A few weeks ago it was a down right crappy week. I felt overwhelmed with sadness at times, hopeless that things could or would change, a serious heart pain really. Then that sadness moved to intense anger. The emotions were brought on by real, hard, ongoing events. I have no control over them and as a result can feel helpless. All those things can lead to wanting to withdrawal and process, even when I’m not sure how. The problem is that life continues to move forward whether you want to crawl in a hole and hide or not. We are expected to function at the same level no matter what’s happening. We are supposed to put on our happy face and brave the day (especially if we’re Christ followers AND in full-time ministry). We are meant to pull it together quickly.
But what happens when you don’t feel better the next day? What happens when the sadness and anger linger? We begin to think that something must seriously be wrong with me. The people in our lives begin to ask, “What can I do to help?” “What can I do to make it better?” Great questions but it sometimes makes you feel like feeling those things isn’t okay and I’m not getting over it quickly enough. And really, sometimes nothing can “make it better.”
But here’s what I’m pondering. What if the real problem isn’t that we feel those negative feelings and they make us feel terrible for an extended period of time but that we never actually allow ourselves to feel them and process them?
We live in a world that is full of pain but hates to admit it, or likes to hide it, and certainly doesn’t want to sit in the presence of it, especially for very long. We want to label it, drug it, and slap a happy sticker on it far too often.
For example, in church over a month ago I went to hug a friend who was struggling, she was crying which then led me to cry because I am terribly empathetic. Several people stared as if something tragic was happening in their midst. People are so uncomfortable with emotion, especially sad or mad emotion. Maybe the tragic thing is that more people don’t cry over the pain of others. Maybe the tragic thing is that we’re not moved to sadness and anger over the brokenness of this world. Maybe the tragic thing is that we don’t grasp that Jesus did indeed weep and we should be okay that sometimes we do too (and it might even happen in public).
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Ps. 23:4
My face is red with weeping, and on my eyelids is deep darkness. Job 16:16
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5
Jesus Wept. John 11:35
In those verses (and many others, there are so many with the term weeping in them) we see that we will walk through valleys that are dark, we will weep, there are indeed seasons of weeping. This is normal. Being allowed to feel the emotions that come with this is normal. When you don’t wake up 8 hours later and feel giddy again when hard things happen, it’s okay. I think the normal thing is to walk through it. Walk through it with the help of others who can listen and pray for you. Walk through it with the God who does indeed comfort even when it doesn’t make sense or feel good.
As I processed this with a couple friends, who are in the midst of their own pain, I felt very convinced that pain, sadness, anger (there is such a thing as righteous anger), etc. is indeed meant to be processed and given time for God to heal. It’s not meant to be glossed over or have a band-aid slapped over it. (I think many people would say they agree with this but I rarely see it actually lived out.)
I read in Emily’s blog post this week this quote and it definitely resonates.
Walter Brueggemann presents this understanding in The Prophetic Imagination, which some of us are reading this month for #transitlounge. In the third chapter, he talks about grief – specifically tears – as a radical act of hope. In our tears, we are declaring that something is so wrong that it cannot be covered up by the numbness of a sedated culture. Tears are an act of formal complaint against society and to a living, free God. Brueggemann writes, “We know from our own pain and hurt and loneliness that tears break barriers like no harshness or anger. Tears are a way of solidarity in pain when no other solidarity remains.” Sometimes there is nothing you can or should do but cry. I have been crying all day.
I’m learning that not every hard situation is meant to “teach me a lesson” but when there is hard stuff I get to see the heart of God more deeply if I look for it. Even if that just means that I understand that Jesus wept too and understands my pain.
I read another blog post this week along similar lines. It was refreshing to read and I loved that she says, “Sometimes love is spoken mainly in our tears.” It’s a great read.
What about you? Do you feel like you have to get it together and process pain quickly or something’s wrong with you? Are you uncomfortable with your own or others emotions?
(**I have to say, I do believe that depression is real and sometimes needs medication. I’m an advocate for getting proper care when needed. I’m not saying staying stuck or not getting help when needed is okay. But I do think that it takes time to process hard things and it may not look pretty. I’m also NOT saying that in our pain, sorrow, anger, etc. we can use that as an excuse to sin or hurt others.)