Nothing made sense. We trusted our church’s leaders to love. We trusted that working in our church and serving God alongside others would mean sharing a commitment to kindness overcoming pride. When our friends on staff spoke up about how pushed down they felt by our lead pastor, we expected repentance to be more than a word lifted from sacred pages. What does the Word of God even mean if those who preach it don’t obey it?
That day, my joints were radiating the aching anger my mouth couldn’t bear to form into words. Somehow, in an effort to keep from drowning in our disillusionment, my husband and I decided to drive into the mountains to at least turn our attention to the turning of the aspen leaves. So, with a heating pad plugged into our car’s cigarette lighter to quiet my pain, we started to wind up, up, up Guanella Pass.
Stratus clouds masked the sun, casting the honeyed leaves with shadows. The narrow road was sleek with rain, practically begging us to go slow. As we snaked up the switchbacks, the mist turned to September snow. Maybe we shouldn’t have come, I thought. I was regretting breaking the Colorado law of living in layers, wishing I had brought my winter jacket instead of hoping the sun would stay all day. We could barely see any yellow leaves through all the snow, and it seemed like yet another decision that would end in disappointment.
But as we wound down the pass, the snow thinned, revealing glittering medallions of gold at every turn. We pulled in at a trailhead, and I don’t know if beauty is medically considered an anesthetic, but my arthritic joints seemed to think so. I jumped out of the car, nearly running to what looked like a tunnel of gold. I stood on a bed of butterscotch fallen leaves and ran my fingers over the tree’s rain-flecked munsel and cadmium-yellow waving hands. Spellbound by beauty’s song, I knew — we were going to be okay.
When nothing makes sense, nature retells us our shared story.
Just as green leaves turn to gold before falling to the earth, there is nothing more normal in the pattern of life than descent. Every time we sink with stress, are chased by anxiety, or are paralyzed by problems we never thought we’d have to face, our bodies are descending down a well-worn path to protect us from harm and return us to safety and connection.
As a trauma-informed, body-centered therapist, I can tell you: your nervous system knows that the path to protection and peace first goes downward. It is learning to witness your own descent into stress with respect that will repair this path into one you can trust will always take you home to joy.
Your descent makes sense.
God made your body to quickly walk down paths of stress to protect you from harm. When you are disillusioned, full of doubt, overwhelmed, triggered, or feel stuck, your body is telling you that you do not feel adequately safe, seen, and soothed.
You are not failing; you are feeling.
You are not faithless. You need a friend.
We were so afraid of losing our livelihood and community at church by confronting the abuse we were witnessing and experiencing in our jobs, and our bodies were telling us day after day that where we were was unsafe. Nothing made sense in that church system because it was not safe. Our discouragement was not a lack of faith; it was our bodies’ wise signal that we were in a dangerous place. Our descent —into discouragement and even despair — made sense. Our descent pointed out our need for Christ’s help to rise, even if it meant leaving the place we most assumed Christ had blessed.
Our bodies are brave storytellers. They speak the truth about how safe we seem — in the language of the sensations and emotions we often wish would stay silent.
Our bodies are courageous guides. They know the path from distress to peace and are simply waiting on our minds to trust them to lead the way.
Our descent down the winding road of faith and stress becomes far less scary when we realize two things. 1) Christ descended farther into darkness than we ever have and He knows the way to rise. 2) Our bodies were made to walk the whole trail of truth to come back home to peace, connection, and joy.
The God who names you Beloved has a body too. Christ still sits in skin at the right hand of the Father. His memories of being betrayed by His own people and feeling such intense anxiety before His crucifixion that His sweat was like drops of blood pierce a hole in the universe’s clouds, making our dark descents a place the Spirit’s light can enter in.
Your body was made to travel home with Christ to peace and joy, not to take a time machine there. The path back into peace first steps through the forests of our fear and over the fallen logs of our lament. Bypassing the forest of your feelings will mean missing Christ in the midst of them. Turn like a friend toward the truth your body is telling about how your life and relationships feel — this is the start of the trail back home. The body’s path back to peace includes honoring our unsettledness, offering gentleness to our fear, expressing our anger in appropriate ways, and crying more tears than we assume is acceptable.
Christ’s resurrection came after death, and you too will rise — through every small death of despair, discouragement, and distress. When we see the symptoms of our stress as signals of our bodies’ need for safety, release, and soothing, we no longer have to shame ourselves for getting stressed.
Our stress can become a sacred place we walk with Christ, hear him call us “Friend,” and tell us that we make sense—even when nothing else does.
Do you want to experience Christ, your Good Shepherd, walking with you on this path of descent into peace? Let K.J. Ramsey’s book, The Lord Is My Courage gently guide you through Psalm 23 to show you how.