Everywhere I look there seems to be a different crazy rising up – crazy politicians, crazy families, crazy work loads, crazy weather patterns. Unmanageable chaos is the fate of us earth dwellers. As long as it stays out there and leaves me alone I can be fine and carry on through the days. But then the crazy starts to invade my life. It seeps into friendships, family dynamics, career decisions, every day interactions. The chaos that I would so love to keep tucked away crawls into my thoughts, my dreams, my emotions. I look in the mirror and realize that the crazy is not just out there, it is also in here.
The pot on the stove bubbles quietly as the next meal is prepared. I place a lid on it and tend to something else. Moments later I hear the far too familiar sound of sizzling liquid as the ingredients creep their way out along of the edges of the lid and slide down on to the burner. Try as I might to contain it, the too-hot insides always find their way out.
I want to keep control of my insides in the same way. Put a lid on them, stuff them away, turn down the heat, let them simmer alone. I want to pretend that they don’t matter, that they aren’t worth looking at, that I can continue without addressing them. But they seem to resurface, again and again.
Our culture is trained to keep a tight reign on our feelings. Put on a façade, wear that mask, be ok even if you’re not. Especially if you claim to be following Jesus – please don’t make him look bad by having an outburst or getting depressed. We’d rather keep everything clean and simple, thank you. Let’s all be functional human beings and contribute to society in grown up ways.
It’s like we have a pack of four crayons, it was explained to me once. Blue, red, green, and yellow. We think we have to feel these colors, and nothing else. The colors that fill the box of sixty-four crayons are off limits. Don’t reach for that fuchsia – that’s not allowed. Leave the indigo alone. Don’t you even dare think about coloring with black. Let’s maintain a happy, pleasant outlook on life please.
But in our noble attempts to be put together adults who have a firm grip on their emotions we instead find ourselves sinking into shallow people, unable to relate to life in healthy ways. We are shriveling in our lack of feelings. We are becoming less than what we were made to be.
“To feel is to be human. To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers of our personal God. To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well. Our feelings are a component of what it means to be made in the image of God. To cut them out of spirituality is to slice off a part of our humanity.” –Peter Scazzero Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
I spend a lot of my days with a darling four-year-old girl. She emanates sunshine and silliness, and I find her company entirely refreshing. One of my favorite things about her is her habit to communicate feelings. In spite of her usually cheerful disposition she, like all little girls (and all big girls, too) has her ups and downs. But I never have to wonder or guess where she is at on the emotional scale. She tells me, boldly, unabashed. “I feel sad today.” “I’m so happy!” “I am really shy when I go to school.” There’s no guessing, no walking on eggshells with her – wondering when her emotions will seep out from under the lid. She feels honestly and truthfully and there’s no second layer of what is really going on in her inner world.
I hope she never changes. I hope she never falls captive to the lie that so many of us have. The lie that says in order to be a grown up, especially a Christian grown up, she must not feel sad or angry or hurt or depressed. Because with every effort to hide, to conceal, to strap a mask over one’s emotional face and say everything is fine, we become less like the human beings we were made to be. We were created to feel, authentically and truthfully, not to hide. We were fashioned in the likeness of an emotional God who feels immensely. We will bear His image when we let ourselves feel. Authentic emotions will lead us to wholeness.