October 17, 2017

Holes in the Soul

Back in the day, I got a psych major in my undergrad work. That’s pretty ironic, believe me, in more ways than you can imagine.

I can’t say I learned a great deal, but I did begin a lifelong journey of making observations and drawing tentative conclusions about myself. If I would have paid attention to all I’ve discovered about myself, I’d have a very different life. Some psychologist can tell me why I routinely ignore the lessons I’ve learned and repeat all the same mistakes.

One thing I’ve learned is that I’ve got some holes in my personality that go a lot deeper than I can understand. They are caverns in my self-understanding; potholes in the soul, so to speak. Like a series of tunnels that connect with points in my past and experience, these dark places are imperfectly mapped, sometimes frightening and very, very real when you fall into one.

What I’ve found in some of those dark places can be amusing, irritating or terrifying.

Of course, I’ve learned to avoid these traps whenever possible, and some of the time I’m successful. I have the most well known holes in my soul marked with warning signs that I respect. The trouble is that you never know when a new hole is going to appear, often in the most unexpected places. And you never know how that dark place in your soul is going to help you understand what you’d rather not even thing about.

When it became apparent that my wife was going to go down the road to the Catholic Church, I fell down one of those holes. It was, in a word, an overpowering dark place of fear and anger. It came from someplace in me, but I couldn’t see where. For many weeks, it was my world.

In that hole was everything I heard about Catholicism growing up in a fundamentalist church more than 30 years ago. In that hole were a collection of fears about things I thought I understood and had under control. In that hole, was my fragile concept of vocation and marriage.

I fell into that hole and stayed there for a very long time. All I knew was how I felt. Feeling and fear were everything. I was thinking, reasoning, talking and asking questions, but I could not pull myself out. My journey out of this irrational, fearful darkness was slow and may still be incomplete.

The other night I picked up my son for dinner. I noticed that he had pierced his ears.

I have no problem with this sort of thing. He’s almost 21 and engaged. I don’t tell him how to live or dress. I have dozens and dozens of friends with pierced ears. I teach a lesson on this very issue in Bible class. I’ve told my son a dozen times that I don’t care, God doesn’t care and it’s not an issue.

But there I stood, and for that moment, I was falling down a well of feelings from another place in my soul. I was overwhelmed with feelings of anger and disappointment. I had failed as a dad. My son was going down the wrong road. I was hurt and wanted to say how I felt; to express my disapproval.

It was, in a word, irrational.

Now in just a few moments I recalibrated myself back to rationality. My thoughts and my feeling matched back up with what I know and believe, and those moments in that dark place of irrationality faded away.

Now, why am I talking about this? More iMonk whining and dirty laundry? No, something different.

How much of our lives do we spend reacting entirely out of those places of darkness, fear, irrationality and disconnected feelings? How many of our conflicts and problems come because we are deep in a hole, and do not recognize where we are?

How many of us are dominated by aspects of our history and experience that we are unable to view truthfully and rationally? Instead, we are speaking and acting in ways that are destructive and hurtful to ourselves and so many others?

I wonder how many of us are dealing with our spouses and our children out of places of darkness, but we are so submerged in the darkness and so afraid to see where we are that we will fight to the death anyone who challenges out view of reality?

When I listen to Christians speak- especially pastors and other leaders- I hear a lot of anger. I wonder where it comes from. I hear anger from Christians over things they say they believe deeply about love, truth and justice, but what comes out from so many is confusion and bitterness, but they don’t realize this is happening. They are unable to see that they are living out of fear and irrationality.

Years ago, a friend- an older man- was widowed after caring for his sick wife for many years. Six months later, he remarried. But his son, a good Christian man who I knew to be a loving and reasonable person, went completely over the edge objecting to his father’s marriage. His behavior was embarrassing…and it didn’t take a great deal of insight to see that his feelings came from places within himself that he could not acknowledge.

I can point out this fellow as an example, but I believe many of us are as conflicted and live out our lives in similar embarrassing conflicts. And I believe that if we can find a place where we can see what is happening to us, we will realize that these “holes” of emotion and irrational fear are not where we want to spend our lives.

The answer? Certainly we need to ask for insight in prayer into how we are living our lives, what we are living “out of,” and who we have become.

We also need spiritual direction, or at the least Godly counsel of those who can gently help us see the illumination of the Holy Spirit on the effects of our words and actions.

In our personal journeys, all of us should begin to map out those dark places we are aware of, and we should consider how we can grow in ways that will not lead us down those roads so easily.

Where we’ve done damage, and where we’ve insisted we were right and rational when we were, in fact, irrational and wrong, we should go back and make amends.

Somewhere, we need a community that can come to know us with an honest awareness of our personal “potholes of the soul.” In the honest acceptance of others, perhaps we can learn to accept ourselves with grace, contentment and compassion.

I will never come to a place where these “holes” of fear and emotion are not part of me, but I can live aware of them, transcend them by the grace of God, accept forgiveness and continue the journey on a better path.

Comments

  1. Well said. Potholes. Does a number on the alignment, for sure.

    I think you’re right in saying that we need to have a look at these dark and, at times, ugly places as we encounter them. After facing one of these holes, I realized that I was just as capable of hate as anyone. Only then was I able to move beyond it to a place where I could truly feel compassion, and not just a forced compassion.

  2. As someone with abuse issues to work through who spent quite some time seeing a Christian counsellor, one of the most useful tools I learned was to become aware of my own emotional reactions to things, and question where they were coming from. Of course, since none of us has perfect recall, or absolute wisdom, we will never be able to identify where all our reactions come from. But the mere act of being able to recognise when our response is disproportionate to the situation, and to be able to choose, by the grace of God, to not act out of those feelings, but put them to one side as belonging to something else and not the current situation, is very freeing. This side of heaven I may forever find myself struggling with these “potholes of the soul” (great analogy!) but i do not have to be their victim. That is a wonder, and a marvel, the reality of the grace of God intersecting with my brokenness!

  3. Maybe you need a piercing or two? Who knows could plug up a hole.

  4. “Life work is always about learning to respond to the events in our present life with the emotional intensity appropriate to the event and not with the emotional intensity that was appropriate to tragic situations twenty or thirty years ago……..Serenity or living in a state of recovery is all about letting yesterday be yesterday and today be today. Recovery is training ourselves by practicing daily disciplines to act in the present as the present and not from the emotional stance of a thousand past yesterdays.”

    That’s from author Earnie Larsen. Your post made me think of it.

    Sometimes after I’ve reacted to a situation I ask myself what age I was during the knee jerk. I don’t know if I will ever stop being an 8 year old in an adult body but awareness is a great first step.

  5. Interesting post and one I can relate to in different ways. One thought/question/musing:

    Human achievement often comes from those holes; certainly for me, songs and poetry flow most readily when dealing with the feelings thrown up by these holes and I am most passionate in defending my position when my own security or even identity is at risk. In essence, my unhealth produces many, many good things that are just not there when I am interacting and living in a healthy way. And this is not just me. History and even the Bible is full of examples of people who do amazing things (or God doing amazing things through them) because of their “holes”.

    What to do? The best thing is to work on health and managing holes, but is there not another side? Becoming healthy seems to come at the cost of heightened achievement, but is there further work in becoming healthy that includes learning how to acheive from a place not motivated by “holes”?

    What think ye? I don’t think I really know how to be passionate without holes.

  6. Ali, do the holes ever really go away? I dunno, maybe for some people they do, but it hasn’t been my experience yet. For me the growth hasn’t been in the diminishment of the holes, but in my ability to detach from them enough to function better.

    I totally agree with you that those inner agonies are a rich mine for creativity, but I suspect it is only a level of emotional honesty, to name it and measure it and ultimately, God willing, transcend it, that makes that possible. And if that honesty continues, as a spiritual discipline, even when one is not in the “acute phase”, the energy and insight generated by those “holes” should still be there to draw upon, whether for creative works or empathetic ministry.

    But I’m just a traveller along the way, talking of my own small experience, it may be different for others.

  7. Monk,

    Your insight on the anger carried by so many is truth. I’ve known and worked with many recovering fundamental Baptists over the decades and find their anger toward others, sins, social events, pop culture and more, is a masked rage against the Creator God. You see far too many believe our God honors their implied contract. They mistakenly believe their 24/7 futile efforts, to mold everyone into their vision of holiness, in some myterious manner obligates God to grant exemption to life’s storms. Then when the normal storms of this life intrude in their family, and upon their wrong thinking theology, they are enraged. But their rage, while directed toward other offending persons, is more rightly their rage against the Father’s apparent failure to honor His side of their implied bargin.

  8. GREAT piece. Thank you.

  9. This reminds me of what John Eldredge (and Brent Curtis) talk about in The Sacred Romance. He refers to this as the arrows, which pierce deep within and come from the messages given to us by parents, friends, school, the church, etc.

    I don’t know if the goal is to avoid them altogether, but to address them as God highlights them. It hurts a little, or a lot, but the freedom that comes after come does a healing work is beautiful.

    Thanks iMonk.

  10. I love your post, Mary. I recently discovered my own anger at God partly through a gift given me by a good friend who’s living in a monastery preparing to enter a convent. It is a little booklet — “Heaven Speaks to Those Who Struggle to Forgive: Direction for Our Times as given to Anne, a lay apostle.”

    I opened it to the message the author claims to have received from St. Faustina, the originator of the Divine Mercy devotions. It begins:

    “Ask yourself this question. ‘Am I angry at Jesus?’ If you answer, ‘Yes,’ you must tell Him and talk about it with Him in the silence of your heart. There is only one combatant here, my friend, because Jesus is most assuredly not angry at you. As such, you are fighting all by yourself. Day after day, you make a case against God, reviewing all the hurts God has failed to prevent.”

    I saw that I had fallen into this dark hole in my own soul. God had failed me in so many ways. I had followed His will for me, but I erroneously thought that this was a “quid pro quo” deal. He was supposed to do what I wanted in exchange. And He had failed “to honor His side.” I followed the admonition in this message and confessed the anger and resentment toward the Lord.

    I began to realize that some of it was not of my own origin — some I had “inherited” from my atheist father who lived his life in increasing darkness, pain and resentment, masking it with correspondingly increasing amounts of 80 proof scotch. But I had embraced it as a child, and now it was mine and I had learned to incorporate this attitude into all my affairs, even my prayers and relationships with friends, family and God. And I need to face up to this and be willing to change and make amends.

    This process has completely revolutionized my understanding of original sin, punishment, forgiveness and redemption.

  11. This reminds me of something a counselor said while I was working through the effects of a divorce. She described the hurt as a series of wounds or boils that keep coming to the surface. Each one needs to be broke open, drained, and allowed to heal. I got this mental picture of the open sores my diabetic grandmother had on her legs. Immediately after the divorce there were whole parts of me that were open and bleeding. As time goes on the boils appear and burst open less and less frequently, so that now they often catch me by surprise.

    The analogy does not work perfectly, for as Michael said there are holes (or sores) that do not heal and will always be there, and the best we can do this side of eternity is be aware of and guard against bumping or falling into them.

    I have two metaphors in a sentence…do I hear three? Going once…

  12. IMonk,

    Good writing and very true. I can see the same sort of thinking in myself. And I agree that we care about and form positions on things and invest great emotional energies into positions that God just isn’t that concerned about.

    But that said, being a father of two boys, I understand your ear piercing cringing. I know God looks at the heart and that cultures around the world are different, but there just seems to be something in us that says “I know that sort of thing can keep my children from being accepted in certain situations. I mean, I get your point, but I don’t want to listen to a preacher with a nose ring, big black hoops in his ears, or a giant tatoo on his neck. And I don’t think that makes me judgmental. It’s the old argument I know as a fundie you have heard, but there just seems to be something of a rebelious spirit about it all. It’s like those folks are saying “hey look at me, I want to be different so bad, your rules on society don’t apply to me” Not very humble really. But neither is criticizing folks motes when we have our own beams.

    But I get your point. It’s the same battle I fought for years on women wearing pants in church. I was raised being taught that it was wrong. That only liberals did it. The folks who taught me that were not exactly wrong they were just acting in fear. It was the more liberal churches where it was happening first, but they were missing the point. Pants were just a sympton (a coincedince really) not the problem.

    I felt much release when I finally let go of that misplaced conviction. If I used to go in a church and a women had on pants it would be distracting to a point where I could not focus on worhsip. There was something “sick” in a way about that. I’m glad I don’t have that issue anymore.

  13. IMonk,

    I wanted to make a list of things I was taught as a child were wrong. Anyone raised Independant Fundemental will enjoy.

    1. having a order of service
    2. women wearing pants
    3. canned music
    4. the Baptist Hymnal (it had written prayers)
    5. Responsive readings
    6. mixed swimming w/ non family members of the opposite sex
    7. dancing
    8. couple skating
    9. wearing shorts
    10. swimming with your shirt off
    11. any music that wasn’t gospel, except old country music
    12. interracial dating and marriage (a biggie)
    13. going to six flags (lake winnie was okay)
    14. VBS puppet shows

    Now all of these weren’t taught to me by my parents. They had more sense than most, but these are things I heard preached against growing up.

  14. If you were a secular, worldly type, it would be time to get a tattoo pierce something and start riding a Harley. Seen it many times.
    There seems to be in fundamental Evangelical circles an attitude that we are all happy clappy all the time. Put on your plastic smile and come to church to share how “the Lord is a blessin’ and a blessin’.” In the words of Paul. DUNG.
    The truth of our walk toward Jesus is that we have been promised trials and tribulations, and we are to get to the point where we thank God for them. Sick, right? The world says so.
    Somehow the faith developed into something I can only call a cult, as it added to Scripture and sold a way of life quite divergent form biblical reality. There was great doctrine in the mix, but it was adulterated by addition and attitude.
    Should we be upset by dark times when the invitation is,”Pick up your Cross”? Are we less valuable than gold which must go through the crucible? Are we not taught that through are many trials we learn perseverance?
    Why then would the pothole surprise us on the road to sanctification and fruition? Because we were not taught this. It is not a good sale from the pulpit. Will people follow a pastor who cries in thanks for his pain from the pulpit? No they want the liar who claims to have overcome all the struggles of life. To claim this is to lie.
    Life is joyous, at times but not aways. We call the place where there is always joy Heaven.
    Until then, hang in there, and please avoid the tattoo, but if not, know you will still be loved.
    Would we really cry out in prayer for insight if the road were smooth?

  15. “I wanted to make a list of things I was taught as a child were wrong. Anyone raised Independant Fundemental will enjoy.”
    I lovingly ask, isn’t that list a bit Cultish? Just a bit? It is extra biblical.
    I would like to embrace #14 however, but no.

  16. I’ve been gleaning a lot from reality therapy lately – informal but no less helpful in dealing with the potholes and tunnels; or, less attractively, the pus pockets and boils of human psyche.

  17. These holes of anger and depression and resentment and on and on are a couple of things to me.
    They are the places in my soul where I look into the abyss and often see God looking back.
    Places of utter helplessness on my part or faking it.
    Also, and I believe others have touched on this, these are the places where I connect with music, art and literature.
    Where some other holey soul (sorry couldn’t resist) has expressed the inexpressible for me and I see or hear and know that I am not alone. It makes me ache.

  18. IMONK: For me, the ‘dark potholes’ are placed in front of us by the father of lies. He is the accuser. But we are so lifted up in our own minds….we insist all thoughts are our own. But scripture says Satan ‘is the accuser of the brethren.’ God never accuses. When we roll this ‘lie’ around in our thinker…it darkens the eye…and we step into the ‘pothole.’ And he laughs and laughs at our misery. I have learned to NEVER believe a thought in my mind that accuses another. The thoughts are lies….and they are not my own.

    By the way…I still have my psych textbooks from college. I even accepted sample textbooks the instructor sometimes gave away. I love to consider the inner workings of the mind.

  19. Great response Lynne. Thanks.

  20. Michael, the sentence that jumped out at me from your post was this: “I could not pull myself out.”

    Exactly.

    That’s the difference between pigs and sheep, according to one sermon I heard many years ago. Pigs love mud, don’t want to be pulled out, and will squeal if anyone tries. Sheep, on the other hand, hate mud, want desperately to get out, and cry to the shepherd for help. I think the sermon was about sin, but you understand what I’m trying to say (not that potholes of the soul are sin).

    I think it’s only when we stop trying to “pull ourselves out” of various situations (because we realize we can’t) and immediately call on our Shepherd to rescue us that any spiritual progress begins to occur. I also agree with Carolyn about Satan’s part in our misery (used by God, of course, to bring about our greater good).

    Great post, by the way.