Caring for Yourself #1: Find the Words
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23rd–25th June 2023
Valley Church exists to help people love God, love life and love people. As we walk with God, and find ways to have a positive impact on people around us, we don’t want that middle part to be forgotten - that He created you to LOVE LIFE!
God doesn't just want you to survive this chapter of your life - He wants you to thrive in it. And so we want to make sure you are equipped to do that. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting a blog series with thoughts and ideas about managing the mental and emotional impact that lockdown may have brought to you so far. The social impacts of the coronavirus have been global but they are also personal to every one of us. And here’s your reminder in the middle of that, that God sees you. He wants you to love and treasure your life - that’s why He gave it to you.
For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you’. Isaiah 41v13
Our brains have had to do a lot of recalibrating in the last few months. We have adapted to altered situations and new information that we need to weigh up on a regular basis. Whatever conscious thoughts we have about this, there are many more subconscious ones and they often have an effect on how we are feeling. We can have moments where we feel overwhelmed or confused, relaxed or excited, afraid or mentally exhausted.
Emotions usually come in waves that last for minutes or hours. If we allow them to wash over us, acknowledge them and think them through, then usually they pass naturally with time. But there can be times when it feels like those feelings aren’t budging and they have begun to take over our lives. It can be difficult to understand what is happening to you, and what to do about it.
Here is the experience of Elaine, who has been part of Valley for the last ten years and is mum to Chrissie and Ben, and Granny to Henry, Elizabeth and a new grandchild in the next few months!
About three and a half years ago, I got an insight into ‘social distancing’, when I became ill with anxiety. In the previous decade of my working life I’d only ever had 9 days off, but suddenly I didn’t, or rather, couldn’t work for nine and a half months.
Looking back, I now know I’d been suffering with anxiety for a while but didn’t recognise the signs as something I needed to act upon. I constantly felt as if I couldn’t manage to do everything that I needed to do. I felt worried and stressed most of the time and I kept getting a tightness in my body which I tried to ignore. I felt as if the things I was doing weren’t being done well, but also that I couldn’t say ‘no’ to doing more.
But then the crash came. Spectacularly. And the following months gave me a slower, quieter and safer pace to my life. Whilst this was one of the darkest, most painful times of my life, I now see this time as a gift, and I’m so glad that I experienced it. I’d had no idea where this had all come from but as I spent time with Jesus, who knows me better than I know myself, He revealed things to me at a gentle pace that I could cope with. Through Him, and the support of my church, I found the source of my pain, which meant I could then journey towards wholeness.
It took me a long time to accept that it’s okay to not be okay. I wanted people to see me as ‘strong’ but in order to change how I was functioning, I had to let go of the image I wanted for myself. I had to lean into people that know me well and love me lots, and find out what professional help I could be accessing in order to implement healthy change. This included my local GPs and a Christian counsellor who was amazing.
All of this helped me to develop my own ‘tool kit’. Now that I understand more about how complex our emotional life can be, and that we should look after ourselves better, I regularly use the tools I’ve gained to keep me on track. During lockdown I’ve needed to keep reaching back into that tool kit. There have been days when I can feel those same feelings rising up in me and I’ve had to be gentle with myself. But I know that I can deal with whatever life throws at me because of these tools and I have God, my family, friends and Valley Church to call upon.
Elaine is not alone in what she went through. There can be times when a few changes happen in our lives and we begin to feel out of control - as if our feelings are in charge of us and not the other way around. If you are used to being ‘strong’ for other people, then taking time to relinquish that identity and ask for help for yourself may be a difficult thing to do. But Elaine’s story shows us that it was an important step in finding what she needed. In fact, in allowing herself to admit how she was feeling and access resources available to her, she was actually equipping herself to help many more people to do the same. Today she runs an organisation which helps people with their mental and emotional health - the very thing she was trying to hide turned out to be a powerful tool to help others.
In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
This is how God so often works in people’s lives, by taking something that looks like it is going to defeat us, and turning into a valuable tool in our hand that moves us forward. We want you to have as many tools in your kit as possible, so throughout this series we will recommend many things you can use to keep your mental health as strong as possible.
Many people think that they can only approach God with the parts of themselves that look good. They feel like they have to clean themselves up first and then God will listen. But the bible shows us the opposite is true. We can come to Him just as we are, in any state, and He does the refining work in us. We don’t have to make ourselves worthy to be heard: He has already given us that right because of what Jesus has done for us. If you’ve been thinking that God wouldn’t accept you if He truly knew you, see the verses below and begin speaking them over yourself. Then open your mouth in prayer and be honest about what you are thinking and feeling.
Finding words to describe how you’re feeling can actually be really difficult. The stronger your feelings, the more they seem like an intangible force that is taking over you. But there is huge power in reducing something down into a description. Saying out loud, “I feel like a failure right now,” or “God, I am fearful of the future,” means the sensations you’re experiencing have a name, and have been shared by other people. The bible is full of poems and prayers that aren’t pretty or even positive, but they show the depth of human feeling and how these outpourings lead to freedom from whatever was daunting them.
If speaking your thoughts out loud makes you feel more muddled, try writing them down. There is something about seeing them separated out on paper that makes them seem less overwhelming. Go to the Psalms if you need more inspiration for this, and see how brutally honest the writers could be, and how that actually brought them closer to God. Their pattern shows that silence leads to distance from Him, but speaking out leads to praise, even before any solutions are found.
Like praying and writing it down, finding the words to describe what has been happening inside you means you externalise it and see it from a different perspective. If you can talk to a person who is good at listening, they will give you space to figure some of this out on your own. You may find that they’ve been through similar experiences, and that gives massive reassurance if those feelings have been making you feel isolated. Sometimes those conversations with friends or family are enough to help you, but if further resources are required, they can help identify that too. God placed us in a church family for good reason, and that includes finding joy together and sharing one another’s burdens.
Using these tools are like taking the first steps towards feeling safe when facing the unknown. Finding the courage to take them and acknowledging that something needs to change for your mind to find peace is the start of a journey to a stronger mind and sense of wellbeing.
For more help, we recommend:
Reading: Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer
Watching: Dr Robi Sonderegger on living in lockdown
Declaring: Psalm 139v1-18; Isaiah 43v1-7; Romans 5v6-8.
These passages of scripture remind us that before we did anything to deserve it, God already loved us and promised to be with us. This gives us assurance that even if we are not ‘okay’ He is not disappointed with us, but meets us right where we are now.