“If you’re going through hell, keep on going.”
It will be nice to sit here and write without interruption for the next 45-60 minutes. I tried writing last night, but after five attempts at starting a blog, I gave up and went to bed. Last night felt pretty emotional for me and then everything turned out fine and I felt foolish for letting myself get caught up in fear and regret. What helped me get past it was the prayers of a good friend. That took me from despair to delight and then, happily, the problem resolved itself.
It’s amazing how much of our pain is self-inflicted. It’s as if we took ourselves to Hell. In the novel The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, some people who are given a choice between Heaven and Hell. Some, rather than surrender their right to their illusions and falsehood, actually choose Hell! This seems inconceivable until I remember all the times I have chosen Hell. I choose Hell when I am selfish or lazy or mean. Sometimes, however, it seems Hell is thrust upon me when something unexpected and painful happens to make me feel afraid or overwhelmed. Last night I felt like this. The worst part of it was that it was unnecessary. Fear is Hell and sometimes it’s hard to get out of fear or Hell. But it’s not impossible. Before I describe exit strategies, allow me to describe what Hell feels like.
First, I am not talking about a literal Hell. I believe there is one and I also believe in a loving God who does everything possible to keep us out of there. The choice, however, is ours. The choice is ours for the figurative Hell, also. The figurative is what I speak of here. When I say “figurative” that doesn’t make it any less painful when one is there. When I’ve been there, it has felt at least a little like the literal, a place of pain and darkness.
The pain feels overwhelming. It feels as if I will feel this way for the rest of my life and that I will never smile or be happy again. Imagine stubbing your toe. Even though the toe is a small part of the body, when I stub it, it’s all I can think of. I’m not thinking about my elbow or my stomach, both of which feel fine. I’m only thinking about my pain. This pain comes with a strong dose of fear. It keeps me from being fully present in life. It’s Hell. It’s also darkness.
I almost literally can’t see anything else. I can’t taste food. I can’t remember music or books I enjoy. I can’t remember good times, or if I do, I believe they are gone forever. Even if I’m busy with something else, I can’t seem to focus or be present where I am. It’s like being in a coffin or a long dark tunnel. Fortunately, I don’t have to stay there.
To summarize, certain emotional responses can be overwhelming and consuming. It is often said that we choose our own emotions. I’ve said that and I believe it. This can seem like a glib answer, however, when we’re in pain. It’s hard to remember this or live it out. It’s also true that some of us need to practice different responses and this practice, as with any skill, takes time. In the past, my hellish emotional responses could last for hours, sometimes days. Since then I’ve learned ways to get free. This is the beautiful thing: there are many ways to get free. Here are some things that have worked for me:
· Doing something physical, such as exercise or cleaning the garage
· Making a list of priorities for the day and completing them
· Focusing on the needs of others
· Taking a nap
· Drinking water
· Reading or listening to something positive
· Talking with a friend
· Resolving the situation
Sometimes I wish there were just one answer to all of life’s problems, but we’ve been blessed with many tools. I need to decide which tool best fits the situation. I generally try all of them until my pain is gone. While suffering may be part of life, it doesn’t mean that it is supposed to permanent or to be all of life. I believe we’re meant to be happy and peaceful. The real battle then is to get to that place and to get out of Hell as quickly as possible. I don’t want to stay there. In fact, I don’t even want to visit there any more. I do not choose Hell and if I find myself there again, I will Get Started and Keep Going until I am free.