Written by J.M. Bergman
When I was little I was a picky eater. I hated the sight of onions, peppers, or mushy tomatoes, and was not willing to eat my food until I’d picked each undesirable thing off my plate. Once they’d been eliminated, I enjoyed my meal.
I’ve learned that going through life with “undesirable” emotions — resentment, anger, and sadness—has had the same effect on my heart: any taste of joy is tainted.
We all experience emotional pain, and learning how to heal in healthy ways is crucial. A Christian counselor once told me that if I focused on the hope of our future resurrection, eventually I would feel joy again. In short: suppress my emotions so that I can experience joy.
But suppressing pain can cause a range of health problems. In her memoir, Heartbreak, Canadian author Laura Pratt shares her findings on how emotional pain follows the same neurological pathway as physical pain. If left untreated, it can wreak havoc on our bodies just like a physical ailment would!
Another fascinating book on this topic is The Body Keeps the Score by U.S. psychiatrist and author Bessel van der Kolk. In the book, van der Kolk lays out the scientific findings on how negative emotional experiences actually reshape our bodies and our brains, which then compromises our ability to experience pleasure.
I recently re-studied Jesus’ emotional response in John 11 when his close friend, Lazarus, passed away. Verse 35 says that “Jesus wept,” but what our modern-day translations gloss over is that Jesus actually had an emotional meltdown.
New Testament professor J.Scott Duvall writes that in the original Hebrew text, the word used to describe Jesus’ weeping is “embrimáomai,” which means: an outburst of sorrowful anger, rage, or indignation. Certainly a far cry from focusing on the joy of Lazarus’ resurrection only moments later.
It seems that, just as my tastebuds needed me to remove certain foods from my plate so that I could enjoy my meal, our hearts need us to release the undesirable things as well. And weeping is one of the ways our pain can leak out. Perhaps we could all benefit from a “good” cry every once in a while!
Other healthy practices can include showing ourselves compassion for past mistakes, writing feelings in a journal or sharing them in confidence to a good friend, or setting healthy boundaries to protect ourselves from letting in more pain. I’ve found that sharing how I feel inside—even if it doesn’t make me feel any better in the moment—has laid a foundation. It teaches my heart that doing the hard work of healing matters.
I’ve been finding substantial healing through work developed by former pastor and counselor, Tim Fletcher. Through his videos and programs I’m learning to pinpoint and understand the undesirables. I’ve only been working at this for a couple months, but I have had small, beautiful glimpses of what joy feels like without being tainted by anger, sadness and pain.
We have been created to feel, acknowledge our pain, work through it, and grow, reaping a bountiful harvest through our journey.
The act of gently excavating the crevices of our hearts should never be done in isolation because the work is hard and often overwhelming. Instead, consider pursuing this journey in a way that includes people whom you trust. Seeking counsel from professionals is wise, keeping in mind that you may need to try a few options before you find the right fit.
If we learn effective ways for our hearts to heal, then past and present trials won’t have the authority to taint our lives anymore! And overtime, this will make space for deep-rooted joy.
J.M. Bergman is an author and poet living in Morden, Man. Read more from the “Body and soul” column.