I was having coffee by the beach one afternoon with a girlfriend who is an avid surfer. We were chatting about what it takes to confront our feelings and how the only way to is through. She got excited by the idea of dealing with emotions this way because she uses this identical principle to excel in surfing.
The first step of surfing is lying on your stomach on the surfboard and paddling out past where the waves are breaking. Then you can settle back and wait for the perfect wave to ride in. But getting past the break is not easy; it can take some chutzpah to get out there. As you swim out, waves come at you in rapid succession, making it almost impossible to time your paddle out properly and navigate your way through. As a huge wave heads your way, about the crash on top of you, the natural instinct is to freeze in fear, or to high tail it in the other direction as quickly as possible. However, if you take either of those options, the wave will pummel you, and it will hurt. The best way to get to the other side of a breaking wave is to actually swim as hard and as fast as you can directly into the face of the wave. The momentum will either get you up and over the wave, or it will help you go right through the middle of the wave and come out unscathed.
In surfing, like in life, the only way is through. Feelings are a driving force, but where they drive us is up to us. Like riding a wave, we can use our feelings to take a ride of escape into a counterfeit comfort, or to take a ride inward into the depths of ourselves. Strong feelings, like waves, are ominous and threatening. They can be scary and they have the potential to hurt us if we do not know how to handle them. Running from them is not the solution. If we do they will wind up overtaking us in the end. We can retrain ourselves to reject our natural instinct to protect ourselves by using avoidance and counterfeit comfort. We must be willing to face our feelings head on by purposely going right into the middle of them.
Deliberately pushing into your pain is not natural. One of my favorite scenes in the movie Million Dollar Baby epitomizes this phenomenon. The main character, played by Hilary Swank, is training to become a professional boxer under the tutelage of her trainer, played by Clint Eastwood. Morgan Freeman plays Clint’s partner and works with him at the gym. In one scene, Morgan is narrating about the life of a boxer and how unnatural it is. In a gentle, yet unshakable tone, Mr. Freeman says, in a way that only he can, “Boxing is an unnatural act, ’cause everything in it is backwards. You want to move to the left, you don’t step left — you push on the right toe. To move right, you use your left toe. Instead of running from the pain, like a sane person would do, you step into it.'”
That scene resonated with me and reminded me of my teenage years spent training to become a professional dancer. Dancing is about retraining your body to move in a way that is counter-intuitive. There is nothing natural about being able to kick your leg up right next to your head. I do not ever remember walking down the street and saying, “Oh, look at that, my leg just accidentally gravitated toward my ear.” Nope. It was hours and hours spent in the dance studio, retraining my muscles to move in a way contrary to how they moved naturally. It was weeks and months and years of undoing ingrained patterns and building new habits; repeating movements again and again until the unfamiliar became familiar and the familiar became unfamiliar.
Feelings are not our enemy. When we learn to embrace them, we recognize that they have great value to us, and we can use them instead of allowing them to use us.
God gave us feelings as indicators, signposts, to alert us that something inside of us needs attention. An intense, negative feeling or strong emotional reaction to something often reflects a deep, unresolved issue. When we allow our feelings to be like waves that we ride into the innermost parts of who we are, we are able to discover what is behind the feelings, i.e., the roots. When we go to the root and deal on an emotional and spiritual level with God, then we can receive deep and lasting healing. The key here is with God. We need the Lord to reveal the hidden and secret places, and He does that as we learn to enter into those places with Him.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
He desires this kind of fellowship and intimacy with us. He is knocking, but God is a gentleman; He will not force His way in. It is up to us to open the door and invite them in.
Robia Scott appears this Thursday on LIFE TODAY. This is an excerpt from Counterfeit Comforts by Robia Scott. Copyright ©2016 by Robia Scott. Published by Chosen Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.