Let Your Heart Exhale

We all know it as the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) We know that Jesus was overcome by the death of his friend Lazarus and that he was moved by the grief of Lazarus’ sisters. We know that Jesus had been spending time along the banks of the Jordan healing people, and before that, he had been in Jerusalem where he was under attack for claiming to be God.

It was always one thing after another: Jesus constantly endured insults, attention, questions, and demands by the people around him. He was pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions, in all sorts of crises with great expectations. In all of this, Jesus did not shy away from being vulnerable.

When he was exhausted, he would go to a quiet place.

When he felt alone or abandoned he would say so.

When he was troubled in spirit, he cried.

When he witnessed injustice, he stood up with confidence.

When he was angry, he let his frustration be known. 

I imagine Jesus danced, laughed, and teased (we know he enjoyed a good story!) We know he was full of joy doing the Father’s work. But, Jesus is often described as a man of sorrows, as one who was acquainted with grief. He expressed himself in front of his disciples, his friends, and the public. Jesus, of all people, knew how to be vulnerable, at the right time, in the right way. He was God. 

Us mere humans, on the other hand, often feel the pressure to keep it together; being vulnerable is too risky. But, when I read Scripture, it doesn’t always seem like Jesus is keeping it together (from my cultural perspective or upbringing). He lets us into his tears and fatigue. And for goodness sake, read the Psalms! The emotional pendulums of the Psalmists alone are a testimony of the pain, joy, anger, and doubt we experience on a daily basis. It’s okay to get real! God can handle it, and though it might seem hard to believe, there are people in our lives who can handle it too. We just have to take off the mask. 

So let’s get real: this last year, this pandemic year, has been really hard for a lot of people. We have all experienced the pandemic and yet, have been impacted in different ways. Closed borders, closed doors, lost relationships, plans upended… 

So how are you doing?

“How are you doing?” That’s what my nurse practitioner asked me last week when I went for a long-overdue check-up. One by one, I began listing the current stressors in my life, when suddenly my voice cracked—I realized it had been a year since our state went into lock-down. I whispered, “Sorry, it’s just been a really hard year.” I told her about those first months of the pandemic- instead of staying home, I kept going to work. I masked up, gowned up, and gloved up to face an unknown virus that threw our clinic staff new curveballs every day. I trudged on, experiencing loss after loss, and change after change in my personal life. I had kept my mask on, tight. Not just the one I wore in the clinic, or in the store, or at outdoor Bible study. No, the other one– the mask on my heart. 

Without being completely sure how I would be perceived, I opened up to a trusted professional in my field. Frustrated tears flowed, seeping through the mask on my face. My nurse practitioner didn’t tell me I’d be okay, she didn’t tell me she understood or that everyone is hurting in their own way too. I already knew all those things. She listened to me and affirmed me, she made me feel seen—honestly, it was the best part of my day, maybe my week. Taking the mask off my heart was like exhaling all the stale air that had built up over the last year and inhaling fresh, sweet, grace-filtered air.

We are told to bear one another’s burdens, we are told to confess our sins to one another and to pray for another. We are told to mourn with those who mourn, to rejoice with those who rejoice. We can’t do this without being vulnerable, and we can’t do this without listening. 

For the overseas worker, this can be especially difficult, because some of us think we need to be strong all the time. We have to go hard, and not let anyone see our struggles. We have to keep it together. I experienced this first-hand while going through severe postpartum depression in rural Asia. So, when I watched Meghan Markel share with Oprah last week about her previous struggles with depression and suicidal ideation, I grieved for her. I remember a time like that in my life. And at that time, I didn’t feel safe talking to anyone about my struggles because I thought I would be judged or seen as weak. I credit this belief to my own struggle with perfection, my understanding of our organization’s view on mental health at the time, and a thin support system. (You can read that story here)

The point is: we have to let our hearts breathe. Jesus did. He felt it all and let others experience it too. By his example, we can take comfort in knowing that it’s okay to express our emotions and all the hard things, no matter what country we live in, what we do, or where we go.

Leaving the mask on too long (or at all) creates soreness and indents on the surface of our soul, as well as a cavern of unspoken pain deep within. So, when it comes to matters of the heart and mind, I would urge you to remove the mask on your heart by sharing with a trusted friend, mentor, or professional. Even more comforting is that we have a Savior who understands and loves us through our darkest moments, our toughest days, and hardest seasons. He’s listening, so just exhale.

When it comes to being vulnerable with your community, your spouse, your co-workers or friends, where are you right now? How can we pray for you today? Share with us in the comments.

Velvet Ashes is here to support and connect with you! Join our Global Issues, Moms of Velvet Ashes or Married to Nationals Facebook Groups to share with others who get it. Reach out (info at velvetashes dot come) with questions or prayer needs and we will walk alongside you. 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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