I feel more than most. Maybe you can relate. One moment I’m perfectly fine and the next I’m crying because a young immigrant mother of two won $10,000 on Chopped and can fly back home to see her parents for the first time in three years.
Emotions come in waves for me. It can feel overwhelming at times. Sometimes I wish there was a way to turn my emotions on or off. With the passing of my father this year, I have had a lot of emotions to process through these last few months. It got me thinking about how I handle them instead of them handling me. I generally have one of three responses to my emotions.
Avoid at all costs
You know that moment when you see someone in public that you definitely don’t want to interact with? Like the popular girl from your high school class that you happen to see at your hometown coffee shop? I treat my emotions like her… pretend like I don’t see her, hide behind my book, and quickly exit the premise. Emotions = happy Heather; me = horrified Hannah.
Deflect. Deflect. Deflect.
Scenario: someone will ask how I’m feeling. I quickly will say “OK” and turn the question on them. People will share, and I’ll continue to ask them questions until they pour out their hearts. I genuinely do love sorting through my friends emotions with them, offering encouragement and a listening ear. I find it easier than sorting through my own. Often times, someone from the outside looking in can have a better vantage point–it’s why I love listening. My friends’ emotions feel like a 1000 piece puzzle that’s jumbled and I get to help them connect some of the picture. When I look at my own 1000 pieces it feels impossible to unscramble … and I secretly wonder if one piece is just missing all together under a dusty rug in my brain. It’s messy up there. Deflecting is my defense.
Feel all the feelings all at once
This is that ugly cry one. The one where you’re crying in your car, trying to pull it together at each stoplight so the people next to you don’t think you’re crazy. Then as soon as the light turns green you start sobbing again like the light is somehow giving you permission to feel again.
I love/hate this reaction. I know I need it. But I don’t want to feel. it. all.
I’ve had quite a few of those No. 3’s in the last year. Truthfully, I’ve had a lot of those No. 3’s in my life. They are messy and hard and painful. But after each cry, I know I generally feel better. To me, letting the emotions out is the first step in moving forward.
My dad’s passing this year forced me to confront every emotion possible. I couldn’t hide anymore because my emotions were unavoidable. Grief hits you hard at the most inopportune time. Someone says one word, or you hear a song, or see a favorite food and it triggers an emotional flood.
Maybe you haven’t had to deal with grief yet in your life, but I think everyone has felt the pain of a loss. A delayed dream, a broken friendship, an absent parent, a deep sense of failure. Heartache and hurt are the common thread in all of our stories.
As much as we try to avoid pain, at some point we are going to have to find a way to deal with it so we can heal from it.
Emotions are not designed to control us; they are designed to connect us. They communicate ideas that we can’t conjure up with words.
When words fail, emotions feel.
So for all of my emotional averse friends out there, I want to share what I have learned:
1. Pain, like joy, is a necessary part of life.
As much as I want my life to be like a Hallmark movie … you know the ones with the perfect endings and snow falls that magically solve any conflict? The reality is, life is much more complex than that. It doesn’t mean we can’t have happy endings, it just means we’ll likely have some character building roadblocks along the way.
We all will experience low moments whether we want to or not. But, the low moments help us to appreciate the joy filled moments that much more.
I see it like this–I’m from the Midwest and in the Midwest we basically experience winter for half the year. It’s cloudy and snowy, and we all stay inside because the cold hurts our face. When the sun comes out, everyone is overjoyed and full of life and energy. The trees are a lush green, the water is the perfect hue of blue. It’s amazing. But, I don’t think I could appreciate the beauty and warmth of summer if I didn’t know the cold of winter.
As I look back on the winter seasons of my life, I see how they prepared me to cherish the summer seasons to come. The hard moments shaped my character for the better and allowed me to help those walking through similar seasons.
God comforts us so we can offer that same comfort to others (2 Corinthians 1:4). Our story is never just about us. It’s about God and it’s about others God has placed in our life. I can find peace knowing that my loss is part of a greater story.
2. Walk through it, not around it.
There is a verse in a familiar Psalm: “… even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalms 23:4, emphasis added).
It doesn’t say run, it doesn’t say anything about a detour, and it doesn’t say we can walk around. There are three truths in this passage – 1) there will be valleys in our life 2) we have to walk through it and 3) God will be with us.
We all will go through our own valley seasons. It’s how we how we handle them that counts. It’s in these moments that our faith, our emotions, and our hope can be tested. When you feel your emotions getting the better of you, remember this truth: even though I’m walking through the valley for this season of my life, God is with me. He will be my anchor, He will be my hope, and He will carry me through. And one day, as you’re walking through, you’ll find you made it to the other side.
3. Feel to heal
I distinctly remember this moment a couple months ago after my dad had passed. I sat on my bed and was overcome with emotion. I cried, I prayed, I felt a million thoughts rush through my mind. And you know what I did? I picked up my phone and opened … Instagram. Plot twist. Probably should’ve been the Bible app. But my millennial mind somehow thought the filtered faces of others would ease my troubled heart and take my mind off my mangled mess of feelings.
I’m sad as I write this because I was grasping to find some sense of normalcy and I had the audacity to turn to social media (the most fabricated “normal”). I think I just wanted a distraction. But as I opened my feed, I felt this tug on my heart and a thought emerged: “you have to feel it all if you are going to heal at all.”
I put my phone down and sat in silence. This God-sent nudge snapped me back into real life. I realized I couldn’t keep distracting myself, I needed to deal with my mess.
If I didn’t seek to make room for my emotions they would seep into every aspect of my life.
When painful seasons come–job loss, failed class, broken relationships, whatever–we have to find the root of our pain. Is it fear of the unknown? Insecurity? Anxiety? Our emotions are simply a response to the root.
When we address the root we can replace it with truth. Each day we process our emotions and replace them with truth is a day that we get stronger in who God made us to be. This path is not easy, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s hard.
But, although this path toward peace will require perseverance, perseverance will lead to progress.
There is joy and beauty all around us. More to be thankful for than not. I say this not to minimize your pain, but to widen your perspective.
We can get stuck sometimes and in those moments, it’s important to take a step back and see the bigger picture. You are not defined by this season, you are not defined by your past.
If we step into to embrace our emotions, the good, the bad, and the ugly cry ones–we’ll find that our emotions can be a compass that guides us instead of a wave that controls us.
***A side note, if sitting alone with your thoughts will lead you down a dark path, find a friend or trusted counselor to help sort through your feelings. Be mindful and be wise to set appropriate boundaries to embrace the emotion and let it go. (Ecclesiastes 3:4).