When I was a teenager I worked full-time as an orderly at a hospital. One day a boy about my age was admitted to the intensive care unit after falling backward from his sitting position on the closed tailgate of a pickup truck that was accelerating from a stop. He hit his head on the pavement after falling only five feet or so, but it was enough to damage his brain and put him into a coma.
Before he was admitted, the boy was a well-muscled athlete, but I observed that over a period of only weeks, his muscles wasted away until he looked almost skeletal. His brain was not firing his muscles, and because they were not being used, they lost mass at an alarming rate. If we don’t use our muscles, we lose them.
And so it is with emotional muscles. I have now observed thousands of people who have lived in fear for so long—who have suffered emotional comas, as it were—that their other emotional muscles have wasted away. They feel only fear and pain, or less fear and pain. But they can’t feel or express safety, worth, confidence, love, or joy.
It is miraculous to watch the effect of love on many such people. As they trust the love they’re given, they awake from the coma induced by pain and fear, and they begin to exercise their emotional muscles. They grow in their ability to feel love, happiness, and confidence, much as people who awake from a coma can begin to increase their muscle mass and physical strength.
If we want to grow emotionally and spiritually, we must regularly exercise those muscles. All around us are ample opportunities to do this—injustice, unkindness, the anger of others, our own mistakes and flaws—but because these experiences are often difficult and even unpleasant, we tend to avoid them.
If we persist with faith and courage in lifting these emotional weights, however, the rewards are greater than we can now imagine.