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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Letting Go of Numbing in Our Lives

As we journey through life, we experience both positive and negative emotions. Positive emotions for most of us would include these: joy, gratitude, awe, love, serenity, hope, interest, a sense of purpose, satisfaction. Negative emotions might include these: fear, sadness, loneliness, inadequacy, shame, frustration, helplessness, failure. In short, we tend to welcome the positive emotions into our lives. At the same time, we tend to shun the negative ones. Who says, “I feel so lonely and afraid… Yippee!”?

Because negative emotions tend to make us uncomfortable, we sometimes try to numb them. There are all kinds of things we can use to numb or take the edge off negative emotions. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, researcher Brene Brown lists many things that, if used excessively, can numb us to our pain. One big one is alcohol or other drugs. But other “stuff” can be used as anesthetizers too, such as work, food, sex, gambling, staying busy, shopping, surfing the internet, and seeking constant change.

“Most of us welcome positive emotions…” (Photo by Andre Furtado – Pexels)

It is important to remember that both positive and negative emotions can play a significant role in our maturing process—and in our spiritual life. In fact, God often “speaks” to us through our positive and negative emotions. When I give talks on hope, I often quote St. Augustine who said that anger (which we often think of as a negative emotion) is one of the daughters of hope! How can that be? An example might help. We can experience rightful anger when we see an injustice, that is, when we see something that should not be—like bullying, racism, sexism, human trafficking, elder abuse. Our anger can be the impetus we need to help right a wrong.

Brene Brown devotes a section in her book on the role numbing can play in our lives. She begins with this honest acknowledgement: “I’ve spent most of my life trying to outrun vulnerability and uncertainty,” the essence of negative emotions. We all have our little (or big) anesthetizers when we’re experiencing our vulnerability. One of mine is work. I can throw myself into my writing as a way to numb uncomfortable emotions. But taking time to deal with my pain, sadness, or anxiety can be very beneficial for my personal growth.

As I read Brown’s words, I thought about Jesus. Even a cursory reading of the gospels shows us that he did not go through life anesthetized. On the contrary, Jesus allowed himself to experience both positive and negative emotions. Here are a few examples:

+ He experienced positive emotions: the love of his parents and extended family… the companionship of close friends… the joy of parties… the satisfaction of drawing large crowds… his deep sense of purpose… the fun of playing with children… The delight of finding an extraordinarily compassionate Roman soldier… the awe of going up into the hills to pray… the gratitude for creation… the comfort he found in nature as a reflection of his Father’s love and care… his profound intimacy with God nourished by his daily prayer.

Like us, Jesus experienced negative emotions…” (Photo by Pixabay)

And Jesus experienced negative emotions as well: the animosity of religious leaders… his disappointment when his closest disciples didn’t get his message… the disconnect with some of his family members… the deep sadness at the deaths of John the Baptist, the son of the widow of Naim, and his good friend Lazarus… his helplessness to touch Judas’ heart… his sense of failure as he realized his mission was taking him to the cross… his utter loneliness—most especially in Gethsemane… the sense of abandonment on the cross when he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

At the end of her section on numbing, Brown raises the question: What helps us live with negative emotions and with uncomfortable vulnerability in a resilient way? Her book (though not a religious book per se), gives this answer: spirituality. Brown defines spirituality as “connecting with God.” She says when we are dealing with anxiety, stress, trauma, it is spirituality that can give us “a sense of purpose, meaning, and perspective in our lives…. (Without these) it is easy to lose hope, numb our emotions, or become overcome by circumstances.”

“Connecting with God through our daily prayer can help give us a sense of purpose, meaning, and perspective in our lives…”(Photo by RODNAE – Pexels)

Let us conclude this reflection with a short prayer:

Loving Jesus, help me to remain open to life… to all of life. Help me to embrace the positive emotions I may experience on any given day: love, joy, gratitude, serenity, hope, awe, satisfaction, a sense of purpose… And help me to accept the negative emotions too: fear, sadness, loneliness, shame, frustration, helplessness, failure. May I realize that you can speak to me through all my experiences—and not merely the ones I find comfortable. And it is by engaging with my life experiences that I can grow into the person you are inviting me to become. Jesus, you drew your strength and resiliency for living from your intimacy with the Father, an intimacy nourished by your life of daily prayer. I ask for the grace to follow in your footsteps. Amen.

For reflection:

Did anything in this reflection stand out for you? If so, what?

Do you ever try to numb negative emotions? If so, what do you use as an anesthetizer?

Has an experience of a negative emotion or your vulnerability ever led to growth in your life? Are you a better person because you acknowledged and worked with your negative emotions?

PS: Reminder: if you are a subscriber and you are not receiving my blog in your email, just google “Sunflower Seeds blog Sister Melannie” and it should come up. I apologize for this inconvenience.

St. Paul writes, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom. 8:28). This song by Jaime Jamgochian is based on that belief. Whatever may be happening in your life right now, whether positive or negative experiences, trust that God can use everything in your life to bring about good.

I welcome your comments below!

11 Responses

  1. I am not getting your weekly Sunflower Seeds…Miss this…tried to sign up again…please try and fix this . Thank you.

    Joy Martin

  2. Good afternoon, Sr. Melannie…

    When I was six years old, my mother died. That was in 1963. I lived in a house with my grandmother, my aunt, four other brothers and sisters, and my grieving dad. I was the youngest. Nobody really talked to me about what happened, other than Ma’s in Heaven now. That’s about it. No counseling, nothing. In fact, I’m told the day she died, I walked up the street to my friend’s house, knocked on the door, and said, “Hi Mrs. Carroll, my mother just died, can Bobby come out to play?”

    I have since learned that a six year old has no concept of what “forever” means, and so it wasn’t until third grade that it dawned on me she wasn’t coming back. That’s when the crying jags started. That’s when the fighting started. I was an angry little boy who just didn’t understand.

    How did I get through it? How did I anesthetize myself? Sports. Everyday I played sports: baseball, football, street hockey. Years later someone said playing a game of catch is sort of like going to therapy. While I didn’t realize it at the time, with every football or baseball thrown, with every puck shot, I was releasing my pain, my frustration, my confusion. But it wasn’t until I was about thirteen that the anger (fighting) started to abate.

    Through it all, I prayed. I was told Ma was in Heaven. I had to get there. My sister Johanna would always play that song that went something like this: “Oh where, oh were has my baby gone? The Lord took her away from me. She’s gone to Heaven so I’ve got to be good, so I can see my baby when I lever this world.” That song became my anthem.

    1. John, Your story really touched me—especially going to your neighbors’ house and announcing, “My mother just died. Can Bobby come out to play?” I also liked the words: playing catch “is sort of like going to therapy.” The rhythmic action of catching and then tossing the ball back and forth and back and forth was always so soothing for me… Thank you for your beautiful words, John… Melannie

  3. Still not receiving your weekly post. I go to your sight to read your weekly words of wisdom. Hope the IT guys can correct this real soon.

    Have a blessed day,

  4. Still not receiving your blog, I feel sure I am still signed up to get it but not receiving. Sure do miss getting your blog.
    Have a great weekend!

  5. I, too, have not been getting your “Sunflower Seeds”. I don’t know why or what happened. I pray all will soon be corrected.

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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