Soul Sifting

My heart sank into my stomach as I stared at the familiar face on my computer screen. Her eyebrows lifted, likely wondering if my feed had frozen again. But my internet connection was working fine. I forced myself to take a deep breath as the word my therapist, Callie, had just spoken echoed in the deepest valley of my mind. 

The word was “Healing.” 

My mind spun. This is one person who should know how far from healing I am! I thought. She knows all my insecurities, my traumas, my losses, my dysfunctional thinking, my depression, and my anxiety. 

Callie has been my therapist for over 2 years. She sat across from me, sometimes in person, and sometimes through a virtual visit, while I spilled all my mess to her.  

I tried to clear the lump out of my throat and figure out how to form my confused thoughts into words.

“What if I’m not ready to heal?” I finally responded. 

Callie patiently waited for me to expand. But the lump in my throat wouldn’t allow it. 

The idea of working toward healing seemed vague and unrealistic. I didn’t even know where to begin. The truth was, I had built my identity around these wounds. I wasn’t ready to do the work of figuring out who I was without them. 

After several moments, Callie quietly said “It’s okay if you are not ready. It will take time.” 

I reached for the nearby tissues. After another moment Callie spoke again. 

“But I think you may have already healed more than you know.” 

It was impossible for me to digest her words. How could I have healed without knowing it?

For the next several weeks the “H-word” seemed to be everywhere. Each time I heard it, the word slapped me across the face, causing instant tears, and a lump in my throat that no lozenge could touch. 

Okay, God. I finally prayed. I see that you keep pursuing my heart. I can’t seem to get away from this word. I’m willing to listen to what you want to teach me about healing. 

For the next several weeks the “H-word” seemed to be everywhere.

I thought of healing only as the physical miracles Jesus performed. One second a man was paralyzed, the next he is walking. One second the woman was bleeding, and the next she was not. 

In my mind, healing wasn’t a process, it was an outcome. An outcome that was instant and immediately recognizable. 

How can Callie say I have “started” healing if healing has an immediate result? How can I ever be completely rid of depression, anxiety, and trauma? Who am I without these wounds? I have so many questions, God! 

Months later, I sat quietly on a beach in Florida on vacation. As the sun neared the horizon, I watched a man walk into the edge of the waves carrying a pole with a basket attached to one end. He used the basket to scoop up muddy sand. Then he held the basket near the water and allowed the waves to wash away the sand and small debris. What was left in the basket were shells. I watched the man examine the shells, throwing some back into the water, and keeping others. Surely this shell hunter chose to keep shells that were beautiful or unique in some way. 

God used the picture of this shell-collecting process to teach me about my healing. 

I started to realize that my healing is a process. A soul-sifting process. Scoop by scoop. Wave by wave. Grain by grain. It is far from instant and sometimes there seems to be an ocean worth of pain to sift through. But that should not keep me from my efforts to find the unique beauty that God can reveal out of my experiences. 

The truth is I will never be able to undo the pain. I will never be someone who hasn’t experienced loss, trauma, depression, and anxiety. But I can choose to do the work of sifting through the pain. I can choose to be soft to God’s leading and allow him to work to bring beauty from the pile of a muddy mess. 

Believe it or not, when we are wounded, God can bring good out of that wounding. But there is also so much yuck. 

Maybe we can learn to allow God to help us sift out the harmful thoughts, the fears, the bitterness, the anger, the heaviness, and the distorted view of ourselves. And what is left is the strength we didn’t know we had, the compassion for others, the comfort we have received from God, the authentic relationships that thrive amid the struggles, and the love that continues long after the loss. 

Healing doesn’t mean we forget about the suffering we went through, or that our pain wasn’t significant. Healing doesn’t mean we become someone new. Healing means we choose to step forward with the best of what God has revealed through the soul-sifting work of his hand.

Carrie Zeilstra
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