What Your Body May Be Trying to Tell You
I find myself on edge and the grief hovers.
During dappled sunlit blackberry-forages in the woods with friends and the welcome distraction of iced tea conversations, my thoughts and feelings are put on hold. But in the silences and lulls that follow, I pull up world news footage and read with horror of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, of burning churches and massacres in Nigeria and Egypt, and of polio epidemics raging across Somalia while the Doctors without Borders evacuate from escalating violence against them. I swipe computer screens, scrolling through story after story, my angst mounting.
Fidgeting I flip into Netflix to watch a comedian; set out supper for my youngest; absentmindedly interact with him; and wonder at the heaviness of my heart. Turning on sentimental music, I wash dishes, my limbs heavy and numb.
Peter Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, states, “The problem, however, is that we can’t reflect and respond thoughtfully to our feelings if we don’t know what they are. So much of our true selves are buried–sadness, rage, anger, tenderness, joy, happiness, fear, depression. Yet God designed our bodies to respond physiologically to those in the world around us.
“God speaks to us through a knot in the stomach, muscle tension, trembling and shaking, the release of adrenaline into our blood stream, headaches, and a suddenly elevated heart rate. God may be screaming at us through our physical body while we look for (and prefer) a more ‘spiritual’ signal. The reality is that often our bodies know what our feelings are before our minds” (Scazzero, 71).
It’s grief, this sadness.
BBC correspondents recounting grim details of blood-stained mosques, grainy photos of UN convoy trucks, and curt embassy evacuation warnings bring back my own history of a civil war in Liberia, West Africa. I remember hastily-packed luggage, last-minute airplane details, and the many things we left behind. I know too the feeling of wondering if you will ever return. So these stories grab my mind, and my heart goes out to families in this situation around the world.
Grief wells up, and my limbs are heavy.
Perhaps you too have some misunderstood or misplaced grief? Grief can result from a number of factors: death or loss of someone close to you, a stressful situation, job change, loss of a dream, illnesses, family moves, and more.
“Turning towards our pain is counter-intuitive,” Scazzero notes, and yet “transition into adulthood requires that we mature through our defense mechanisms [to] honestly look at what is true” (141). He lists common defense mechanisms: denial (or selective forgetting), minimizing, blaming others, blaming ourselves, rationalizing, intellectualizing, distracting, and becoming hostile.
“In our culture, addiction has become the most common way to deal with pain. We watch television incessantly. We keep busy, running from one activity to another. We work seventy hours a week, indulge… overeat, drink… — anything to help us avoid the pain” (Scazzero, 139).
So, tonight, I’m listening. I’m stopping the activity, the fidgeting, the distractions, the running from.
Looking inside, admitting it to myself, I name it. This is grief. This is sadness and loss.
And, with God, we don’t need to mince words. I’m stepping in, friend.