Life guarantees us two things: change and loss. Together, they make up the unpredictable rhythm of life. They also exert tremendous pressure on the soul. If we don’t stop long enough to notice, we’ll wake up one day and wonder why the light has gone out of our eyes, why passion is but a distant memory.
All the losses in our lives are significant, and each has shaped our beliefs about life, God, and the world around us. That’s why it is critical to recognize them, no matter how insignificant they may appear. Because most of us equate loss primarily with death, we’re unaware of how abstract losses like shattered dreams, unmet expectations, and loss of trust, hope, even faith, can have serious long-range consequences for our hearts.
Hakuna Matata Don’t Matter
Hakuna Matata may have worked for Pumbaa and Timon in Disney’s The Lion King, but the “don’t worry—be happy” mentality we’ve adopted to avoid pain doesn’t always work. In fact, it can shut our hearts down to healing. Because we are created as three-dimensional beings (body, soul and spirit), we need to take inventory of how loss has impacted us at each level.
As a therapist, I teach people about the “art of noticing” by asking them to pay attention to the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations that accompany their pain. Noticing helps us connect to that pain—a very important first step in this process.
How Loss Affects Us: Body, Soul and Spirit
Noticing how we experience grief involves developing an awareness of the internal and external responses to our losses. Later, noticing will help us gain perspective for the future, and allow us to see the gains that have accompanied our losses.
External noticing requires that we stop long enough to realize how the goings-on in the outside world are impacting our mind, emotions and physical body. External cues, such as a specific place, song, movie, or person, can immediately take us back to times of pain and sorrow and impact what we tell ourselves about our life and our losses. Those messages spill over from our soul into our physical bodies, so that we may experience symptoms of tension and anxiety.
The internal expressions of grief require us to pay attention to the emotions that accompany loss. At first, we may feel only numbness. As the heart begins to thaw under the frozen layers of pain, we can slowly begin to identify a broad range of emotions, ranging from sadness to acute sorrow. The key here is that we notice what these feelings are trying to tell us about the condition of the heart.
Facing the Music
The journey through grief must begin here, cultivating the gifts of noticing and putting words to our pain. Grief is not our enemy. Restoration will come, but only as we find the courage to face and identify our losses.
Pain and suffering can profoundly change us, and not always for the good. That’s why Proverbs warns, “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” How do we guard our hearts? By paying close attention to what is happening to them as the issues of life unfold.
How do we begin? Stop by next week to see.
Rita Schulte is a licensed professional board certified counselor. She received her B.S. in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Rita has a private practice with offices in Fairfax and Manassas Virginia where she specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, anxiety and depressive disorders as well as grief and loss issues. In April, 2011 she launched “Heartline Podcast where she talks with top leaders in the Christian counseling and literary world about cutting edge issues affecting the hearts and lives of people today. She also airs a 1 minute devotional spot Consider This on 90.5 FM in NC and 90.9 FM in Lynchburg, VA. Heartline airs on Saturday evenings on 90.5 FM NC and will be heard on Christian Life Internet Radio in the coming months. Her book, Sifted As Wheat: finding hope and healing through the losses of life is currently with Hartline Literary Agency. You can follow her at http://www.siftedaswheat.com or Twitter at Heartlinepod.
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