NATALIA* WAS JUST 15 when she met the love of her life . . . or so she thought. She was an only child with disconnected parents and a dysfunctional home environment. Love was not expressed nor validated. She longed for human warmth. When she met Matthew, he said everything she always wanted to hear. But it was short-lived. He left her as quickly as he arrived when Natalia became pregnant.
Her parents demanded that she abort the child or give it up for adoption; otherwise, she could no longer live in their house. These were the only words Natalia ever heard her parents speak about her pregnancy.
The adoptive parents were present at little Ben’s birth to take him away immediately. That was the last time Natalia allowed herself to feel any emotion and the last time she smiled at life. From then on, she sealed her pain and numbed her emotions with boys, alcohol, drugs, and travel.
Fast-forward to present time. At the age of 55 Natalia found herself alone, bitter, resentful, guilty, ashamed, and incredibly angry. She never married or had any more children. And on top of it all, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves, resulting in nerve damage that disrupts communication between the brain and the body.
As Natalia’s therapist, I had the privilege of embarking on a healing journey with her. And what a journey of redemption it has been!
I explained to her that when we don’t take time to acknowledge, feel, and label the emotional pain we experience, we become dead inside and nonresponsive to the world. Life is meaningless, only lived for the moment.
It was challenging for her to open up. Her emotional container had been hermetically sealed for 40 years. Once she allowed herself to peek inside the part of her life that had been frozen for so long, suppressed feelings started melting away.
We humans don’t like to feel pain. Hence, instead of embracing it, we avoid it. We can avoid it for decades.
We live in a world of uncertainty. Life as we knew it will never be the same. The environment in which we live is out of our control. This alone can bring out major storms; add to that all the emerging emotions sealed away until now, evoked by all the changes, and things become even more complex. But Jesus is the anchor!
CALMING THE STORM
Think of an occasion when you went on a boat ride. Remember how relaxing it was, the beauty of the surroundings and perhaps the good company you shared this ride with. Imagine yourself in that scene.
On the way back to shore from your boat trip, a storm un-leashes. You are so close to shore and yet you cannot make it because the storm is too vicious. Now there is only one thing to do. Drop anchor. The anchor does not change the storm, nor does it control it or stop it. The only thing the anchor does is to keep you from tossing around or being carried out to sea. The anchor keeps you put until the storm passes.
The storms are our emotions, negative cognitions, and harmful thinking patterns. These come when we least expect them, sometimes without warning. Until Jesus returns, we will encounter storms. Storms are part of life. Natalia ignored them for decades, continually swept away by feelings that left her in utter emotional exhaustion time and time again. She felt joyless and angry for most of her life.
Jesus and His disciples also faced a storm while crossing Lake Galilee. When they first left the shore, the water was so calm and still that Jesus fell asleep. And then it happened. The storm took the disciples by surprise. Terrified, they scrambled to save themselves, finally calling out to Jesus in fear for their lives. Immediately He stilled the waves, but He was disappointed by their lack of trust. The outcome could have been different if they’d anchored their faith in Jesus and waited in His presence until the storm passed.
These three steps allow us to drop anchor and safely wait for the emotional storm to pass:
1. Acknowledge the pain. Notice the emotions and name them. Our brain loves details. Call each emotion by name. Don’t hold back.
2. Pay attention to where in the body you feel the emotion. Stress, fear, worries, anxiety, and other negative emotions fix themselves in our body. We feel them in our shoulders and stomach, and we can also experience heart palpitations, sweaty hands, rapid breathing, and headaches.
3. Bring it to the Lord in prayer. Sit with the Savior as you tell Him exactly what you are going through. This is your opportunity to tell Him (audibly, when possible) everything, in detail, about the pain you are feeling. This is therapy. Bring to memory significant Bible verses that will help you sit in peace while the storm passes. Express your gratitude for the good things (and not-so-good things) that allow you to bend down on your knees before the Creator. Sing worship songs and wait with Him. Find a way to worship Him. Get anchored in Him. The storm will pass, and instead of leaving you emotionally depleted, it will lead you closer to the Savior. The more you practice this process, the easier it will become to wait upon Him.
* All names have been changed.