Thursday, June 2, 2016

I Built a Shell

I've been hurt.

I take things too personally.  I get too emotional about things.  So to keep those things in check--to keep from being hurt--I hold people at arm's length.  I hold the world at arm's length.  I first started noticing this about myself when the parenting of my strong-willed-child got really tough.  I realized one day that I was becoming apathetic toward this child in order to protect myself from emotional pain.  You see, I'd built a shell around my fragile emotions, in order to keep them safe.  Or maybe to keep from feeling them so strongly.

I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that my life over the past six years has been a roller coaster.  I put my husband through grad school (a second time) and took on the mantle of single parent for the duration of that program.  Upon completion of the program, and because he couldn't even get an interview for a full-time position, I continued to wear that cloak for an additional two years while he pieced together a salary and therefore rarely made an appearance at home.  Once he landed a job, we decided to uproot our family and move to be closer to that job.  His decision to pursue that second grad degree brought with it financial repercussions.  The financial strain brought family strain, both within our home and from extended family members.  All the stress and strain was so much pressure.  Too much pressure.  I remember wondering in the back of my mind, "How much more is God gonna throw at me?  I am at the end of my rope!"  The few words I've put in this paragraph simply cannot describe how squeezed and smothered and pressured I felt.  Day in and day out.  For six years.  And throughout those roller coaster years, my protective shell grew thicker and thicker. 

I've been looking back on that time, nursing feelings of thankfulness that I survived.  "Thank God I survived."  I questioned all along, and desperately questioned in the final eighteen months, why God was not answering my prayers to be rescued.  And I still don't have an answer to that... 

My mother is Negative Nancy.  Trust me when I say she has the market cornered on negativity.  And, she holds grudges.  She's held a grudge against her dad since she was elementary school aged, and all because she believes he favored her younger sister.  Maybe he did.  I wasn't there, so I really don't know.  But I do know this:  She wasn't abused; she wasn't molested; she was raised by people who loved her and cared for her needs; they taught her to love and serve Christ, and equipped her to be a productive member of society.  Yet, she holds this grudge against her dad.  I recently described this behavior of hers as "wearing her woundedness like a badge of honor."  And I condemned this behavior. I said, "Do not let these things define your sense of self, and how you live and view day-to-day life.  These events are not who you are, but things that happened to you.  Learn from them.  Don't use them as an excuse to live a crippled and limited life.  Instead, live the free and love-filled life that Christ died to give you!"

Today, I now realize that my behavior has been no better than my mom's.  I've been wearing "survival of the roller coaster years" like a badge of honor.  I think I've been trying to convince myself  that "surviving" that strenuous time in life made me a better person.  But I'm not a better person.  A better person wouldn't resent her husband for those years of stress and turmoil, but rather honor him for the sacrifices that he made in the hopes of creating a better life for his family.  A better person wouldn't hold a grudge against her heavenly Father for not answering those pleas to be rescued from an unpleasant situation.  A better person would count her blessings, would consider it a compliment from God that He tested her to such an extent, and would never lose sight of the fact that He's faithful and loving and good.

Oh, I haven't lost faith in Him.  I believe.  I haven't abandoned my centuries-old faith in our kind and powerful God.  I still want my life to be a testament of His greatness.  I want my life to be a song that glorifies Him.  Sadly, that desire wasn't apparent to the world around me throughout the roller coaster years.  It was hidden behind the shell I'd built to keep the hurt at bay.  I was so focused on being strong all those years that I failed to let God shine through my weakness.  I was so determined to keep it together that I failed to let Him be the thing that kept me from falling apart.  I was so afraid of failing my family and failing in life that I failed in my faith.

So I close with these questions...

Is it sinful to build a shell around your emotions, in order to protect yourself and deal with life?  Or does God call us to leave ourselves open to the world and the potential damage it will bring, so that when we're hurt He can bind our wounds, heal us and return us to full strength? 

Have I sinned by stuffing all the hurt and sadness and grief as far down as I could possibly stuff them?  And, did all the positive emotions get crammed down with the negative ones?  Will there have to be a day (or year? or more?) of reckoning with those emotions in order for my life to become that song of glory that I truly believe He created me to sing? 

I sure don't know the answers.  But I think a good start is break the shell.  To shed the badge that touts "survived a world of hurt."  And instead find and don a garment of love, and forgiveness, and openness, and gratefulness, and praise, and hope.