In 2015, my husband and I walked through a marital crisis. If you’ve followed along with us for a while, you may remember me periodically speaking of these things. We immediately started couples therapy and this October marked 8 (yes, EIGHT!) years of bimonthly appointments with a Christian Counseling Psychologist.
The marital crisis is what got us into therapy, but our humanity is what kept us there. What began as marriage counseling, quickly turned into an 8-year-long look at our own selves.
Now, we are about to “graduate.” I say this loosely—we haven’t earned a degree, we haven’t overcome every obstacle in life, and we still have the typical irritations that every person has. If we have learned anything in therapy, it is just how human we truly are! Honestly, we could go to appointments until the day we take our last breath and we would still be learning, growing, and developing. But isn’t that how life is supposed to be? A journey of learning, growing, and developing? So why is it that so often “therapy” has a judgmental stigma attached to it?
Perhaps some of you read about our long season of counseling and your eyes became as big as saucers. “What in the world could they possibly need help with for EIGHT years?” I will tell you, there has been plenty of opportunity to grow over the past 8 years.
We have become such strong advocates for soul-work combined with brain-work, that our 3 oldest children have also participated in therapy. Our younger 3 will in due time. We believe that their spiritual journey depends on it!
Let me explain: you can only grow spiritually as much as you are willing to grow emotionally. Spiritual growth and emotional growth are linked. If you desire an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, it cannot truly happen without a deep dive into your emotional self. You can memorize scripture, attend church, and look the part, however, there will always be something missing without deep soul work with Jesus. And soul work takes time. It is part of the narrow path. Few find it—even among believers—but those that do experience peace unspeakable, joy uncontainable, and a steadiness within that radiates the Love of Christ.
Contrary to what you may have been told, your emotions are NOT bad—they are signals that require our attention. Remember, Jesus had emotions—at least 39 different ones that we pick up on in the gospel accounts! He never denied them, prayed them away, stuffed them, or sinned because of them. Jesus brought His honest emotions before His Heavenly Father, allowing Him to bring comfort, empathy, wisdom, and insight from them.
Check out this article from Soul Shepherding’s Bill Gaultiere in which he explores Christ’s emotions, giving scripture references for each:
Difficult emotions (sadness, anger, shame, etc.) give us information about what is happening in our hearts. They are like flashing lights and noisy sirens giving us the wherewithal to stop what we are doing and check-in with our heart: “Why did that trigger so much sadness? What is this intense anger stemming from? Why did I feel such shame and embarrassment when she said that?” etc. It is only when we come before the Lord with a sincere heart—being honest about what is stirring inside—that we are able to be transformed by our Savior. Romans 12:2 tells us to be transformed from the inside out by renewing our minds. Each time we come to Jesus with our honest emotions, presenting our aching hearts to Him, He has the opportunity to transform us.
When we cover our emotions by talking ourselves out of them or denying them altogether, we remain stuck and find ourselves in the same place days—or years—later. Do you find yourself in a cycle of experiencing the same difficult emotion over and over again? Perhaps it is a pattern of feeling shame. Or maybe it is anxiety or sadness that defines the cycle. Do you find yourself saying, “I am tired of this. When will I believe what Jesus says?” Do you tend to use sheer will-power to muscle through the difficult feeling until it subsides enough to forget about it for a while? Dear one, your heart is screaming at you to listen because it longs for healing and transformation.
Oftentimes, well-meaning people will simply instruct you to speak truth over yourself and while there IS absolute benefit to this—and scriptural basis for it—it is not ALL we need to do. In order to have Truth “stick” to our hearts and transform our minds, there must be an honest and sincere exchange—a pouring out and refilling of sorts. This means we need to acknowledge what we are believing about ourselves; we need to acknowledge the hurts that are occurring in our hearts, and the emotions they are bringing. We need to sincerely pour them out before the Lord. Jesus wants to meet you there and ultimately transform you one difficult emotion at a time, which takes patience and intentionality. Many times, a counselor helps. Here is what I know: we ALL have aching places in our hearts. Not one is exempt from this reality. If Jesus had an aching heart and needed comfort, empathy, and more, it is guaranteed that I need it too.
Picture your heart as a container. It must be fully emptied of harmful contents before anything else can seep in. Adding beauty and Truth on top of difficult emotions will not change what is lurking underneath. The only way to have life-giving emotions take up residence in our hearts is to acknowledge and work through the feelings and wounds that are already residing there. As we do this, the difficult emotions and heartaches will subside which creates room to fully experience the positive emotions and healing that comes from the Lord. Holding a mirror up to our hearts, looking at them, and accepting what is living there, enables us to genuinely move through our feelings and into freedom. We experience a sincerity of heart and are able to offer others our whole selves. This, dear one, is a picture of transformation.
••• ••• •••
Eight years. Eight long, often frustrating and confusing years! Most times I couldn’t see the transformation taking place. I struggled to see the point many times. There were days I didn’t like my counselor—I didn’t like his process, his words, and his way of doing things. I wanted to quit monthly! I rolled my eyes more times than I can remember! I left in tears many times and then went home to be “mom.” It was hard. And it was expensive—woefully so! Multiple reasons told us to just quit: “Your marriage is healthier now, think of what you could do with the money you’re spending, it is inconvenient, etc.”
What I began to realize over the last couple of years is that this counseling journey and the entire process has been one of the largest investments in our lives thus far. It has challenged us, given us life-long tools, enabled us to help others, healed the deepest of our wounds, and coupled with His Word and time in His Presence, has been the primary way God has sought to bring about “transformation by the renewing of our minds.” There is more transformation that has yet to occur but now we are keenly aware of it and are prepared for the continued journey ahead.
While I understand not everyone is in a position or has the opportunity to receive professional counsel, if your heart sincerely desires healing and wholeness, the Lord will bring the right people into your life. Perhaps it is a friend who happens to be a counselor. Or maybe it is a teacher or a website you come across that you dive into learning from. Podcasts, blogs, retreats, conferences—the possibilities are endless! As you hunger for wholeness in your heart and as you come before Him in sincerity of what you are really feeling, transformation will happen. We are on this journey together! Let us journey into wholeness and healing one day at a time. And if 8 years of professional counsel is part of the plan, let it be so!