Dark Nights and Gentle Souls

The author, priest and professor, Henry Nowen, wrote about the “dark night of the soul.” When I first heard the conclusive diagnosis for my daughter’s cancer on July 2, I entered into a spinning whirling darkness. On the surface I looked pretty good and held myself together about 99% of the time. Inside, in the depths of my soul, I entered a space I had not yet experienced to this degree. I asked God questions about why He allowed this in our lives. I didn’t get an answer. At least not a direct, audible one.
Life is perplexing. Things happen that we don’t have answers for. People we care about get hurt or die. We are sometimes the one who is hurting. Maybe it’s depression we’re dealing with or a job loss, messed up relationship or an illness. When life is going well, we’re generally upbeat but when the bad stuff comes along, we spiral. I know this pattern. I live it. Not every day and not always in every circumstance, but I do experience this.
I often wonder why God didn’t set the universe up so that only good things happen. I know why in the very technical theological terms. I get all that but then there’s real life; when I’m in the trenches of the pain of life, I don’t like it. I get the idea of free will and sometimes it makes sense to me. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I think God should shake it up and change the rules.
So far, He’s not adopting my new plan. The pain we experience, our dark night’s of our soul, end up being the very ingredients that soften us. We can choose to be bitter. But we can also choose to allow our circumstances to shape us and stretch our compassion tanks. It’s perfectly acceptable to feel our pain, the emotions that come when life is beating us down. We acknowledge them, give them their space, and then we turn to the areas we have control. Sometimes the only area in which we have control is how we respond to these battering circumstances. Jesus modeled this beautifully for us. He cried out in anguish the night before he was crucified. He pleaded with God to choose another path. When it was clear He wasn’t getting out of it, he accepted and went willingly, with gentleness not bitterness.


Are you trying to hide something about yourself? Is there a part of you you’re not happy with, but instead of working on it, you cover it up? My daughter is undergoing chemotherapy for a kind of cancer reserved just for organ transplant recipients. I say that like it’s some kind of reward. I don’t think of it as a reward. She doesn’t either! Her hair is falling out in patches. She kind of looks like the tortured doll in Toy Story. She doesn’t really want to rock the whole bald thing, so she now has two wigs. She likes them. She looks good in them. In her case, I think covering up her baldness make sense. But what if we are trying to cover up something because we don’t want to deal with it?
Maybe for you it’s a fear of failure. You cover it up with procrastination. If you never get to the tasks, you don’t have to finish anything so you can avoid hearing the disapproval. Maybe you fear intimacy so you disguise it with independence. You can do life on your own so you don’t ever have to let anyone in. Or perhaps you are hiding a sense of never being good enough with high-octane production. You’ll prove you’re worth something by all the projects you can spit out, meanwhile never feeling inside that all those projects are enough.
Can you identify with any of these scenarios or ones like them? The answer is not to keep hiding but to bring the hidden parts of yourself out in the open, in a safe environment where healing can take place. This might be in recovery groups, counseling or coaching. I got to the heart of things I was hiding in a life changing coaching experience with Dr. John Townsend. Now, after several years of sitting under his teaching and guidance, he has given me (and about 17 other people around the US) the chance to lead and coach my own Townsend Leadership Program in Colorado! I am excited to bring the very processes that radically changed my life and helped me peel off the masks and stop hiding to my local community.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Townsend Leadership Program that I will be leading in 2015, call me or email me: 303-589-6274 or karen@journeyforward.net

My Life Fix

A year ago or so I was asked to share my story.  I was told it would be videotaped and later put on a website that was in the embryonic stages of creation.  The purpose was to create a site where people could go to hear about the pain others have gone through as well as their journey to find healing.  That site: MyLifeFix.com is now live and there are amazing stories of hardship, pain and healing.  These are totally real people, like me, who don’t get paid a penny to share our stories.  We did it because we know that someone out there needs to hear they are not alone.
The link I have pasted below is to my interview but there are others on the site as well.  Please, check them out and pass the site on to everyone you know.

Forgiveness: A Process Not a Step

One of the hardest actions in the healing process is forgiveness. This may be due to the fact that many of us don’t really understand what forgiveness is. We think of it as letting the person who hurt us off the hook. We think we are saying to them, “It really doesn’t matter what you did” or “It’s ok.” Forgiveness does not mean we are saying something someone did to us is acceptable nor are we communicating in any way that the person’s hurtful actions are ok. Forgiveness does not include remaining in or reconciling the relationship, either. Sometimes that is what happens, but reconciliation is not always the wisest action. Some relationships are so toxic, as in situations of abuse, that reconciliation is not recommended. Reconciliation and forgiveness do not have to go together. Forgiveness allows us to be free.
At times, when someone hurts us, we allow that hurt to turn into bitterness. This is what happens when we don’t forgive. The bitterness doesn’t hurt the other person, it hurts us. I think of it like a suffocating weed that intertwines itself around and within us. Another visual I have for this is Spiderman. When the black suit creeps its way onto him, it gradually takes over his entire body with a bitter, hateful, strangling pulse. I have heard not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Often, the person we harbor the lack of forgiveness toward isn’t even aware of the pain we are in. Sometimes, when we see the person we think that our passive-aggressive ways will “show them.” Really, that behavior just makes us look immature and bitter. Many times, we no longer have contact with the person who hurt us. We are miserable and the person just goes on about his life without much of a thought of you and how you are hurting and being sucked down by your bitterness.
How do you find freedom? It’s not a one-step event. Forgiveness is a process. Think of someone who hurt you in some way. It is ideal if you can go through this process speaking each part aloud. If that’s not possible, say it in your head. First, say how the person hurt you. Next, validate the emotions you have associated with the hurt. It’s normal to feel anger, sadness, and even fear. Let yourself feel the emotion. If there are tears, notice what it feels like to have droplets of water trickling or streaming down your face. If you feel something inside, a tightness, clenching, or knot-like sensation, describe it to yourself. Be in tune with the emotion for as long as the wave lasts. Usually an emotional wave lasts between 5 seconds and a few minutes. If you find that 5 minutes have gone by and you’re still feeling the emotion strongly, take a deep breath while counting to five then release it while counting to five. Step outside and get some fresh air or splash some cool water on your face and then continue with the process. Tell yourself that you are finished holding onto what the other person did to you. You are choosing to be free of the bitterness that is keeping you tied to the hurtful action’s negative power. You are forgiving the other person for what she did to you. It helps to visualize letting the bitterness and unforgiveness go. I often see it rising out of my body, detaching its life-sucking tendrils from me, rising into the air like a helium balloon, and drifting completely out of sight. Take a deep breath and as you release it say, “I forgive you.” Soak in what it feels like to be released from the strangling hold of unforgiveness.
It would be so rewarding to never feel that bitterness creep in again. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t work that way. Nope. I do not live in a delusional world rather the real one that you live in. I know it’s not that simple. You will need to go through this process each time the bitterness comes up. Be aware of it and go through the steps to let it go and forgive the other person, again and again. Eventually, you will experience a decrease in the amount of bitterness you are holding to the point that one day you will remember what the person did to you, know that it was hurtful, and bask in the freedom that you no longer hold bitterness for him. You have forgiven him. You are free.