Tuesday, April 28, 2020

COVID-19: Our Own Shawshank Redemption

Have you ever seen "The Shawshank Redemption"? Granted, there's a lot of language and content issues, but there are also many important lessons in it too. I've been thinking about that movie a lot lately because there are a lot of scenes that apply to my feelings right now (and probably to all of us in this current season of life that we're walking through together).

The first clip I want to talk about is this scene where Red is describing being institutionalized:

These walls are funny. First you hate 'em... then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes... you get so you depend on 'em. That's institutionalized.

I know what you might be thinking, but this post isn't about arguing the fact that our freedoms are being taken away in favor of government taking control of our lives. Listen to Rush Limbaugh or the folks on The Daily Wire for that. I'm talking about the heart; the personal stuff. Sometimes, in an effort to cope with tough things, it's common to go to one extreme or the other. In my case, you might have read different posts of mine where I've talked about my journey in becoming more "gray" rather than so "black and white." When I realize that I am going too far to one end or another, I work to get back to the gray zone. Thankfully, I've learned over the years how to recognize it and "reset" a lot quicker (prayer takes care of it!). 

Last week, I realized that I was feeling emotionally "institutionalized"; I had begun living within walls that I'd built up in order to protect myself. At the start of the COVID-19 stuff, I had a LOT of emotions; primarily anger, sadness, and disappointment. I dealt with it to an extent, and then decided to ignore it and move on. However, the emotions that I have been trying to ignore (in favor of "adjusting and adapting", and notoriously being "the strong one") were still there and couldn't be suppressed anymore. I realized that I had gotten so used to "the new normal" that I had been becoming more apathetic. I was like Red in this clip where he cautions against having hope; saying that it was a "dangerous thing". His buddy, Andy, couldn't fathom it. Despite his circumstances, he had been holding onto hope in an effort to retain something that no one could take from him. Actually, I had been an "Andy" up until recently when I realized that somehow I had become numb and indifferent due to too much "successful" adjustment. I've noticed that I frequently switch to "Red" mode when dealing with the possibility of too much disappointment. I don't want to "hope" because it's too "dangerous". So, I start living within the self-protecting institutionalized walls of indifference so that I don't have to be open to the possibility of pain and disappointment. Grief felt like a luxury that I couldn't afford. I didn't have time for it. Why should I mourn, be sad, or open myself up to the opportunity to slip deeper into those emotions and become depressed? Instead, I chose to deny those emotions because I felt it was a waste of time to hurt or be upset about things I couldn't control.

When I realized that my emotions were becoming atypical of my normally empathetic and sensitive heart, I had to take some prayer time to deal with it. I had to pause and question why I felt indifferent and apathetic. I confronted the fact that I stuck my grief in a box and buried it inside without processing it. I knew I had been doing it; it was an old coping mechanism that I had used during the dark days of my divorced years. I learned how to toughen up to the point where I could just focus and forget the pain; refusing to let myself fall apart. However, when you have that box full of unprocessed grief, trauma, and pain, the lid will eventually blow off. Something will trigger it, and it could come when you least expect it; and at the wrong moment in time where you're not prepared to deal with it. Bad things can happen when suppressed emotions come to the surface; especially if you're with other people or in a public setting.

Thankfully, my realization came more privately. It was a text that triggered it and made me ask myself, "Why am I feeling this way?" It should have made me feel happy, but I felt angry instead. My anger surprised me because it didn't fit the situation. It made me get real with that fact that I had been closing the door to "hope" and staying "comfortable" in "the new normal" (even though that "new normal" wasn't "comfortable" at all)! If I embraced the hope of something that gave me joy, that would mean that all the sadness would bubble up regarding all the people and things that I miss. I don't want to think about the sadness of missing people and events, so I've distanced even BEYOND "social distancing". A life devoid of risk doesn't equal safety, folks. It's a life defined by fear and that's no life at all!

As I acknowledged my feelings, brought them before the Lord, and confronted the many lies one by one, I remembered these verses:

And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. - Romans 5:5 (NRSV).
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. - Psalm 34:18 (NIV).
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. - Matthew 5:4 (NIV).

There is time for everything under the sun. Yes, even a time to be sad. It dawned on me that if I was denying my grief, I was shutting out Jesus. Do I not want Him to be close to me in my brokenheartedness? Would I really say "no" to being BLESSED in my mourning; denying the COMFORT that He promises? Oh, Lord, forgive me! I want and need you to be close to me! If this broken heart means that you are close, I am so grateful! Bless me in my mourning and comfort me! Turn my tears of sorrow into joy (Psalm 30:5).  I know that it's ok to cry and fall apart sometimes. If I want to continue feeling empathy and compassion for others' pain, I have to remember not to fear my own. Like another clip from another movie that I recently shared with a friend:

It's not their pain you're afraid of. It's yours, Charles. And as frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It's the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking. And it's born from the most human part: hope. - Professor Charles Xavier; X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Grace and peace to you, my friends! Remember, this is just a season! Spring is coming; both literally and spiritually! Winter is ending; renewal and rebirth is coming! "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." - John 12:24. Much good is going to be produced from this time of suffering together (Romans 8:28). We'll all love and appreciate each other more. I'm sure we're going to have moments where we feel like Joseph; deeply moved at the sight of our loved ones that we can hardly contain our tears (Genesis 43:30). I fully anticipate that I, and many others, will be crying with joy when we get to go back to church again, see family and friends, etc. It's all ok! You can cry because you miss them now and you can cry when you finally get to see them later! Jesus is there in our joy AND sorrow! Don't forget: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." God bless you!

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