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May 6, 2022

When You Need Someone to Calm the Waves

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Recently I had a pantry day.

Not in the sense of I made my weekly run to the grocery store and unloaded a bunch of food in the pantry (that is something I still need to do this week), but a pantry day in the sense of I needed an enclosed, small space.

Because if I’ve learned one thing the past few months, I’ve learned this – joy and sorrow run on parallel tracks.  There have been a lot of incredible things to celebrate and milestones to mark off, but there also has been a lot of sorrow and loss to process, contemplate, and try to understand.

So much of the journey of the past few months has been about learning how to hold the tension of both joy and sorrow in one steady, outstretched hand.

And this is different for me.  Because historically speaking, no matter how great the gifts of joy God gave, I used to let the sorrowful parts of life crumple and pull me under.

I call it being “wave-slapped.”  Like you’re standing on solid ground, relishing in a moment, or a great day, or an accomplished victory, when all of a sudden you see a post.  Or read a comment.  Or realize from someone else’s comment you’ve been uninvited.  Or were never invited at all.

And all of a sudden, no matter how great your joy, a slap of cold water hits you in the face, leaving you water-soaked, water-logged, and feeling overwhelmed, teetering on the edge of solid ground.  In a moment, you go from secure to insecure.  From enough to not-enough, to never-enough, to never-will-be-enough.  And what a moment before was solid ground feels like it’s giving way to a watery mess of anger, injustice, and deep hurt.

But here’s where things have become different for me.  In the past, I would have been carried completely under by the watery waves.  I would given way to the rush of rejection and hurt and anger and immediately, even compulsively, reached out to connect with someone in my path.  Either to the person who had hurt me, even if it meant having conflict or a hard situation, or to someone who would validate me, pat me on the back, and say, “Yep, that swirling, twirling, quicksand, wave-slapped place you’re standing is a valid one.  That person who hurt you?  Bad.  Your insecurity?  Justified.”

The problem was connection like that only perpetuated the unstable feeling beneath my feet and made me sink farther down and further in.

So that’s why I went to the pantry.

Instead of reaching out to make connection or conflict with a human, I enclosed myself in a small space to connect with my God. 

Because when it comes right down to it, He’s the only one, and I mean the only one, who sets my feet back on solid ground.

Here’s what I did.  I took deep breaths (4 seconds breathe in, 4 seconds hold, 8 seconds breathe out), and then I looked up, and this is what I saw:

Hanging on the slat board in my pantry is a calendar my mother-in-law gave me, and when I looked up, I realized I had not yet turned the page on the calendar from April to May.  So I reached up, flipped the page, and was met with these glorious, hard, humbling, and refining words,

Grounded through trials.

Learn to welcome and embrace suffering as a pathway to Christ-likeness and a doorway into greater intimacy with God.

And in a moment, just as quickly as I had been wave-slapped, my heart was comfort-soaked.  Not through creating conflict.  Not through withdrawing in punishing silence to the person who had hurt me.  Not through chasing someone down.  Or calling someone out.  Or calling someone to listen as I vented.  My hurt was healed through the mercies of God.

In a moment, I went from wave-slapped, turned upside down, to gently turned right side up.  I went from needing validation from a human to receiving validation from my God.  Yes, my hurt was genuine.  Yes, the offense was real.  But all the suffering in my life, all of it, was being used to draw me closer to my God.  And that’s the thing I wanted, deep down, most of all.

Here’s the amazing part – I walked out of my pantry ok.  I walked out with my hurt acknowledged, my needs validated, and my emotions regulated from the inside out by the Person and Presence of God.

And here’s what that meant for the rest of my day: it meant I didn’t have to take my hurt out on my children when they got home from school. 

It meant I didn’t have to be withdrawn from them, too preoccupied with my own pain so that I couldn’t tend to their needs or pain from their day. 

It meant I didn’t have to use up precious time to emotionally sort through pain and offenses with friends or family members. 

It meant I was free – free to be present, free to be joyful, free to be at peace, free to experience both joy and sorrow running on parallel tracks in my life without the inevitable wave-slaps having the upper hand.

Learning how process hurt this way has not been easy; it has come at a high cost.  I’ve spent countless hours before the face of God, remembering the past, remembering bad patterns, asking for forgiveness, and battling out how to extend forgiveness to others. I’ve spent precious time and finances on counseling, telling my story to an empathetic, truth-telling listener who has invited me to hear it through a different lens.  I’ve expended loads of emotional and mental energy learning to pay attention to the inner landscape of my heart, hold my tongue, pause before I speak, wait on God’s timing, and forgive when it has been so hard to forgive.

But the cost of staying wave-slapped and water-logged for the rest of my life was too high.  At some point, I had to choose the path of solid ground.  And I know of no other way to solid ground than relationship with my Father God through Jesus Christ.  He is the friend of sinners and the steady ground underneath all unsteady, weary, water-logged, wave-slapped travelers.

So the next time you feel wave-slapped and want to pick up the phone to call a friend or withdraw in angry silence from the one who inflicted the hurt or find yourself too preoccupied with your own pain to tend the legitimate needs of others, stop.  Find an enclosed space.  Breathe.  And turn to the living God through His living Word.

You might not have a calendar to look up to hanging on your pantry wall, but you have something better than that.  You have the Spirit of God who speaks to you through the Word of God if only you will have ears to listen and a heart to receive His containing, regulating, healing, comforting, wave-calming touch.  He never fails to lead His children to high ground.

Containment or regulation of our emotions is one of what Adam Young calls our “big six needs” as securely attached children.  (To learn more and access his free document called “The Big Six,” click HERE.)  Our need to have a parent to steady us when the waves of life hit is valid and real. 

If you, like me, realize you need help in this area of regulation and containment, then check out my book, Restore: Remembering Life’s Hurts with the God Who Rebuilds, and Bible study workbook that goes with it.  The book is my story of learning how to be regulated, calmed, comforted, restored, and healed by my Father God, and the workbook is an opportunity to invite Him do the same for you.  You can order your copy of the book HERE and the workbook HERE.  May God be with you in the journey to heal your heart, contain your hurts, and lead you into the freedom and JOY only He provides.