By Steven Norris
Last week, I sat dumbfounded as I watched a 30 second video on social media. Someone had noticed a series of small fires in the port area of Beirut, Lebanon and pulled out their cell phone to record what was happening. All of a sudden, an explosion unlike anything I’ve seen erupted, bringing with it havoc and untold disaster.
As news sites picked up the story, additional videos emerged. Most believe that it was caused by the improper storage of containers of the fertilizer, ammonium nitrate. While the chemical may have very beneficial uses, it comes at a high cost.
Though this appears to be an accident, I couldn’t help but think that it was an apt metaphor for much of what we see happening in our world today. What happens when we “stuff down” our emotions? What happens when we push aside painful experiences or traumas and fail to adequately deal with them adequately? What kind of dangerous material has built up inside of us and around us that is just waiting for something to come along and ignite it?
In his book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” Peter Scazzero lists various symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality. These include ignoring basic emotions like anger, sadness, or fear; dividing our lives into “sacred” and “secular” categories; spiritualizing away conflict; living without limits and boundaries; and judging other people’s spiritual journey, to name a few.
Too often, however, Christians will respond to these by turning to what I like to call “Superman verses” like Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”). As Scazzero points out, “the context was that of learning to be content in all circumstances. The strength he received from Christ was not the strength to change, deny, or defy his circumstances; it was the strength to be content in the midst of them, to surrender to God’s loving will for him.”
In these moments of extreme stress and anxiety, we don’t often stop to account for the emotional toll those circumstances are having on our psyche. We often don’t notice what my psychologist friend likes to call “death by paper cut”—the cumulative effect of all the negative daily interactions adding up. In these moments, we often don’t recognize the dire importance of good self care.
As the Quaker spiritual writer, Parker Palmer, said, “Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
With the pandemic numbers rising, school resuming, and the run-up to November now solidly under way, we enter into another anxious and contentious period in the life of our community and nation. Sparks and fires are erupting all around us. If we are not careful stewards of our own hearts and emotions, however, we may find ourselves amidst the rubble of an even greater explosion.