Uncomfortably Numb: a reflection

I am one of those people who sometimes has a hard time admitting how I feel. In fact, I’ve realized over the years that I will feel something for a period of time before I have the words to express it. This can be very frustrating for Vanessa. She’s very good at taking other people’s emotional temperatures. There are times when she’ll ask me if I am upset about something, and I will tell her “No,” only to realize later that I actually am. Before I have the words to name my feelings, I have a hard time admitting and expressing them.

Last night, I discovered the words to describe how I’ve been feeling lately: Numb. Uncomfortably numb, in fact.

At Vintage, we have killed small groups. We’ve abandoned the traditional Bible study model of small groups and replaced them with what we’re calling Experimental Collectives. We’ve identified that a lot of people know more about the Bible than they are putting into practice. We don’t need more Bible studies, necessarily. We need laboratories in which we can experiment with living out what we already know. The point of our gatherings is to do something together.

My collective right now is focused on finding authenticity through silence. The way of Jesus is for me to be who God created me to be. But often, life is too busy, too hectic, too noisy for me to be who I really am. If I have the chance to still myself, maybe I’ll have a better sense of myself. Maybe I’ll be able to hear God’s voice.

Last night, we talked about the physicality of stillness. Being still isn’t just a verbal thing. It’s emotional, spiritual, and even physical. What I do with my body matters. It doesn’t just reflect my attitude, but what I do with my body can actually help to shape my attitude. It was a good discussion, which led to our time of silence together.

I took off my shoes, lit a candle, and sat on the floor. I was very conscious of how what I was doing with my body, which muscles were tensed, and what my posture was. And then, in the midst of my prolonged stillness, I began to gain some understand of how I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve felt numb. Not a physical numbness like when my leg falls asleep. It’s an emotional and spiritual numbness. I’ve been feeling the lack of feelings. I’ve felt like I am going through the motions. I’ve lacked an excitement and a passion for most things. I haven’t liked how I’ve felt lately, and I didn’t like naming my feelings as numbness. But it is true and authentic. This is really how I’ve felt.

I wondered if I could feel anything. So I put my finger over the flame of the candle. It burned. It hurt. But it felt good to feel something. That’s what I have been missing.

Numbness happens for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes we feel numb because we’ve been wounded. In my life, I’ve had two major surgeries on my right kidney. The second one, in fact, was to remove it. I have an eight inch scar on my side from where the doctor wounded me, cut me open. It’s long healed, but the area around that scar is still numb. I don’t feel anything there. I probably never will.

I think that’s what’s going on with my soul right now. I don’t want to be overdramatic about it, but I’ve been wounded. Friends who don’t want to understand me. People I thought were friends who have rejected me. People whose commitment to our church community wains. Unkind things said to me and about me. Some of the hurts have been big. And some have been minor. But they have all contributed to a certain amount of scar tissue building up around my heart.

  • I’m scared to be vulnerable with people because I don’t want it to be used against me.
  • I’m scared to try to lead because some people won’t go with me.
  • I’m scared to invest myself in friendships that are just going to fall apart.

Disappointed. Rejected. Let down. Criticized. Misunderstood. Helpless. Alone. These are not enjoyable emotions. I don’t want to feel these things. I’d rather feel nothing.

Or so I thought.

As soon as I named my feelings as numbness, I realized that I’m uncomfortable and unhappy feeling this way. The good news is that, in the past, when I was able to name my feelings, I was then able to deal with them. I could process them and move through them toward greater emotional health and wholeness.  

As I experiment with different postures of prayer and silence this week, my expectation is that the numbness will fade and I will again experience the pangs of hope.

Do you ever feel numb spiritually and emotionally? How do you handle it?


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  • akr

    First of all…I miss you guys! Second, thanks…just thanks!
    Also, I am so glad I am not the only one who does not realize what’s going on or have the emotional vocabulary to speak it. A little silence may be in my future. My word has been emaciated. I have been spiritually emaciated.

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  • Rick

    First off, I want to say thanks – I ran across your site through your “Sacred Cows” post and read all of the references you list. Also have purchased Scandrette’s book on Kindle as I think this is what we are looking for at our church (an older, inner city mainline church).

    Second, I can definitely relate to what you describe above and thank you for the courage to describe it. I went through something about 20 years ago on a much greater scale after a series of major traumatic events – relationship breakup, flashbacks of prior abuse, etc. Needless to say I was completely numb to everything – so much so that one night I did something similar to what you describe. When it was over I had 24 cigarette burns on each of my arms. Even then, I barely felt anything. Fortunately, that was the signal I needed to check myself into a hospital and get more help than I was getting at that point.

    We’re all wounded and we have to somehow get past all of the garbage that we surround ourselves with to protect ourselves. Because, yes – even though it does protect us from pain – it keeps us from also feeling love and joy too – from seeing the pain in others and helping to alleviate it. Such numbness prevents us from “repairing the world” – a Jewish concept known as tikun olam – which is what I feel Jesus has called each of us to do.

    So again, thanks – I will be following your blog to read more about this Experiments of yours. And I will be reminded that numbness takes a much greater toll than I think.

    • rryerse

      Thanks Rick. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you enjoy Mark’s book. And I’m glad you’ll be checking out my blog too. We’re glad to have you around!