Some people have the emotional capacity of a teaspoon. Not me. I have the emotional capacity of a 50 metre swimming pool with no shallow end. That might sound all romantic and mysterious but have you ever tried to maintain a 50 metre swimming pool with no shallow end? You can get all sorts of things hiding in there and all sorts of gunk growing on the surfaces. One of the huge things I’m realising is how long it can take me to get in touch with what I’m actually feeling.
One time a friend did something that really hurt me. It took me three months to realise that I was angry with her. Three months. By the time I became aware of it enough to have a conversation about it she had forgotten about it and moved on (but not before scolding me for not approaching her sooner). It wasn’t that I was holding onto resentment and secretly wanting to wring her neck everyday, I simply didn’t realise how angry and hurt I felt. It was hiding in the depths and I hadn’t looked. I wish I could say that three months is the longest it’s taken me!
All the clues were there: the resisting sleep at night until the bitter end, the exhausted mornings, the shoulder muscles winding tighter than normal, the random sighing, and, for me the most debilitating sign: my productivity slowing down to a crawl and then a stop. Have you ever had a computer that needed defragmenting? Too slow to be of any use but back to normal after it’s dealt with? That is my emotional life in a nutshell, except that that defrag needs to happen every day. Or at least most days.
Are you familiar with the enneagram? I love personality explainers but it took me a while to engage with the enneagram because it begins with weaknesses rather than strengths and I don’t like coming face to face with my weaknesses! I’m a 9. The Peacemaker. And the growth point for 9s is getting in touch with their anger instead of falling asleep to it. We 9s love our comfort. Ironically, that sometimes means sacrificing inner peace for the sake of outer peace, not wanting to rock the boat. And it is a miserable existence. Not having inner peace is exhausting.
I’ve been working from home during this lockdown period, so still occupied but with slightly fewer distractions. I’ve found God challenging me to dive into some depths that are scary: disappointments I thought I’d dealt with, disappointments I didn’t realise existed, anger that is deep and untapped, anger aimed at myself, anger aimed at other people, anger aimed at God, unmet needs of my spirit and soul that never have a chance to be heard usually. It’s intimidating. It’s scary. Yet, dare I say it, it’s exhilarating.
I travel fairly often for work but honestly I haven’t always understood the attraction of travel. I travel to be with certain people rather than see certain sights. Slowly, I’ve been realising how the inner depths that can appear intimidating can also offer a world of adventure. Not at the expense of a relationship with the outside world, but in a way that complements and enriches it. When God brings to the surface something that’s been languishing in the depths, it’s an opportunity. Sometimes the opportunity feels like an invitation to lie on a sunny beach, other times it feels like an invitation to jump off a cliff into the churning sea below.
This week He showed me my fear of giving myself wholeheartedly to Him (or to anyone or anything else for that matter). He pointed to moments in time where I felt like I’d done that and had experienced great pain as a result, whether from others’ rejection, or unforeseen consequences, or whatever else. He showed me the reactionary rebelliousness that I’ve developed in response. Outwardly I like it when people like me. Inwardly, anger and pain rise up in me when I perceive someone telling me what to do. I have held up my pain as a shield, “Don’t get any closer! It’ll hurt me! And then I’ll hurt you!”
He didn’t bring it up as a slap in the face. He brought it up as an invitation to lean in instead of pulling away. He brought it up as an invitation to make friends with that part of me, to see what Jesus is doing there (usually enjoying Himself), and what He wants to do there (love it, love me, bring restoration and redemption).
It’s difficult receiving love in the places that hurt. Love brings them to life again, reactivates the pain that’s been numbed. It’s especially difficult when the pain is a result of my stupid actions and decisions but Jesus doesn’t hold that against me. It’s all been nailed to the cross. It’s all been dealt with in eternity, He invites me to walk it out in real time.
Instead of getting panicked that I can’t breathe underwater and swimming up and jumping out, I can lean in and embrace what He’s doing: shining His light in the dark places of my soul, bringing love to places that have been love-starved for far too long. Much of my pain has come from stupid ways of trying to meet that love-hunger. He is patient. Always waiting quietly for me to return and bring that need to Him, the need that only He can fulfil. I am learning. Slowly!