I’m always taken aback when I feel a sudden pain in my heart. To be clear, I’m not referring to heart attack-like symptoms; I’m talking about the stabbing emotional pain that occurs when someone does something to hurt my feelings. When this happens, besides being caught off guard, I sometimes struggle to recover. The pain lingers like a cold that takes far too long to leave. I hate that.

The latest assault on my heart happened two days before my recent birthday. While working on my laptop, I saw a calendar notification pop up: Jeff had just scheduled a prayer appointment with someone from 5-6 pm on my birthday. What the heck? What about my celebratory dinner and drinks?! My heart sank.

When I asked Jeff about it, his face confirmed what I feared: He forgot that Monday was my birthday.

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

I’m not going to lie: I felt like he had just stabbed me in my heart. I mean, it was bad. Because we are committed to sharing our emotions with each other, I told Jeff how hurt I was that he had forgotten me and expressed anger that birthday pain was happening again. (Two years ago, he also forgot it was my birthday.) Jeff shared that he felt guilt and shame because he temporarily blanked out about my birthday when he said yes to the prayer call; he also felt fear that I wouldn’t accept that it was a temporary mind lapse. He assured me that he knew my birthday was coming up and had already ordered my gift.

Jeff’s fear was not unfounded. My sad heart was not cheered up by the fact that he had a gift for me. I was still devastated. I imagined him opening his calendar, seeing April 15th, and thinking, “Oh, sure! I can pray with someone over happy hour. There’s nothin’ special about that day.” *NOTE: It’s particularly unhelpful when you start making things up in your head about what other people may or may not have said or thought. I know this 🤦🏻‍♀️. (I wrote about this problem in a previous post.) However, this didn’t stop me from doing exactly that.

Filling in the blanks about what was going on in Jeff’s head clearly didn’t help my current emotional state, and it still didn’t explain why I got so hurt to begin with. The pain that I felt didn’t feel proportionate to what happened, even if his forgetting my birthday had a distinct feeling of déjà vu about it.

a neon sign that says houston we have a rocket on it
Photo by Dmitrii Ko on Unsplash

In normal circumstances, I would have dealt with my pain like I normally do: walk, cry, and pray. This trifecta of pain management usually works pretty well for me. I utilize my natural mood boosters (endorphins) along with crying (for an emotional release) and complaining to God to shift whatever rotten mood comes my way. Sadly, I was unable to activate my normal rescue system because we had an eight-hour drive ahead of us, and there was no time to walk. Oh yay! I got to sit with my sadness (and the person who triggered me) all day lo-o-o-ng. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t feel much better by the time we hit Utah.

I knew I would need some help to figure out what was going on with me, so I asked my friend Nataly to pray for me and let me know if she had any insight about what was going on in my heart. (By the way, I highly recommend asking for help when you are stuck in an emotional pit.) Within the hour, Nataly texted that she sensed the issue was bigger than what had happened with Jeff. She wrote: “I feel like you got to the bottom of all of the pain that was there, and Jeff was just the trigger point.”

“Yeah,” I thought. That sounds about right. I just wasn’t sure what it was.

As Jeff and I talked about it later that evening, I told him that I did not have any memories of my birthday growing up. None. As I thought about it more, I realized that a lot of my birthday memories as an adult were either disappointing or sad for me. What in the tarnation was going on? Although I really wanted to get to the bottom of my lingering sadness, it would have to wait until the early hours of the next day when I could talk to God about it. He is the one who knows me better than I know myself.

“For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8:17)

Before I share what God showed me, let’s pause to highlight a few key points about emotional pain:

  1. Not all emotional pain has deep roots. Sometimes, we experience hurts that are the equivalent of a surface cut that can be treated by simply acknowledging the pain and forgiving the person who hurt us. Even if the hurt is “small,” don’t try to rationalize away the pain by saying things like, “It’s no big deal.” Unacknowledged pain doesn’t disappear; it just goes underground. Acknowledge that you got hurt so you can be healed.
  2. It’s vital that you develop a habit of forgiving whoever hurt you (even if they don’t apologize.) Forgiveness helps to prevent the seeds of bitterness from taking root in your heart. Think of it like brushing and flossing your teeth daily. It helps to prevent the “cavities” of unforgiveness from forming. Forgiveness helps your soul to stay healthy.
  3. Exercise is a helpful tool for shifting the residual pain of a hurt. I certainly would have done that if I wasn’t stuck in the truck with my sadness all day. In hindsight, if I had been able to shift my mood after the birthday incident, I may not have pursued the deeper healing that I needed. So, in this case, not exercising was a good (albeit painful) thing.
  4. It’s really important to tune into your patterns of pain and be curious about any scenarios that seem to play out in your life over and over again. For example, you might consistently feel like you are being overlooked or rejected by others. Or, perhaps you regularly find yourself unable to make decisions because you get overwhelmed with the fear of making a mistake or have fear about missing out. This may indicate that there is a deeper wound that needs to be healed.
  5. Don’t hesitate to ask for support if you get stuck. It’s not unusual to need an outsider’s perspective to help bring clarity about what you are experiencing. Both Jeff and Nataly helped me to be curious about what might be happening inside of me instead of shaming me for getting upset about a relatively small slight.
  6. Having said that, be cautious about who you ask for help. It’s important that you have someone who will hear your pain without trying to tell you that you shouldn’t feel that way. Feelings are feelings. They aren’t right or wrong; they are indicators of what’s happening for you.
  7. Don’t accept the lie that if you are a Christian, you aren’t allowed to experience some emotions. God created our emotions, so he’s not mad about you experiencing them. Jesus got mad, He was hurt by others, He felt betrayed by Judas and Peter—even when He knew what was going to happen. However, he doesn’t want you (or me) to stay stuck in them.

Back to my birthday pain: As I sat with God in the early hours of the morning, I asked him to show me the root of the deep pain I felt around my birthday. The picture he brought to my mind confirmed what I had begun to suspect: I have carried the pain of rejection with me for decades. My sensitivity around my birthday only highlighted the real problem—I believed that my life didn’t matter. Wow!

That revelation explained a lot.

Then God showed me HIS TRUTH:

The beauty of a relationship with God is that He cannot help but release truth into our lives. As I sat with Him that morning, I personally experienced the truth of Zephaniah 3:17; I felt Him singing over me 😭. The lies that had been planted in my soul decades earlier, and perhaps even nurtured, were dismantled in a moment when THE TRUTH showed up.

I know I am forever changed. What about you? Do you believe things about yourself that aren’t true? Do you have deep-seated beliefs that you aren’t even aware of? Is it scary to even contemplate those questions? If so, find someone you trust to help you explore them. People can help you figure out, as Nataly did for me, what is happening within you, but there is only one Person who can heal you. Trust me, digging through the pain to find healing and freedom is SO worth the effort.

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

On a final note, if you are like me and find yourself experiencing cyclical or predictable patterns of pain or if your pain feels more excessive than the offense warrants, there are several things you can do to help yourself.

  • First, I suggest that you build a daily habit of deep and slow breathing. Why? Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your rest-and-relax response. This helps you regulate intense emotions and sends more oxygen to your brain and other organs. If you practice deep breathing when you’re not upset, you will be more likely to be able to calm yourself down when you get riled up. I did a lot of this on our eight-hour road trip.

  • Second, get in some exercise to help you activate your body’s natural mood-boosting system. I need to get my daily dose to help my body and emotions be well.

  • Lastly, ask God to help you understand what is triggering you and heal from it. Deep breathing and exercise are symptom management techniques; they’re great for helping you cope, but they won’t heal the deep wounds beneath the surface. I really, really wanted to be healed, so I had work to do. I hope you will do the work as well!

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