Lean Into the Discomfort
I have heard it said that the most effective and efficient way through trauma of any sort is to “lean into the discomfort.” I assume this means that when I am feeling bogged down by something that is calling forth some deep emotions in me that I ought to not run away from it or numb it out with busy-ness or food or alcohol or TV shows or some other nonsense— rather, I ought to instead pay attention to what it is that I am troubled by, feel those feelings, and take them straightaway to God.
Not sure if that’s what that saying means, but that’s how I’ve interpreted it.
And I’ve been trying to do that for the past few years— I really have.
But sometimes it’s hard to lean in when my natural instinct in crisis situations is to go directly into “Go Mode” (aka “Business Mode”). This is when I automatically function in a high-speed “what needs to be done?” manner. I “don’t have time” to stop and feel the grief or the anger or the disappointment— there’s too much that needs to be done in the wake of the trauma/drama!
For the record: I do recognize that sometimes that behavior is just the Reality of Life. Sometimes a person must function in “Go Mode” for survival purposes. But it’s hard to know the difference between when it’s okay to numb out for a bit… for survival purposes... and when it’s just me running from my feelings because they’re too dang intense for my liking.
It’s also hard to “lean into the discomfort” when the bad news comes at such “inopportune” times. (As if certain types of news or emergency situations are ever a welcome bedfellow! Geez, Kristi.) Like when school is going to start in one week and we are leaving town in a few days for our last hurrah of the summer and I suddenly find myself watching my grandma take her last breath. Or like when I just weaned my son and I am a total hormonal mess and then my daughter and I get stalked by howling coyotes for 25 straight minutes in a remote portion of the mountains with no vehicle access… and then that night my husband does something super disrespectful to me. Or like when I am in the middle of “feeling my feelings” as I mourn the loss of a dear friend whose funeral I am about to go to— and I find out that my daughter’s friend is a coma in the hospital and no one knows what caused his current health condition or if he will even live.
Or like yesterday morning: when I was in the middle of supervising a dozen two-year-olds for four hours during VBS at our church and I found out that a police officer from my husband’s neighboring agency was shot dead early that morning. No one knows why. And he left two daughters and a long-time girlfriend to pick up the fallen pieces of grief in his sudden absence.
How can I hear that news, “lean into it,” and feel how horrible that is— knowing that my husband serves the community right next door to where this guy was killed— and then turn around and be mentally and physically available for a roomful of rambunctious, needy toddlers for the next several hours?
And how do I even let myself go there emotionally when I’m safely home… when I’ve got my own three kids who I don’t want to see me get scared or overly-sad because I don’t want them to become fear-filled every day their daddy leaves for work?
How do we grieve, how do we mourn, how do we intercede for and serve and bless the lost and the hurting and the broken— when we have responsibilities and people (aka our kids) who are counting on us to “keep it together” so that they can remain safe and healthy and hopefully even joy-filled followers of Christ also?
Where is the line where sharing the hurts of the world with our kids— so that they aren’t overly-sheltered and so that they have some level of knowledge of and compassion for others’ pain— where is the line that is too far? Too much? How much emotion should I allow my kids to see? How do I answer their questions without going into unnecessary detail? And when on earth do I have the opportunity to really let loose and feel it all when I’ve got my big kids going to bed between 9-10pm and my toddler rising at the crack of dawn on this beautiful summer day…?
How do we feel the deep hurts of this world… without losing total control and becoming weeping, puffy-eyed messes for days on end?
And how on earth are we able to muster up any strength to “be there for other people”— and maybe bring them a meal or something— when we ourselves don’t even know how we are going to be able to make dinner for our own family that night because we’re too mentally and emotionally distracted?
A few months ago when J and I were in the midst of a marital squabble, he talked to me about this very issue: (Please note that this is not a direct quote) “I am afraid if I let myself really feel my feelings that I won’t be able to turn them off again come Monday morning” is the gist of what he said to me. He was afraid of really tapping into his deep feelings about “our issue” because he wasn’t sure what all would come pouring out of him if he uncorked the dam, so to speak.
Side Note: I think that is a dilemma that so many police officers and military personnel are faced with every day. It is their job to “keep it together” and to be “the calm, levelheaded one” in all manner of emergency situations. They are expected, as part of their very job description, to be the stoic, swift- thinking, always-self-controlled, never-losing-it point-person on the scene. They are not “allowed” to get emotional when they find a dead body or when they are managing a domestic dispute or when someone spits in their face or insults their wife or taunts them with abusive remarks and petty jibes. They are only allowed to react in a physical manner if they are genuinely afraid for their life or the life of someone else nearby.
They, if anyone, are “not supposed to” lean into and feel their feelings when they are at work.
How then are they also expected to be loving, generous, affectionate, big-hearted men and women when they are home with their families?
I don’t have any of those job expectations on me— and I don’t even know how to do this “leaning in” thing healthfully/properly. All I know is that I want to be a passionate, deep-feeling, God-following, Spirit-led human who knows how to handle her crap in a healthy, wise, responsible way. I want to get past my emotional ouchies. I want to sensibly handle the trauma and the drama that comes my way.
But also? Sometimes? I just want to shut it all off and eat frozen chocolate chip cookie dough while I watch The Office outtakes on YouTube.
Trying to find the balance.
I don’t have an answer, friends. Just questions and food for thought. I welcome any input you all might be able to offer me.
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What about you?
How do you take your burdens to the Lord? Do you have any practical tips as to how to get through conflict and grief in a healthy manner?
Please feel free to share your comments or your own journey in the comment section below.