Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Releasing Worry & Trusting God: Leaning In

Last month, when I posted "Releasing Worry & Trusting God: Manna Moments", I had no idea how much I was going to need it for myself! I have revisited it a few times; and not just because I was planning on making a "part two" post. My intent was to go deeper by exploring how to have faith when things are REALLY hard and not looking like it's going to work out the way we think. Trouble and conflict will always be present in life; and people and circumstances will frequently fail to meet our expectations. So, I was going to focus even more on the faith aspect of things by talking about people like Joseph, Job, and even Jesus. They all persevered through hardships because they knew and trusted the Lord as well as His purpose and timing. However, I was reminded (through my own current hardships) that focusing only on the faith aspect overlooks a very important part: the emotions in our heart. We can absorb the truth, change our mindset, and soak in His promises and white-knuckle it through the hard stuff, but if we don't address the heart, it's incomplete.

So, what do you do when your faith and emotions seem so entangled? What do you do in the MOMENT when things are fresh, raw, real, and overwhelming? How do you have faith when you're sold into slavery and eventually end up in prison for something you didn't do (Joseph)? How do you not fall apart when your family and livelihood gets wiped out and you're afflicted with physical turmoil too (Job)? How do you embrace being "strong and courageous" (Joshua) when you have to rise up to a monumental task or you're on the run from someone who wants to kill you (David)? How do you deal with sitting inside a prison wondering if Jesus really is the Messiah you thought He was (John the Baptist)? How do you cope when things don't look or feel very good and Romans 8:28 doesn't appear to be "working out for good" the way everyone tells you it will? 

Having faith doesn't mean that we can't feel. In fact, acknowledging and dealing with our deep feelings of fear, worry, sadness, etc. is what helps us build our faith even more when we face it and allow Christ to bring healing and wholeness. When we bury unpleasant and perceived negative emotions and trauma, we end up building up walls of protection and reacting out of an unhealthy and broken place.

The irony of all this is obviously timely. We haven't told many up until now, but my husband lost his job again; third time in two years. So, now my "part two" comes from the fresh experiences and perspective of an insider rather than a hindsighter or sideliner (if those even count as words).

On March 31st, I was at work and saw that Chris was calling my phone; and somehow, I knew in my gut what he was going to say. Yet, when he told me, I was calm. Maybe that was the initial grief stage of shock/denial, but I felt relieved. No more toxic workplace or dangerous and gas guzzling long commutes! I also felt confident that this recycled experience was old hash and we'd be fine. I knew that greater opportunities and blessings were ahead, so I was determined to be positive and full of faith. Yet, I knew my emotions would eventually catch up and I didn't want to deceive myself into thinking that they wouldn't. I know how grief works and that there would be more stages to come (anger, bargaining, acceptance). Those stages can also skip around and cycle. Yet, no matter how much you try to prepare yourself for an emotional roller coaster, it's never as easy as you tell yourself it will be. In fact, I think I've made it harder on myself by trying NOT to feel; even though I recently read a book about embracing emotions and processing/healing them through Christ. So, I suppressed my feelings as much as possible; because guilt would nag at me if I felt anything negative. I felt that leaning in to learn would lead to me giving in and sinking in (my all-or-nothing mentality rearing its head, of course). So, I would just pray and make myself re-read Psalm 34; concentrating on my word for the year (refuge) and remind myself that I already knew this year was going to be hard. "No shadow of shame is going to darken our faces....He's close to the broken hearted....He's going to rescue us....He's our Refuge." Those were/are the things I kept coming back to and soaking in. I also read Psalm 86 & 91  and thought about the things I learned in Chip Ingram's series "Finding God When You Need Him Most" that I listened to a few years ago. I was determined not to sink into a "swamp of sadness" like that foolish horse in "The Neverending Story" (which is the image that frequently comes to mind every time I think I'm starting to give into a quicksand of depression and despair). I even went back and re-read my "Manna Moments" post a few times; feeling encouraged and guilty at the same time as I "ye of little faith" finger pointed at myself for feeling even a smidge of fear, worry, or grief.

It wasn't until the Good Friday production of "The Passion" that I had a fresh revelation. Over every rehearsal and performance since I've been involved with 3:16 Community Theatre,  I've been ministered to and transformed in some way. It certainly was good medicine for me to be immersed in these performances these past couple weeks. Much like a recent Facebook post I shared, the REAL Jesus showed up through Jesse (the actor that played Jesus this year) and ministered to my heart! At one point, I was in the process of walking around "Jerusalem" before the show and felt so heavy-hearted because Chris and I had just learned that day that the job he was certain he was going to get wasn't meant to be. I kept telling myself that I needed to snap out of it and remember to "walk on the water" and keep my eyes on Jesus. I started praying in the Spirit; giving thanks, praising, and reciting parts of the Psalms to encourage myself. I just didn't have time for a fresh cycle of grief! I needed to "Paul and Silas" my way out of this with some chain loosening and wall shaking praise and prayers! But, if you're like me, even when you press that "emotion override" button to walk in faith, it can still feel awkward and fake because you still feel the hurt. That's when I felt God saying, "It's going to be ok, Melissa." I teared up and asked, "When?" Then, I heard that word, "Soon." I thought of that part in "The Chosen" (S2, Ep2) where Jesus says, "Ah, there's that word. Soon. It's the most imprecise thing in the world. What is soon? A few hours? A few days? Years? A hundred years? A thousand years? Ask my father in heaven how long a thousand years is. Then, talk to me about 'soon'."

As I thought about how long our "soon" would be, I wondered what I was supposed to do with all the emotions that I didn't know how to get rid of. I walked around and started thinking about Jesse and how he would grieve in the garden that night while we would sing, "Could you not tarry with me one hour? Could you not watch and pray while I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders....". It made me think of Dutch Sheets post about Jesus in Gethsemane; describing His agony and grief as He anticipated what needed to be done for us and how painful it would be. He had the weight of the world on His shoulders. He grieved deeply, but could (and did) say, "not my will, but yours be done."  Jesus experienced and expressed those difficult emotions and hurt to God AND still had faith at the same time. Faith and emotions can coexist! Much like when we're told that we can "be angry and sin not" (Ephesians 4:26). We are allowed to feel what we feel; it's just how we respond and heal that matters. .  

I wanted to kick myself for being so dull! How many times have I been the one to weep with people and encourage them to grieve; telling them to give themselves permission to do so? Yet, I had forgotten to give MYSELF permission to grieve because somehow I got it in my head that grief and faith couldn't exist together! I had to tell myself, "You're not weak because you hurt and mourn. Being strong doesn't mean you can't be broken. Brokenness DOES make me stronger."

Later that night, I mentioned my moment to my Chris. I said, "It's ok to hurt and to grieve. Faith doesn't mean we don't feel. Jesus grieved in agony in the garden...grieving in ours doesn't mean we don't have faith....I don't know what our 'soon' looks like, but I know our God and I know us. I know that I love you and am proud of you and that that remains true." It reminds me of the songs I've added to my HeartSpeak playlist this month. I know I can be confident that we can continue to be "Broken Together". We'll "Be Held", and find healing on the other side of "When We Fall Apart." 

THAT is the difference between "leaning in" and "sinking in". As a counselor friend of mine once said, "When we're broken, we're teachable." Brokenness really does teach us, grow us, refine us, and bring us fresh revelation and renewal. How often do we truly attain it any other way? How much stronger do we actually BECOME when we ARE broken and our exposed weaknesses have a chance to mend (IF we surrender to the One who can heal us)? We have a much greater opportunity to gain wisdom and understanding when we are going THROUGH pain and hardship because we're more open and vulnerable. Think about it. How open and teachable are we when we're in a state of self-perceived strength and wholeness? Our pride can get the better of us! We're at the peak of the mountaintop basking in victory and glory; forgetting that we were once in the valley and the struggle we went through to get to our highest points. Trouble in the valley seems so far removed when we feel on top of the world. But, that strength came at a cost. We had to go THROUGH the pain and hardship. "Through" being that key word. We walk THROUGH the valley; we don't pitch a tent and live there. He walks WITH us (and maybe some supportive brothers and sisters walk alongside us as well). THROUGH it, we acquire a new perspective that we might not have ever gained otherwise. If we are willing to sustain the pressing and crushing, that new wine will come! We can do ALL things THROUGH Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Yes, listening to and leaning into that brokenness is hard, but it's far less painful in the long run. If we allow ourselves to feel and listen to the pain and emotions, as if they're dashboard lights on our souls, we can understand and let Jesus fix what's going on underneath the hood. Then, we can move forward IN and WITH faith after Jesus has met us in our pain and helped us release it and heal. 

I think the problem with leaning in (at least for me), is that I frequently become overly cautious about unpleasant emotions. I want to avoid getting stuck in a deep well of sadness and self-pity. Therefore, it causes me to toughen up too much and put on that strong brave face; often resulting in avoiding and suppressing the pain. I should probably keep these two verses in mind: 
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.                                                                                                                         -Proverbs 14:13. 
Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us.                                                                                                                                       - Ecclesiastes 7:3.


Ignoring and suppressing emotions doesn't make them go away. That grief is still hidden behind that "brave face" and will leak out in other ways.This is NOT GOOD, and I KNOW that. In fact, I already learned and blogged this two years ago, so how could I have forgotten this so quickly; and ESPECIALLY after just READING a book about healing emotions?! My gosh, I really am a sheep; having to learn things over and over again. However, my Shepherd is so loving and patient. Growth and learning is a lifetime process. In this world, we will have trouble (John 16:33). Trouble happens over and over again; it has no end in this fallen world. So, we keep on learning and being tested; and hopefully, we find that we have "leveled up" and are gaining more XP (experience points, in case you don't speak gamer lol). For those of us in Christ, our hope is in that second part of John 16:33. We can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world and He doesn't waste our pain! It really can and does refine us! He really does work it out for good like Romans 8:28 says because of that important second part of that verse as well: for those that are CALLED according to HIS purpose! Yes, WE are CALLED to a purpose; HIS purpose. A purpose and plan beyond our pain and circumstances. He's always working it out for that Kingdom plan. But, in that moment where our faith and emotions seem messy and intermingled, it is OK to just be still and know that He's God; and that's enough. He'll sit with us in our pain and we'll just "be" and grieve for a bit.  

Grace and peace to you, my friends! Whatever we're facing, He'll heal and deliver us from it for His purpose and glory. Be still and know that He's God! Let your brokenness make you teachable! Allow Christ to help you discover the gems that are hidden in your pain and are waiting to be unearthed! Grief and tears aren't a waste of your time. Your tears are precious to Him and He collects them all (Psalm 56:8). Never forget that you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31, Luke 12:7). Lean into the pain, but not too much to where you slip into despair. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8). Stay anchored in your faith with prayer and praise; it will shake and break chains/strongholds and set you free (and do the same for others as well who witness your testimony). Paul and Silas can attest to that! God bless you!


Experiencing God When You Get a Raw Deal 

Experiencing God in Times of Crisis

Experiencing God When You Feel Like a Nobody, Going Nowhere

 Experiencing God When You’re Troubled and Depressed

Experiencing God When You are Gripped by Fear

Experiencing God When You’ve Blown it Big Time

Experiencing God in Times of Confusion