The barriers we put up to “protect” our heart are there for reasons that make sense at the beginning. Over time the need for the barriers usually diminishes, but by then we have learned patterns of behavior that are hard to overcome without help.
I unconsciously learned at a very young age that being my own source of comfort was the only consistent way to get my needs met. My dad was never a source of comfort, and my mom was an unreliable source of comfort. I stopped depending on them to meet my needs and learned instead “to be strong for others” (a euphemism for bypassing grief).
I was unaware that this is what I was doing and it took me decades to figure it out. I started hoarding stuff and sneaking food at a very young age to cope with my emotions.
Recently I walked into my Freedom Ministry Training class at church and opened up my workbook as directed by the instructor. My eyes were immediately drawn to this image:
Decades of unawareness fell like scales from my eyes and suddenly so many things made sense. The training manual reads, “…our family of origin plays a significant role in shaping how we relate to God, the Father; God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit.” It went on to say, “Experiences with our mother can produce limitations in the way we relate to the Holy Spirit.”
Being left in the care of others at age 7, and then being left in the care of strangers in Mexico at age 9, and ultimately running away from home at age 13 were the life-shaping experiences that I had with my mother.
I wasn’t sure how to process all this, so on my next visit with my counselor I “outed” myself and showed her the textbook, and told her I was at a loss. We talked about how my relationship with my mother had stopped being about receiving comfort from her at a very early age. She gave me the following homework assignment that day:
Find some time when the house is quiet.
Close your eyes and ask God what it would be like to receive comfort from the Holy Spirit.
Wait quietly for the answer.
It felt awkward to me to think about doing this and I was very resistant to the idea. My burning desire for wholeness and healing is what motivated me to do what she said.
The next day I found myself in a quiet house. I remembered my assignment and went and lay down on my bed and I could hear my counselors voice in my head telling me to “Get comfortable.” (At this point I’m still feeling awkward and resistant to this whole exercise and I’m thinking, “Fine. Whatever. I’ll get comfortable,” and start arranging the pillows under my head. “Okay. I’m comfortable. Now what?”)
The next voice I hear is no longer my counselor’s. It’s the voice I have come to recognize as God’s when He is speaking to me in my spirit. He said the same thing my counselor said to me, only the meaning behind the words went much deeper: “Get comfort-able.”
I knew immediately that He meant for me to let down the protective barrier I had around my heart and invite Him into the wounded place I had kept covered and protected all these years. This idea caused me to begin to experience anxiety, so I had to back up a little and pray (out loud) a familiar prayer I had been praying since November that helped me overcome anxiety:
“Fear, you have no place here and no authority to stay, so I command you to go to the foot of the Cross, or wherever Jesus tells you. Holy Spirit, come and fill up all the places in my heart that are wounded and need comfort.”
Only this time, the second half of my prayer was from a place deep in my heart that I had never prayed from before. It was like my grown, adult self was standing next to that little seven year old girl inside me and asking for the comfort I needed from my mom on that day but couldn’t get.
Praying, and really meaning, the second part of that prayer was like the dam broke and the flood of tears that followed was overwhelming. As I lay there sobbing with my chest ripped wide open and my broken heart exposed, my mind began a conversation with God that went something like this:
“Okay, here I am, with my broken heart as exposed as it can be. I need to know this is real. I need to know how this “Holy-Spirit-comforting-me-thing” works because I don’t understand it and experiencing this much pain all over again feels overwhelming.”
Then God speaks again and says to me, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
I realize then that the voice I had been hearing all these years was the Holy Spirit’s voice, that the Holy Spirit had been with me, near me, present in my life, all along.
The Holy Spirit then begins to play some images in my mind of specific times when I have comforted my own children and how it was that just my presence, my words of comfort, and my arms wrapped around them, brought comfort to them. I remembered when we were little when we were sick we got to sleep with mom, and how comforting it was just to be next to her. I remembered when my son Jacob was just five months old and had surgery and I stayed in the hospital with him the entire time, never leaving him without the source of comfort he had learned to depend on.
I was able to make a huge leap of faith that day and experienced the very real, comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, who had been waiting patiently for me to work out all my “Father” issues so that he could step in, introduce himself, and teach me how to receive comfort from Him. There’s a reason why He is referred to in the Bible as “The Comforter.”
There are some of the steps I took in order to be able to receive comfort from the Holy Spirit:
- Acknowledge that you are “un-comfort-able”
- Acknowledge that you are in pain
- Acknowledge your need for comfort
- Stop being your own source of comfort
- Get (or Be) “comfort-able”
- Remove the barriers, expose the wounded places in your heart, and experience the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit
Steps 1 through 3 took months of counseling during the previous year for me to figure out and acknowledge what the problem was.
Step 4 through 6 will be an ongoing process for me.