I don't know about you, but sometimes fear can point me to areas I need to think about.
Yesterday, I was talking with a friend whose counselor suggested she journal her feelings daily. My immediate thought was, "I would hate to do that!" I was honest and shared that thought with my friend, but I also set it aside mentally for some further consideration.
I know this about myself: my emotions are buried deeply and my emotional reactions to situations are often on a time delay. If I encounter something unexpected or traumatic, it takes me about 24 hours to know how I actually feel. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - I think it's just part of who I am and it does enable me to be calm in a crisis because emotions aren't getting in the way. That being said, delaying and stifling are two different things. It may be a natural part of me to not feel my emotions until later, but not feeling anything at all should be a red flag that encourages me to look deeper.
As a part of my conversation with this friend, I told her about a list of emotions that another friend uses in her spiritual direction. I told her it's easier for me to know what I'm feeling if I have a list of emotions to choose from. I offered to send her the list, which I did this morning. Here it is:
Human emotions are neutral and guide us in knowing God and ourselves. We experience emotions as movement either away from God or towards God. Each emotion is listed below preceded by (impaired version) and followed by (gift of each emotion):
(depression/resignation) ANGER (passion/healthy boundaries)
(anxiety/control/rage) FEAR (faith/wisdom)
(resentment) HURT (courage to seek help or forgive)
(apathy/boredom) LONELY (intimacy with God and/or others)
(self-pity) SAD (acceptance, honoring precious loss)
(paranoia) GUILT (freedom)
(inadequacy) SHAME (humility, empathy, knowing limits)
(indulgence) GLAD (hope)
Take time to notice your feelings. Feel your feelings. Tell the truth about your feelings. Invite God into your feelings. Stay with your feelings. Let your feelings lead you to God.
After sending the e-mail to my friend, I sat and prayed for her. I tried to notice what I was feeling as I did so and I felt sad - sad that she is hurting and walking through a difficult time. I also knew what my heart's desire was for her and that was for God to comfort her in her pain. Not because I want God to "fix" her, but because I want Him to meet her where she is and I want her to feel loved and valued. It was worth noting that I knew what I desired for my friend as I prayed. I don't often know what I was for myself, even when praying. But I had a very clear idea of what I wanted for her.
Tears rolled down my face during and after my prayer. As I sat there in my bedroom, I looked over at the piece of paper listing the emotions. What was I feeling? In that moment, I could only feel the sadness for my friend, but hours later I sat outside my daughter's ballet school waiting for her rehearsal to finish. It is a lovely day, so I was sitting in the shade with my eyes closed, trying to quiet my mind. In that quiet moment, I asked myself what I was feeling. I decided on sad, angry and lonely. Sad for how broken our world is. Angry with myself for not being in touch with my feelings (although this might better be named shame? I'm not very good at this, so I'm not sure.). And lonely. That one was a bit of a surprise since I was in the middle of a day with my family - a day filled with lunch out, a spring football scrimmage and sunshine. But the loneliness was there.
So I sat with it and explored it. I think my loneliness stems from how overextended I feel right now and how alone I feel in facing down and doing the jobs before me. I'm a little embarrassed to even write about this because I feel like I do so much less than some people do. But between wrapping up a year of homeschooling, researching next year's courses, starting a tutorial, planning for a month away from home and managing more than twenty volunteers weekly, I am feeling adrift. I think each of these things is important and all of them are jobs that I believe are meant for me. But I sometimes feel like they are meant only for me and that I therefore must do them alone. All of the doing leaves me lonely.
I feel most connected to people when I am with them quietly - listening, talking, sharing and receiving. Working alongside someone doesn't give me the same sense of connection. We are bound by action, not by words, by an end goal, not the journey together. When working, a part of me is always focused on the task at hand and it is nearly impossible for me to be fully present to the person I am with, much less my own feelings. I am running on autopilot to get the job done. I don't think this is true for everyone, is it?
How can I work effectively and efficiently and still be a present, fully alive person?
How can I feel connected to people and stay committed to the work at hand?
I'm not expecting you to actually have the answers for me. (Although feel free to offer them if you do have them!) What I do hope is that I can slowly but surely learn to check in with my emotions and that I can find a way to be present even when I feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand.
On my last spiritual retreat, I was sharing with my spiritual director that I had recently been feeling envious. I felt like I was making a confession, but she was unbothered. "Emotions are amoral," she told me. "They are neither good nor bad. They are just something we should notice and bring to God." It was news to me that emotions are neither good nor bad. I definitely think of them as bad - I think I am at my best when I can keep my emotions at bay, either by offering a rational response or by being still, receiving what others offer me without judgment, just holding their words and feelings for them like I am a vessel.
If nothing else, I think I need to explore my relationship to my feelings. It may sound obvious but I think feelings should be a part of who I am and I shouldn't work so hard to contain and repress them. What this means practically, I am not sure. For now, I'll look for those kernels of fear that point me to things I need to tackle. And I'll spend a bit of time each day trying to name my emotions. Maybe I'll even muster the courage to write them down in a journal.