Taking Toxic Waste to the Proper Dump

By Keith Miller | June 22, 2009

Keith, what can I do with my depressing feelings of guilt and failure? I’ve tried talking with my family members, but I can tell they’re getting really tired of hearing my sad story.

Years ago I formed a terrible habit guaranteed to keep life from being boring, but which rained gloom and doom on my own house. At times, all kinds of unrelated failures and lonely feelings from the past came out to dance with me, and I would tell my family members how miserable and sad I felt about my failures and inadequacies. I painted my feelings in the blackest and most discouraging colors I could think of, asking them to pray for me. As we talked, they become sad and depressed, too, and sometimes felt guilty, thinking I was blaming them. When they lovingly tried to help me by making specific suggestions or offering solutions, I had “good” reasons why none of their suggestions would work.

Sooner or later they would give up, or it was time to be somewhere else or go to bed. My previously happy and carefree loved ones were now long-faced and unhappy, while I felt better. When I went to bed on such nights, I’d go right to sleep.

It’s as if my family were living with a live skunk. I’d call them all together and spray them with my skunk oil of depression and doubt. Then as we talked, they got those smells all over them. I was the only one that went to bed “smell-free.”

While in a small group of Christians trying to learn how to turn our lives and wills over to God, and to love others as God loved us, I came to see that my “center-of-the-world” habit of dumping my depressing feelings on family members was sort of like vomiting—I certainly felt better—only I was vomiting on the people I loved. God showed me through these fellow adventurers that this kind of “dumping” was a form of victimizing my family by getting them to “carry” my sense of failure and regret in the name of “sharing my reality.” And one day I stopped in mid-whine and faced the fact that, although it temporarily made me feel better, it wasn’t a very loving action toward my family members.

After that, if a reason to talk about my painful feelings came up, I used a different approach. I began by saying something like “This is how I’m feeling right now, but these feelings are not about you.” And when I finish sharing the feelings, I say, “I know these feelings are not your fault. I’d just appreciate your praying for me as I’m dealing with them.” And then I get off the subject and ask about their lives.

Better yet, I now share a lot of these painful emotional storms with my fellow strugglers on God’s adventure in groups outside my family—and ask these strugglers to pray with me there. In addition I have discovered that I can hear fellow struggler’s honesty and suggestions about options I might choose better than I can from my family members, and that these Christian companions are not as likely as my family to absorb and carry my feelings.

“Make this your common practice. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so you can live together whole and healed.” James 5:10 THE MESSAGE

Lord, I am grateful that you give us a safe fellowship of recovering sinners in which to face our feelings and learn from them. When I share my sins with other people on the same spiritual adventure I’m on—and do not “dump” them on my family, expecting them to carry my feelings for me—I can get real help, while learning to be more loving and supportive of those closest to me. Amen

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on Taking Toxic Waste to the Proper Dump
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