A letter to the numb-hearted

To my friends whose hearts feel cold, who feel like you can’t engage your emotions anymore, who are so tired that you don’t have an ounce of energy to spend examining your heart, who have cried enough tears for more than one lifetime and whose eyes are all dried up, who watch others cry at sad news and wonder why you feel nothing, who desperately want to experience the depths of joy others around you experience, who have intentionally built walls around your hearts to protect them from more damage, who have unintentionally built walls around your hearts because suffering through one more tragedy will push you over the edge, who lash out in anger because it’s the only emotion that remembers how to express itself, who wonder why this anger and exhaustion have become your closest companions.

To my friends whose hearts are hard, who look at babies and don’t smile anymore, who have forgotten how to feel compassion for others even as you go through the motions of serving, who can’t handle news of one more shooting or one more cancer diagnosis, who can’t invest your feelings in other people because you can’t remember how or are too afraid to try, who are so tired of expending love only to be rejected time and time again that you have withdrawn into the safety of isolation.

To my friends who have been emotionally pummeled and have lost hope for future kindness, who don’t believe that love is for you so you have closed yourself off in protection, who have seen such human atrocities that your brain has no ability to engage suffering anymore, who can’t turn off the movie reels of tragedy in your mind so you avoid pain at all cost, who are so afraid of walking suffering again that you run away as soon as you encounter someone who is hurting.

To those who have shut down that part of your soul that feels deep emotion, whether sorrow or gladness, for whatever reason—fear, anxiety, anger, self-protection, exhaustion—and wonder if you have robbed yourself of living in abundance. To my friends who dwell in the beige, whose hearts can’t see color anymore and who are, as Mary Oliver says, breathing just a little and calling it a life

You are not alone. You are not the only one walking around, feeling like a robot or a zombie or maybe a faker. Oh, friend, how I understand!! How so many of us understand!! I have been there—recently—and know intimately the numbness and confusion and sorrow. I understand the despair that threatens to set in—if only you had the emotional energy to engage it. I understand how you want to cry, but even if you could cry, the tears wouldn’t come. I understand getting to the point where you might attempt certain things to force emotion just to feel something. And I understand wondering if you will ever feel again, if you will ever experience joy in worship again, if you will ever sob in the depths of pain or the depths of gratitude.

You are not alone because I understand, as do so many others, but mostly because even though you may not feel his presence, God has not left you. He has not abandoned you. He is not sitting at a distance, waiting for you to figure things out, fix your heart, or get over yourself. No!! He is just as close as ever, sitting right next to you, his arms tight around his child—his beloved child.

Friend, this numbness does not have to turn to despair; on the contrary, it could be the beginning of something beautiful in your soul. I encourage you to not lose hope, and as you are searching and scratching for ways to come out of this catatonic heart state, to try to remember that feeling again is not the point: the point is finding that place where your heart can be softened by the gospel and where you can remember what intimacy with Jesus is, what it means to lean into him, what it means to call out to him in desperation, what it means to approach him with boldness.

What is at the root of this numbness? Is it fear? Is it anxiety? Is it depression? Is it lack of hope? Is it lack of joy? Friend, do not despair. God meets you in the darkest of those places, in the places where you can’t imagine he could dwell. Jesus, Immanuel—God with us—dwells with us in the ugliest places and never leaves our sides. He is not angry with you, he is not disappointed, he is not shaking his head. He is only loving you, drawing you close to him, waiting patiently for you. Wooing and pursuing. Never forsaking you.

Friend, I am praying for you today, praying that you will have the energy to talk to God about the state of your soul, asking him to melt the ice that surrounds your heart. I pray that you will have the time and focus to spend 5 minutes in the Psalms, maybe Psalm 73 or 81, finding a Psalm that will speak your thoughts when you are unable to articulate them yourself. God is eager to hear from you. You are loved.

Merciful God…
You are a personal, loving God who desires a relationship with us
and yet we treat you as though you are distant and aloof.
You have given us the privilege of being a part of your family,
but we live like strangers.
Lord, have mercy upon us; heal and forgive us.
Set us free to seek you in order that we may continually grow
in our knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.
— (author unknown)