Since my convergence last spring, I’ve lost thirty-four pounds. I’m no longer obese and hover on the edge of a healthy weight for my height. I have begun to enjoy freedoms I haven’t had for a long time–running, sleeping better, and liking my reflection in the mirror.
But then I started snacking again. What is converging for me now is the truth that I am emotionally eating. Something in me feels hurt, sad, conflicted, or afraid, and before I’m even aware of it, my body wants to comfort me with food.
One of my earliest memories is of me getting a step ladder and climbing up to the counter and the breadbox where the crackers were kept. I still remember the relief I felt when I bit into the saltine.
I’ve known for a long time that I suffer from emotional eating but knowing that didn’t change anything until I connected trauma with lament.
Many of us overeat to soothe the feelings that trigger hurts from our childhood. We experienced times in the first years of life when we didn’t get what we needed. Our young minds tried to make sense of it and (often mistakenly) believed that we were unwanted and unloved. Those feelings scared us then, and they scare us now. So when something happens in the present that causes us to experience feelings similar to those from the past, our body feels unsafe and wants to fight, fly, or freeze. Eating is a way of freezing by numbing painful feelings.
The way out is to feel them, and the first step is to notice them. I don’t even know something is bothering me until I’ve eaten a handful of nuts when I’m not even hungry.
So this year for Lent, I set an intention to feel instead of snack.
I was recovering from a difficult birth and my baby girl had colic and cried almost incessantly in the first few months. My friend came to stay and help me as I recovered. I noticed that when she picked up my daughter when she was crying, she said something different than I’d heard anyone say to my baby or any baby. Most of us were saying things like “Shhh now, it’s ok” or something like that, trying to stop the crying. But my friend would wrap her up, put her on her shoulder right up by her face, pat her back gently, and say, ‘Tell me all about it. Tell me all about it.'” Her words were so unexpected and so comforting to me, I often found myself tearing up too.
Nothing is too insignificant, too familiar, or too loud for God to hear. Nothing is shushed. I am held, heard, and my soul is comforted.
“To heal, you have to feel” keeps echoing in what I read and hear. Lament helps me express those feelings to God.
As we begin to understand the shape of the world into which we were born, we would all soon experience the “shushing’” of parents… Contained somewhere in the heart of these demands to ‘”be quiet,’” beneath the sincere attempts at comforting, lay a level of shame and the inescapable message that we should not cry out, we should not behave in such ways… At that frustrating moment we entered into the very human, fallen aspect of denial, which is the polar opposite of lament. As a result we grew up trying to control our tears and trying to help others control theirs, thinking that in the midst of it all sometimes we might even be able to control the pain. That single pathway through it all, the path of lament, became overgrown, lost, left off all our maps. —Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow
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Our third Lenten question–What are you shushing?–invites us to lament. If you’re looking for a song to lament with, here is one that my son-in-law wrote when his Crohn’s disease was relentless. If you’d like words to pray your lament, the psalms have a lot of them. Perhaps you’d like to paint, sculpt, dance or walk out your lament. Another option is to put pen to paper, address your lament to God, and write unfiltered to the One who inclines an ear to you.