330 – Suffering, Empathy, and Returning Joy

This Week on Soul Talks

Some of us are enduring chronic pain or suffering that can be exhausting. We may struggle to accept our own grief, loss, and lament around difficult circumstances that drain us of life and joy. But even in the midst of these trials, sharing our true emotions with soul friends can be the means to receive God’s comforting presence.

Join us for this episode of Soul Talks, as Bill and Kristi talk about long-term trials, chronic pain, and ways we can return to joy. As a wounded healers, you need to care for your soul by sharing your emotions with others who listen with compassion and love. You are then freed to be Jesus’ ambassador, offering empathy and grace to those around you.

 

Resources for this episode:

Suffering, Empathy, and Returning Joy Transcript

Bill and Kristi Gaultiere 

Bill
Hello friends. We are so glad for you to join Soul Talks. This is Bill Gaultiere, and Kristi and I are on the road.

We just finished leading a Soul Shepherding retreat for a few days for a hundred missionaries with Paraclete. That was a great time in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area at Glorietta.

Now we are driving to Atlanta to lead our Soul Shepherding Institute, and we thought we would try doing a Soul Talks here in the car.

Kristi
Hi friends. 

Enduring Trials

Bill
I thought that we would talk about the challenges that you’re having, Kristi, with your loss of taste.

We’ve talked about this maybe a couple months ago, but it’s continuing since you had Covid, about eight months ago.

It really brings up the issue that many of us struggle with — either chronic pain or chronic deprivation — when we’ve got something in our body, or it could even be in our emotions or in our relationship, that is hurting and it just is continual and chronic.

Then recently you had a problem with a dental procedure that left you in chronic pain.

So you had the combination of the chronic pain plus the chronic deprivation of every time you eat, food not tasting good. 

I know that so many of you who are listening deal with these kinds of losses, emotionally, personally, or in your relationships, or in your body dealing with chronic pain.

One of the things that we really try to do in Soul Shepherding is to give you words for your experience, for your feelings, for your faith, for your relationships. 

Kristi and I seek to be wounded healers, as many of you do.

We so appreciate having you in our community and so appreciate hearing from you about your stories — your testimonies of how God is working in your life. 

So Kristi, could you describe for us what you’ve been experiencing?

Kristi
Well, I think it’s been tough because it’s not just that I’ve lost my taste.

But it’s that a number of foods — especially foods that have protein, or are healthy, or are necessary, or are hard to avoid — taste very bad, very distorted, very rancid or putrid.

It makes it hard, especially now when we’ve been on the road and I don’t have much control over my diet.  

It has been hard to get enough to eat and to be able to get the nutrition that I need. 

Also to not just feel that constant sense of, “Oh, it’s so dissatisfying.”

I’m so craving and desiring to have something that would actually taste good, and feel satisfying. 

Then with the tooth problem, to have pain upon eating too — is especially exacerbating the desolation that needing to eat brings me.

Bill
So it’s like every day, a few times a day or more, you’re feeling this sense of loss of whatever emotional comfort or satisfaction — loss of positive feelings of looking forward to eating — all that is gone for you. 

And it’s been gone for all these months.

Kristi
Yeah. And I think sometimes it also tips me to feel maybe fearful, like my needs aren’t going to be able to be met. 

Or sometimes that I need to feel a little bit jealous that other people are doing good things, or think “Man, I wish I could enjoy that.”

I’ll still often crave things — but it’s just the actual taste of them is very different from the craving.

Bill
So, it’s the recurring feeling that you’re missing out.

Kristi
Yeah.  Wishing I could have something, but knowing that if I had it, it would taste really bad.

Bill
Yeah. As I’ve been listening to you talk about this over these months, I’ve realized how much I take for granted the pleasures and comfort of food — how much emotionality is associated with our eating.

Kristi
Definitely. I think that it’s been a way that I often appreciate God’s goodness even.

Or even a way that maybe I self-soothe.

Bill
Well, of course this goes back for all of us to being infants nurtured by our mothers or caregivers and being fed.

A lot of times we grew up in families where food was a reward system or a way of showing love, like even excessively, in place of nurture, empathy, listening, and affirmation.

Many of us have these emotions — these strong feeling connections to eating — and then to the sense of deprivation, if we’re not able to eat or not able to get the food that we want.

Kristi
Well, thankfully most of the time I’m still able to stay in joy and it doesn’t really get to me.

It doesn’t really cause a problem, but I think the reason why you wanted to record right now on the road is because we just had a situation where I’ve been having a really hard time.

I was sharing with you as you were eating that it was really hard for me, and my lunch didn’t taste good. You were empathizing with me and you were drawing me out about that.

Bill
Well, as I just mentioned at the outset, part of the difficulty today is the last week you’ve been in pain in your teeth because of a tooth procedure that didn’t go well and left you with quite a bit of mouth pain.

That daily pain has just been wearing on you.

I know some of you listening have chronic pain, a lot longer than a week, and that just can be exhausting.

When you have chronic pain or if you’re recovering from an illness or surgery, these kinds of things that are draining us — going through chemotherapy — we have friends and loved ones and in that position—

When your energy is being sapped from pain like this, it makes everything else — the other trials in life, the conflicts, the losses, so much harder.

Kristi
It does. And it also makes it hard because you don’t want to be complaining all the time.

You don’t want to always be, “Woe is me” or bringing it to other people’s attention.

But then it’s also hard because you’re aware that it’s affecting you and that you’re having a hard time with your normal level of functioning and joy and relationality because it’s wearing on you.

That’s what was happening to me. So I finally just told you at lunch. 

I needed to just be honest with you about my ability to contain it—like the lid was starting to break.

Power of Empathy

Bill
Well, fortunately, I knew that you were having emotions. So that’s why I asked you about that.

I knew to give you empathy and grace for what you were feeling.

But if I had not had the experiences and training that I’ve had, and I didn’t know you like I do, then I might say to you something like, “Well, gee, you’re being kind of negative” or “It seems like you’re complaining.”

That might be an understandable response to have in my position there, but that would’ve been super hurtful for you.

Kristi
It would’ve. Or if you had said, “Well, you should just be happy your physical needs can be met, and you can eat though it doesn’t taste good.” 

Because I’m saying that to myself, I’m working myself to try and find things to be grateful for, and trying not to complain.

But if you had said it, I would’ve been like, “You just can’t begin to get it.”

I already probably feel like you couldn’t understand anyway, because you’re not living with the pain I’m living with, and you’re not living with the loss I’m living with.

Bill
So in other words, you’re having trouble accepting your own grief, loss, and lament around this.

So if I would’ve responded with anything other than grace and acceptance, that would have felt like two against none. You would have felt buried there.

Kristi
Yes. Definitely.

Bill
It would’ve been shaming for you.

Kristi
Yes, very.

Validating Our Emotions

Bill
I think it brings up the point — whenever we’re suffering in our body, in our emotions, in our relationships — how much we need to be able to talk about that and process it with someone. 

Hopefully to share it with somebody as unto the Lord, as a way of helping us to receive God’s comforting presence.

Of course, we can pray in private and meditate on scripture, which are really important to do.

But it’s a great process for our soul care when we have a safe relationship with someone that is able to be emotionally present and have the strength to hold our emotions, to listen, and to validate.

That gave you strength at lunch — just the conversation that we had.

Kristi

Well, it did, because it also helps me to know that I’m not alone. 

Bill
This is helping you not to discount your feelings, because I think there’s a side of you that would say, “Oh, it’s just food. There are so many other people suffering so much worse things than this.”

Kristi
Yeah, definitely.

Bill
So when you’re telling yourself that kind of a thing that’s invalidating your emotions. 

It’s as though there’s this voice, this sort of impatient, unkind, parent voice inside saying, “Oh, come on, Kristi. Just look on the bright side, or snap out of it.” 

Or, “It’s really not that big a deal. At least you can eat and have the nutrition you need.”

These sorts of messages are playing in your mind, and when you listen to that, it starts to get depressing.

Kristi
Yes. It does. It starts to feel very depressing.

I start to feel bad about myself — shame. I think, “Who would want to be with me when I’m this way? Can’t I just cope with this without having the emotions?”

Bill
So it illustrates why you or any of you who are listening — any of us when we’re in this situation — need a voice of grace outside of ourselves.

Because sometimes we think that we ought to be able to just take care of it ourselves — me and Jesus and my Bible — we should be able to do it.

But God has given us the body of Christ. He’s told us to love one another and to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

So we really need each other in this sense to help us breathe emotionally.

Kristi
Yeah. I think too, it helped me that when I shared with you, instead of you reacting to my — what I would judge as complaining — instead of you reacting to that, and being frustrated with me or impatient with me, or unloving — instead, you felt what I feel. 

Then you showed concern and you gave me an opportunity if there was more that I wanted to say or more that I wanted to process about it.

It also validated that, “Yes, this is hard. This feels like a deprivation or suffering, and it’s going on a long time.”

You started to put some words to it and help me understand that you were understanding the loss for me, and the difficulty and the challenge.

So that helped me to not feel alone, as well as to feel validated and to feel your love, instead of judgment.

Empathetic Presence

Bill
Well, I related to that.  At just a very basic level, I needed to put down my phone.

We were having lunch outside, and I was checking baseball scores. I could have half-listened to you, half-looking at my phone, and that wouldn’t have felt good for you.

Kristi
No.

Bill
You know, you don’t want to compete with the Los Angeles Angels baseball team. 

You want my attention, so it’s eye contact, and it’s my facial countenance, looking upon you with interest and concern.

Kristi
I wasn’t really conscious of it at the time, but yeah, I think probably that’s true, especially since the food wasn’t tasting good.

I probably wanted to just enjoy being with you. I wanted a connection.

Bill
That also brings up the point that there’s two kinds of empathy. 

There’s cognitive empathy that is with thoughtfulness and an articulation of words — that’s describing what somebody’s emotions are with what their experience is, their needs, and their questions.

But then there’s also the emotional empathy that feels what somebody feels and has a heart that’s warm and concerned. 

I would say both of those are important to you.

Kristi
That’s true.

I’m wondering as you were listening to me though, I imagine that there might be a part of you that wants to resist it — that doesn’t want to hear it.

That doesn’t want to have to be tuned in that I’m suffering in these ways.

Bill
Well, I appreciate you saying that.

Sometimes I do feel that way if I’m under stress myself or in some situation of conflict, or pain, or under pressure working, then it’s hard to make that space to take in what you feel.

 But it wasn’t hard today. Probably I would say normally it’s not because I see that you’re suffering and I feel like “Well, this is something I can do.” 

I know that if I’m attentive and concerned and I care for you and ask questions, I draw you out, and I put words with what it seems that you’re feeling, and I just stay with that — I just keep coming back to understand better that over time, that’s going to lift your spirit. 

It will lighten the load of your grief and stress and loss of everything.

I am able to be Christ’s ambassador there to minister God’s grace to you.

Kristi
Thank you for that. 

To be honest, my suffering does affect you because it sometimes controls where we eat, or if we can eat, and when we can eat or not.

It sometimes adds stress for you because maybe you’ll feel guilty — like yesterday when you ate without me — because it wouldn’t have tasted good to me, and that’s lonely for you. 

That doesn’t feel good to you.

You haven’t been complaining about that. You’ve been supportive.  

You’re willing to go ahead and eat when I don’t want to, because it’s going to taste so bad.

I’ve appreciated that too, because it would be worse for me if my suffering made your suffering worse or made you have to suffer unnecessarily.

Bill
Yeah, I would probably always be willing to eat because I just want to eat.

But I understand what you’re saying because I do prefer to eat with you.

But at the same time, in the retreat that we just led in New Mexico for the missionaries, we guided them all to have lunch with Jesus in solitude and silence.

We’ll be doing that in Atlanta, in our Soul Shepherding Institute this week.

 We’ve done this many times. So I just slotted right into that spiritual relational habit that I have.

I had lunch with Jesus and I opened up the Bible on my phone and read from one of the passages that was shared in church that morning, Psalm 90.  

I was rereading and praying Psalm 90 through The Message.

I was looking out at a beautiful scene of the river there in downtown Greenville, South Carolina, where we spent a couple of days for rest and renewal.

I had a good time with Jesus.

I mean, I was concerned for you because it was taking you a while to get back to lunch. 

I knew that you were in the same quandary yet again — you need to eat and if you don’t eat, you’re going to be hungry.

You’re going to get low on energy and that’s going to be tempting you to sort of get cranky and have some real difficulty.

But it’s so hard to eat when it doesn’t taste good, and when you’re not getting any pleasure from it. So I was very aware of that, but I was able to just spend that hour with Jesus, and I was fine.

Kristi
Well, I appreciated that because I don’t want my not being able to have my needs met to keep you from having your needs met.

Grief Triggers Grief

Bill
Great. Well, for those of you who don’t know, Kristi is an enneagram two. 

This is a great case study on the enneagram two here.

It’s hard for enneagram twos, and other types like sometimes nines and sixes, or if you have a two wing or aligned to the two on the enneagram—it’s hard to take care of your own needs.

You’re more oriented around taking care of other people’s needs.

More or less that’s probably many of you listening, because we’re all here in the Soul Shepherding community — we’re people that are caregivers, shepherds, ministers, and leaders.

We are living our lives in many ways for others, which is so much the call of being a Christian.

So Kristi, there’s another part of this that might be helpful for our listeners, for you to share about.

I think that we all experience what I’m about to say. 

It’s just so often in life that it feels like the hard, painful things pile on top of each other, whether it’s stress, or pain in our bodies, or problems our loved ones are having.

We’ve had just a slew of stuff here in recent weeks and months with the passing of our brother-in-law Ted, only 52 years old, leaving my sister a widow three decades before she would’ve ever imagined this, and leaving behind two children.

Your mom is dealing with cancer as well now, also advanced, and there are challenges with how to care for her.

She’s so important to us and the whole family. There’s been a lot of hard things that we’ve experienced.

Your struggle we’re talking about — with losing your taste and even the tooth pain that you were having — these things are on top of some other stressors and pains.

We always say grief triggers grief, and also it’s like pain stacks on top of pain.

Kristi
Yeah, there’s a lot right now.

We are grieving losses with family.  

Having three major people in the family that are our personal support system, and in our ministry — the loss there, and the threat of loss there — that’s tough. 

We’re feeling that hit for sure.

Bill
Yeah, the third one is your sister, because we’re concerned for our other brother-in-law, her  husband, who just got a diagnosis of cancer.

It’s just a deluge of cancer diagnoses and battles.  As well as some of you listening who are going through this.  

It’s a lot and we feel this deeply.

We’re vulnerable to what we talk about in Soul Shepherding as one of the examples of the Wall that we can get in the journey of the soul, the Christ stages of faith.

From our book Journey of the Soul, one of those Walls is compassion fatigue.

We’re caring for people who are suffering, we love them and we want to care for them, but it does take a toll.

Kristi
Yeah, it does.

I think that there’s a sensitivity, which — as long as I’m letting myself have the times to feel my feelings, to process my grief, to be able to be emotionally honest with God, with you, with other safe people who I know love being the ambassadors of Jesus to me—then most of the time I’m able to return to joy and function really well and really enjoy life in God’s kingdom.

But if I’m not doing that and I go too long without a period of being able to be honest and to process and share these sufferings, these pains, these desolations, then that’s when it starts to be dangerous.

It starts to get in the way of my relationship with God, my trust in him, and my ability to really function well.

Returning To Joy

Bill
You used a term there, “Returning to joy.” 

In unpacking that, you were explaining that it’s important for you to be emotionally honest and to receive compassion, tenderhearted listening, and understanding, and this helps you return to joy.

I don’t think many people would think of it that way.

Because usually when we talk about being joyful, particularly in Christian circles, we talk about positive thoughts, or saying scripture to yourself, or being kind to yourself — things like this.

But you’re saying that what helps you to be joyful in a trial is to be emotionally honest.

Kristi
To be able to have a time when I’m able to be emotionally honest with myself, with God, and with another safe person who loves me and loves God — that helps me tremendously to return to joy.

If I am trying to deny those emotions, control those emotions on my own, trying to hide those from other people because I don’t want to be a burden, then it clearly affects my ability to be present and to be able to be joyful and enjoy the good things that God still has given me.

Bill
Could you say more about what it means to you when you say you return to joy?

Because that means a lot to you that our listeners might not be realizing.

Kristi
Well, yeah. So if I hadn’t shared with you at lunch, then I maybe wouldn’t have been able to just return to joy and get free of the negative motion.

There’s something in acknowledging the emotion and naming it.

It’s kind of like Fred Rogers said, “Mentionable makes it manageable.” There’s something about being able to identify it and say it and own it.

To say, “I’m struggling with this. This is what I’m feeling.”

This is because when I’m having that emotion, it’s like it’s affecting my vision and perspective and perception of everything.

But when I share it and I name it and I see what it is, it helps me to realize, “Okay, that’s what’s going on. That’s the drain I’m feeling on my soul or in my body. That’s affecting my attitude.”

Then it helps me to get free of that so that I can see more of a whole picture and reorient more into a perspective of, “I’m still loved. And what really matters, I have, and that Jesus is here with me. I’ve got the enjoyment and the blessing to be with you right now, and the beauty of this blue sky and these green trees we’re passing.”

Instead of it blocking my vision, it recedes then, and I’m able to return to enjoying the goodness of God and his kingdom.

Bill
That’s really helpful because yesterday we had a great day walking around Greenville and going for the bike ride and went to a play. Just time together that we really enjoy.

It was a wonderful Sabbath day. So lots of joy yesterday. 

But then today the accumulation of tooth pain and not being able to enjoy your food hit you at lunch so you lost your joy, you lost the happiness, you lost the positive mood and energy that you had.

What you’re saying is that by admitting what you were feeling, the emotions that were going on, and then receiving that empathy, that helped you again come back into a full hearted — from deep inside of yourself welling up — enjoying the moment, enjoying God’s blessings.

Kristi
Yes. And maybe it helps me to release the emotions, Bill, when I share.

Mentionable and Manageable

Bill
Well, you quoted Fred Rogers as in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I love that.

For those of you who don’t know, Kristi and I are writing a book on your emotions and personality.

One of the stories we’re telling is Fred Rogers’ story.

He says his basic theme in his television ministry to children and the show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood — that went on for so many years, that many of us watched as kids, or our kids watched — his basic theme was feelings are mentionable and manageable.

So you’re concurring with that and how helpful that is to you when your emotions are accepted. 

When the grief, the pain, the stress — when that is accepted by somebody — it really helps you keep your, like we say, relational centers on. 

That part of your brain that is activated in relationship — that helps you to stay your best self.

Kristi
It does. And also my experience is that it motivates, and it encourages me to offer that to other people too.

To offer them that gift of giving them a space, to be interested in what they feel, what they experience.

To listen to them and let them express that, and to not feel impatient or frustrated with them and their need for that, but to actually be grateful that I can give that because I know the difference it makes.

The Need for Soul Care

Bill
That’s such a great point, Kristi, because what you’re illustrating is how you’re following Jesus’ commandment, that we would love our neighbor as ourselves.

You’re saying that as you care for your own self and receive God’s love through nature, through me, or through friends giving you compassion, that infilling soul care helps you to have the energy, the fullness, the presence, the joy, and the love to care for other people.

Kristi
Yes, that’s right.

Bill
Yeah. Sometimes we miss that, I think as Christians, and as people who are helpers and leaders who care for others. 

So often we get so focused on others, and the needs of others seem important, so great, and we diminish the time and energy that needs to go into our own care.

That requires things beyond just doing nice things for ourselves or activities that we enjoy.

That also includes being in relationships where we feel understood and supported and encouraged and cared for. That’s really important for our health as ministers.

Kristi
Yes. Very.

Bill
So before we close Kristi, I wonder, is there a particular prayer or scripture that has been helpful to you as you’re dealing with the loss of taste and other challenges that you’ve been experiencing recently?

Kristi
Well, definitely the lament Psalms are helpful for me because they’re examples of invitations that it is okay for us to lament to the Lord. 

That maybe the Lord would want to hold that space for us, as I said, I feel privileged to do for others.

It validates my being able to turn to the Lord and lament the loss, the pain, to cry out and know that I’m heard, I’m loved, and I’m accepted and that he understands and I’m not alone.

So that definitely helps.

I think too, the other scripture that helps is being able to remember that there’s always things that I still can rejoice in. 

To return to that and to look for the good.  

Not as a form of denying the bad, but after having processed it praying through the grief, to also then reorient and look for the good.

Bill
Thanks for sharing, Kristi.

It’s so helpful for all of us when you articulate your own wounds and losses and hurts.

That helps us find words for our experiences and helps us to trust God more deeply by bringing our inner self to the Lord.

It is so good to have all of you with us on Soul Talks, as we’re heading to Atlanta. 

Some of you will be with us. We’re going to have a group of about 35.

Kristi
Whenever we get to be with any of you in the Soul Talk community, we just love what special people you are.

Your heart for God and your desire to grow in his likeness and his character and your engagement in really taking responsibility with the soul that God has entrusted you to.

Then your desire to overflow and to love your neighbor as well, and of course firstmost to love God with your whole person. So we love being with you.

We always enjoy meeting you because once again, we just think, “Oh, here, these are our peeps.”

Bil
Yeah. So until the next time we talk, we pray the Lord will help you to elevate your conversations into opportunities for intimacy with the Lord and soul care for yourself and others.

It’s so good to be in life with you.

Kristi, would you pray for our listeners?

Let’s just think about praying for somebody right now who is going through a loss, some pain, or something that’s really distressful.

Kristi
Jesus, we do ask that you would send one of your ambassadors, Lord, somebody who can represent you to our listeners who are suffering, who are in pain, who are hurting.

Someone who could offer your empathetic presence and listening, love and validation — that you see their tears, you hear their grief, you understand their loneliness, you understand their discouragement and even their wrestling with their questions as to “Why Lord? — why are you allowing them to suffer this?”

It probably feels so meaningless, so insignificant to them.

So Lord, we just ask that you would minister to them, that you would show yourself and your love and your care. 

Also that you would strengthen them to be able to process and identify all of the emotions of grief that they’re feeling of loss and hurt.

But also to be able to get free of those and return to enjoying your goodness, your presence, and your many gifts of beauty and love that surround them in every way.

That they would be able to return to joy and praise to you.

And then also to be able to take those dips again, when they need to go back down and do the grief work and to share and to receive support, love, healing, and validation — that you would provide that in their rhythm.

That you would help them to know that even in the valley — in the shadow of death — they are not alone. You are with them.

Thank you that you are the one that works this all for good. And that even our times that seem like difficult, meaningless sufferings, that you promise that you use even those to grow us in character.

In Jesus name, amen.

Bill
Hey friends, Kristi and I are excited to let you know that we now have coaches in our Soul Shepherding ministry. 

If you go to our website, right now you can schedule an appointment to meet with a Soul Shepherding Coach

Our coaches specialize in helping you in your leadership and in your influence.

They specialize in your best life in Jesus’ easy yoke — how we actually live and work in Jesus’ easy yoke.

They have many different tools to help you in your effectiveness in your relationships, in your life, and in your emotional and relational health. 

So check us out at soulsheperding.org/coaching

Schedule a meeting with a coach who will listen to you with empathy, pray for you, and guide you in practical ways where you can make real and substantial changes in your life, in your work, in your relationships, and in your ministry.

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