I still remember where we were sitting - downstairs, just under the balcony overhang, right side of the classic old downtown theater. It was still a movie theater in those days, and I was a little girl with a big problem.
My mom and I were watching Jungle Book, and something sad was happening on the screen. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. Even at that age I’d picked up the lesson that you just didn’t cry in public, but I was sad. I couldn’t stop them from coming, so I took the only option open to me.
I put my white, fluffy, fake fur coat over my head.
My mother asked me what in the world I was doing. Already shamed by the fact of my tears, I couldn’t answer. Not knowing what was happening, she grew angry, muttering that if I wasn’t going to watch the movie then we needn’t bother coming to them. That, of course, was like miracle-grow for my shame. I don’t think I ever told her.
Even after all these years I remember how miserable it felt to have feelings that I couldn’t control, and that I knew weren’t okay to have, and that I had no way of expressing.
I’m not the only kid to experience such confusion. Maybe you have, too.
i remember seeing a young man on Oprah many years ago. He’d been arrested for domestic violence, and used it as a wake up call. He started doing deep work on himself. "I realized," he said, "that as a man anger was the only feeling that I was allowed to have. Once I peeled back the anger, I found things like sadness and fear."
Our natural feelings are gifts from God. Anger lets us know that a boundary has been crossed, that something has happened that should not have happened. Fear alerts us to pay close attention. Sadness and grief acknowledge the depth of our heart connections to what we’ve lost. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in talking about feelings, acknowledged that even envy or jealousy can have a positive role. "I want what she’s having" can be a source of inspiration and motivation to go after what we want in life or to go after the life we want.
When we have no outlet for our anger or sadness, it goes underground as depression or rage. When we cannot honestly acknowledge and respond to our fears they go underground as anxiety.
Sadly, I’ve heard too many messages from too many churches and speakers and writers that God only blesses a small range of emotions, like joy. If you love Jesus, you’ll always have joy in your heart, and if you’re not joyful then you don’t love Jesus enough. If you’re angry then Jesus doesn’t love you when you’re like that.
That’s all malarkey. First of all, you have to read a VERY edited version of the Bible to believe this. You have to eliminate over half of the psalms, as well as a significant part of the prophets, the life of Jesus and the writings of Paul.
Secondly, all of our natural emotions are part of the incredible diversity of our God-created selves. We’re supposed to have such feelings.
I encourage you this week to pay attention to whatever you’re feeling. Listen for whatever message it might be bringing you. Give thanks to God for the gift of it, even if it’s an uncomfortable gift. Find a safe way to express it, whether by journaling, talking with a trusted friend, hard exercise or aggressive cleaning. (You know what I mean, right? You don’t just go after the dust. You PUNISH the dust for its very existence) or some other (safe) means that works for you. Our feelings aren’t the enemy.
Just one thing: if your weather is anything like mine, it may be a bit too hot for the fake fur coat method. I wouldn’t recommend it.