Everything is a little numb at the moment.
The thing with numbness is, normally you don’t notice it. The nature of being numb means you are suppressing pain, denying the full effect of feeling. Sometimes it is a choice, sometimes not. The other week though, I noticed the numbness. I noticed because someone else pointed out that it was strange I didn’t react to a situation. I could acknowledge that it was strange, but I still couldn’t react. I said to myself “maybe I should feel frustrated” and “maybe I should feel disappointed” but all I could do was shrug. Perhaps I was so accustomed to rejecting unwanted emotion that I could bypass reacting and dismiss feeling altogether.
That is me: a living robot, processing this world.
I decided that I should perhaps do something about this numbness, instead of ignoring it. Today a colleague commented that my eyes were glazed over. I blamed it on the lack of sleep and sickness that has left me dreaming of being bedridden (rather than actually being bedridden thanks to major milestones at work). The answer was half-true, but deep down I knew something was not quite right.
How have I been floating for so long? I think I would prefer to sink deep than to remain skimming the surface of life like this. I needed to go to the only anchor for our souls: Jesus.
A couple years back I posted on spiritual dryness and thirsting for the word (see “Thirsting Heart”). I wrote: “I cannot combat my thirst, but I can commit to trusting”. Upon reflection:
Sometimes, the dryness, the numbness, the thirsting… Sometimes these are things we choose.
Consciously or unconsciously, somewhere along the way, I have chosen to neglect and reject, to deprive and hide. Isn’t it easier to just push away painful things than to embrace them? Isn’t it easier to press down deeper that sense of hopelessness than stirring it up and surrendering it to God?
Sometimes we choose to remain numb, because we grow scared of sensation. We deceive ourselves that we are invincible because we are not disrupted by feelings. We become afraid of facing pain; dealing with issues; experiencing emotion (whether good or bad).
Yet sometimes the dryness, the numbness, the thirsting… Sometimes these are the very things that God invites us to entrust to him. The hurting heart? The weary soul? The uncertain future? The chaotic present? The traumatic past? The endless sorrow? The searching mind? The concerning apathy?
When I turned to Jesus this evening, I don’t know what I was expecting. I know what I was hoping – As my living hope. As the anchor for my soul. As the bread of life. As my living water – I know I was hoping for a resurrection from this state of numbness. I know that the very Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave lives inside me. So I know that in His name I can rise above this numbness.
I needed some divine intervention from the Spirit though… sponsored by Google. Now I don’t normally do this, but tonight before I opened the Word, I googled: “bible verses to read when numb”. Turns out this search engine, while unable to search our hearts and mind like the Spirit, can search by association.
Google associates being numb in the spiritual sense to “being lost”, “encouragement when times are hard”, “when you feel empty”, “loneliness”, “overcoming depression”, “when you’re sad”, “incomplete”, “only God can fill the void”, “running on empty”, “empty heart”.
Do you see the pattern here? There seems to be a correlation between feeling and filling.
Numbness is a lack of feeling. Emptiness is a lack of filling.
Was this similarity true of my experience? Was I feeling empty? Lacking? Or just numb? Or were they the same thing? What about the whole piece about being lost? Had I lost my ability to feel? Or had I lost my ability to allow God to fill me and sustain me and stir in me a new fire for each day? If I had chosen to push away pain, had I chosen to push away God? Was my numbness a sign of emptiness? Was I choosing to remain dead and numb instead of choosing life in Christ and the fullness found in him?
Sometimes we can’t know our own hearts like God knows them. Thats why we come to him, not just to understand Him, or to understand this world, but to understand ourselves. Lord, who have you made me to be? Lord, how have you made me to live? Lord, what have you given me to steward? Lord, where can I serve? Lord, search my heart! Lord, you know my ways!
After an unsuccessful search engine start, I turned to the psalms. These are always a place where my heart can find hope, an echo of how to express this internal desire to devote oneself to God, despite the attempts of the flesh to fall to other things.
I found myself in Psalm 81. Go have a read.
This psalm is super encouraging, because it begins in praise; exuberant outbursts with trumpets (3), proclamations of God’s strength (1). I realised that though I may not instantly be able to rise above the numbness, I can still raise a song to my great God (2).
In this psalm we also see the very nature of this great God, how he relieves us of our burdens (6), freeing and delivering us from distress (7). And where, when we call in distress, does he answer us?
IN THE SECRET PLACE OF THUNDER
I don’t know about you, but I don’t associate thunder to “secret” or “relieving”. If anything, thunder is the roaring of the heavens. But. Revelation time. It hit me – Thunder is a loud rumbling that occurs after lightning. Sometimes, we can see the light; but until we hear, we don’t register what we see.
In this psalm, God’s heart is for his people to LISTEN. To hear him.
He repeatedly speaks through the psalmist: “Hear, O my people”, “Listen to me!” (8)
“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
But my people did not listen to my voice.
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
Oh, that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!”
This is just what my numb heart needed. To listen to God.
I believe that he will gently thaw me so that I can start embracing emotion again. He gives our hearts over to our desires when we chose otherwise – even if we chose to numb, to ignore. But he calls to us, he waits for us. And when we call to him? He answers in that secret place of thunder.
See when you’re numb, you can’t think or see clearly. But in that secret place of thunder, remember the revelation: you learn to see by listening. As we listen, the eyes of our heart will be opened. In the light of his Word, the lamp unto our path, he will lead us in that secret place, as we learn to surrender our stubborn hearts, as we submit to following Jesus.
And I love how this psalm ends, reminding us that: He fills. He satisfies. He is the giver of LIFE (16).
Maybe as we learn to see we will learn to feel.
To FEEL more of His heart as we HEAR more of His heart.
I chose to ramble and reveal this numbness tonight because maybe I’m not alone in this. If you also feel this way, I pray that you might turn to Jesus and look deep into His word. No matter whether your heart is numb or thirsty or empty (or any other synonym/association of these), He wants our hearts to hear Him.
Jesus says: “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt.11:15). He also speaks of seeing but not perceiving – lightning without thunder?! – and hearing without understanding (See Mark 4).
So I want to challenge us to listen in that secret place. To spend time with him, listening to the very heart of God himself; allowing His Spirit to soften our hearts, so we are receptive and repentant to the redemptive power found in the only anchor for our souls: Jesus.