When We Are Emotionally Starving
“Nothing makes me feel okay and I’m tired of not feeling okay.”
These words are from my journal several years ago; it was a time of great suffering and difficulty. I have recently made it a point to type out my old journals, making them easier to access and reflect on. And from the very start I began gaining great insight into the person I was, the way I experienced life, and how I got through my darkest of days.
What I was going through could be described as a sort of emotional starvation. There were things in life that I could enjoy, at least for brief moments, but an underlying emptiness dominated most of my focus. The doubt, discouragement, and hopelessness were so vivid that even today if I hear certain kinds of music, am driving in certain places, or see related things, I am brought back to that time for an instant and feel it all again, if only for a few seconds.
This morning, as I reflected on these things, I considered a story I want to share now.
There once was a man.
He was well-off enough, kind and generous at times, yet irritable and impatient at others. He was neither a villain, nor a hero, but a simpleton who lived as well as he could.
On an ordinary day, he awoke to a great hunger. Gifted in the kitchen, the man created a grand breakfast feast in anticipation of satiating his desire. The food was indeed delicious, or ‘exquisite’ as one of his invited guests described. Yet as the man bid farewell to his last visitor, he found that the hunger remained, despite his eating twice his normal portion.
He thought nothing of it at first, guessing himself perhaps ill, and continued on with his afternoon. But at dinner the same thing happened, leaving him empty and unsatisfied as he went to bed. The next day, the hunger was just as bad, if not worse, but despite all his best efforts, the outcome was the same.
The third morning, he sprung from bed determined to end this suffering. He ate until he could eat no more, his full stomach pressed against his ribs, begging him to stop, yet he went on. He endured hours in misery thereafter, not understanding his plight, confused, angry, and sad all at once.
As weeks passed, he stopped eating. His body ached and wailed. His muscles shrank. His skin lost its color. But he could no longer eat, for this hunger consumed him.
Then, in the night, a stranger stopped at his door. This unexpected guest, weak and frail, asked for a meal. The man refused at first, but there was something about this beggar that gave him pause, and so he brought him into the kitchen and began cooking a late-night snack. The stranger savored each bite, but stopped halfway through and stared at the man.
“Why do you not eat?” he asked, noticing his host’s sickly body. “Because I cannot enjoy it,” he replied. “Will you not die?” the guest pressed anxiously. “Perhaps, but what life is worth living without the joy that should accompany it?”
The beggar paused a moment, playing with the food on his plate but not taking another bite, giving the question careful thought. Then, after a long quiet, he spoke.
“I struggle to know what makes life worth living, but I know that I am alive. I know that I wander from door to door begging for food. And I know that I would have hungered yet another night had you not opened your home to me.”
He then looked back up at the man who had fed him, and for the briefest of moments, neither one remembered the sorrow they felt. That was enough for the man to pull up a chair and share the meal he had unknowingly prepared for two. And enough for him to do the same the next day, that he might live on to experience another such moment.
Time is sometimes the only cure.
When I went through those hard days, weeks, and months, there was no permanent antidote for the pain I felt. I at times went to bed feeling hope only to wake up completely empty. It became an unquenchable thirst, and yet I kept going. I was prayerful, and at times experienced happiness, the hope that things would get better. Several years later it did, slowly but surely.
It seems that time is often the crucial ingredient for getting through when we are starving for happiness, starving for joy, or starving to just feel anything at all. But as the stranger implied to the man in the story, we all have lives to live. And while there is often not an instant remedy for the times we are drowning in sorrow, I suggest two thoughts from the Savior:
“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39).
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
In a world where time is most often the solution to our lingering heartaches, we often find ourselves in the same situation as that host who fed the beggar. But while we wait for distance and time to help heal our starving hearts, we can turn to the Savior. And we can find moments of joy in losing ourselves through service.
It is no easy thing to push through emotional starvation, and yet we can turn our sorrows to God and fight as best as we are able. Time sometimes flows slowly like a meandering river through an endless plain, but it is never still. While we wait, we can reach out to those nearby.
Remember that the Savior suffered all the emptiness we face. In losing our lives in him, and in serving those around us, even in small ways, perhaps in brief moments when we have the strength to act, we can find joys to help keep us afloat while the river of time takes us through the trials of life.