It turns out that caring for your heart is just as much a spiritual discipline as prayer and reading your Bible:
- “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” -Romans 12:2
- “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” -Proverbs 4:23
- Seeking the Lord so you can experience “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:4
You can grow spiritually and emotionally by spending time with the Lord by reading and meditating on His word, praying, connecting with other Christ followers, confessing your sins to others and asking for prayer, and many other things. But, for example, when we have an experience that we respond to by feeling worthless, and then we feel sad about feeling worthless, and then we feel frustrated that we feel stuck in sadness, and then we get frustrated that we can’t stop feeling frustrated:
Worthless «- Sadness «- Frustration «- Frustration
…then it can be very difficult to resolve this series of related emotions. It might feel like it’s too much to deal with and would be easier to just take the whole series of emotions and pack them away inside where we don’t feel them any more, where we don’t think about them as much. The catch is that we don’t notice that it takes effort to keep things like this packed away — it leads to feeling emotionally exhausted more easily and if anyone does or says anything that reminds you of why you’ve felt any of these things then the feelings start coming back up even though you have them packed away. You notice that you are quicker to anger, that you feel sad and aren’t sure the reason why, or that you want to do things to prove that you are worth something, and it can be hard to notice that these things are connected to this series of emotions that you’ve packed away.
Coming to a cross-road
At some point in your life you come to realize that keeping things packed away like this isn’t working for you anymore, that the symptoms that it causes in your life are leading you to sin and unhappiness and are damaging your relationships. At that point you start to want to reach out for help. Some of the best people to turn to are people who have already worked through many things like this in their own lives, and I’ve found that some of the most skilled people in helping others to work through them are people who have skill with the Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) approach to caring for your heart. And I recommend that you work with someone who is also following Christ, although the IFS process is not connected to any particular faith, but sharing a Christ-centered worldview impacts how we approach circumstances and solutions.
What to expect
When you do biblically-informed IFS sessions you’ll have a chance to find freedom from the painful set of emotions that you have packed away and work through it at just the right pace so that you feel ok with looking deeper into your heart. IFS is a gentle process that is careful to respect all of you and not go any deeper than you are comfortable going, and it also has excellent ways to help you feel more comfortable along the way. You will experience non-judgmental curiosity and compassion during each part of the unpacking process. Over time (sometimes quickly, sometimes over a period of months or more) you’ll find that you have more patience, gentleness and kindness available for you to offer to others, that you know how to treat yourself better when you find yourself feeling sad so you can process through it instead of getting stuck in it, and you’ll find that you’ll have a closer relationship with the Lord.
“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” -Proverbs 20:5