One early morning a few months ago, I woke up, and even before I opened my eyes, I felt it. I felt the oppression of perfectionism. And friend, I confused it with God’s voice. I felt paralyzed. It was hard to think about getting out of bed to meet him in his word. All I wanted was to stay in the dark, under the covers. I wanted to stall the beginning of the day; I wanted to be where demands, it seemed, couldn’t touch me.
The Spirit of Christ in me moved me to start talking with my Father as I laid there: “Where are you, Lord?” I know you are everywhere but where are you right now? Please give me eyes to see you.”
Slowly, he answered. With eyes of faith I first saw Christ. I saw that he had been by my side of the bed as I slept. He had been watching me sleep with the same heart bursting with affection that a mom has when she watches her little ones sleep. As I felt my body relax, the full picture came into view. I saw that I had been sleeping in my Father’s arms all night. He had been holding me. And now as I laid anxious in my bed, he was still holding me, soothing me with the beauty of his safety.
Over the past couple years I have been learning about the brain and its hemispheres.** Both sides have completely different functions. The left hemisphere is logical, linear, linguistic and literal. The right hemisphere is able to sense emotions and information from the body, it is non-linear, non-verbal, can put things in context and see the whole picture.
I know this may seem obvious, but we need both hemispheres to function wholly. When one hemisphere takes over, we don’t have integrated responses. We function from a place of disintegration.
I have been learning the importance of parenting with these things in mind. Sometimes when our kids’ nervous system is really dysregulated, we try to calm them using a left brain approach. We start redirecting them with solutions and logical explanations. And yet, logic often doesn’t work until the right brain’s emotional needs are met.
Our right brain won’t connect with the left until it “feels felt”, nurtured, seen with compassion and empathy. Felt safety is a huge component of brain integration. So as a mom, I am learning to connect with my children with the right brain before I redirect with the left. Connecting may just take a moment of getting down to my child’s level, catching my impatient tone and using tender words and touch. But it makes such a difference!
I awoke that morning a few months ago, like every single morning since Christ saved me, as a beloved daughter. And yet, trained by suffering and by my flesh, I initially faced the day as an orphan would.
My Father knew my nervous system was dysregulated. Adrenaline was pumping through my veins, and my heart was racing. I was so scared of failing and displeasing God, I could hardly focus. You may recognize my reaction as a sympathetic nervous system freeze response to a perceived threat.
Even though it has been years since I started taking hold of the gospel as a believer, I still go through seasons when my whole body perceives God like a threat, or as a strict, impersonal, needy task-master. My Father knew what my right brain needed at that moment. Not a rebuke but rather, to feel his comfort and tender gentleness.
He knew I needed to sense his delight. So his Spirit took pictures and images that are all over Scripture to connect with my right brain and soothe me. Only then did I have the strength to get out of bed to meet him in his word.
God is a spirit, but he is so kind that he gives us word pictures that describe him. For example, I love how Psalm 18 reveals a jealous, powerful warrior who comes to rescue the oppressed. Or in Isaiah 66: 13 I am so moved when he says, “I will comfort you there in Jerusalem as a mother comforts her child.” Our God exists outside of our dimensions, and so he comes down to us and speaks to us with pictures that make sense to us, that help us know him and his heart.
So what do you see when you think about God? What is his face like? Is it smiling at you? Does it show delight? Or, do you picture severity and indifference? What happens to your whole body when you stop to picture your Father? Do you tense up? Does your heart race? Or, does your body relax? Do you feel safe?
Paying attention to this really matters. Because our Father pays attention to this. He doesn’t just want to connect with you at a logical level. He doesn’t just want you to remember what is true. He wants you to feel seen by him, to feel “felt” by him. He wants you to know- body and soul – how safe he is through Christ.
If you are struggling to receive the compassion of our Father, if his tenderness seems to be reserved for others but not you, pray. It isn’t just a matter of unbelief on your part. Your whole body – your nervous system included – needs his care and ministry. Ask our Father to help you see him in a way that helps your nervous system to calm down and feel safe with him.
Read the Psalms, look for all the word pictures our God has so kindly given us to help us know him better. Go to the gospels and focus all the ways Christ reveals the Father’s gentle and lowly heart for us. Ask for help- if you need to meet with a trusted, safe friend, a counselor or therapist, do it.
The Spirit knows how much our brain needs to feel nurtured by his care. So ask him to do what he loves to do: to fill you with faith so you can take hold of God’s fatherhood and love. Nothing matters more. Because we can’t really live by faith without knowing and tasting his love for us in Christ Jesus.
**If you want to learn more about this, read The Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegel.