“I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
The first step in breaking free from our comfort zone is to be honest with ourselves and admit that we’re not all that comfortable. The idea of having to face and feel our pain may seem intimidating and like a bunch of work, but the truth is: denial is a full time job. Change is scary, but not changing is scarier.
The pain of not changing is greater than the pain it takes to change.
The amount of energy it takes to stifle emotions far surpasses dealing with them. It is exhausting living cut off from ourselves. It is exhausting attempting to act okay when we’re not okay. Just do what it takes to be okay. Yes, you might have to face some of the ugly stuff, but trying to avoid pain is the most painful way to live. We think by stuffing our feelings we remain in control, but the feelings we stuff are actually controlling us. They find their way to the surface and manifest in a myriad of ways. We try to circumvent them, but repressed feelings are why we are tormented, addicted, and depressed.
The feelings you are not dealing with are dealing with you.
Our squelched feelings reveal themselves through behaviors I call counterfeit comforters. There are many, many possible counterfeit comforters; here are but a few:
Binging and Purging
Playing video games
As we go through our day life happens; we experience discomfort, disappointment, and emotions stir. Instead of embracing what we are feeling, we often look for an avenue to escape feeling uncomfortable. We each have our own individual drug of choice, our “thing,” and we run to whatever that “thing” may be: a cigarette, or an entire pack of cigarettes, a donut or half a dozen donuts.
Just like feelings are not inherently bad, many counterfeit comforters aren’t necessarily bad either. Exercise is healthy unless we’re doing it compulsively to mask a deeper issue. Obviously a behavior such as cutting yourself is never beneficial, but what about magazines, television, and shopping? There’s nothing wrong with reading a magazine, watching a TV show, or buying an outfit. How could something as seemingly innocent as a fashion magazine be a counterfeit comforter? Is it bad to read a magazine? No, but if you are reading magazines for hours to disconnect and divert yourself from yourself, then you are using magazines to avoid dealing with something. It is like being depressed and watching nine hours of television to zone out. There is nothing wrong with watching a little TV at the end of a long day, but what is important is to recognize the motive behind the action. It is not so much what we are doing, but why.
It is the why behind the what.
Ask yourself, “Why am I turning to this? Am I doing this right now to escape and shut down?” This is not about deeming certain behaviors as bad or good. It is about realizing how even the most neutral behavior can be abused and used as a tool for evading. When you’re standing over the kitchen sink frantically shoving Oreo cookies into your mouth as fast as you can, it is not because you enjoy cookies. When you have got shopping bags next to your bed full of outfits that you bought two weeks ago, that you do not need and have not even hung up in the closet yet, it is not because you appreciate clothes. We have not failed, and we are not bad Christians for going to the counterfeits. We are not weak believers with little faith. We are hurting people trying to cope with life on this planet; our loving Father in heaven understands that and He has a lot of grace for us. It is easy at this point to look at your own counterfeit comforters and begin to feel guilty. It is important to know above all else that:
God is not mad at us for having counterfeit comforters.
You can drown your sorrows in chocolate chip cookies for the rest of time, and God will still adore you. Ice cream is not the devil; eating some ice cream is fine. Even if you eat a gallon of ice cream, God is not mad at you. You can eat ice cream until you are sick to your stomach, and the Lord still loves you. The reason He does not want us to go to a counterfeit comforter is not because He is a strict God who wants to control us. It is because He does not want to see us being controlled. God is not in the hellfire and damnation business. He is in the business of setting us free. Our Lord is wooing us to come to Him not only for comfort, but for healing. We can get a temporary fix with a counterfeit comforter, or we can go to the Healer.
Counterfeit: An imposter; a pretender; unreal. An imitation intended to be passed off fraudulently or deceptively as genuine.
That is exactly what happens when we go to the counterfeit. We get deceived. We think we are getting something real, some true satisfaction, but the fulfillment always comes up short. The imposter can never give us what we are searching for, and like fish seeking food, we get lured in by the bait and then hooked. God is not judging us; He is saying “Come to Me. Instead of medicating, let Me heal you. You can take the edge off for now, or I can heal you forever.” He is just offering a better way. We either choose our counterfeit comforters, or we choose to deal with the issues and allow God to heal us. Only He can touch that place in us and leave us with something lasting. An emotional hole cannot be filled with anything but God. Vodka will not fill it, McDonalds will not fill it, and the mall will not fill it. The thing is—when we are empty and starving for love and for comfort, having something, anything at all, feels good even if that something is the wrong thing.
“A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”
When a soul (the mind, will and emotions) is content, there are no cravings. Scripture goes so far to say that when the soul is truly satisfied from within it not only does not desire the sweetness of the honeycomb, it loathes it. Putting anything into a space that is already full is so appalling to the fulfilled soul that it resists it to the point of loathing. But a soul that is empty and hurting looks for anything to ease the pain and fill that place. Just like when we are physically hungry any food sounds good; likewise when a soul is hungry it will look to anything to take the edge off and fill the void. This small passage of scripture that tells how Esau sells his birthright sums up the counterfeit comforter perfectly:
Genesis 25: 29- 34
Esau Sells His Birthright
“Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day. “And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day. “So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”
Esau was hungry, and in desperation to meet that hunger, he sold his birthright. He forfeited his position in life for a bowl of soup. He took the bait of instantaneous gratification and only after his stomach was full did he realize what he’d done and what it had cost him.
When we are hurting we are irrational. When we are in pain we make rash and emotional choices. We will do anything for some peace and satisfaction, and rarely do we consider the long term consequences. It is only after we fill ourselves that the guilt of what we have done floods in. Then shame and sadness follow so we turn again to the counterfeit to alleviate that pain, which only brings more guilt and shame, and the cycle perpetuates.
So we find ourselves in a similar place as Esau: our lives and dreams stolen by the counterfeit and the cycle that has enslaved us. We have exchanged our future and our peace for temporary relief and fleeting, counterfeit comfort. We hate ourselves for it, but we can’t seem to break free. And in ourselves we can’t break free, but there is a way in God. As we learn to lean on Him—and stand back and take our hands off of our lives somewhat—the true Comforter can meet our needs, fill our emptiness, and the cycle begins to break. Then we can live within the freedom we’ve known is available but haven’t been sure how to attain. Through Him we’re able to step back onto the path that leads to our destiny. In Him, we can overcome.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit I can overcome what is trying to overcome me.
Using shopping to avoid feelings does not work. Using television to avoid feelings does not work. Using food to avoid feelings does not work. Turning to God and dealing with feelings is what works.
We have to feel and deal in order to heal.
It is not easy, but it is worth it. Excellence is not gleaned by taking the easy road. Anyone who achieves mastery in any given area does what most people are not willing to do. Tom Hanks said it best when his female ball players in the movie “A League of Their Own” were complaining that baseball was difficult and what they had to face was too much,
"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.
The hard is what makes it great."
~Jimmy Dugan/Tom Hanks
It takes tenacity and drive to push against the status quo to achieve greatness; it takes courage to do whatever it takes to be free. You cannot go part way with God and receive total freedom. Make a decision in your heart that you’re going all the way with God. No matter what it takes, you are going all the way, because total freedom demands total commitment.
“There’s no such thing as part freedom.”