Permission to Feel

I find wisdom in the pages of a children’s book. A simple picture book about a dog losing a ball. Each page a watercolor masterpiece of a simple story of joy lost and joy regained. My nearly three year old middle boy sighing sad at all the right parts as we leafed through the pages.

I read this unfettered literary masterpiece a week after passing the 25th anniversary of the death of my sweet daddy. Most years I nod and tear around the edges of my eyes as this particular day drifts past.  Some years I don’t even remember and feel a rage of guilt the day after as if I missed something important. This year I felt the day looming for weeks. The day of and whole week following I walked around in a soul fog aching for what I never really got to have. Grief is cyclical and it circles back on itself when you least expect it.

When we are children we learn to identify emotions in the simplest of ways. Happy. Sad. Angry. Scared. We generalize and categorize and box up our emotions so they feel tidy and non-threatening. Truth is they never stay in their distinct boxes, preferring to mix and mingle like an artist’s palette. I prefer the rosy hues to the dark blues and grays.

Sadness.

I’m not talking about depression—which is real and too oft NOT talked about among folks serving overseas. I’m honing in on one of the first emotions we discover as little ones. Sadness is leaning into the gripping realization that we exist in a fallen world which has imprinted itself into our lives in the form of loss and busted expectations. Chief among those losses being how death brushes us in big and small ways.

During the week of the anniversary of my father’s death I wrestled with an intense awareness of something profoundly odd. It struck me that I will never see my father again in this lifetime. Again, he has been gone for 25 years. Twenty-five very full of life years for me. The eight year old girl of my childhood merely a glimmer in my eye now as I wrestle and raise three wild littles of my own. The sudden awareness of my father’s absence is strange if you forget one huge thing. We were never meant to die.

Mary, mother of Jesus, standing by the Calvary tree weeping wasn’t chastised for her grief. Can you imagine the sadness rocking her soul in that moment? A mother flashing back to chubby baby feet and all the questions she ever had about who this God-man must truly, fully be. She must have known the tearing of death.

C.S. Lewis famously said “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Indeed the deepest desire of our hearts is immortality. We are eager to cross the threshold to Lewis’s other “world” and avoid the discomfort of this one. We are constantly at a loss. Losing time day by day, money swiftly vacating our bank accounts, ministries rising and falling, relationships coming and going reflect the ultimate loss that will come to all of us.

Jesus told us to weep with those who weep and I believe that while He walked among us his humanity hung thick in the air. He wept. He laughed. He didn’t shy away from feeling deeply every facet of what it means to walk human in a fallen world. Sometimes we want to be less human than Jesus I think. We self-medicate with humor, food, doing. We paint on a happy face. Exercise like we’re going for Olympic gold the muscles that make us look healthy emotionally because obviously healthy emotions are void of negative emotions.

It’s ok to be sad and to feel the gravity of that sadness. You are not less spiritual if you acknowledge you’re in an incredibly painful place. Man of Sorrows. We call Jesus this, but buck at the idea our own lives would be marked as such.

For a moment I want you to imagine what it might be like to not take the deep breath and pull yourself up by your bootstraps while stuffing every negative emotion down. What if you sat with the weight of whatever your “never again will I” is? I dare you.

You aren’t sitting alone.

Do you have trouble sharing your true emotions? Does grief surprise you sometimes?

8 Comments

  1. Corinne March 20, 2018

    I appreciate your image of some of us ‘eternally minded’ ladies working hard to build muscles of emotional health that are all positive, Jessica. Sometimes I feel I have used up the number of ‘sorrow days’ allotted to those who serve our King. Lately, when I find myself thinking, “I am not happy,” I tend to shore myself up by giving thanks or reminding myself to think of others, not about myself. I do this so I won’t wallow in the negative emotions. Now I am wondering if “not being happy” just means I am sad. Maybe I just need to tell myself , ” It is okay to be sad.” That gives me something to talk about with my Maker, gives Him a place to “speak into” my heart and bring comfort or perspective or mercy, or whatever else I may need from Him to walk more closely with Him. If I work to make myself feel better rather than express my sorrow, I will surely miss His tender and profound ministry to my heart. I desire to be like Him, but I forget He is a ‘man of sorrows’. Thanks for sharing so thoughtfully, Jessica!

    1. Kathy Vaughan March 21, 2018

      I really like what you said, Corrine – sometimes “not being happy” just means we are sad. “If I work to make myself feel better rather than express my sorrow, I will surely miss His tender and profound ministry to my heart.” Beautiful insight. Thank you!

  2. Kiera March 21, 2018

    This is powerful, Jessica. Thank you for writing it.

  3. Rachel March 21, 2018

    My husband and I have come through a few intense years of grief and loss.
    But through it He is bringing me a deep healing. And a big part of that is allowing myself to feel the emotions that come.
    For the first time in my life, I have been learning to LET myself feel angry ( and not stuff it, pretending it’s not there), to not smile when I don’t feel like it, etc.
    It goes against my upbringing, what I thought a “good Christian” should look like and do.
    And it takes practice, as strange as it sounds! I can revert back to the old, and try to look like I have it together.
    But God has taken me a ways now and I look back at that ‘withdrawing my emotions and trying not to feel them’ with cringe and disgust. I’m certainly still on the journey and I know He still has work to do in me in this area. But I have found it so so freeing to let myself feel whatever I feel!!

    I believe this is such an important topic, thank you for addressing it!

  4. Barbara March 21, 2018

    As I read this I am thinking about what would have been my 40th Anniversary. Except my husband has been gone for 13 1/2 years. Full years. But sometimes the intensity of the loss stops me in my tracks. Even here on the field I miss him. There is a hole only Jesus can fill. And He does. But there isn’t a day I don’t think about him in some way or other. You are right in saying we weren’t supposed to die. And someday eternity will be amazing. But the here and now can be so hard. I serve in an area where there is much disease and death. I can offer hope because I understand. But there are days I long for Jesus to return. Thank you so much for being honest and transparent.

  5. Spring March 21, 2018

    Grief hit me like a storm in the time that my son was about to be born. 3 babies and one woman I loved died. I had to face the truth that God “allows” death, and the comfort he brings. It still is working in me. I am not sure why I sometimes feel the need to justify my grief. Thank you for permission not to just experience it, but to allow it to be an ongoing process of “this will never be the same”

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