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Editor's Note: We are a non-religious magazine. However, we acknowledge that spirituality is important to many. Our Faith column is a place to discuss how faith (of any kind) positively affects mental health and how to improve the conversation around mental health within faith communities.
As you read the title of this article, what do you think? Be honest. Does the concept appeal to you? Or does it make you shudder slightly?
In the short term, it feels much easier not to be present in our pain. We rush around doing absolutely everything we can to avoid connecting with these negative emotions. We distract ourselves by keeping desperately busy, numbing ourselves with substances, or using unhealthy coping mechanisms.
The problem with this is difficult emotions always have a purpose.
I am slowly learning emotions are like lights on the dashboard of a car. They inform us of what is going on underneath the surface. We–especially those of us who suffer from mental health difficulties–often attribute more meaning to these negative emotions than they deserve.
Ignoring the warning light won’t fix the problem. Whatever is causing us distress or pain rarely goes away without our acknowledging it, and ignoring it often makes things worse.
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My background as a medical student leads me to think of conditions where patients end up with severely damaged extremities, often requiring amputation. This is due to the neuropathy, which is stopping them from experiencing pain. They lack the information to say an area is damaged, fail to respond, and end up damaging it more.
This can be the same for us emotionally when we are too afraid to recognise our pain.
The good news, however, is this: we do not have to sit with or face our pain alone. We are surrounded, held together, sung over, lifted up, and carried by a God who is always within us.
There are still barriers to allowing ourselves to be present with God in the tricky stuff. I am going to tackle three of the main ones I face below. They are guilt, shame, and fear.
The first barrier potentially preventing us from connecting with our negative emotions is guilt. Do my emotions mean I don’t trust God enough? Shouldn’t being a Christian just mean I feel happy all of the time?
The idea Christians are exempt from experiencing pain can be a hugely damaging belief.
Our future hope is incredibly real, however, this does not mean we are wrong when feeling the weight of injustices and difficulties in our lives.
Jesus Himself modelled the expression of negative emotions to us throughout the gospels. John 11 is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. From the moment He heard about the sickness of Lazarus, Jesus knew He would bring his friend back to life. But, this did not mean He did not respond with his emotions. On approaching the tomb, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35, NIV)
Jesus knew His friend would be fully restored to life in a matter of minutes, but He still took the time to grieve. He connected with his hurt, disappointment, frustration, and sadness of Lazarus having died.
It wasn’t a lack of faith or a doubt God would deliver causing Jesus to cry.
We are promised “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Revelation 21:4, paraphrased), but this does not mean our grief in this life is unreal or invalid. Anything telling us otherwise is a lie designed to create guilt and distance us from God.
Shame is different from guilt as it attacks our identity as opposed to our actions. Does allowing myself to feel pain mean I am broken? Does this brokenness mean I am unworthy of God?
We were made as a reflection of our perfect Father. This is such a well-known phrase that it has a tendency to lose its meaning, but we are made in God’s image. All emotions we experience mirror God’s own ability to relate and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.
We are loved by this Father who meets us exactly where we are. He has no qualms about stepping into our pain with us; no distaste for the state He finds us in. He loves us not only despite, but also through our pain.
There is a temptation and tendency to want to present our ‘best version of ourselves’ to God. We often want to come to Him only when we feel fixed. The reality is, we need Him through all stages. Without Him, we will stay stuck as we are.
A paraphrase of Romans 5:8 I love is “I loved you at your darkest.” Jesus did not wait for us to stop sinning before dying for us because it would never happen. He gave everything for the version of us most buried in pain and sin.
Arguably, the strongest truth we can use to defeat shame is how God looks at us and sees us in our restored form. He looks upon us as we are made to be, created because of what Jesus has done for us.
However much pain we are feeling and however intensely, God doesn’t see our brokenness. He sees our wholeness. He looks upon us and sees Jesus.
The third barrier I struggle with in connecting with emotions is fear. If I let down my walls, will I be so vulnerable I won’t be able to put them back up? What will happen? If I start crying, will I ever stop?!
When these thoughts begin to take over, I find it most helpful to pause and to breathe. To take the time to recognise I am not facing the feelings alone. I am surrounded. I am held.
The more we practice being present in our pain–and the less we try to do it in our own strength–the more we will grow in confidence and feel able to keep doing it. We will be less afraid and more empowered.
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The opinions and information shared in this article may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process.