Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Into the Mess

In some ways, I was a bit hesitant about publishing "Sound Reflections: Echoes of my Boots." I felt it was a good piece to share – it spoke of hope and it was true at the moment. But I also knew that other moments might be different – in fact WOULD be different. That's the funny thing about healing – it doesn't take a linear path. It's a jagged line with peaks and valleys. The general direction is usually up, but sometimes those valleys can plunge dramatically – perhaps even further down than the last dip. Sometimes the valley may even seem to be more of a gorge with a raging river running through it.

"Echoes of my Boots" was from one of the peaks. I knew there would be more valleys, so part of me hesitated to publish a post that might imply everything is now all good. It's not. Healing is a process. Sometimes it gets downright messy and unpredictable. Sometimes it seems to go backward before it goes forward. Sometimes you manage to take a few steps only to be knocked back again. Often you find yourself tumbling toward the valley floor only moments after standing on the peak. If you are in that place, healing from ANY hurt, please know that's normal. Things often get worse before they get better.

When I clean out a junk closet I usually drag everything out to sort through it all. The mess I create in the process actually looks worse than it did before I started. That's probably part of the reason so many of us put off doing it. As long as the door is closed, everything is okay. At least, it seems okay. We do a pretty good job of acting like it is – even convincing ourselves that it is – until someone opens the door a crack and gets a peek at our mess... or until that one last thing you want to stuff behind the door causes the entire mess to come crashing down around you.

My psychologist cracked open that door for me a couple of years ago. I'd been convinced there wasn't even anything in that closet. When he suggested there was, I denied it: Everything's okay, nothing to see here. I was wrong. He saw what I couldn't see. The mess in that closet – the broken trust of that six year old little girl1– rules my reactions. It affects how I view the world, myself, and how I react to others – with reactions that aren't always justified.

We've been working on that. But to change something, first you have to be aware of it. To be aware, you have to look at it – really look at it. You have to take it out of the closet, out of the box. Once it's out you have to deal with it. You have to face those emotions and reactions. That's where it gets messy.

In "The Wounded Heart," Dan Allender wrote:
"The answer involves a strategy that seems to intensify the problem: peer deeply into the wounded heart. The first great enemy to lasting change is the propensity to turn our eyes away from the wound and pretend things are fine. The work of restoration cannot begin until a problem is fully faced.2
The truth is that we don't want to clean out that closet. We don't want to look. But we have to look if we want to change. We have to peer deeply. And if we find the courage (or the desperation) to do that, it seems to actually intensify the problem! Ugh! Emotions and reactions come to the surface with surprising strength. Messy. Painful. It gets worse before it gets better.

Recently, my psychologist asked how I was doing. After a few moments' hesitation and reflection, I answered:
"I feel worse... but I think it's because I'm doing better."
He smiled and nodded, affirming: "I couldn't have hoped for a better, more profound answer." Then, of course, he asked me to explain.

I felt worse because peering into the wound had stirred up emotions and reactions that had been suppressed. They were no longer stuffed behind the door, but were beginning to spill out. That week I'd seen in myself an unjustified reaction toward my husband and I'd cried in his arms because of it. That was the feeling worse. But it was also doing better. I'd actually allowed myself to feel – and that was progress. It's difficult for me to allow myself to feel and express emotions. I've pushed down and invalidated my own feelings for so long that most of the time I can't tell you what I'm feeling because I don't even know myself. It's amazing how much time I've spent on my psychologist's couch in stumped silence because I had no answer for his questions of what/how I was feeling! It's something we've been working on for over two years... with a frustrating lack of progress. But that week I'd seen my brokenness. I'd seen how it hurt my relationship with my husband. And... I was heartbroken over it. Heartbroken and angry that all I had to offer my husband was my brokenness. I was at that spot where the mess (part of it anyway) was out of the closet. I felt worse. But I was doing better.

I've been going through that closet now for a couple of years. Things have been wedged in there so tightly it's taken a lot of tugging to pull it out. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting a handle on it – times like I wrote about in "Echoes of my Boots" or "Changed by Story." Sometimes I get blindsided by something I didn't see coming – like when a simple devotional recently had me sobbing (and totally freaking out) in my husband's arms. But I'm learning that the mess can just be that for now – a mess. It's okay. God took 40 years to teach Moses humility, patience, and trust as a sheep herder in the desert (after he killed the Egyptian and in preparation for the Exodus). God used 17 years of slavery and imprisonment to prepare Joseph to act as second in command of Egypt. So it's okay if it takes some time. It's okay to sort through it a few things at a time, going through it on my own time, in my own way. It's even okay that sometimes it seems like the mess is bigger, not smaller. That just may be what Joseph was feeling as he sat in that jail! I do wish I didn't have to remind myself of that so frequently, though....

The important thing is to open the door; to go into the mess. If we are willing to go into it, God will bring us through it. The Apostle Paul promises us that "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." 3 So, yes, it's okay not to be "there" (wherever "there" is). It's okay to be a work in progress. It's okay to be a mess. As Ally in the movie "Mom's Night Out" says:

I'm a mess, but I'm a beautiful mess.  I'm His masterpiece, and that's enough.

So keep looking; keep going in – because He will bring you through. He will complete what He's started!


P.S. I thought the hand-stamped dogtag necklace in the top photo was pretty cool. It's available for purchase at ChariT's Inspirational Creations.

P.P.S  And, yes, now I want to see "Mom's Night Out" again. Great movie!

1. See "Into the Silence"
2. From "The Wounded Heart" by Dan Allender (I also recommend "The Wounded Heart Workbook" to go with the book)
3. Philippians 1:6


  1. I love that line "I feel worse, but I think it's because I am doing better." Yes! That is so right. I cheer this with you. I am delighted to be your neighbor today on the linkup. Come say hi sometime!

  2. I hear you - I had some revelations that came up this summer - it had to do with unstuffing things that I had buried deep - a habitual "taking care of things" instead of actually feeling things. So, the next time I had practice with a situation, I decided to "feel" instead of "solve" and I felt worse...but better. It's amazing how gentle God is as He "uncorks" us. Allowing us to breathe, like fine wine.

  3. Thanks, Jen! Always nice to know that someone hears.... :)