I’ve always known that I’m an emotional person. As a kid, I can remember crying in response to commercials on television, especially the ones that depicted family scenes in a poignant way. Birthday parties, reunions, and good-byes scenes all tugged on my heartstrings until tears leaked from my eyes. It was embarrassing: as I peered out of the corner of my eyes, I could tell that none of my siblings were reacting in the same way. Each time I tried to choke back the swell of emotion that emerged from my heart, I wondered if something was wrong with me. It never occurred to me that my tender heart was a gift God gave me to use (and steward.) You see, spiritual gifts can seem like a curse if you don’t understand how God made you. I wish I would have understood that sooner. I also wish I understood that even when we don’t have the words to express what’s going on inside of us, our hearts are speaking. As I watched the people on television sharing their lives together, I now see that my heart was crying out for a similar kind of emotional connection. I wonder if you know what your heart is crying out for.
My husband, Jeff, is gifted in a completely different way. His mind is breathtakingly complex; not only is he able to process information across a seemingly endless variety of topics, but he is able to retain the data as well. (As someone who has a mind a bit like a sieve, I am in awe of his gift.) Should you ever need to know the quadratic formula, the details of battles in the civil war, or the kinds of grapes cultivated in Bordeaux, just ask him. I’ve never met a person whose knowledge extends across as many subjects as him. Jeff’s ability to concentrate is also legendary. He once sat (on a toilet of all places!) with a good book for almost six hours, forgetting his intention to “just read a few pages before bed.” After thirty-seven years of marriage, I still am astounded by his incredible brain. However, when it comes to his ability to recognize and express his emotions—well—let’s just say there is room for improvement. In Jeff’s case, it’s not that his heart isn’t speaking; he’s just not used to listening.
For the last two weeks, we have been exploring why it’s vital to know how God made us and also consider how childhood wounds/trauma may be limiting how we operate in the world. Our God-given design and giftings only partially determine how we show up in the world because our hurts and wounds also have an impact on that. (We saw that in last week’s post when I reflected on the life of Arnold Schwarzenegger.) The same truth has operated in my own life. For example, even though I now know I was created with an unusually tender heart, I never learned what to do with the emotions that bubbled up inside me. (Parents, this is why it’s so important to attune to your child’s emotions.) As a result, I often felt all over the place emotionally. To make matters worse, insecurity about my identity stemming from childhood pain only fueled my inability to navigate conflict and relational challenges. I developed dysfunctional patterns of interacting with the world—like people-pleasing and perfectionism—to help me cope. Argh! I can attest to the fact that this is a painful and draining way to live.
Jeff, on the other hand, used his brilliant brain to escape from dealing with emotions altogether: he wasn’t comfortable with other people (🙋🏻♀️) expressing intense emotions, nor was he aware of whatever was going on inside of himself. Although God created him – and all of us – for deep relationships, Jeff’s poor emotional intelligence kept him from being able to develop deep, intimate relationships with the people he loved. (Believe me, bonding over data can only take you so far.) Intimate relationships require that you get good at opening your heart and sharing your emotions with others. Without that skill, relationships suffer. This includes our relationship with God. Just because Jeff has a great mind doesn’t mean that he wasn’t built for profound intimacy. The problem was that his gift kept him from recognizing the truth. Instead of learning how to steward the gift of his great mind well, Jeff used it to hide from his emotions; this sadly limited his ability to experience the intimacy he was built for.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
If we want to live fully in our God-given design and fulfill the greatest commandment of all—love God and others with all our heart—we must slow down to consider how we may be operating outside of our heavenly blueprint. An unhealed heart will drive us to behave in ways that God never intended. People-pleasing didn’t fix my broken heart; it simply put me on a hamster wheel of trying to work for the affection of others. Instead of using my gifts to love others unconditionally, I was trying to get my own needs met. I may have thought that I was loving others, but, at times, I unknowingly was working to solicit love and security for myself. It breaks my heart to admit that, but sadly, it’s true. This is why I am such an advocate of inner healing. It’s not enough to know what our gifts are; we need to be healed so that we can utilize those gifts in the way God intended—as a way to bless others and glorify him.
Here’s the good news: we don’t need to stay in the same patterns of behavior that we always have. The Bible tells us that we are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) even if the process of sanctification takes time. We must be intentional in recognizing our gifts and getting healing for our wounds. Look at Peter: Do you remember how many times he messed up? Peter was gifted by God to be a bold and eventually fearless leader, but Jesus needed to bring healing to the areas where he was operating out of brokenness and sin. The same is true of us. Are you ready to get started? Here are a few ideas to help you on your journey:
- If you haven’t already done so, process the questions I asked in the last two posts: Here and here.
- Ask a close friend or your spouse to help you recognize your giftings (if you don’t already know).
- Give permission to a close friend or your spouse to speak into your life. Where are your thoughts and behaviors not aligned with who God made you to be?
- Invest in getting inner healing. I can help you! (Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Consider joining a small group focused on addressing the above. Let me know if you are interested in this!