I was literally gasping for air…physically choking on my own avalanche of emotion and confusion. What did they just say? I can’t grasp this? What does this mean? Does it mean what I think it does? The relationship was severed….instantly with nothing I could do but reel physically in shock and the crushing kaleidoscope of emotions that were threatening to drown me….. trying to come up with a way to take the next step, let alone walk to my car and drive away…
I had trusted that person with my soul, my deepest pain, my heart, and they had simply dismissed me with a “flick of the hand.” They had promised to support and help and assured me they were trustworthy…. and then..BANG they were not!!!
….when I most needed them to be. It reminded me of the words of a song
“I leaned my back up against an oak…I thought it was a trusty tree…but first, it bent and then it broke (Bob Dylan).”
Only in my case, there was no bend! It was an instant SNAP and CRASH! What was even more crushing is I had no one to talk to about it. No one who could understand what this terrible tear meant in my soul. Part of me died that day and I was sure it would never EVER revive again! The ensuing weeks and months were lived in a mindless numb shell as I carried on the functions of life without a soul. I literally felt like a switch had been snapped between rational logic and emotion.
Those of you who know me may be shocked to know I felt that way..after all,…I am the MK (missionary kid) who knows more verses and Biblical songs by heart than most people I know…. because I was raised memorizing them and loved singing so have been called a walking hymnbook by some… But that was my reality at that point. My world was instantly catapulted into an emotional vault that words could not touch for a time.
I had been trying to learn how to trust again and the one person I thought I could trust to help me, had proved untrustworthy and walked away. The picture I had in my mind was of being rowed out on a dark night into deep water and then told to get out of the boat and start swimming. The assurances of support and guidance were there until I was in the water and then… they were GONE! I was left to find my way back to land in the dark in water over my head… good thing I had learned how to swim as a child… but in the depths and not being sure which was land????…. God led me back to land in ways no person could.
I felt like I had been taken in for open heart surgery and then left on the table to figure out how to sew myself up, get up and walk out of there without any help from anyone. I did sew up and walk out by God’s grace alone. But in the process infection set in… and I was in a dark place of confusion between indescribable grief, despair and anguish once I processed what had happened. I would certainly never trust THEM again or ANYONE else for that matter. Because I had no one to talk to at that point, the pain, gut-wrenching sense of loss, and confusion got buried into deep crevices in my soul like puss does in infection. God left me alone with that dark place for a time, because we all need to know how helpless we really are before God can do anything with us… before He intervened … but that is for later. It took a full year for the emotional confusion to clear enough for me to fully grasp truth again and for God to use some wise people to carefully reinvite me into the world of trust again.
I was driving to a place of retreat and on the way was begging Him to help me out of this, to find a way back to hope and light and life if it was ever possible to recover from this kind of utter crushing? I was listening to the audio version of Andy Stanley’s Enemies of the Heart. Trying to figure out how to get past this to a point of forgiveness… I finally understood in a powerful way how Jesus felt when his disciples deserted him in his hour of greatest need for emotional support. Andy’s book was a HUGE help in unraveling how to think about all this, but it took time for me to absorb the truths while battling the emotional blocks. My mind still whirled and at times would be caught in a downward spiral of “How could they? and I didn’t deserve this!!! They completely misunderstood and misused me!! and I am all alone!! and No one understands!!” You may also be familiar with the “beat me up” or “beat them up.” ideas that plague the mind in these dark moments of the soul? The Psalms are replete with David’s thoughts like this.
I was aware in the fog of emotion that I was in a battle of a lifetime to regain control of my mind and in doing so I would be able to stop this emotional volcano. I had no idea how to do it. So I begged God for help and below is what I did. (I have now told enough people these steps that I thought it was time to put it in one place so I can send people here who ask me how I was able to, not only forgive, but enjoy spending time with this person again.)
“I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons
are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end,
but by His making us wait,
bearing with us in love and patience
until we are able to honestly pray
what He taught His disciples to pray:
Thy will be done.”
~ Elizabeth Elliot
(for those who may not know her story, her husband was killed senselessly.
I love how God patiently waits when we are in these dark places until we can see Him and then gently helps us to walk out of it. He truly is the Gentle Shepherd!
I have learned a great deal in the months and years since then, but to begin with, this was the first most important step and lesson. .. I can say much more about the Biblical verses. I knew those but I had never been in a place like this where words meant nothing and I could not control the raging emotional overload. A pressure cooker had exploded all over my soul and I had to find a way to put the pieces back together. I will develop more of the Biblical part of this in the coming weeks but for now, this had to be step one!
I am going to be very practical with this because the pat “you just need to forgive them” was simply not working!!
I needed a real way to get out of this tunnel of emotion!!!
The first thing I needed to think was “not forgiving was actually giving ammunition to them. It was hurting me, not them. It was allowing them to continue to ruin my life.” That was NOT ok with me. I NEVER wanted them to ever have any control over me again!
Once I fully realized that I was not willing to give them that kind of control over my emotions and mind anymore. They had betrayed me. Jesus Never did. He had to be the controller of my mind and emotions!
Then I learned that forgiveness is a process… it’s not a one-time Act. Every time thoughts of that person came into my mind I had to intentionally tell God I needed help to forget them.
Then I had to force my mind to go somewhere else regardless of how my emotions were raging. It truly was one of the most difficult things I have ever done!!! But I was determined to win by God’s grace!
I knew I could not take it on all at once so I picked one the specific times of day that were often trigger points. Usually, times when I could be alone with my thoughts, like when getting dressed or showering or driving to work.
driving to work time.
Then EVERY day for 3 weeks, I refused to allow thoughts of that situation to control my mind for that time. When a thought would hit, I would intentionally force my mind elsewhere by praying, singing good songs, like these ones, Beside Gentle Streams: Hope for Hurting Hearts.
or this one Don’t be Afraid
, reciting verses, calling someone to encourage them, or things like that.
The first day was impossible but I got a few mins of relief, the rest of the week was nearly impossible..lots of tears…begging God for help…
When God wants to do something big,
He starts with an impossibility,
then it is difficult,
and then it is done!
The second week got a little bit better. I would play good music, I would think about the things I loved…I would pray, I would sing or play good music.
By the third week, I could see the thought pattern was finally breaking and with it some of the deep crushing emotion. So I picked another point of the day that I used to dwell on those thoughts and went after it in the same way. It was easier but still a challenge.
I kept working at it till each point of the day was broken, despite setbacks, and in time the pain Eased, the soul-crushing grief became manageable and I could move on. I learned the real truth of the verse “having your senses exercised…Hebrews 5:14” (that word exercise in greek is the word we get “gym” from. We develop brain cells just the way we develop other muscles in the body by working them which gives all new meaning to Romans 12:1-2 and especially the phrase “renewing your mind…”. I have learned lots about the science behind mind, emotion connection as well. (more later)
My motivator was that these people were no longer allowed to control my emotions and my life. God was the only one who got to do that!
Thinking this way rather than trying to determine whether or not they deserved it, helped,….they didn’t deserve forgiveness…neither did I….none of us “deserve” it, we were all eternally condemned till Jesus died for us… We have to turn to Him, recognize him as God, believe that his death on the cross paid the penalty and ask for His forgiveness ourselves to guarantee a place in heaven. Keeping this truth in focus also helped!
It really had to be about getting back my life, my heart, my emotions, My Hope in Christ, My joy in Him, my ability to serve Him, separate from any other person.
What God has done since then is more writing and God’s work in progress.
Oh, the Lord is my Gentle Shepherd showing me the way.
Through the darkness, through the sunshine,
He will never lead astray.
He is with me ev’ry moment, He’s in my heart to stay.
Oh I feel His arms around me, and I hear Him gently say:
I am the Gentle Shepherd watching over you.
I am the Gentle Shepherd and I’ll surely see you through.
I have been where you’re going and I know what you have to do.
Oh, I am the Gentle Shepherd, and I gave my life for you.
If you’re looking for a Saviour, looking for a friend,
Oh let Jesus be your Shepherd, He will love you till the end.
The door is always open, come now and don’t delay.
And He’ll be your loving Shepherd; He will guide you all the way.
He is the Gentle Shepherd, watching over you.
He is the Gentle Shepherd, and He’ll surely see you through.
He has been where you’re going, and he knows what you have to do.
Oh, He is the Gentle Shepherd, and He gave His life for you.
He is the Gentle Shepherd.
words by Duane Nichols, music by Duane Nichols and Mary Lynn Van Gelderen
recorded on Come and Sing by the Stouffer Men.