Growing up my family rarely talked about the hard stuff in life. It was not like those topics were off limits; it was more along the lines of never given space to come up.
As I have gotten to know my parents’ stories of their lives growing up, this is not much of a surprise. Both grew up along the poverty line, so their families were more concerned with survival and providing as much of the basic necessities as possible. For my dad’s side, these were more glossed over, since there were twelve kids between my grandpa and great uncle’s families. By the time my dad came along, the youngest of all of them, it was very much, “Are the kids all alive? Ok, good.” For my mom, though, it just wasn’t safe to be vulnerable because of her dad’s bipolar disorder, which sadly did not get diagnosed until decades into the future.
Each had their own family history that either labeled the negative emotional experiences of life as either unimportant or dangerous to share.
Throughout my childhood and adolescent years, I would have long stents of everything being “good” and “all together.” Then every several years or so I would have a moment of colossal emotional meltdown with my parents. Every time what had been building up inside of me caught them by surprise. It usually caught me by surprise as well.
As surprising as it was at the time, looking back it is not shocking at all that these episodes would happen. As one of my favorite authors, John Eldredge wrote regarding the pent-up emotions inside our heart, “if we force them underground, they will pop up somewhere when and where they choose. It is like trying to force a beachball further and further under water. Eventually it will come loose.”
As human beings I believe we have an inbound hope, and very naïve hope, that if we bottle up the negative feelings we have long enough, the season will pass and those bad emotions will dissolve and disappear. Unfortunately, that is like seeing the “Check Engine” light come on in your car and believing that driving it long enough will make it resolve itself. We all know where that will lead. (Wouldn’t it be so nice if it were true though!)
The same goes true for what we often label as bad or uncomfortable feelings and emotions. They are signals that something internally or externally is off, and some investigation is required to figure out why they have turned on.
Modern day cars have a very convenient diagnostic tool for mechanics. Typically, they can plug into a port on the car that will tell them exactly what is wrong or point to a very specific place to look under the hood. Unfortunately, we do not have anything like that. The process for us looks much more like the old school mechanic digging for details to uncover the underlying issue. They ask for anecdotal evidence of issues that narrow in on what the problem may be.
The steering wheel vibrates as I drive. The car shakes when I apply the brakes. It feels like something sticks when I change gears. The car starts over heating if it idles for long. The headlights do not come on right away after turning on the car. The AC has stopped working.
Each one of those points to a specific condition that be traced to a root issue. Maybe you have enough experience to identify the issue and have the tools at hand to take care of it. Maybe you have a car junkie for a friend who can help. Perhaps you or your friends do not have the knowledge or tools to handle it, so you have to take it into a professional.
In the same way our emotions need to processed and we need be willing to dig down to the underlying issue.
Sometimes we can do this by simple processing by ourselves. Maybe some activity like journaling, prayer, or meditation will help give the clarity you need. Maybe you have done some training or gone to some classes that gives you a framework or questions to help you process.
Often, we need to go to a friend or family member. We feel overwhelmed by the issue at hand and need some help to see what is happening clearly. We have someone we can trust to sit back and listen and give us solid advice when we ask for it. Sometimes it is in a place where we have a mentor who has gone through very specific scenarios as what we are going through, and they can provide insight for their valuable experience.
There are times where the wounds are raw and deep, and we do not feel safe exposing them to even close friends. Maybe we do not feel like there is someone we can trust to talk the pain through with. Sometimes, even after talking with friends or mentors, we still are left in a place of not knowing what to do or how to move forward. In those places, it could be time to go to a professional, someone who is trained in walking with people through the hard and uncertain times of life. It could be a life coach, sometimes it could be a pastor or person at the head of your faith community, or it could be a social worker (therapist, psychologist, or counselor).
All too often, we bury our hurt and pain so deep for so long that it begins to fester and infect multiple aspects of our life. The beachball bursts above the surface of the water and the resulting insecurities, anxiety, addictions, or abusive behavior pours out like a popped cyst. The resulting shame and fear that roils through our being like a spreading infection feels suffocating and crippling. We quickly try and cover up our wound vowing to clean it up before the world can see.
One of the most surprising, shocking, and wonderful events that can ever happen is when someone peels back their bandage to show you their wound, and you realize you are not alone. What is even better is when you find yourself being able to open up and show someone else your wound and give them the freedom to uncover theirs. What is really exciting is when you see a scar on someone, proving that the wound can actually heal!
Our world does not need shiny perfect people. It needs communities where we can be open about our pain and hurt, and be committed to walking with one another in the journey to healing. It needs realness, authenticity, and vulnerability. It needs less judgement over symptoms, and more care over core issues and deep wounds.
We need mercy for the painful actions of others, so a safe place can be created to share our wounds. We need love to authentically share or stories and connect with others with a firmness that provides gentle accountability for ourselves and others to stay on the path to healing.
To a life worth living.