Healing is a Choice: The Second Step is to Feel Your Life
- Steve Arterburn Author and Chairman of New Life Clinics
- 2005 13 Oct
Ashlyn Blocker’s life dramatically demonstrates that pain is a special gift from God that protects us. Ashlyn can’t feel pain. Her parents knew there was something wrong when she placed her hand on a hot pressure washer and felt nothing. When her baby teeth came in, Ashlyn would wake up with swollen and bloody lips from chewing on them in her sleep. While eating she unknowingly bites through her tongue. Her food has to be cooled to prevent the scalding of her mouth. Ashlyn’s mother said: “Some people would say that’s a good thing. But no, it’s not. Pain’s there for a reason. It lets your body know something’s wrong and needs to be fixed. I’d give anything for her to feel pain.”1 What is true of physical pain and the body is true for emotional pain and the soul. Pain is a gift from God to let us know that something isn’t right, that something in our life needs attention and fixing.
When we feel our lives, we’re tuned in to pain as it emerges and can resolve it before our lives begin to revolve around it. But if we aren’t allowed to, or choose not to feel the pain, we’ll add hurt on top of injury and inflict difficulty and conflict on our lives, just like little Ashlyn who continued to injure herself. Pain is a gift. It’s not one we actively seek, but when it appears in our lives, we need to react appropriately, rather than deny or neglect it.
This means we must never shame people who don’t or can’t instantly feel the joy that awaits them on the other side of their pain and agony. If we do, we’ll push them into a place where they walk around with ungrieved losses and unresolved pain. This pain is never buried dead. It’s buried alive and must be fed every day. It’ll drive a person to eat, drink, spend money, have sex, gamble, and do a thousand other things for relief. You must feel before you can heal, or you’ll stay wounded and in turn would others who get too close.
Dying To Self
Our feelings have a place, but they shouldn’t be the entire focus of our lives. That’s really what those who suggest we don’t need to feel are warning against. They’re warning against a life in which everything’s based on how we feel. However, by suggesting that people ignore their emotions, deny the depths of them, and attempt to move on, they create the very problem they’re trying to prevent. We must feel our lives and live them authentically, with nothing hidden and nothing buried. Living like that enables us to have feelings without being defined solely by them.
We need to die to self, rather than trying to drown out our emotions or kill our feelings. Dying to self is an interesting concept. It’s simple, painful, and makes no sense to most of the world, but dying to self means we’re willing to give up our entitlement to be comfortable. It means we’re willing to be uncomfortable for the good of others and the purposes of God. We’re not healing our life if we’re protecting ourselves from feeling the emotions buried deep inside. We’re infecting it with loneliness, isolation, and alienation. In order to heal, we must die to our most immediate desires and experience life as it is.
The Big Lie
Many are living the big lie that if we’re real Christians we should experience a real peace in all circumstances. The lie only serves to delay the pain that must be experienced as a gift from God. The gift of pain pierces through us, and we instantly know we have a problem to solve or a mystery to unravel. When someone we love dies, we have a problem to solve. We have to find a way to live without that person. We have to exist without their daily touch or frequent contact, encouragement, or nurturing. If we deny that pain, we don’t solve the problem. The claim of instant peace can lead us to constant and ongoing pain that won’t die until we feel it, express it, understand it, and resolve it. The big lie prevents us from healing. It moves us into superficiality and fake connection. Feeling our lives and the pain in them allows us to connect in authentic and intimate ways.
The Resurrection’s Impact On Feelings
The foundation of the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus actually existed, lived here on earth to show us how to live, then took upon Himself the penalty of our sins, died for them, was buried, and rose from the grave. It couldn’t be clearer that accepting Jesus as your Savior makes all the difference in the eternal world. But the fact that Jesus died on the cross for you and rose from the grave has a lot to do with how you live today and how you feel. You’re free to feel the emptiness, the fear, and the anger because you know you’ll survive and that in the end, all of these feelings will be resolved in the hands of God. So every day you can turn over to Him a little bit more than the day before. You can feel your life and experience it to the fullest.
The above piece is an adaptation from Healing Is A Choice: Ten Decisions That Will Transform Your Life & Ten Lies That Can Prevent You From Making Them, by Steve Arterburn. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2005.
Stephen Arterburn is the founder of New Life Clinics, the largest provider of Christian counseling and treatment in North America. As host of the daily New Life Live! radio program, he is heard nationally on over one hundred and eighty stations and at www.newlife.com. Steve is the creator of the Women of Faith® Conferences and is the author/coauthor of over thirty books, including Healing is a Choice, Lose it For Life, The God of Second Chances, Every Man’s Battle, and Avoiding Mr. Wrong.