I knew exactly what I wanted when my mom told me I could pick out my first pair of real earrings. I was four and strands of my blonde, static-raised hair were all that reached counter level at the local five and dime store. I stretched my pointer finger toward the two tiny balls and said “I want the smallest ones.”
Two minutes later I clutched the white paper bag that held my prize for taking good care of my newly pierced lobes. I could hardly wait to remove my training earrings and replace them with a dainty set made from real gold.
We ate dinner at my grandparent’s house that evening and I danced around the table, tilting my head left to right so everyone could see my new jewelry. I spent the night at that little house next to the Central Pennsylvania woods, and when I woke up, my grandfather discovered something missing.
“What happened to your new earring, Angie?” he asked.
My fingers moved quickly to caress the backs of both my ears and thinking my grandfather was playing a trick on me I laughed.
“They’re both right here, PapPap!”
He came closer. His eyebrows furrowed with concern as he softly squeezed my earlobe between his pinky and thumb.
One of the tiny balls had tucked itself deep into the hole and with just eight hours of sleep, the newly pierced flesh sealed what it thought needed healing. The stem and back were in their proper places, but little glittering ball was stuck inside a layer of skin.
Our faithful family physician, Dr. Stark, took our frantic phone call that Sunday morning and agreed to meet us in his office so he could remove the earring. The smell of rubbing alcohol on cotton as he swabbed my ear was strong and so was his voice when he told me not to move. The earring needed to be cut out from my ear with his scalpel and the procedure would have to be performed without a numbing agent. Any flailing or wailing could result greater injury.
I remember my mom holding my hand as I laid flat and stiff on my back staring at the ceiling light while my vision blurred. I know I was terrified, but I don’t recall a stitch of pain. My mother’s retelling of the story, however, testifies to its presence. She recounts that I wrapped my fingers tight around hers and remained silent and still as tears slipped fast and full from my eyes … rolling down my face, cheeks, and chin. I didn’t move or whimper, but the pain still found a way out.
Our strongest emotions have a way of escaping. The feelings we take great care to hold in eventually work their way to the surface; advertising our brokenness. And that’s often when healing begins.
The way emotions come undone varies from person to person. For me I’ve noticed a trend concerning the two feelings I often try to bury deepest: Fear and sadness.
When I try to hide my fears they usually escape through an eruption of anger. Commotion often triggers my anger faster than anything. So if I’m in the kitchen and meat is sizzling in the skillet, a fan is buzzing, the television blaring, and children chattering, I become unhinged. I snip and snap and say things I regret. Then I apologize for my outburst and say I had no idea what came over me. But if I really take a moment to reflect, I know exactly what happened … the eruption usually sprang from a river of fear. The fears aren’t always the same, but the results usually are.
When I attempt to muffle my sadness it trickles out through fatigue. If I wake up on a Saturday morning barely able to move or make simple decisions, that’s a pretty good sign that I’m stuffing a heartache. Sometimes it’s a fresh hurt and other times it’s an old, nagging pain I had thought healed ages ago.
Fear and sadness touch every human regardless of social status, religion, or ethnicity. As a Christian, I have the tendency to askew those complex emotions with quippy sayings, or even a quick recitation of scripture instead of dealing with them. I tend to stuff them deep down on my insides because letting them out makes me feel as though I’m failing Jesus.
But Jesus knows the crushed world in which we live. He knows His followers will encounter terrifying circumstances. He knows those who love Him will be pecked apart by loss and earthly defeats. He knows.
And Jesus doesn’t tell us to snap out of it. He tells us to come to Him. I love how The Message paraphrases Matthew 11:28-30.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Coming to Him and allowing Him to work through our twisted sufferings is when we can embrace the peace, joy, and mercy we need.
Disclaimer: Please know that I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t refer to scripture or a Bible-based mantra such as “Choose Joy” when you’re struggling. Doing so genuinely often helps frame the situation with the right perspective … I’m just encouraging you to not simply recite a memory verse as a way to brush off your trouble. Instead, take a moment to let the truth run through your veins and allow your spirit to come to Jesus for what it needs.