Naming Both

Five days before the wedding, the mother of the groom dies from wounds sustained in a car accident. Reeling in shock, the family adds another event to their already full week: a funeral. On Friday, they bury their mother; on Saturday, they add a daughter-in-law. 

I heard this tragic story of friends-of-friends years ago, and it’s never left me. Partly because of how unbelievably sad it is, and partly because of the strangeness of holding both. Of how joy and sorrow were knit together for that family, on the very same weekend. 

I have never walked heartache such as theirs, nor have I known the joy of my own marriage celebration, but I am becoming more and more familiar with the clunky nature of holding both, of having contrasting emotions at the very same time.

We whose stories are marked by a cross-cultural life are invited into some unique ways of knowing this. We know how the joy of a homecoming is always mixed with the grief of the home we left behind. We know the sweetness of nearby “family” often reminds us of the bitter of missing our far-away-family. We know the anxiety of faith-based salary and how it holds the mountaintop experiences of watching God provide. 

We often are asked to hold both

And part of holding them well is naming them.

Sometimes it’s hard to name grief, or to name joy, or to name sluggishness. But what if you’re feeling them all? At the same time? 

That’s the next level of hard.

But in order to move beyond, they must be named. 

In Bible college, my Theology prof loved to talk about the significance of naming in scripture. He noted that in God’s word, naming usually signifies ownership, dominion. There are many stories of parents naming their children, there’s the image of Adam naming the animals, the times when Jesus renames His followers. 

Perhaps naming our emotions is the same concept: our standing tall and declaring that we will not be owned by our feelings, that they may be part of our story right now, but they will not define who we are. 

But having to name multiple, sometimes conflicting emotions that we are feeling at the exact same moment, that’s strange. 

But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s actually quite appropriate for the already-not yet kingdom we live in. Our lives with God require us to hold both the beauty and the pain of our world. Our hope for the consummation of God’s kingdom requires us to live with our eyes peeled for what’s next while being fully planted where we are. 

Jesus is inviting us into the naming process. Into saying out loud what our hearts know. Into taking ownership of our inner life and declaring that He has created us with hearts that know emotion, but that those emotions do not define us. His fingerprint on our lives does.

Sisters, let’s name. And if He calls us into the process of naming more than one, let’s follow. 

Maybe it’s an invitation into Kingdom living.

In what ways do you feel multiple emotions, like you have to name both? 

5 Comments

  1. Laura July 22, 2021

    Wow, this expresses my current phase of life exactly! Faith that God will provide as He always has, with fear as medical bills add up (and then joy as God provides AGAIN, mixed with frustration that I ever had doubts). Frustration with waiting to return to our host country, with joy that we get extra time in our passport country. I have been feeling the tension of conflicting emotions at war in my soul for months, and only recently articulated that tension. Thank you for helping me process!

    1. Maria Mullet July 23, 2021

      Laura – it sounds like this past year has given you a deeper invitation into knowing this idea of holding both. That is hard! I think the way you are taking the time to name it is so healthy and good. Recently I’ve really been challenged to see difficulties as invitations from God to a deeper intimacy with Him. This holding both is an invitation – but it helps me so much to know I’m not the only one facing it! Thanks for your comment!

  2. Emily Miller July 22, 2021

    Thanks for your words, Maria. Letting ourselves and each other feel and speak in paradox is so important! I love how you connected it to living in the already-but-not-yet, too.

    1. Maria Mullet July 23, 2021

      Hi Emily – feeling and speaking in paradox, that is important, isn’t it? But so odd sometimes. May God give you courage to live there yourself and to allow others around you to be there, too!

  3. Angelica Bradley July 23, 2021

    Hope and heartbreak.

    I know from experience that He doesn’t always answer my prayers of desperation the way I want. He doesn’t always provide for the need, heal the brokenness, save the life. That’s the reality of living in a broken world and facing the consequences of broken relationship with God. But He never leaves it there. Even in this, in the between time – even now before He recreates Heaven and Earth and fully restores my relationship with Him – He is present with me. Isaiah says Jesus was a man of many sorrows fully acquainted with pain. He chose to live in the dust and desperation of this broken world in order to restore His relationship with me. His presence is precisely why I can have unbridled hope and simultaneous unbearable heartache.

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