I’ve been told that I can come off as emotionally distant.
Ouch. That truth singes my heart-strings.
Secretly, I’m deeply emotional and it terrifies me.
I’ve sort of always been that way – colicky and perplexed. I worry, I analyze, I can’t let go. My stomach churns and my mind spins and I can’t sleep and I carry a cross that cries victim so that I won’t forget.
And yet I’ve never been good at dealing with or talking about these emotions – mine or anyone else’s. When someone starts crying, the panic comes rushing in. I feel so little empathy and so much “what do I do, what do I say, what is going on, I’m just going to run and hide” that it terrifies me. My response is often to avoid the pain of other people because, honestly, I’m afraid to confront my own.
The collision of collective wounds and bruises washes over me like waves in an ocean that’s too deep for me to stand and I can’t catch my breath, I can’t. I can’t.
When tears want to fall, I dig my teeth into my lips: do not let other people see that you are weak and emotional. If you are fragile, they will hurt you. Show them that you can be strong, Alyssa.
I don’t know where I learned it but in my 25 oh, so short yet oh, so long years, I’ve found that it’s easier to hide. It’s easier to close my eyes and pretend these feelings don’t exist—the searing pain of hateful words, the endless ache of a lonely heart.
As I bumbled my way into Christianity as a teenager so many things confused me, but not this: our hearts are deceitfully wicked. They can’t be trusted. Guard it, lock it up, shut it down. This whole heart thing, it’s bad and I knew it. I knew my emotions were wrong and I knew that falling prey to them meant that I was weak. Now, worse than making me weak, they made me a bad Christian.
But there I was, here I am: a soul trapped in a body with a mind, chained to these emotions that I’m not sure how to handle. I have these feelings that are part of my being and I’m supposed to stuff them down, shut them up, pretend they’re not there. This has haunted me for the last several years, this denial of self.
Feeling things has always seemed weak, selfish, pointless.
But this year, standing in front of so many mirrors, I’ve seen the hurt in not hurting.
I’ve felt the pain in not feeling. So, I’m leaning in hard. I’m slowing unwrapping this gift from God, this permission to feel things. This permission to be present physically and emotionally. This permission to cry and cry out.
I’m slowly unpacking the psalms: poems written by men who were angry and broken and frightened and lonely, joyful and peaceful and thankful and victorious. People like me. Hearts and souls and bodies like mine. They so beautifully speak my heart, that same human heart- beating, aching for centuries.
The psalms are raw, sometimes rash, but God hears those prayers. He hears our broken cries, He counts our tears. Of course our feelings are of worth to our Father! He has our tears of pain and joy stored in jars. God knows my every thought, every word yet spoken and He knows my heart, too: what it’s feeling, where it’s aching, where it’s breaking.
In knowing all of the pain, all of the heartache, the Father sends us the best gift: Jesus. And he comes as a man- a being like us, as a mind-body-soul creature. He turns tables and weeps. He is kind and compassionate and forgiving. He feels the pain of his people; he heals and sets free and then calls us to do the same.
Jesus calls us to lives of empathy and compassion and relationship. He speaks of peace and joy and love. He calls us to lives of feeling! Paul calls us to cry with those overwhelmed with sorrow, to celebrate with those overwhelmed with joy.
There is no room in this gospel-life living for bitterness or cynicism or prideful withdrawal.
But there is permission to feel this life.
This gift, being unwrapped day by day, is full of beautiful things and ugly things and painful things and funny things, and I have permission to smile and cry and cringe and laugh. I am allowed to be fully me- every mind, body, soul piece. I am allowed to fully live- taking in the emotion of each moment, finding myself awestruck and angry and apathetic.
And so are you! So be here. Stand in the joy or the fear or the ache and know that it is okay to feel. You are okay and He sees and He knows and He is counting tears.
Cover Photo by Toni Blay