9 Life Lessons of Healing and Integration

30,000 feet in the air and somewhere probably over Illinois or Kansas is where I find myself writing this first post.

I’m headed “home” to small, mountain-town Colorado. To the log cabins my brothers and I were born into. We moved away for most of my childhood, but I returned for my last two years of high school and many college breaks.

I say “home” because home is a relative term nowadays. In the last 12 months, I have:

  • lived in 5 different houses/apartments in 3 different cities of 3 different states;
  • visited or stayed in at least 11 other cities covering at least 3,000 square miles of the USA;
  • changed jobs 4 times with another change nearing.

And those are just the quantitative facts.

The last time I went “home” to Colorado was 10.5 months ago. Relationally, theologically, and personally, my life almost couldn’t be more different than it was at that time. I’m single for the first time since I was 19 years old. The closest thing I have to a home church is about 1,000 miles from where I’m living. My understanding of God and my relationship with scripture has forever changed from what it was when I seemed to have it all figured out. I’ve endured emotional pain I never thought “someone like me” would have to experience, I’ve had to live with the fact that being my authentic self challenged all of my existing relationships, and I’ve had to learn to accept help — something that is not easy for someone like me who taught herself to feel worthy by being the helpful one.

The capable one. More on that later.

So, really — what is home? What is normalcy? When everything is questioned and tested by the storms of life, what is steadfast and reliable?

Is it the people? Sure, in part. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a family committed to supporting one another through thick and thin, through differing viewpoints and experiences, through the best and worst life brings. I’ve also realized the absolutely priceless worth of friends who make themselves your family. I know God’s grace is real because there is not a thing I could have done to deserve the people who have been by my side and lifted me up over this past year. I’ve said it before: we are not designed to do life alone. More on that later.

Is it a place to sleep and eat? Sure, in part. Becoming exposed to the reality of the pain and lostness in the world has made me incredibly thankful for a soft, warm bed, the ability to nourish myself well, and a place I feel safe and comfortable.

But in reality, home is neither place nor people. For me at least, home has come to mean being at peace with God and myself. And when you stop running from your past and decide to face it — that the only way out is through — that’s not always an easy “place” to find.

In fact, it can be downright terrifying.

I had to hit the bottom, in multiple ways, in order to see what really stands.

The theological answer and the relational answer ended up being the same thing: It is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the love of God that stands when nothing else does.

This doesn’t mean I can sit on a deserted island with a perfectly formulated doctrinal statement and a knowledge that God loves me and live a life of wholeness. Even if I had the wilderness adeptness of Brian from The Hatchet or Tom Hanks’s character from Cast Away (which, trust me, I absolutely do not).

Nor does it mean I can hold fast to my relationship with God internally but live a “normal” life of working and hanging out with other people, always keeping the relationships shallow enough to be safe, and think I’m spiritually sound.

Real Christianity is relational. It is vulnerable. It is messy and painful. It’s also beautiful and brilliant. Because when we realize that God is with us any and every time we call to Him, we realize we are called to mirror that relationship with each other. It just means we have to have the humility to call to each other, and the love to answer one another.

So what’s my point? I assure you, my intention is definitely not to complain about having a rough year. While my problems are real, I know that yours are too. I know that pain and disappointment are a part of this life and that smarter, more holy people have gone through much worse than I have.

My intention is to allow my experience, both the pain and the healing, to be used by God to help others walk out of their own darkness. In the torment of the storms, clever philosophies and social niceties simply don’t stand. What we all need in those times is someone who is familiar with our suffering, who really gets it, who will walk with us as we climb, crawl, and claw our way out of it. We need Hope personified.

That’s Jesus, by the way. That’s why we need Jesus.

And that’s why we need humans who follow him to be in our human lives with us. Because we are called to be Jesus to each other.

So yes, one purpose of this blog is an outlet for me to process my experience, to articulate my learning, and to document my healing. In one sense, I could write these and save them to a file on my hard drive and no one else would ever have to read them for it to be worthwhile for me.

But I am choosing to share for a couple reasons. First and foremost because if I can help even one person reading this know that they are not alone then I’ll consider it a success. And secondly, because vulnerability and openness about the hard things is about as appealing to me as a lake full of leeches, and I know I need to jump into it. So do you. But we’ll come back to that later.

So here we go… Here are the hardest learned lessons of my life that I’d like to share with you.

Maybe they can prevent you from having to hit rock bottom in some small way… or at least throw you a couple flashlights and granola bars to help with the climb.

1) Healing is a journey and we don’t get to speed it up. We can only try to avoid slowing it down.

It took me way too long to really accept this, so please learn from my mistake: Your healing will happen at its own pace and there are no shortcuts. Yes, it helps to know about physical and mental wellness through the journey. Yes, it helps to have a great support system. Yes, it helps to have a healthy way of filling yourself spiritually. But none of these things will exempt you from the emotional process you need to go through in order to truly heal.
The only other options are numbing and avoidance, which can look like a lot of different things from substances to seemingly-noble distractions. Fight it. Fight for a routine that leads you towards wellness and provides support when things get tough. Ask for help before you find yourself in crisis, or when you realize you are in crisis. Then remind yourself of everything you’ve come through in life already, and embrace this journey for whatever it will be. Because you are worthy of love. Because you have too much to offer to settle for less than total healing.

Bottom line: It’s probably going to take way, way longer than you want to think when you first face the change. The sooner you submit to the journey, the sooner you’ll see true progress.

2) You probably need to strengthen your theology of suffering.

This isn’t about you personally — it’s about a failure of the modern church. We’ve tried to paint God into a genie who gives us our wishes and rewards our good behavior instead of the present help that He is amidst all the trouble we are all sure to face in this life. Scripture talks about trials and times of suffering as purifying events for us — times that can do things for us that no amount of teaching can do. Dig into this and see that God doesn’t want you to be hurt but He will use everything in your life, including the pain, to bring you closer to Him and into a more authentic holiness.

3) We have been taught to suppress our thoughts and numb our emotions in many ways. Breaking those habits is incredibly messy, often painful, and absolutely necessary.

The first stage of your healing will involve you making space for yourself to be honest, including honesty about your struggles. This is where you identify your true friends and keep them close. See #6.

4) The final stage of healing is integration. Instead of rejecting or running from your past, you can use it as a springboard.

The commonly stated stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Depending on what you’re going through, I would add Disillusionment, Disappointment, Guilt, Shame, and Confusion in there too. And the stages don’t flow nicely from one to the other — we often oscillate between them or experience periods of regression to what we thought we’d gotten past already.

Letting yourself experience these for what they are is usually half the battle. Humans are resilient and intelligent creatures, and chances are, you already have the solutions to your problems inside you somewhere. Or you know the God who delivers.

Trust in God’s design for healing and overcoming. The other half of the battle is reminding yourself that this struggle won’t last forever. Keep in mind that when the dust of the battle settles and the pain subsides, you’ll have priceless lessons that you never would have had without the struggle. And no matter where you are in your adult life, you now have the chance to live the rest of it with a deeper understanding of who you are, who God is, and what really matters.

5) Forgiveness and gratitude are the two most powerful emotional forces in the world.

This truth alone has strengthened my belief in an intelligent creator more than the most poignant apologetic argument. When you lean into the concept of forgiveness, you can be freed from the most binding mental and emotional prisons. The same is true for gratitude. When Paul spoke of knowing how to be abased and how to abound, I believe it was because he had anchored himself in a perspective of gratitude. Every moment of every day you have a choice to focus on what you’re lacking or what you have.

Both forgiveness (mercy) and gratitude are like muscles. The more you use them and practice them, the easier they become, and they’ll become second nature. Freedom awaits you.

For some of us, the hardest part is committing to forgiving ourselves. We understand the gospel and can more easily forgive those who hurt us than to show that same truth to ourselves when we mess up. I can’t say I have this one completely figured out yet, but I’m committed to learning how. I know Jesus died for me, too.

6) You can’t do this alone.

I’m sorry, you just can’t. That’s just not how it works.

It’s worth restating: it is imperative that you identify the people in your life who have unconditional love for you, who can pour into you, and keep them close. When we struggle, we tend to want to isolate ourselves. You must build an inner circle that you can commit to staying open with. I recommend this be the people in your life who illustrate a true Christian heart and not a high-minded intellectual stance. A hug and a cup of tea is a million times more valuable in a hard time than a robust exegesis.

6.5) You may need to consider getting professional help.

I’ve brought myself to professional counseling at two different points in my life and both times it helped facilitate my healing. If your struggles involve addiction of any kind, counseling/therapy or a 12-step program really ought to be something you deeply consider. Yes, it may be uncomfortable at first. You can handle it. Yes, it may cost you time and money. You’re worth it.

7) It’s imperative that you practice self care. Self care and selfishness are not the same thing.

Commit to taking care of yourself like you would commit to someone you love.

Self care can mean a lot of different things: getting enough rest, drinking plenty of water, eating well, staying active, practicing financial stewardship, making time for things you really enjoy. Those are easy; those are things we know make us feel better.

Self care also means establishing patterns of accountability and support for yourself, filling yourself spiritually instead of allowing yourself to slip into apathy and distraction, and, at times, pouring into strained relationships to lead them towards health so you can draw strength and joy from them later.

This type of self care is not selfish. It is a resolution to making and keeping yourself well so you can pour out for others and glorify God. Check out the gospels and note how Jesus knew when it was appropriate to be burdened for other people and when he needed to retreat and regroup.

8) We each must recognize and accept that we are only responsible for ourselves. We must draw the line between pouring out for others and attempting to control them.

This is the hardest lesson I have ever had to learn and the one I continually have to teach myself daily.

When you know the gospel is perfectly true and irresistibly beautiful, and you want to be the best ambassador for Christ that you can, it doesn’t make sense when things fail. When brokenness happens. When other people don’t respond to the call, or at least in the time and manner that you want them to.

And then you remember that Jesus himself was rejected, and he did it all perfectly. And you and I are far from perfect.

So instead of striving for perfection in either performance or results, we are much better off taking Paul’s advice to take heed to ourselves. Do what you can for others, but recognize that you are not responsible for their faith, their behavior, or their choices. Establishing healthy boundaries is key to making sure that you are in a position to lift others up instead of being drained and dragged down from your own wellness.

You are worth fighting for, too. And you ARE responsible for yourself. And the more whole you become, the better position you will be in to help others in time.

9) God makes a way.

When all the boxes and formulas I tried to put God in melted away and He was still there waiting to wrap me up in His relentless love that is both fierce and gentle, that’s when I realized just how big He really is. He is defiant of all the ways we try to contain and systematize Him, and yet His love and grace reach so much deeper and wider than we can even fathom.

Did you know that 6 of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous directly acknowledge and call to the help of a Higher Power? AA and similar programs are based in a Christian theology but do not demand allegiance to any particular religion. Studies have shown that you don’t even have to believe that the Higher Power truly exists to see success from calling out to Him for help.

If you’ve had an incorrect idea about God your whole life up until now, He has still been God. He is still there, waiting for you to call to Him. Yearning to help you. Longing to heal you and draw you ever closer to Him. Wanting to help you become the person you’ve always wanted to be but have never been able to without the sacrifice and example of Jesus.

He will make a way.

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