saying something like "You seem frustrated" or "I hear you say that you are frustrated.  Can you tell me more about that?"  And then practice reflective listening.  Another thing would be to start an Immanuel Journaling group with a few safe people in your life.

I'm far from walking this out consistently.  There are plenty of days when I hide and portray a convincing picture of someone with it all together inside.  But there are more and more days when I take the ugly struggle out into the open where it can get some fresh air and sunshine.  And as uncomfortable and unsightly as that often is, it's where the most healing and hope takes place.

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