Imagine trying to run a marathon hauling a backpack full of rocks. That’s what it’s like to go through life carrying painful memories, extreme beliefs, stubborn feelings, or even physical problems that parts of you take on as a result of challenging experiences. You can develop burdens any time, starting in childhood. The fourth step of Taking a You-Turn, unburdening, means finding freedom from the burdens that weigh you down.
If you’re ready to experience such freedom, focus on one painful thought or feeling, and befriend the part of you carrying this burden. Listen for the undercurrents of emotion and the beliefs this tender, younger part of you carries about its experiences, including misperceptions about God’s character. Welcome this part and update it as to who you are now, and how much God loves you. As Henri Nouwen wrote in The Inner Voice of Love, “You have to bring home the part of you that was left behind.”
Thankfully, God empowers your Spirit-led self to take the lead in the life-changing step of unburdening. Unlike Protectors and Exiles, your Spirit-led self is not just a part of your soul. Instead, it’s the very core of who you are. Paul furthers our understanding of this concept in Ephesians 3:16 when he writes, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he [God] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Your inner being, empowered by the Spirit of God, can function like a symphony conductor in leading all of your internal parts harmoniously.
As you connect with an Exile from your Spirit-led self, give it your full attention. Exiles find relief when we focus on them—just as children thrive on loving attention. Update this timid part about all the strengths, resources, and wisdom you’ve gained over the years. Let it know there’s more to who you are than it can see from its limited vantage point. Share the truth of who you are from God’s perspective and invite it to listen to God’s voice. Comforted by your attention, this exiled part of your soul can now release its burdensome feelings and misconceptions. Invite this part to join you in the present where it can take comfort in your Spirit-led self and God’s love.
How, exactly, do I release my burdens, and where do they go? you may be asking. This is where your baptized imagination (as C.S. Lewis described his conversion in Surprised by Joy) comes in. Unburdening can happen through prayerfully re-envisioning a situation or through rescripting a belief or a false narrative you’ve been telling yourself for far too long.
I have the honor of witnessing my clients unburden false beliefs and unwanted feelings in any number of imaginative ways. For instance, they may:
- Toss their burdens into a molten fire.
- “He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross” (Mal. 3:3).
- Release them to be washed away by rain.
- “As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth” (Hos 6:3).
- Send their guilt into the wounds of Christ
- “By his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).
The unburdening process will be different each time you work with a part; soul care is an art form reflecting God’s boundless creativity.
Unburdening doesn’t mean you won’t feel a full range of emotions, including sadness and anger, but it does mean that these feelings will pass by like clouds in the sky. It means that parts of yourself that have been stuck can be updated and retrieved from the past. Even though your circumstances may not change, you can create more space for your Spirit-led self. As you do, you’ll notice greater confidence, clarity, and creativity. You’ll increasingly pursue the purposeful life of love and service for which you were created. And you’ll be like King David who said, “I have calmed and quieted my soul like a child within me” (Ps. 131:2).
So far, in this series, we’ve looked at four of the Five Steps of Taking a You-Turn. Stay tuned for my next newsletter, where I’ll talk about the final step: Integrate a part of your soul and learn to live your dreams.
By Kimberly June Miller, MTh, LMFT