Courtney Reissig, a mom, author and speaker is joining me on the show today to share how God used the Psalms to prepare her for a traumatic and life-threatening pregnancy experience.
- How Courtney started diving into the Psalms
- Psalms as the language of the realities of life
- How Courtney processed her emotions
- How she worked through her trauma and what she learned from it
- How to use the Psalms in prayer
- Courtney’s Book, Teach Me How to Feel
Related links and resources
Carrie: Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD, episode 62. I am your host Carrie Bock. And today, I am joined on the show by Courtney Reissig, author of Teach Me How to Feel. She’s written other books as well.
We were talking about using the Psalms in our spiritual journey without using the Psalms to connect with God and in prayer and meditation. So I’m really looking forward to this conversation.
Courtney, I know that you had a difficult experience that was traumatic for you and prompted you really to dive in, and study the Psalms, in more detail. Can you tell us about that?
Courtney: I had a traumatic delivery with my last son, and it was actually like a medical crisis, but I actually started diving into the Psalms about six months before that, and was truly interested in them and how they fit together and how, as I learned more about them, I realized the Psalms was giving us language for the realities of life.
It was so interesting at the time. But I didn’t know, that the Lord was using to preparing for what was to come. And so, I had spent that six months diving into the Psalms. And then when I was 33 weeks pregnant, I had a placenta abruption, which is the Medical crisis full abruption is sudden death for the mom and the baby, but mine was partial.
And so I was admitted to the hospital for three weeks as we waited for either to stop or for him to be needed to be delivered. Really, what happened to me. And that time was kind of hospital bed rest is really , really traumatic. I felt like everyday with a life or death situation with whether or not I was going to have to deliver him, whether we be okay. On those days, I couldn’t read anything. I couldn’t read the magazine people brought me, I couldn’t really watch TV, but I could read the Psalms.
And I spent so much time in the Psalms in those days, reading and processing and journaling about them. It’s not for I really start that I’m using the Psalmus. You’re not the first person who had walked through something that was life or death. And the Lord really met me there and showed me that He understood my frame and understood my struggle and was giving me language for what was going on.
Carrie: Yeah, So did you feel like, even though you could really describe like what you were feeling exactly. It was almost like when you opened up the Psalms, it, it really was like, oh yeah.
That’s, how I’m feeling right now.
Courtney: Yes. Oh yes. I mean, there are so many songs where I opened them up and was like, yes, that’s how I feel. I feel as though God has forgotten me. I struggled a lot and actually after he was born kind of that. And I struggled with guilt over that because, I lived and I had the best-case scenario, but I still had all of that trauma that I had to work through.
And even then I had a lot of darkness and postpartum depression. And even in that, the Psalms really helped me see that I was not the first person who had felt darkness or felt like God’s hand was against me or felt like I had sorrows in my heart all day or anxiety in my heart all day. So it really did give me words when I didn’t have other words for what we know.
Carrie: Um, that’s good. How did you process those emotions as they came up? Just, you know, feeling like God had forgotten you or maybe other concerns that you had, you know, sadness, anger, fear?
Courtney: Yeah. It’s really understand talking to your friend about how kind I processed it at night. And I, it took me a long time to realize that I’m an internal processor. And so a lot of people didn’t know that I was struggling for a really long time until like six months after he was born. I had shared that I was really struggling. I think for me, I just had to really work through my own thoughts in my own head.
And through writing, primarily for me is just a big way for me to internally process what’s going on, that was a big thing for me. I find that when I’m deeply, deeply struggling, that I’ve got to write to get it all out before I can never talk about somebody else, which I’m a natural born talker, which so people don’t think that that’s how I process.
They usually think that I brought those through talking about it. Cause everything, but when I’m really, really struggling, I work it through with writing and then reading. I didn’t have a lot of quiet moments. It was my fourth son by the time this happened. I had four children, four and under, there were no quiet moments.
My husband was really gracious and gives me time to process. And I will say too, I eventually did go to therapy and that was really helpful. I needed someone else outside of myself and outside of my circumstances to really kind of help me work through what we had walked through. And I still remember I canceled number of times that I had a really good friend who finally was like, I’m going to come watch your kids and you’re going to make that appointment.
Carrie: You thought, I don’t have time for this, or you were avoiding it because you knew it’d be uncomfortable to talk about?
Courtney: I think I knew I needed it. Like, I think I knew like deep down that I really needed just to like an hour, a week to sit and process. And I was gonna have that unless someone had given me that time.
Yeah. I think I was just like, I didn’t have the time. I just didn’t have the time or the energy. It seemed impossible to me. Yeah.
Carrie: Yeah. That was just really loving what your friend did to just kind of step in and say, They all l take care of your kids so that you can go take care of you.
Courtney: Right, and I think sometimes we’re afraid, I think as moms, maybe it’s women in general to kind of say I’m willing to do that, it feels too self-focused and we are kind of conditioned to be like, we’re always dying to self and I think we’re supposed to die to self. Because Christ, I just like drive to himself.
Courtney: But we are also not God, you need help sometimes. And so, sometimes the most self-sacrificing that you can do is to help and you can help others. And I think, that’s what my friend saw in me is that I needed that so that I could serve and the way I was called to serve.
Carrie: I know some people, when they go through trauma and then they get to the end of experience, they’re like, okay, it’s over. I lived, I should be fine. Like, I shouldn’t be having those residual effects. Like, did you understand that it was. The trauma that was impacting maybe emotional experiences that you were having, or was it kind of like you learned some of that later? Like after the fact?
Courtney: Yeah, that’s a really good question. Cause I don’t think I understood that fully in the moment. And it’s been helpful since I’ve come to realize that I have that It’s helped me love my kids well through it, I had a few people in my life who understood enough of what we had walked through and had lived long enough to say,
Carrie: You’re going to have to be working through this for a while.
Courtney: It took me a while, like a few years to realize that there were these things that would happen. And I wouldn’t understand why I would all be dealing with it again, even it was in my mind seemed to be kind of unrelated. It’s only been as I’ve learned that I’ve learned part of the process of working through trauma is that eventually, I think hindsight now allows me to say, oh, I was not in a good place then, because that I’m in a better place now.
Courtney: Yeah, I don’t think I fully understood in that moment, but I’ve walked through the trauma scene. Then, so I was diagnosed with cervical cancer during COVID.
Courtney: Yeah, and I was really, really unexpected. All the markers to catch it, just kind of fell through the cracks for me. And, um, so I had radical hysterectomy really quickly because I had walked through the trauma with Ben. It didn’t make it easier and didn’t make it less traumatic, but it did make me more aware of what I was going to need to process what had happened. And the healing emotionally from that was better the second time around versus I just felt like I was blindsided by what happened with him.
Carrie: Right, right. Yeah. It’s interesting. Because so many times when we’re in survival mode, we are not aware that we’re in survival mode. We’re just kind of making the next day happen. Like, I’ve, you know, in your situation, it’s like, I got four kids and somebody is going to feed them.
Courtney: Right. And you don’t realize that you’re like deeply not okay. Like, you’re like a hair trigger away from like blowing up. And I’m thankful that the Lord brought me through it and then allowed me to give me some clarity to see so that I’m aware. I mean, trauma happens all throughout our lives.
Courtney: And so I’m not naive enough to think it won’t happen again, but.
Carrie: What guidance, like you can give us on using the Psalms in our day-to-day prayer and devotional life?
Courtney: I’ve used them all different ways. Right now, my life, I’ve been really convicted over the last year that my prayer life is really lacking, it’s always been, like more of a struggle in my own life to just find, to be purposeful in prayer. But so many of the Psalms are prayers and written as prayers
Courtney: And so one of the things I’ve done over the last year has been to pray the Psalms and just pray them based on whatever’s going on in the lives of the people. I’m praying for at the time or my own life.
I think that’s one way to use them is to use them as prayers. Many of them are prayers. I think another way to use them, is to read them when life is hard and read them to find familiar friends who also understand that life is hard. You know, I read them a lot when I was writing the book, I write them a lot.
When I was walking through this trauma, I read them a lot when COVID first started, because everything felt so uncertain and crazy. And I have found in every one of those seasons that the Psalms get the human experience. I think I’ve heard a Tim Keller, wouldn’t say. That part of his devotional reading is he reads, a Psalms everyday because we’re always walking through something that the Psalms understand because God is the author of the Psalms and he understands us. And so I think for anyone, it’s a really helpful tool. And seeing that we have a God who sees no matter what we’re walking through.
Carrie: Yeah, Just sense of relate-ability that we have to. I mean, it’s the human experience. It’s anger, it’s sadness. It’s uncertainty. It’s fear. And for me, I think it opens up and gives us permission to have a messy prayer life.
Courtney: Yes, absolutely.
Carrie: So just say, this is how I feel and it’s messy right now and I don’t care what’s going on in my life. Like it’s crazy.
Courtney: .Right, and I think sometimes we’re afraid just to be like that because we, depending on, like our theological tradition, we are so prone to wanting to have it all put together and to sound like we’re trusting the Lord and that everything’s going okay. And I think that’s the reality of the Psalms is that they’re not afraid of the struggles. And they kind of reorient us to acknowledge that.
Courtney: Stop pretending that everything’s perfect and that we’re able to respond rightly to everything at all. Any given time.
Carrie: Yeah, the, we don’t have to have polished prayers all the time.
Carrie: Right? Yeah. I love that. Tell us about your book. Uh, “Teach me how to feel?”
Courtney: Yes, that book was born out of our experience with Ben and it kind of takes us through 24 different Psalms and walks through how the Psalmus experiences, the feeling, and then how this almost experiences God. There’s also a study guide that goes along with it to kind of help you add more depth to it.
If you’re trying to really kind of work through the Psalms, but the heart behind it was that a person who is walking through something could take any, could open up and look at any emotion that they’re feeling at any given time and find language for their struggle. There are short chapters. They’re designed for, like, if you’re walking through struggle, you need something
short and accessible.
There are a variety of feelings. There are happy ones like joy and forgiving and different ones like that. And so it’s not all sad songs, but it’s really intended to show you the breadth of the songs and the breadth of how God gives us language and the different struggles and joys and sorrows of life.
Carrie: Hmm. Good. How can people get in touch with you if they want to kind of find out more information?
Courtney: About the book?
Carrie: Yeah. Or just if they want to get in touch with you, um, do you do speaking engagements sometimes or?
Courtney: Yeah, I do. Um, I don’t do them as much as I used to, so COVID really slowed down what ended up speaking that I did. And then, um, it kind of gave us, like a little bit of a reset. Is this what we want for our season of life right now?
And so, I don’t accept a lot of speaking engagements throughout the year. I accept maybe like one or two outside of Arkansas where I live, and I’m also on staff at my church recently. So that takes up a fair amount of my time.
And I have a website that I. Should I update more than I do Courtneyreissig.com, but I feel an urge to write something. I primarily put it on Instagram, so it’s just my name. Courtney Reissig.
Carrie: Okay. Awesome. So when you were struggling, if you could go back in time, like what encouragement or hope would you provide to your younger self?
Courtney: Hmm. That’s a really good question. So I would provide, to my younger self, I would say trust the long game. That’s kind of the thing that I would tell younger Courtney, is that what seems like an impossible thing right now, it seems like God’s not going to work that out for you right now. God plays the long game in life.
And so it’s kind of the message of someone, where the one who meditates on God’s word day and night is like a tree planted by streams of water. And what we know about trees is that they don’t grow overnight and transformation doesn’t happen overnight.
And so the life spent in the world. And what life spent trusting in the word made flesh Christ is one that grows over lifetime. And so that means that there are seasons like summer where everything is going really well and the trees in full bloom, and then their seasons, like winter, where it seems like nothing’s happening.
And I think I spent a lot of time in my younger, in my twenties and towards the end of my thirties now. So most of my thirties, not trusting the long game, not trusting that God was working, that God had a long-term purpose in view when He was working in my life or not doing anyone else.
I think it’s probably the greatest struggle of these younger people, in general, is we’re so instantaneous and that’s not how God works.
Carrie: Yeah, I think that’s so good. Just to have a little bit more for ourselves of an eternal perspective. What God’s doing right now, you know, we may not see the fruits of it for many years. Something that we’re investing in, you know, you could be investing in kids or teenagers and you may not see the fruit of the day to day what’s you’re doing until many years down the road, you know, or the difficulty that God’s bringing you through right now is the difficulty that you’re going to be helping somebody else walk through and 10 years. Right?
Courtney: Right, right. I mean, there’s in our own life. We’ve seen in just the last few months, an answer to prayer that we’ve prayed for 10 years.
Courtney: And I mean, that’s just a long time. And to be honest, like there’s, there was like whole years where I stopped praying for it, you know, because I just don’t think it was going to happen.
So I think that it’s the benefit of getting older is you get to see God work over the long haul that you don’t see when you’re younger.
Carrie: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. That’s good. Hopefully that encourages some, some younger people out there that are wondering why something isn’t happening right now.
Courtney: Right. Yeah.
Carrie: Well, Courtney, thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to talk with us about these things. And I hope it expands and encourages people’s prayer and devotional life, or if they’re going through a hard time to really just dig into the Psalms and see what God is going to show them and teach them through that.
Courtney: Well. Thanks for having me.
Carrie: I really hope you enjoy this episode on the Psalms. In a couple of weeks we have a really powerful interview about forgiveness that I wanted to share with you. So, if you’re struggling with forgiving someone in your life. You may wanna tune in, in a couple of weeks to that episode.
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