One of the hardest seasons of my parenting life was when my husband, Geoff, was working on his PhD. We were living in the Chicago area, but he was going to school in Milwaukee. Two nights a week, he was spending the night away from home and spending a lot of time studying when he was home. With my sons being only 2 and 3, life was a little nutty.
I didn't have any close friends who were at home or had kids my age in that season. People suggested playdates. So I tried. But trying to have a conversation of any depth while kids were running around and interrupting us every few minutes was more frustrating than satisfying. It was easier for me to be present to my kids and to myself if we were either home on our own or if I was taking them on an outing without trying to connect with other people.
I wasn’t able to attend a lot of church activities because they were at really hard times of day or didn’t have childcare. My kids were changing every day and just when I felt like I had a rhythm for the stage of life we were in, they would change. New behavior issues would emerge, or new skills would suddenly show up. Worst of all, I started to see them imitating my bad habits. I felt like I was failing as a parent. And I felt alone.
Longing for More
I longed for more. I felt so disconnected from the world, so small. I longed for deeper friendship, deeper connection with God, deeper connection with a purpose beyond making sure my small kids and I survived the day.
Around this time, someone I had just met told me about Karl Lehman and his work with Immanuel prayer. When I read his book, I started learning about implicit memory and types of trauma and the way our brains and bodies hold our past.
But the best part of this book was the way he talked about Immanuel - God with Us. He wrote about how the reason trauma feels traumatic is because we feel alone in it. But if God is really always with us, that means that God was with us in our trauma as well as in our good times. We didn't have the capacity or awareness to recognize or receive his presence with us in the moment, but it's never too late to connect with Jesus now and ask what he wants us to know about those painful places.
Renewing Our Minds
In Romans 12:-1-2, Paul urges us, as brothers as sisters, by God's mercy, to present our bodies as living sacrifices. He begs us not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I started reading this verse and seeing that the renewing of our minds is not just something we do by thinking differently - it's actually a physiological renewal happening in our neural pathways as we practice different ways of thinking and being and moving in the world.
I found someone who facilitated this kind of prayer and I started learning to really connect with God in ways I had never known were possible. By his mercy, I offered my body to him and asked him to transform me by the renewing of my mind. In the presence of another person who was very much "for" me, I had the courage to ask Jesus what he wanted me to know about the moments of pain and trauma in my past.
For each painful memory, he didn't ask me to re-live anything. He just showed me - clearly - that he has been with me. That he had seen me, heard me, understood everything about it and how I experienced it, and was so glad to be with me in the midst of it. And he started to transform me by renewing my neural pathways.
As I experienced his presence in my past, I became convinced that God is always with me in the present. I am never alone. Never. No matter how misunderstood or invisible I may feel, I am never alone.
I started practicing being seen and heard by God. All through my day, in the moments I felt alone or invisible, I would say, out loud. “God, you see me. You hear me. You get it.” And that simple reminder, that breath prayer, started to shift everything about the way I parented and the way I showed up for my kids - for Geoff, my friends, and later - for my congregation.
This might sound like a "woo-woo" approach to healing. In the next few posts, I'm going to unpack how this process aligns with a few different approaches to healing in the world of neuroscience and psychology.