I wrote this three summers ago, a few months after I had graduated college. I was in the middle of a real sea-change, a marked shift in the way I began to approach my own emotions and my own story. It was as though God had been asking me to wake up and finally, I was able to fight through the sleepiness and open up my eyes. This piece was born out of those moments of gracious eye-opening.
Sometimes people ingest something that they shouldn’t, like something poisonous, and the only solution is to vomit. Ipecac syrup comes in handy for this. I’ve (thankfully) never had to endure that process, but I hear that’s the way it goes. The bad thing in you has to come out somehow and there are times that vomiting is the only way. It isn’t pretty, but it’s effective. Afterwards, though the process was painful and gross and altogether unpleasant, you are better for it.
It is vaguely more complicated when it comes to ingesting something that isn’t quite physical. Lies, maybe. Untruths about the world and my place in it. There is no ipecac syrup for unwanted internalized lies. “We are what we eat” applies to more than just food. It applies to words, both spoken and unspoken. It applies to actions. It applies to lack of action. I take in those things, internalize them, and sometimes that’s the end of it.
There is no intake form and no data collection about whether that was the best thing to ingest. I just take it in and it becomes a part of me. On my worst days, I take those thoughts at face value. Someone said that about me? Someone treated me in such a way that reflects they think this about who I am? It must be true. On my best days, I take thoughts captive and hold them up to the person of Christ. Does this thing that was given to me (this thought, this word, this feeling) reflect the character of the God I know? Is it true, noble, right, pure, lovely? Is it patient? Is it kind? If not, I don’t want it. I show it the door.
I have suspected for a while that there are some ways in which I operate that are not God’s best for me. There are behaviors that I have learned, truths that I have exchanged for lies, and general understandings of my existence in this world that do not line up with what God tells me about what He is like and what He is all about. Some of this stems from my own sin. Some of this stems from the sin of others of which I have been on the receiving end. Most of this stems from the reality that the world is just not as it should be. We are so far from Eden.
There are ways in which I think my body has learned to cope with the poison, whether this poison manifests in the form of my own destructive self-talk, or works itself out in my sometimes less-than-healthy behaviors towards other people. I have manipulated myself into being able to either hide these realities away, so that I am the only one privy to their existence, or brush them off as just some sort of manufacturing error, merely a glitch in my personality, merely an inconvenient reality, but one that is here to stay.
And now, in the thick of the heat and of the humidity and of the dog-days-of-a-Tennessee-summer, God has shown me my poison for what it is.
I know this poison, these lies, quite well. I know the taste and I've become comfortable with the sting as I choke it down. I might even call it an addiction. It is not uncommon to become attached to the very thing that causes us harm because at least therein lies some consistency. Kelsey Miller
It turns out that not all of the words, thoughts, and actions I have ingested were for my good. Some of them, even from people I loved, served to harm me. Not every word that has been spoken over me has been good, true, or beautiful. Some, in fact, were the exact opposite. Some of those words and actions were twisted to appear as such from a distance, drawing me in with the hope that they would be as life-giving as they promised, but the closer I got, the more evident it became that they were merely counterfeit in light of the real thing. Some words I have ingested are poisonous.
Lacking that knowledge, I had taken them in, considered them as facts, and allowed them to shape me accordingly. They have bred in me behaviors and instilled in me patterns of thinking that I no longer even question. But in reality, they are wrong, unhealthy, and leading me further away from the fullness of life that Christ has given to us. They have to go.
To be honest, I am not sure I would have made them leave myself. I know this poison, these lies, quite well. I know the taste and I’ve become comfortable with the sting as I choke it down. I might even call it an addiction. It is not uncommon to become attached to the very thing that causes us harm because at least therein lies some consistency. But though reliable, the poison is destroying me, numbing me to joy, love, and grace. And yet I turn my back on these things, preferring the intoxication of my own self-hatred.
But God in His infinite mercy, having already waged and won the war for my soul, has led me forth in a battle against this poison. And though I imagine He too hoped there would be another way, He knows, like I do, that sometimes ipecac is the best answer and the only choice left is to hold on tight and vomit up the bad stuff.
It feels especially brutal because it is a slow exile. It doesn’t happen all at once. There is no quick or practical ipecac solution to this problem. This makes sense because it didn’t happen all at once. It took years for this poison to become a part of me. I took more than one swig.
In practice, the obedience of this expulsion has looked like a whole lot of truth telling and a whole lot of crying, often simultaneous. I have spent the better part of the last month crying about one thing or another, as God continues to give me the boldness and courage to say out loud what I have kept locked away for months or even years. It turns out there is some deep emotion surrounding telling your secrets. But especially for me, as a human who is so connected and in tune with my body as it is, there is grace in crying these tears in particular. As I voice the worst stuff, as I give names to the poisons that I have ingested, the physicality of crying stands in place of vomiting. It isn’t pretty. But I can feel the poison being expelled from my body. I don’t have to guess. It is gone. It is indeed finished. I can only hope it stays away for good.
It feels fitting that all of this would happen in the thick of Ordinary Time, the glorious majority of the liturgical calendar. Here, we merely rest in the ordinariness of our lives, trusting that this too can be an incubator for God to do His best work. Embracing this, I hope to act in direct contrast to the thought that I must be doing something impressive for God to take notice.
So, for now, I’ll do the ordinary things. I’ll keep going to counseling. I’ll keep communing with my people. I’ll keep telling my secrets. And though I had hoped this was the case all along, I am now able to see it in practice: He stays with me in sickness and in health. For better or for worse. He’s in it for the long haul, the whole haul, vomiting and all, and even when I grow weary of me, He is patient and faithful.
There is no ipecac for the emotional poison we ingest. But there is Jesus, and He knows our insides and our outsides and the sides we have been told to hide away. He is privy to our pain, mindful of our suffering, and He knows what we need if only we would have the courage to ask.
Artwork credit: Energy Field & Water by Nancy Reyner Acrylic on canvas