Change of Heart 2: How to pursue healthy change when life feels broken by Michelle Essary
I am delighted to again feature my daughter Michelle on my blog. Michelle is a counselor in the Denver area, with lots of wisdom and experience. This is the first of a series she is writing on the realities and practicalities of achieving true life change.
Why is it that in the hardest situations we often find it hardest to trust God…others…ourselves?
Much of our lives we live in a space where we feel we are relatively safe. We work hard, consciously and unconsciously, to create this safe experience in our world and lives. And then, something invades our safe little world and causes us to no longer feel that “everything is going to be okay” feeling. We are faced with the reality of brokenness and evil in the world and we feel vulnerable to it. This can even shake us all the way down to the foundations and cause us to question what we believe.
So, we scramble--emotionally, mentally, and tangibly--to recreate our feelings of safety. We seek to rebuild our safe bubble from the rubble and control our world back into order. We think things like…”If I never do this thing again, it could keep me from this experience” or “If I always do this, I will feel okay again.”
The more trauma we experience, the more often we structure our lives to stay safe, however we find to do that. If we cannot keep our bodies safe, we at least keep our minds safe. We build protective barriers to keep us safe from the world, from others, from God, even from ourselves.
Here’s the thing: We cannot control away all risk in this world and life, and overcontrolling grows fears and gives them more power. So why do we behave this way?
A couple of reasons I can see (and there are more I’m sure).
One: God created this in us to help us learn and avoid unnecessary danger and pain. The skill of looking, learning and changing behavior is good. This becomes bad for us when fear drives it to an extreme place and we try to do everything out of our own power and finite perspectives.
Two: we are in the habit of trusting ourselves and what we see, taste, feel and think more than we trust God. Our view of God comes both into focus and under fire when we experience difficult and frightening things. Did we expect that God would protect us from all pain? Are we in the habit of solving problems on our own more often than engaging with and trusting God?
We grow in trust in relationships through experiences where a person proves honest and trustworthy; the same is true in our relationship with God. The more we see God acting in a trustworthy way, the more we grow to trust Him. It takes interactions to build relationship.
Sometimes our own expectations of how others or God “should” behave influence our view of whether actions are trust building or trust breaking. If you believe that God’s plan is to keep you from all pain, then it may feel like betrayal when he allows difficult things into your life, or the lives of those you love.
Facing the Pain
So where do we go from here? I wrote in my last blog post that change rarely happens when we are comfortable. Change on a heart level rarely happens at all. Why would we replace or address parts of our house’s foundation unless they were broken or damaged?
The same is true of our hearts, our foundational core beliefs. Facing the pain gives us the opportunity to deepen, to grow in relationship with God, with others, and to address our hearts in a unique and significant way.
I do not desire for any person to experience deep trauma and pain, and I believe God feels the same. That said, there is pain in our world. And it brings me great comfort to consider that God understands the pain in this world. Jesus experienced it: pain, suffering, betrayal, the difficulties of life. So how did He, and how do we, stare into the brokenness of this world and keep living, and keep trusting God?
Imagine for a minute that you have been living at the North Pole. When you leave your house in the morning you have developed a habit of putting on your long underwear, your layers of clothing, scarves, gloves, hats and coats. All skin that can be is covered and protected from the harshness of the elements.
Now imagine you move to the gulf coast of Mexico. It is no longer cold, but you have the same habit of putting on all layers to leave your home. Instead of keeping you safe, these layers are now actually causing harm. Not only can you not function as you need to in the warm beach environment, not experience the sea breeze or ocean waves, your fear of exposure and layers of protection could become dangerous to you and do harm.
Leaning into God
It is the same with how we protect, how we cope, how we control our world to stay safe. What serves a purpose in one setting can harm us in the long term. Our self-protection can move from wise to something that hurts or harms us.
What does it look like for us to lean into God instead when there is hardship? What does it look like to break down walls of over-control--to take off some layers of protection we have put on--to be seen, to be vulnerable, to be free???
Jesus had the advantage during his time on earth of always seeing things in-light-of the greater story. He is God, so he knew and trusted God the Father and the plan in front of Him. When faced with his own suffering, He took the step back, again and again returning to the heart of God and the grand plan for eternity.
The reality is, there is no perfect road to growth in-the-midst-of difficulty and suffering. Heart change is the hardest…most other change begins with our heart, our foundational perspectives, our core beliefs. It is from our heart that our desires, hopes, and motivations spring. What we strive for grows out of what is in our hearts. Taking those risky first steps toward safety, toward God, safe others, and to open up ourselves can be terrifying.
What is one step you can take towards this goal of increased freedom and trust?
…with safe people?
…with the world around you?
C2018 Michelle Essary
Michelle Essary is a Licensed Professional Counselor working as a director at Southwest Counseling Associates in Littleton, Colorado. Michelle leads Missionary Care Services, a branch of Southwest Counseling that focuses on and specializes in care for international ministers at all stages of their ministry.
She has 11 years experience in Christian ministry and grew up in a missionary family. She served overseas, in high school, college and leadership ministry. Michelle has training in individual, marital and premarital and relationship issues, family and group therapy. She specializes in missionary and TCK care, depression, anxiety, women’s issues, stress management, and identity issues.
She and husband Brad live in Colorado with their two boys and hound dog Calvin.You can follow her on Twitter @essaryme. And she’s my daughter!