When I was in high school I didn’t fit in socially. My days were consumed with being an “A” student, working to save money for college, and being helpful to my parents and four younger siblings. Looking back I can see that my perfectionism and internalization of stress made me anxious and depressed all the time.
But I wasn’t very aware of my emotions back then — I didn’t know the language of feelings.
My unconscious defense mechanisms kept my emotions shut down. I didn’t know how to express my inner self, release my distress, and receive comfort. I was emotionally disconnected and isolated.
I turned to the Bible and books that helped me connect with God. One of my favorite books was a classic book called The Imitation of Christ.
From the exemplary monk Thomas á Kempis I learned to pour out my heart to Jesus and “take hold” of the only One who could hold my soul (Philippians 3:12). I began to feel and to cry out to God.
I was drawn by my Shepherd Jesus into the sweet and spacious place of his Abba’s heavenly world (Philippians 3:20). In God’s presence, I felt alive and so I longed to be close to him all the time!
Inspired by the old monk, I learned to converse God. I learned to write out my own psalms/prayers as he did:
Oh God, I desire so much more than this world has to give me. I don’t belong here. I don’t fit in anywhere and I’m stressed out all the time.
My son, I see you sitting there all alone, with slumped shoulders, and downcast eyes. I understand you feel as if you have no friends, no place to belong, no significance to your life. You are looking to this world for comfort and refreshment, but none is to be found!
Look to the Spirit of Christ in the heavens all about you. Here is the Comforter of the needy, the Benefactor to the humble, and the true Joy-Giver. Hear me: you are a faithful servant of Christ and your heart is pure.
I give you a foretaste of heaven in the true comfort of Christ’s ambassadors who listen to your inward person.
Wait a little while, O my soul, for the Spirit of Grace will manifest to you. Wait for the divine promise and you shall have a great abundance of all good things that are in the heavens. Your only happiness and blessedness are in God.
Be present with me, O Lord Jesus, in every time and place. I seek only your consolation. I am cheerfully willing to do whatever you ask and to suffer anything — as long as I have you near and dear to me. Amen.
(Paraphrased from “True Comfort Found in God Alone”, Chapter 16 of The Imitation of Christ.)
In my journal entry, I followed Thomas á Kempis’ example of sharing my feelings with God, receiving his empathy, and listening for his voice.
Do you know how to share your feelings openly with God and a safe and strong soul friend? Do you know how to receive and benefit from the life-giving power of empathy? It’s the key to thriving in your soul, relationships, work, and ministry.
A great tool for conversing with God is “Immanuel Journaling.” It shows you how to write out your emotions and God’s response of empathy and encouragement for you. It’s like writing a Psalm to the Lord.
Every day I do this in a soul talk with a friend (as unto the Lord) or in private prayer. What a grace it is!
Soul Talks: Immanuel Journaling
Bill Gaultiere and John Loppnow, fellow pastors and counselors, share how they connect with their emotions and with God. John introduces “Immanuel Journaling” as a tool for self-awareness and prayer.