The River

Last time I blogged, I spoke about a dully throbbing ache, so familiar and consistent that it rarely even comes into our conscious recognition.  I also shared the concept God is developing within me about having needs that I myself cannot meet, areas in which I must make myself humbly vulnerable with those in my very closest circle, and request that they come into those places in some significant way.  Meanwhile, I have been sick, to one degree or another, since January 1.  This is not shared for pity or complaint, but in the sake of laying out the true state of affairs in my journey with God, this debilitating physical condition played heavily into how I received God’s Word and limited my ability to sidestep some issues through busyness.  I didn’t have the energy to handle anything above the bare minimum for a few weeks. 

When my emotional or physical resources are low, the dully throbbing ache becomes a pounding, driving, beating drum I cannot deny.  I cannot keep it suppressed when I am worn down.  I found myself very emotionally discouraged since December because of situations with other people that were terribly disappointing.  Sometimes we want more for other people than they want, or are willing to work for, themselves.  Then my physical resources got knocked out from under me and there you have it:  a messy situation with none of the normal coping mechanisms to assuage the melancholy.  I couldn’t exercise regularly during January, only managed a few times and only on my best days.  I have taken only one solo walk (and forget about running!) this entire new year and that may sound like nothing, but I have regularly walked or run six days a week for eleven years now.  I depend on it more for sanity, for stress-relief, than for caloric burn.  So I didn’t even have the wonderful endorphins that vigorous exercise joyfully releases.

All of that to lay the foundation for this, that God has named for me the dully throbbing ache and I do NOT like its name one bit:  SORROW.  It sounds so self-pitying, almost like depression, but it is not.  I don’t like its name but as God showed me I knew instantly that this was indeed its name: Sorrow

In October our family stayed in Tennessee for a week and one of our adventures took us deep into an underground cavern up in Bristol, Tennessee.  Following the brochure’s directions, we arrived at a small  storefront on a no-where country road.  When you pull into the place you think, “Is this really it?”   Terry and I briefly considered its “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” implications but really wanted to see for ourselves what the brochure pictures had promised.  The tour guide led us up a small incline in the back yard and down a small path, pausing at a small crevice which he told us was how the native Americans got in and out of the cave.  We were led down and around to a door in the back of the small hill and then began a very long, dark descent into vast underground caverns, cut there by a river that runs under the earth’s surface, in its deeper places.  It was magnificent and spooky and amazing.  Sorrow has been the river that runs deeply under my surface since I was a young girl.  It is not the same thing as depression.  It is a low-grade ache that something substantial is missing, something that should have been my birthright was never given to me and the void is as huge and extensive as those underground caverns.

God has filled up vast portions of those underground caverns with so much life and joy and presence that it radically changed how I think, how I relate, who I am.  Yet there is still a river, smaller than it was, less powerful than it was, but still there.  Since I was quite young I have been painfully aware of the dangerousness of life, its cruelty and volatility.  Children shouldn’t know that kind of Sorrow and Fear, but they have been my companions throughout.  For a long time Fear was such a constant presence that I could not imagine life without it.  Throughout my life I have heard, “You’re so strong, Tammy.”  And what I have not been told yet felt communicated to me is this:  “I’m sorry, Tammy, I’m just not as strong as you,” and so I stood alone.  I am not strong because I want to be strong.  I am strong because I have wanted a future of possibilities more than remaining within the imprisoning consequences of others’ actions.  I refused to be held captive to those wounds and thus the only option was to fight fiercely to move through and beyond those painful wildernesses of the soul.  I haven’t wanted to be strong; I just haven’t wanted to be bound, defined by or captive to someone else’s cruelty. 

Sorrow seems to accompany a soul that has suffered great loss.  I have grieved so many losses in my life that I truly thought my sorrow should be assuaged by now.  I have worked rigorously to pursue health and wholeness at all costs.  Yet there are days when the shadows overtake the sun and the throb of the ache is closer to the surface, the rush of the river louder than usual.  God has already transformed so much of my sorrow into joy, just as He often promises in Scripture.  I have wanted to be done with all my mourning and have worked as consistently and as energetically as I could to do so.  Yet the river of sorrow remains, coursing through the canyons in my soul that it has cut there, still, far less powerful than it once was. 

The need I have recognized that accompanies Sorrow is this:  Comfort.  I have longed for comfort and compassion throughout my life but my personality has stubbornly resisted asking for it because people’s actions are what cut those caverns in my soul.  I have come to realize, through all the ways God shows me, that what I have needed from people with skin on, skin like mine, is comfort.  It is rare that I ask my husband to stop everything he is doing and just hold me.  It is rare for me to call a friend and say, “I’m aching so can you encourage me in some way?”  How would they even know what to do or say?  When my emotional or physical resources are low and the river of Sorrow rises, I have been reaching out for comfort, but have shushed and shamed myself.  All the while, I have been terribly frustrated with myself that I am so weak, that I could succumb to that sense of sadness.  I haven’t wanted to look at where it originated because I feared it; I saw it as some character flaw or weakness within myself.  I haven’t offered myself compassion very often.  I just try to drown it out through various means and keep praying that one day God will have healed whatever it is or dealt with some new character issue that would address it.  I have not seen it as a legitimate, unmet and universal needI need comfort, the kind that comes from a human being, and the kind I need to learn to ask for in healthy ways. 

My Sorrow is not immense any longer.  It isn’t overwhelming very often and it isn’t a flaw in my being.  I cannot make it go away and apparently God wants me to invite a few people into this part of my being.  Perhaps this is a continuation of what I wrote in one of my first blogs, the need to be seen, known and still wanted, to be loved because of, and in spite of, who I am and not just what I do.  And most significantly to me right now:  to internalize the love others give me, to actually take it in and hold onto it, plant it within my being and allow it to begin to multiply the way God’s love has.

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About Tammy Feil

Happily married to Terry Feil since 1994, mother of two boys. My husband, Terry, is Pastor of Families and Students at Riverbluff Church in North Charleston, SC.
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