I have discovered that I love to pull weeds. Especially the kind that dig deep and require a lot of elbow grease to come up. Think Bermuda grass. Large dandelions. Invasive trees or shrubs. I consider pulling weeds as a metaphor for pulling up sin from its depths. Similar to Adam’s curse in Genesis 3:18 “The ground will produce thorns and thistles for you…” I have found that “white knuckling,” aka using my own elbow grease or doing it “my way” isn’t enough to stop bad habits. These have to be dealt with from their root. And these roots grow especially deep; they have to be dealt with by God, and within community.
Life, with all its loss brings pain. Pain can often produce unhealthy coping skills, and the choices are many. Seth Haines, in his books Coming Clean (Haines, 2015) and The Book of Waking Up (Haines, 2020), offers some very helpful advice. Following is a journaling activity inspired by his writings that has the potential to bring much healing from past hurts:
- Invite God into this space. “Thank you for being my Dad. Please meet me here as I find the root cause of the pain that is causing me (and regrettably the little ones in my care), to trip up. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” --Psalm 139:23-24
- Pen in hand, go into the dark places of your soul. Find where the tender hurt is. Maybe it is from your childhood. Maybe it was the moment of your profound loss. Write down these experiences. Enter the pain. Remember you are not entering this cave alone. Give your uncomfortable emotions a name. Sadness? Anxiety? Loneliness? Write them down.
- How do these experiences and consequent emotions trigger pain for you today? Understand that certain experiences today will trigger pain from your past. Give these experiences a name. Think of concrete examples of recent times that you have reacted emotionally. Another benefit is so you are not caught off guard the next time you are triggered.
- Remember that emotions provide us with information, but not necessarily truth. We do not live how we feel. Emotions are part of the world’s system. They can foul truth. When we allow our mind to be hijacked by them we are in for quite a roller coaster ride (and not the fun kind). Remember where our truth comes from: God’s Word. When we view emotions as information, we can manipulate them by determining the next course of action (e.g. find truth in God’s Word, find a healthy coping skill, ask for the support of a friend, pray it away, etc.). In your journal, list your favorite healthy coping skills.
- Confess the unhealthy coping skill. To what have you turned to numb the pain? Is alcohol your weapon of choice? Food? Sweets? Sex? Work? Exercise? Control? Pray: “Father, I confess that I have turned to ______________________ to numb pain.”
- This is where community or accountability are extremely helpful; I dare say necessary. Because when an unhealthy coping skill comes into the light, it loses its power over you. Quite literally, “the truth shall set you free.” - John 8:32
- Pray: “I now release this into your hands.” Ask God to fill the empty places in your heart with Him.
- Ask God for scripture that brings truth and counteracts the lies which your emotions have led you to believe. I can honestly thank God for Google’s help locating these scriptures. As Olaf said in Frozen 2, “Advancing technology can be both our savior and our doom.” In this case, utilize Google to connect with your Savior.
When you find yourself heading down a not-so-healthy path because of triggered pain, try these practical tips called “The 3 A’s:”
- Aware: Be aware. When we react emotionally, our body gives us physiological cues (our breathing becomes fast, our heart races, we tense up). When this happens, acknowledge that you may have been “triggered” by some sort of pain from your past. Create space for yourself. Find a quiet place and invite God to meet you here at this place. Take deep, cleansing breaths: breathe in for 5 counts, hold for 6, and breathe out for 7. As you breathe in, imagine yourself receiving God’s peace. As you breathe out, imagine the anxiety leaving your body.
- Attend: Name the feeling. Ask yourself: was there a prior history of this feeling? Is there a pattern you have noticed?
- Allow: Allow God’s word to counter every one of your fears:
- For example: say “ah, there you are again ‘not chosen’ I recognize you from my past. You do not have any hold on me today. Because the truth is, I AM chosen, by God (Romans 8:16).
- Other examples of common fears, replaced with God’s truth:
- “I am not loved” can be replaced with “Father, how great is the love You have lavished on me, that I should be called a child of God! And that is what I am!” --1 John 3:1
- “I am alone” can be replaced with “Do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” -- Isaiah 41:10
- “I am not good enough” can be replaced with “My father takes delight in me.” --Zephaniah 3:17*
- Remember: God’s word promises that as we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil, he will flee. --James 4:7
Physical pain can be here one moment and gone the next. We can quickly forget the pain ever existed. When we invite God in to heal the past scars of emotional pain, we can wake up one day and realize we are free from the pain. God, in His omnipotence (power), omnipresence (always present, yesterday, today and tomorrow) and omniscience (all knowing) has healed us. And in our healing, we get to give Him all the glory.
Haines, Seth. The Book of Waking Up. Zondervan, 2020
Haines, Seth. Coming Clean. Zondervan, 2015.