We hope that our Living from the Heart sermon series encourages people to investigate their own emotions and emotional history, and to talk about these things with others. Mitch Woods has offered to share part of his story on our blog:
When I look back on my life now, I can see that I never learned how to process my emotions while growing up. My family tended to sweep problems under the rug and bottle up emotions, and I followed suit: I stuffed them down until I couldn’t contain them anymore. They would spew out in inappropriate ways at inappropriate times. My father was emotionally detached until he got angry. I always did my best, not so much to make him happy, but to make sure he wasn’t upset with me. I developed a deep desire to please others: it was easier if everyone was happy with me, and I didn’t have to deal with conflict and the emotions that came with it.
I lived most of my life not even realizing that I wasn’t expressing my emotions appropriately. I entered into and left relationships for the wrong reasons; I hurt others without realizing the wake I was creating in their emotions, since I wasn’t allowing myself to feel my own. Through all of this, I became closed off with others about my personal life. I controlled what other people thought of me by controlling my emotions and not being vulnerable with them. I never fully accepted the fact that others might love me for who I am, and not who I thought they wanted me to be. I disengaged from my community and had trouble building deep relationships.
I felt the same way about God. I thought that there was no way that He would love me with all of my baggage. Even though I was going to church regularly, had Christian friends, and had good answers to “church” questions, I never believed that I was deserving of God’s love even in Jesus. I doubted that he could handle the emotions that I had bottled up for such a long time, allowing guilt and shame to control me. I had a relationship with him, but it was more like a friend of a friend. I was detached from God, and didn’t understand grace enough to accept it from him or give it to myself.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized how not handling my emotions had impacted me. I was interviewing for a position to move to Thailand and work with a nonprofit organization that rescued women and children out of slavery. That was the first time that I had been confronted with one of the largest impacts of not expressing my emotions. One of the ways I had channeled my emotions was pornography, and I had become addicted at an early age.
There were other reasons why I am not working for that organization, but it was definitely a factor as to why I’m still living in Indianapolis. It was also the crack in the dam that allowed it to crumble, finally letting my emotions escape. I don’t think I have ever cried as much as I did during that Skype interview.
The week after my interviews, I started meeting with a Christian counselor who helps people struggling with sexual behavior and addiction. It was one of the most difficult things that I have done - at least until I started telling some of my close friends.
The process has helped me better understand myself and who I am as a man of God. I have started to better understand how to express emotions instead of controlling them.
I started coming to Soma after attending my previous church for almost 10 years. Even though I had been a part of, and even led, a small group there, I wasn't emotionally connected because I wasn’t open and honest with them. I told my counselor that my intention was to enter into community here and be open and vulnerable. I can say that the relationships I have developed over the last few months have already become into deeper and richer friendships than those withpeople I knew for over a decade.
I recently watched a TED talk by Brené Brown, where she talks about her research on the impact of vulnerability; the talk has further helped me articulate my experiences. Vulnerability has helped me escape the emotional prison of shame, fear, and the struggle for worthiness that I have lived in most of my life. It's still a journey to live a fuller life, but I've found that being emotionally open and vulnerable with people takes away the fear of being loved for who I think I should be, and allows me to accept love from God and from others for whom God has created me to be.
All these experiences have helped me gain a better understanding of myself and the power of the gospel. I can see how my story is a reflection of God’s greater plan. When I look at my life through the lens of the cross and Jesus’s sacrifice, I can start to see God’s plan of redemption and restoration. I’ve been able to better understand that the gospel changes everything, because God is using my story to accomplish His purpose.