They Do Exist.

Learning To Let Go Of My Emotional Suitcase

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is written by Stephanie Spencer. She’s a coffee-drinker and Christ-follower looking for God moving in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter at @everydayawe or read her blog at everydayawe.com. We’re also taking A POLL today! Click here to vote. – Lauren

I sat on the plaid couch next to my fiancé. Across from us sat our pastor and his wife. It was pre-marital counseling, almost twelve years ago. It was the moment I received some of the best advice ever given to me.

It was the middle of the session spent talking about our childhoods. I had just finished telling stories of my past. Stories filled with facts, but empty of feeling.

After I finished, the pastor’s wife locked eyes with me. I saw wisdom, strength, and grace in her. She saw the lie in me. And she wasn’t afraid to say it.

“You keep your emotions in a suitcase. You carry them tight to you. You decide when to open them and when to keep them shut. You need to stop doing that.”

Ouch. The truth hurts.

Like many people, I carried hurts from my past. Divorce. Bullying. Low self-esteem. Loneliness. Broken promises. Bad relationships. A shattered heart.

With each new hurt, I packed my suitcase and grasped it tighter. Knowing that others could not be trusted. Knowing that if I let my feelings out, they would get stomped on. History had proven it. I wasn’t going to make those mistakes again.

I didn’t even do it on purpose. Holding my emotions locked tight in a suitcase was instinctual. It seemed to be a type of self-preservation.

It was actually a type of self-destruction.

Keeping my suitcase locked up not only prevented hurts from coming in, it prevented hurts from going out. I needed to let go of some of those old wounds. I needed to let the anger escape so it would not turn into bitterness. I needed to let the grief escape so it would not turn to misery. Inside the suitcase, they were festering. Without open air, these emotions were like mold spores, slowly ravaging my heart.

My suitcase was also a barrier. In effort to protect my heart from being broken, I was keeping my heart from being expanded. I was 21 years old and in danger. I had so much life in front of me. So much potential for love and joy. But only if I let them in. Only if I was willing to open the suitcase.

Perhaps the biggest problem with my suitcase was that it kept my hands full. I was not created to cling to my emotional control. I was created to cling to God. I had to learn to hand the suitcase over to Him.

I had to learn that my heart was better off in God’s hands than my own.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

I was trying to create my own peace. By never truly being open, I would never truly be hurt. But humans were made for community. Any peace that comes at the expense of love is a false peace. I needed the peace that comes only from God.

The Bible does not promise that we won’t be hurt by others. It does not promise that others will always be trustworthy. What it does promise is that God is always trustworthy. That He can give us the strength to do things that are difficult. That He can give us rest. That He can give us security.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;

he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:5-8)

An amazing thing happened when I learned to give more and more of my suitcase to God: He opened it for me. And it wasn’t scary. It was natural.

It makes sense. My Creator knows my story. He knows how I have been hurt. He knows how I think. He knows how I feel. He knows me better than I know myself. He knows how to love me. He knows how to help me. He knows how to change me.

I recently moved. I got a beautiful going-away gift from my co-workers. A video. A video of individuals telling stories of the impact I had on their lives. There were a few common words used to describe me by younger women. Women who had only known me a few years. They used words like vulnerable, authentic, real.

They had no idea how remarkable it was for me to hear those words. Words that never would have been used to describe me before I sat on the pastor’s couch twelve years ago. Words that never would have been used to describe me before I learned to hand my heart to God.

I think the suitcase has been destroyed.


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16 Responses

  1. Love this! I have been holding so tightly to my emotions. "I was not created to cling to my emotional control. I was created to cling to God." That statement was like a slap in the face. So very true. You are real. Thanks for sharing! Blessings to you!

    January 31, 2012 at 11:00 am

    • Stephanie Spencer

      Hi Tara- I'm so glad you found this helpful! It is so tempting to hold on to control. Especially when people around us look so put together. I still struggle with it, but things are so much better than they used to be. God healed a lot in my heart as I learned to trust Him more deeply.

      January 31, 2012 at 12:56 pm

  2. Thank you Stephanie, excellent post!!!
    Sue

    January 31, 2012 at 11:00 am

    • Stephanie Spencer

      Thanks, Sue! Glad you liked it. I think it's something many women struggle with. We always want to be put together. I hope this provides permission to women to let go and trust.

      January 31, 2012 at 1:00 pm

  3. Jenny

    Beautifully written – thank you for this! "I had to learn that my heart was better off in God’s hands than my own." so true.

    January 31, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    • Stephanie Spencer

      Thanks, Jenny. That is a hard, but important lesson to learn. Sadly, I often try to take it back, and have to be reminded that God's hands are a safer place.

      January 31, 2012 at 9:06 pm

  4. Kristen E

    Steph, this is awesome! Thanks for your honesty. Like someone above, this line was powerful for me, "I was not created to cling to my emotional control. I was created to cling to God." A few years ago, this skit was presented at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference by the Skit Guys, which aligns with what you're saying. http://skitguys.com/videos/item/baggage-skit

    January 31, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    • Stephanie Spencer

      What a great skit, Kristen! Thanks for the share. Glad you found the post powerful. I'm still humbled and grateful for how God has worked in this area for me.

      January 31, 2012 at 9:21 pm

  5. Besh N.

    What a beautiful testimony, and so full of truth. Praise God. <3

    February 1, 2012 at 6:42 pm

  6. Steph, I totally understand. I used the suitcase metaphor with my small group earlier this year. I told them about how our college classrooms needed twice as many chairs as students because, during winters, students would wear layer upon layer in order to keep warm during the walks to and from class, but then when they got there, peel them off one-by-one in order to sit comfortably in the heated rooms, piling them up in the seats around us so that we ended up, in effect, blockading ourselves in…and others out. I even started writing a post about "Excess Baggage" that I hope to finish one of these days. Looks like I'll probably be hitting you up for some advice before I do.

    April 27, 2012 at 4:45 pm

  7. This is truly a blessing to read, thank you for sharing this through the comment section on Deeper Story. Your wisdom gained through your experience is truly helpful, as I embark on the journey of unpacking loads worth of mold spores…. love that analogy!

    May 17, 2012 at 10:39 pm

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  9. what a beautifully written piece.
    i was so encouraged to read this because i finally experienced the freedom that came with unpacking my emotional suitcase.
    Christ really does set me free because he already took all my wounds and mess upon the cross.

    thank you for sharing :)

    August 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm

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  12. Mareena

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    July 15, 2014 at 5:17 am

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