“Lord, I want to feel again!” – this has been my ongoing conversation with the Lord for the past two years. Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate – about (I should be explicitly honest) everything in the way I approach life and people. Yet 2017 found me utterly…missing.
Missing: Have You Seen ME?
Numbness is often correlated with shock. Our bodies are most amazingly designed with a physiological fail-safe to become “numb” when confronted with situations or sensations too intense to process in the moment. When something is overwhelming, the neurons that signal our bodies with different sensations and instructions to act simply stop sending signals because we don’t have the capacity to handle so many messages at once. In the face of intensity, our bodies shut down the “feeling” parts. This is numbness, and it can act as a physical, mental, and emotional shield that protects us in moments of intensity. Numbness happens when people experience hypothermia and frost-bite: too much cold, and the human body ceases to feel the chill. Numbness protects people, especially small kids, from environments that are over-stimulating (physically or emotionally) by causing them to “zone out” or ignore various situations. In trauma and grief, numbness can allow persons to distance themselves from the situation(s) and even continue carrying out normal activity. And, my dear friends, in caving to a challenging season, I went completely numb.
“I don’t know” was my go-to response – and I actually didn’t know; I didn’t know what I wanted, how I felt, whether I was okay. I really didn’t know; I couldn’t tell. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. The problem was that I didn’t even know whether I cared – and that terrified me. Or maybe it didn’t – I wasn’t sure. Robotic, mechanical, functioning on autopilot – no terms are too strong for what it was and none, I assure you, are flattering in the least.
Numbness is a coping mechanism, but it is not a solution.
Oh, I was in deep hiding. I was so far gone that, by the time I realized, I wasn’t certain I could find my way back from the nothingness. That was a fearful thing, as I consider it now. If there is anything I am most terrified of after that, it is to be numb again. It was a separation, a chasm of nothingness, a consuming void – and I could see no light. Separation from hope, from light, from Jesus – that is hell. And I had chosen it – in my pain, in my confusion, I surrendered to the void. I glimpsed that hell. Sweet Jesus, never again – never again.
Yet even when I would have hidden, when I chose the nothingness, my Savior did not abandon me. We are never too far gone for Him to rescue and redeem (Psalm 139:7-12). And He alone knows how much I needed to be rescued, how deep was the scoring of my wounds, how my thoughts writhed in a turmoil of hopelessness. For me, the freedom from this void came only when I was finally willing to admit it: I was furious, and I was hurt. Both feelings were legitimate, honest, and even right – but it was not right for me to either keep or hide them. It is okay to be angry – it is not okay to stay angry. It is okay to hurt – it is not okay to stay hurting. These were truly my feelings, but with no acknowledgement or centering peace to give perspective, they became parasites, feeding on my life. In my nothingness Jesus met me; even in my hiding, He knew where I was. He knew my need. “We finally have our Sabra back,” my family wept with relief as I wept to purge the nothingness that had hollowed me for so very long.
I have spent these two years recovering my feeling. And, if I may be forthright, it is painful. It can be agony to feel so deeply and thoroughly. Like a numb limb regaining feeling, there are the pricking stings of lifeblood flowing freely again. From deadening numbness to full feeling – in His kindness I am healing from my hiding and from my wounds. There are times when it is so tempting return to my hiding in the nothingness – or equally tempting to cast myself on the raging sea of emotions and be swept away. How does one control such wild emotion, such feelings and sensations, the pain and the passion? I do not want to hide, but do I want to feel? Am I brave enough to feel again?
One of the people most dear to me shared wisdom. This friend of mine knows what it is to feel, more than most people ever imagine possible. We were discussing my role as a counselor in this context, how I work with kids in helping them build the skills they need to be emotionally and relationally healthy. What is the truth, then, that I can speak over my kids? What should we be speaking to ourselves? “Deal with it” – yes, but how? How do we learn? In the end, it always comes back to one answer, the Truth: Jesus. My friend spoke of a story…
Jesus sails aboard a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. Under the strength and skill of the disciples – many of them professional fishermen – they have navigated to this point. With sudden fury an unexpected storm arises, its wild might threatening to consume the small vessel and its passengers. What can be done? Even these avid fishermen are powerless – and utterly terrified. If anyone should have been able to embrace this storm, it is these men – these men who can now do nothing except panic. “Jesus,” they beg their sleeping Master, “Jesus, we are perishing.” Why he isn’t panicking with them? Can there be any salvation in this place of relentless fury? Yet Jesus is not overwhelmed, for even this fury does not prevail against him. Why are his disciples worried? Where is their faith? Has a storm stripped it from them? And Jesus speaks stillness to the fury: the wind calms and the waves gentle immediately. “Peace, be still,” he says, and there descends a perfect peace. They are still in the sea. There is still a journey to complete, but now they do it in awed awareness of the Storm Master. Yes, even wind and waves obey the voice of Jesus. (See Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 8:23-7; Luke 8:22-25.)
Approaching the Storm…We all have times when we are caught off-guard by emotional storms. Storms, storms – I could hide, or I could battle it from the boat – are those my only options? Hiding from the storm was not the answer. I tried to stay ashore and avoid the storm – but the cost of the nothingness, the hiding, was more than I was willing to pay. I also was still shy of the raging storm – its wildness was shocking, and I do not like the lack of control (which was especially disconcerting when I had so long prided myself on my self-control – ha!). I prefer to focus on things that seem to be within my control – and when I do, I miss the deeper answers that God is providing. Like the disciples, I try to use my strength and skill to solve my problems – then wail in desperation when the fury of the sea is overtaking me. I continue to wrestle with the sails and oars of my boat when I should be asking Jesus to simply calm the storm. I look for my control within the boat, while Jesus is standing ready to provide an encompassing peace. That is the alternative to the hiding and the striving. The storm is not to be feared, nor is it to be conquered by sheer force of will.
So what did my dear one say?
“Embrace the storm, and let Jesus calm it.”
There is power in the storm, but only Jesus can steady this fury into peaceful strength. Hold the storm, storm-child; you were made to feel. I want to know the fullness of God’s heart toward me – and that is no tame shore. The winds and wild waters exist, but God’s Word is a greater reality: “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). Do not fear the storm; do not fear the feeling. Hold the storm, storm-child, for you are created for the fullness of it.
These are the words that God spoke as the peace into my storm:
You feel, but I AM.
This is the reality of embracing the storm, of letting Him be the peace that stills and steadies. Through it all, He remains I AM. What would it look like, dear hearts, to chase the storm instead of fearing it? What would it look like to embrace the heights and depths of emotion in raw honesty, knowing that He is our peace? What would He speak to us as we stand in the storm and let Him become our stillness, our centering Peace?
Emotions are a gift that allow us to glimpse our Creator-God’s heart toward us, to see as He sees, to take hold of our glory in being made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). This is not so that we give in to whims of wayward emotions but so that we relinquish our fear of seeing the full glory in how God made us. Emotions are true – we truly feel them – but they don’t always tell us the Truth, which is why we need to allow Jesus to be our Storm-Master. Let us feel, my friends.
Hold the storm, storm-child, for the Master of the storm is holding you.
We are not abandoned to the fury. No more hiding. No more striving. Give up your shore and give up your oars. Embrace the storm and let Jesus calm it. Let Him speak to and through the storm that you might find fullness in how you are made, for He has declared His creation “very good,” knowing all of you even when you were but a dream and a plan in His heart, not yet born into the world (Genesis 1:31; Psalm 139:13-18).
Perhaps you are emotionally numb now. Perhaps you are traversing your own terrifying nothingness, seeking your way back to feeling. Perhaps you know what it is to feel so intensely that the emotion threatens to drown you or that others cringe away from your “outbursts.” Perhaps you are endeavoring to understand someone who is coping numbly with pain or who startles (even disturbs) you with the intensity of their feeling. Wherever you are in your seeking and your feeling, remember this, brave hearts:
Emotions are a gift from God. To feel and to grow means that we are alive. When we cease to feel and grow, we are dead. Only living things grow. Only living things feel. And our God never, ever leaves us alone in the hiding or the feeling.
You are not “too much” for God. I am not “too much” for Him. He can handle the fullness of our emotions. He has given us this beautiful, wild capacity, and He is not afraid of it. He is not overwhelmed or shocked by our feeling. He is not disgusted by it, nor by our needing or hiding. In our feeling, He stills the storm. In our needing, He does the filling. In our breaking, He is the Healing. In our hiding, He does the finding – because He always knows precisely where we are. He never abandons, beloved.
Hold the storm, storm-child. Let Jesus, the Storm-Master, still your waters and calm your winds.