Coming to Life: Emotions
One evening while on a walk, my wife and I spotted a little girl about 6 or 7 years old happily leading her parents down the sidewalk. Unable to contain her emotions, she cried out in a loud voice, “I’m gonna get chocolate ice cream! I’m gonna get chocolate ice cream!” This little girl wasn’t concerned with the commotion she was making, what people thought of her, or even what she might be doing an hour from now. She was fully present in the moment; a chocolate ice cream cone awaited her.
As the family passed by us and made their way to the ice cream shop, I commented to my wife, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all could have such exuberant joy at the mere promise of ice cream?”
Kids, for the most part, don’t try to hide their emotions. When they’re happy about something, they’re not afraid to shout it out to the world. When they’re disappointed, they’re not embarrassed to throw a tantrum in aisle five at Publix right in front of everyone. But as we grow up, we begin to shield our emotions from others—and even ourselves. Obviously, not giving in to every single impulse brought on by emotion is vital to get through daily life. (It wouldn’t be a good thing if I had a meltdown every time a restaurant was out of sweet tea!) But it’s amazing how often I see my emotional life as an inconvenience. I could be so much more productive, I think, if I could just get rid of them all. If I wasn’t so sad today, I could get more done. If I wasn’t feeling mad, I wouldn’t have made that harsh comment to a friend. Even “positive” emotions such as love and joy can be tainted by guilt and fear. Sometimes feelings just wear me out.
Yes, life might be easier if we could simply void out our emotions. But that kind of life wouldn’t be true life, would it? It wouldn’t be the kind of kingdom living that God invites us into. If God created emotions, then we can trust that they are good and serve a purpose. So what are we to do with them? It has been my experience that when we fully acknowledge our emotions, and entrust them with another person, we are on our way to holy feeling.
It’s probably no surprise, given my role at Summit as BCL content coordinator, that I love theater. Theater gives us the opportunity to see life through the eyes of someone else for a little while and in turn, the freedom to connect with our emotions and experience them in a fresh way. I’ll give you an example from one of my favorite children’s musicals, A Year with Frog and Toad. When Toad feels discouraged because the seeds he planted haven’t grown into flowers yet, I can relate. No, I’ve never once been discouraged by my lack of a green thumb, but that doesn’t matter. I’ve been discouraged about many other things and can see myself in the character of Toad. And when Toad’s best friend, Frog, encourages him that the seeds will grow in time, I wipe a tear from my eye, feeling strengthened by Frog’s words.
This is why at BCL (Summit’s family production), we provide space for families to talk about what is happening on stage. When a storm knocks off the power and one of the characters is afraid of the dark, we pause and ask families, “What is something you feel afraid of?” We want everyone to answer—kids, moms, dads, grandparents, and anyone else who may be in the Theatre that morning! When we process through our emotions with others, we realize we are not alone. When we can honestly talk about the things that make us sad, angry, happy, or afraid—and not be judged for it—a weight begins to be lifted. It’s not that the emotions we feel magically fade away; on the contrary, when we share our emotions in a safe environment, we are able to own them and deal with them in a healthy way that honors God. We become free to feel.
Last week, I read that Americans are among the most stressed-out people in the world. That’s not too hard to believe—I can see how the effects of stress play out in my own life. It’s not that when you walk outside, you see people running around with their arms flailing back and forth like it’s some kind of Armageddon. Instead, it’s a constant, low-grade kind of stress. You can’t quite relax even though all the boxes of your to-do list have been checked. There’s a nagging that something is not quite right. Anxiety is always a step or two behind you. When these kinds of emotions flair up, my instinct is to want to push them down, cover them up, or do anything I can to avoid them. But God invites me to feel them. So maybe the best thing I can do is grab a friend, meet for coffee, and get honest about my emotions. Wait. Scratch that. For some reason, I’m thinking we should probably talk about them over chocolate ice cream instead...