"When the Bags Are Empty"
Hurt moves the heart toward healing. Therefore, even if you’re living in hurt, you are better off in the hurt than to not have it at all—to not feel is to not be alive, although sometimes being fully alive is excruciating.
When we talk to someone about our “baggage,” we are usually referring to negative issues, failures, or trials from our past that are still affecting us in some way. These problems may stem from our childhood, our previous relationships, jobs, friends, or family. Whenever it happened, we realize there is still something back there that is somehow negatively impacting us currently. We may talk to a counselor or join a support group to help us “unpack our baggage.” We learn to process in greater detail those issues from the past that continue to work against us—and to ultimately find healing for these issues.
When most people think about dealing with their “baggage,” they generally think about events or memories from their earlier years that have been hurtful and have left an imprint on them. This, for example, could include times when a child was subjected to emotional, physical or sexual abuse by a parent or family member.
But what if you don’t have any significant memories of being wounded as a child, yet you know that you aren’t living from a place of emotional wholeness? This has been one of the most important yet frequently overlooked questions in the lives for many of the people we have counseled over the years.
People come to us struggling with anger, depression, anxiety, loss of purpose and calling, relational conflict, addictions, or grief. They may also be having difficulty in connecting with God on an intimate level. Yet, when they reflect on their early developmental years—the period when identity is shaped—they cannot identify any specific negative memories. There is nothing they can remember that could have caused early wounding and the subsequent struggles they are now experiencing. In fact, some individuals have very few memories at all for the first six or seven years of life. When they enter into a process of “unpacking their baggage” from childhood, their bags appear to be empty.
But they are not.
Without minimizing the impact of traumatic childhood events, we want to focus here on a different type of wounding: the wounding from "acts of omission” versus “acts of commission.” When a child's needs are not met—needs God designed to be met by the primary caregivers—there will be significant consequences in later years.
Wounds of omission can be just as damaging as overt wounding. Sometimes they are even more damaging because they are so well hidden and difficult for the person to identify. The fact that the person is struggling emotionally but has no specific memories to validate such struggles can result in a great deal of shame and self-condemnation: “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I have it all together like everyone else? Maybe I just need to try harder.” The person may conclude, “I’ll never measure up. I’m the problem.”
During a counseling process many years ago, I (Jerry) began to realize there were empty places in my heart that did not receive all that I needed when I was young. Although I also had more overt wounds, I soon realized that some of my deeper wounding came from areas of lack. There were things I needed that I just didn’t get. And believe me, our empty places will still cry out to be filled in our adulthood. Unfortunately, for most of us, they do so in unhealthy ways.
As I opened up my heart to God and invited him into my empty places, I began to grieve what it cost me to not have significant needs met in my childhood. I knew I was loved by my parents, but did I feel loved (emphasis on feeling vs. knowing)? Did I feel loved, special, precious, prized, valued, and significant? Did I feel deserving of the very best? Did I feel celebrated for who I was—that I had a special place in the family? Did I feel cared for and affirmed through appropriate touch? If the response is no to any of these questions, a "love deficit" is created in a little child's heart. Consequently the child will often feel alone, insignificant, inadequate, and unworthy.
I began to feel the Father’s grief for me over the empty "heart rooms" that he desired to be fully furnished. It took a little longer for me to recognize the areas of wounding where I just didn’t get enough of my needs met to be truly whole. I learned that even when the bags are empty, there is still a healing work the Father desires to do.
Dear Father God,
Please open my heart to see places in me that did not receive what was needed and where I am still being affected today. I am willing to feel what you feel about these empty places in me, so that I can ultimately be healed.
Father, it is so healing and life giving to my soul and spirit to know that before I could even do one thing, quote one Scripture, or sing one worship song, you first loved me. And not just that—you first cherished me. You first desired me. You first celebrated me . . . and chose me . . . and pursued me. Thank you for ascribing such unfathomable worth to me.
Your Child (who loves you back)
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COUNSELING MINISTRY: If you or anyone you know is in need of finding a safe place for emotional and/or spiritual healing and restoration, please contact us at The Father's Heart Intensive Christian Counseling Ministry. Check out our web site at fathersheart.com or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are located in the North Georgia Mountains in a retreat-like setting and counsel individuals or couples for periods of two to five-days in length.