I’m writing in a state of anxiety, agitation stirring beneath my skin, making me want to claw at myself – my flesh, my mind. It’s easy to want to hide away from this, to lose myself in a book, in the ever-on-running depths of the internet, anything but my own being. Who would want to stay present in this, to this body of pain, this mind slipping, spiraling out of control?
I don’t blame myself for wanting to be somewhere else. We live in a culture of avoidance, offering a plethora of things to distract us from our lives, to numb ourselves to the things we don’t want to face, don’t want to give voice to. There is a whole pantheon on gods we can turn to, we can offer our lives to, when it all just feels too much and too hard.
It’s easy to separate off our attention from our bodies and their discomforts, their dis-eases, to shut off their voices longing for wellness. It’s easy to cut our attention off from our minds and our values, and what choosing to live in line with them might actually mean. It’s easy to bypass our spirits, to put off that soul work another day, to rest on the laurels of having faith instead of living it another day.
It’s so easy.
But where does it say in our Bibles that our God wants our lives to be easy? And doesn’t this ‘easy life’ so quickly begin to feel hollow? There are so many ways this ‘easy life’ doesn’t live up to the promises of God that in Christ we will have full and abundant life.
I see it again and again in my own life; I see it again and again in my research into the depths of self-harm and the recovery from it. Self-harm is just a flashing neon light, highlighting the societal problem; it’s the eye-catching signal which shows us our collective focus on avoidance and control.
When we avoid what is real and what is true, when we put off the hard things for another day – some vague time in the future, just as long as it’s not today – we squash that fullness, we limit what is possible. God doesn’t call us into a life of avoidance. God didn’t give us the depth of emotions we have just so we could numb them out and skip back into happyville.
No healing comes when we refuse to face what is wounded.
There is no story of Jesus coming up to someone and saying, “I know you’re refusing to admit that you’re ill or broken or desperately in need, but I’m gonna heal you so you don’t even need to worry about it.” No! We are told story after story in the Gospels of people crying out, desperate for Jesus’ intervention, breaking open roofs, pushing through crowds, breaking rules and social norms.
It takes guts, especially in this culture of avoidance, this culture of positivity at all costs, to look straight into our wounds. It takes guts to stand firm in the path of anxiety and let it come. But the only way out is through. The only way we can live well with our woundings is to be present with them, to face them straight on and welcome them as part of our lives.
We perpetuate our suffering by not meeting our wounds eye-to-eye, by pushing them away, by refusing to see. We risk wounding others when we refuse to admit that we, ourselves, need healing.
There can be no fullness of life if we are refusing to experience half of it. We cannot claim to be living the full life God desires for us if we are living out the denial of our physical form, or the fact that we are emotional beings, or that there are multiple dimensions of ourselves which we need to learn how to harmonise. There can be no empathy or fullness of love for others when we are refusing to love our full selves and refusing to welcome the fullness of our experiences. To live fully, to experience fully, we must be grounded in our bodies, open to feeling our discomfort, our awkwardness, our pain.
This might mean we need to learn new skills, such as how to be present to our emotions, how (and when) to act on them, how to live in a body with pain or dietary sensitivities. Or we might need to learn more about eating a healthy diet to provide the nourishment our bodies need, not the effects our minds want in order to numb our feelings for another few hours, and to relearn how to move our bodies in healthful ways. Maybe we need to learn all of it and more.
Are you willing? You don’t need to get it right straight away, you just need to be willing to take the first step, and then the next.
Stop putting it off. Just turn and face one thing today. Turn and greet it with a hello or a welcome. Maybe try asking what its message for you is. If you’re not used to doing this, you might need to do some coaxing, but be patient and gentle, like you would be when asking hard questions of a small and shy child. These parts of our lives are not used to being listened to, that’s one of the reasons they seem to yell so loudly. But you might be surprised by how much your own life wants you to live in wellness and fullness.
You don’t have to do it alone. Ask a trusted friend to stand with you; pay a counsellor or psychologist to hold space for you. And most importantly, know that God is with you in it. We don’t just have a god of the happy times and the sunshine. We have a God who knows the despair, who knows the storms, who intimately knows the brokenness, and loves us in it.
So, here’s a challenge for you (and I’m challenging myself too): can you love yourself in the broken parts? Can you love yourself enough to face them? And when you do, can you treat yourself gently and with kindness, trusting that God has you safe in Her hands?
Our liberation in Christ does not mean we are free from all the things we try so hard to avoid. It simply means they cannot hold us, that they do not have the final say in our lives. We are invited, not into a life apart from death, but deeper into life itself. We are invited into greater and fuller life, but only by entering with Christ into the death which has held us. It is by turning our eyes to our Messiah, dead on a cross, that we can also see the resurrection life.
So, look into your wounds, look into our collective wounds, for it is there that we can find a fullness of life which will never be possible in a life of avoidance.
And today, when I finally stopped trying to avoid my anxiety, when I invite her to speak, I receive this:
“This PhD is such important work, and you need to do it well, I want you to get it right.”
“Thank you,” I reply, “I agree and that is what I desire too. Thank you for the reminder to hold this sacred work with tender hands.”
And anxiety can rest, knowing she has been welcomed, heard, and honoured. And I am free to do the work we both want.
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