The suburbs and the country scared me as kid. There were too many dead ends and cul-de-sacs, not enough lights. The vastness of open fields and the emptiness of woods caused dread and panic to rise in me and I would find myself looking around me, behind, feeling exposed and unsafe.
When I was 7 I had to move to a new foster home in Bensalem, a suburb of Philadelphia. It felt impossibly far away from what was comfortable to me. The house was close to the end of the cul-de-sac(!), and just beyond it was a wooded area. I don’t think I’d ever even seen so many trees in one place, and it felt threatening and ominous to me.
I started having recurring nightmares about the trees. I would venture into the woods and nearly walk over the edge of a crashing waterfall. I would see myself standing shakily on the precipice and would drop into the roiling water beneath it. It got worse. The banks were too high to climb up, and the water kept changing from a river to a creek to an ocean with no land in sight. I would happen upon someone who asked about how I fell off the waterfall, and my answer was always, I didn’t fall. I was pushed. Now I love the woods and water, but to this day when I’m in the suburbs past sundown I get nervous and gun it for home.
I’m accustomed to living in conflict and drama, even if it’s only in my own mind. The constant fear of what other people are thinking, the bombardment of bad memories, flashbacks, and triggers, catastrophic thinking, anxiety, depression, PTSD, detachment, an overbearing scrupulosity. I call it my “mind storm,” a never-ending reel, the microfiche of memory—spinning, scanning, magnifying at dizzying speeds. It is like I can change the channels in my brain with every blink.
It’s what I know. I had nothing to compare it with. It was home, much like the crowded, claustrophobic row homes and alleys of the city I grew up in. The closeness made me feel safe. The clutter held a charm of its own, even if I went for months without seeing the horizon.
God’s promises of healing and happiness in his Word left me cold, but I discovered a different kind of promise that piqued my curiosity and imagination. Sometimes it would be referred to as a broad place, or a wide and spacious place, and David wrote about it numerous times in the Psalms. The spacious place is synonymous with rescue and deliverance, with provision and abundance.
I’ve prayed like David for most of my life, with the same desperation and despair. I’ve prayed David’s very words when my own were faltering or non-existent. What took me months to realize recently was that I’ve actually lived into the spacious place I’ve long prayed for. And I didn’t know what to do with it. Sometimes healing has a learning curve.
At first I noticed something surprising: boredom. I felt blank, like something is missing, but my life was the fullest it’s ever been. So what was it that was missing? Drama. Conflict. Fear. Anxiety. Perfectionism. Apparently they took up so much place in my life and my mind that when they’re absent they leave behind a vacuum. And it felt like loss.
According to Jane St. Clair of CRC Health, “Boredom is one of the main reasons people start abusing drugs, and the top reason addicts give for relapsing.” We can become addicted to the adrenaline that conflict and anxiety cause and when it dissipates, we’re left feeling empty. And that’s ok. The space that has been created is wide open for all kinds of good things to fall into. We’re left with a longing for abundance.
We’re led to believe that all healing and wellness is going to feel great at first, that we’ll know it’s happening by the warm fuzzies and exhilaration. The truth is, healing can feel uncomfortable. Wounds can feel worse when they’re getting better. Stitches itch. Fusing bones throb. Broken hearts beat with pain. Just because there’s still some lingering pain doesn’t mean healing isn’t happening.
This is where we’re most tempted to give up, give in to the chaos we’re used to. This is when we want to drive ourselves to distraction again, find the quick fix. There’s no blueprint for healing and every person is going to experience it differently. Comparison kills. Stay close to the ache. Breathe through it. Your spacious place will find you too.