Is it just me, or have things gotten a little tense lately?
Whether you’re aware of them or not, chances are high that you have been having a lot of big emotions. As a man, I wasn’t always sure of what to do with them. I’m slowly learning not to be afraid but actually to lean in and explore them.
One feeling we might have in common is that I’m starting to feel as if I’m living out the plot from the movie, Groundhog’s Day. While the days have begun to bleed together, a few things are becoming quite clear.
- I thought the things people were comfortable saying on social media were shocking before, then quarantine came along and said, “Here, here hold my beer. You haven’t seen anything yet!”
- Studies are showing that people all over the world are having stranger dreams than ever before, thanks to a combination of fewer inspirational experiences and more stress.
- I’m nowhere near as well-adjusted as I thought I was in February.
That last point is the one that hits home for me. I am taking regular breaks from work to encourage my kids, especially when they break down in tears or shouting at one another. Bigger and bigger emotions seem to keep bubbling up, and it’s not just them. My emotions are as big as anyone’s and are just as likely to come out wrong. I’m apologizing to my kids for misbehaving in the same ways that they are. Ouch! Sometimes I wish there was a grown-up who would force me to take a time out and talk through my feelings. A cookie and a hug would be nice too.
A friend of mine recently shared this quote from the master of emotional health himself, Mister Rogers.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”
Emotions are actually a gift from God. They are one of many tools that help us—well, be human. But as a friend of mine said: “Emotions are like kids in the car. You can’t let them drive, but you can’t put them in the trunk either.”
As I explore how much I haven’t figured out, I am reminded that our emotions need to be mapped out and validated so that they can be transformed from a burden into a resource.
We tend to bask in emotions like happiness and love and freedom, but we avoid any emotion that feels painful or awkward. The only problem is that ignoring something means it never goes away completely. If we are instinctively drawn to either hide from our emotions or ignore them completely, they are guaranteed to overwhelm us when we least expect it. Often we get into such bad habits of responding poorly that over time we begin to believe that sadness, discouragement, and anger are actually flaws in our character. In reality, we need to pay attention to and process them before they erupt.
Don’t believe me? Try flipping through the Biblical book of Psalms and pick one at random. The chances are very high that you’ll be reading song lyrics written by King David to God, expressing how desperate or oppressed or abandoned he felt. Even so, David always found his way back to reflect on the fact that God saw him and cared about him and remained in control, in spite of his current outlook.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no “bad” emotions. There are only emotions which have been recognized and dealt with and those which have not been recognized and result in toxic behaviors. This means that the solution to our unhealthy outbursts is actually to face and feel those emotions even more. It turns out that the emotions we’re avoiding might have some real benefit in our lives, once we figure out how to respond to them differently.
This weekend, we are starting a new series called Mindset, in which we will explore what it looks like to truly identify our emotional state and our responses, while also learning to give God more control over what we choose to do with those emotions. We cannot begin to trust God with something until we understand what it is we are handing over to Him. For me, this cannot be coming at a better time. I pray that you will be encouraged to have more grace for yourself and those close to you and that the conversations we have in this series would help you to understand and trust God with more of yourself and your feelings.