My husband wrote this post for his spiritual director and Kev (very graciously) said I could share it with you. I'm so proud of the difficult emotional work he's been doing. If you've ever struggled to express yourself, or love someone with a similar issue, I hope you are encouraged by Kevin's journey.
Before that...if you missed the series on Shame and Spiritual Abuse, you can catch up here:
Telling the Truth, by Dorothy Littell Greco
Two Kitchens, by Janna Northrup
Shame and Spiritual Abuse, by an anonymous blogger
Signs of a Spiritually Abusive System, by Kathy Jack
Why I am Still a Christian, by Marlena Graves
And now...Did I Even Want to Grow Emotionally?
"For as long as I can remember, I've hated when people have asked me the question, 'How are you?' I know it's usually just meant as a polite greeting or a way to initiate a conversation, and that didn’t bother me. It was when, every once in a while, someone really asked and actually wanted to listen to my answer. That’s when I got annoyed—not at them, but at myself.
I could always navigate my way through small-talk, but when someone expected or needed me to go deeper, I had no clue what to say. Even though I knew I had a full emotional life underneath the surface, whenever I was asked to express it, I felt like a foreigner in a strange land.
I was just trying to understand my feelings; I definitely didn’t have the skills to converse about them.
I started meeting with a spiritual director a year ago and we began by talking about the inseparable connection between emotional and spiritual health. And it didn’t take long for me to figure out that if I wanted my spiritual life to matter, my emotional life needed to matter as well. But the question I still had to face was this: Did I even want to grow emotionally?
My initial answer was no. I mean, I’m 37 years old. I feel connected to God. My marriage and family are doing well. I’ve been a pastor for ten years, and every year ministry continues to get better and more enjoyable. I am in the process of planting a church with a great team of people. I’ve always been able to connect well with others. It’s not like I am hitting rock-bottom or anything.
But after meeting with my spiritual director, I knew that I couldn't live another day of my life with what felt like the emotional understanding and vocabulary of a kindergartner. If I couldn’t understand and express what was going on inside of me, I wondered how spiritually-healthy I really was.
And if I truly cared about the great spiritual work God was doing in my life, I knew I had to take seriously my emotional health. Plus, why would I wait until things got worse in order to work on such a vital and significant part of my life? Why would I want to continue feeling ashamed of myself? Why wouldn’t I want to grow in ways that could potentially unleash more grace and enjoyment of God in my life and potentially in others around me?
I finally realized that I wanted to grow emotionally. Now, I'm discovering the specific ways I am emotionally-wired. I'm finding the vocabulary to describe how I feel. And for the first time in my life, I am learning how to connect with myself and with the myriad of emotions that make up my internal life.
Years ago, a friends and I hiked ten miles down into the Grand Canyon to camp at the bottom for the night. When we finally arrived, we were forced to turn around and go back because we didn’t have a permit or a reservation. Although our hike out was slow, unplanned, and exhausting, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful nights of hiking I’ve ever experienced.
Working on my emotional life has felt a lot like that hike out of the canyon. Slow, unplanned, and exhausting. But every time I stop to notice where I’ve come from and to recognize the beauty around me, I am reminded that all the hard work has made my life and leadership even better."
What about you? What keeps you from understanding and expressing your internal life? In what ways have you found that your spiritual and emotional life are connected?
And if you're interested, you can find out more about Kevin's spiritual director at legacyshepherding.org.