In the middle of winter, 2012, I went looking for a safe place to let my heart break, and found it on a mountainside in Colorado. In the clear light and thin air, I started to face the ways that life was not turning out as I had expected it would. I had been *trying* so hard, but I felt profoundly alone, exhausted and bitter, and I knew I couldn’t stay that way. My hope in sharing this story, is that if it resonates with you, you will be encouraged to give yourself some time and space to work through whatever has you feeling stuck.
More than anything, what I needed was to let my guard down and admit that I was hurt, that I felt unsafe and uncertain. I needed to lay down my pride and self-defense, and allow myself to feel, fully and deeply, so that I could finally process some difficult things that had happened. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown uses the term “offloading” to describe how we try to avoid uncomfortable emotions. We stuff them down, we cover them with anger or blame, or try to numb them, but they’re there and they’re gaining power, and if we don’t work through them, we act out, often in ways that are not consistent with who we really are, or who we want to be.
Rather than working through my hurt and disappointment, I’d been carrying them around like some sort of twisted security mechanism, like if I carry around enough hurt and disappointment from the past fifteen years, there won’t be room for more. In reality, though, what it actually did was make me more likely to accept things in the present that I just didn’t need to accept, or to assign more weight to things that shouldn’t have been a big deal, making them feel like a greater loss. I wasn’t getting to the root of the issue, cleaning out and resolving the hurt.
When the atmosphere is out of balance, we begin to see its power manifested as lightning, hurricanes, tornadoes. So it is, when we don’t face our stuff head on, it swirls endlessly, causing us to live in a constant state of damaging, threatening storm. I believe we need to give some attention to the things that hurt us as a way of processing, and acknowledging that it matters. As Stasi Eldridge says, the first step of healing is to admit that “it mattered.” Then , we put a boundary around that space. We take the lessons and get rid of the garbage and move forward, rather than continually giving time and energy to the things we haven’t resolved.
I also needed to confront the lies I had believed. I think when difficult things happen, our impulse is to assign meaning to them, and this can very easily turn into negative beliefs about ourselves or our circumstances. My story was woven with incidents that felt like abandonment, betrayal and broken promises. The way I saw it, many seemingly unconnected acts had banded together to enforce this idea. You may be sensing a theme here. Difficult things happen. This is true, and it matters, but our reaction matters just as much, if not more. I had allowed all of these things to snowball to the point where they affected all of my beliefs about myself. I had come to believe that I was completely alone. I was convinced that I wasn’t good enough – across the board, in every area of my life, I felt inadequate. Perhaps most dangerous of all, I felt that hope was a violent thing. I did not see the way forward. Those days in Colorado provided a safe space to question & examine these beliefs and find where they were faulty – and you will find, they all are faulty. If you quiet your heart and listen to God and the voices that matter, you will find the lies exposed for what they are.
I had to learn to own my piece of it, without trying to own everyone else’s piece. As I’m sure you know, this is no easy task, and that’s why I think it’s so important to call a time out, step outside the situation, stop the flow of incoming information, and just look for the solid ground.
I met some beautiful women at that retreat, and one afternoon we went out to take pictures. We stopped at several open stretches of road, crunched through the snow, cameras in hand, talking about life and God, soaking in the beauty. It was a profound experience, so outside everyday life, and yet so tangible and substantial. As we drove, we were listening to Mumford & Sons, and the song Timshel came on. There’s a line that repeats over and over, “You are not alone in this.” I held my breath and soaked in what I can only describe as a holy moment. What a beautiful reminder when I needed it most. You are not alone in this.
I needed to mark an end to an old way of thinking. For me, part of “owning my piece” was realizing that I needed a different way of interacting with the world. Taking time away allowed me to make a fresh start. It gave me an opportunity to intentionally decide what habits and perspectives I needed to let go of, and seek out new ones to carry forward. Here’s one thing I’ve learned: You write the lessons down on a good day so that you remember them on the tough days. That’s what I did in Colorado, and I have looked back at those pages many times since, when I am not feeling so strong.
God came and found me in those mountains. I felt as if I left my expectations and entitlements in the ice and snow, and they’ve long since melted away. Here’s the thing, though: it’s not a quick fix. It never is. Working through difficult emotions, confronting faulty thought patterns, renewing perspectives, all of these are things I continue to work on. I continue aiming to let go of comparison, let go of expectations, let go of control and the need for everything to be fair, to make room in my life for grace and friendship and gratitude and joy.
Here’s what I wrote while I was on that mountain about how I want to interact with the world:
I want to have joy in my day-to-day, and I want to bring joy to others. I want to be part of something that matters. I want to be generous and thoughtful and kind. I want my heart to be soft, and awake, and alive. I want to be responsible, but not obsessed, with the resources God has provided. I want to be beautiful, both inside and out. I want to be strong enough to speak up, but gentle. I want to be inviting. I want deeper relationships with my family and friends.
This is what I keep coming back to.
So, how about you? Are there thought patterns you’re ready to trade in? What are you leaving behind? What are your hopes for the best ways of interacting with the world?