In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. Albert Camus
Christmas comes with all sorts of expectations for family togetherness, cheer, and wishes that we want fulfilled by Santa and others. Sugarplums dance in our heads. We want family and friends to join us, get along, and ooh and aah over gifts we thoughtfully chose and stuck in a gift bag just for them.
If past experience hasn’t been merry, we dream about this year being different.
We hope …
Dad won’t drink. Mom won’t cry. The baby won’t be sick. We don’t overspend. Grown children get along. Tiny tots giggle all day. There is not a meltdown one. Everyone shows appreciation. Elves show up in the kitchen.
When Christmas falls short, we fall hard. After all, it’s the holidays – the most magical time of the year. It’s not supposed to get messy.
Our wonderment goes from grandchildren’s angelic faces to wondering, “How’d the season derail?”
My husband John used to say, “It’s like this came out of nowhere.” It seemed that way to him because he ignored problems in hopes they’d go away.
Flip Wilson said the devil made him do it. There’s truth in that saying.
I say it’s our emotions.
Whether it’s sadness, overwhelm, anger, or some feeling we don’t recognize, emotions get the best of us. And I do mean, they get the best of us … they get our time, they get our energy, and they get our focus.
So, when I hear people talk like emotions aren’t much to pay attention to, I cringe a little. Okay, I cringe a lot.
Even though I admire the three women quoted below, I came away from my research about feeling our feelings confused and fearful I might have to incorporate what they said into my already messy emotional life. They’re not the only ones who treat emotions like second-class citizens, and I get it. I used to do the same.
Evangelist and author Priscilla Shirer, in her Armor of GodBible study, said, “Trust your feelings and you’re in the palm of his (Satan’s) hand.”
“Feelings don’t have intellect. They’re not smart. They just feel,” she said.
Bible teacher Beth Moore said, “Our feelings and personalities are given to us by God, but they are not meant to control us.”
Proverbs 31 Ministries leader Lysa TerKeurst said, “Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate where your heart is in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to dictate your behavior and boss you around. You are more than the sum total of your feelings and perfectly capable of that little gift . . . called self-control.”
Like them, I shunned my emotions for all the trouble they caused. I wanted to slap some restraint on them, put them in a corner for misbehaving, and move on to my next conquest. Even though what these three women said may be 100 percent true, I couldn’t figure out how to put controls in place and improve. The opposite happened. My emotions ran my life until I stopped running from them, disregarding them, and putting them down for feeling the way they did.
Three decades ago, on the day after Christmas, I jumped out of our rolling car as we approached a stoplight. My husband, our two young children, and fellow drivers and passengers watched. I ran through the snow screaming something about John not caring about me. It’d be an amusing story if I could forget how desperate and scared I felt.
I felt the same when I lived with my parents. I’d run out the front door and drive around in my car for hours, crying.
I left a group I love because of a situation that sounded silly when I tried to explain it. That was, until I remembered feeling sick to my stomach, which needed no explanation.
I caught myself blocking an aisle at Target as I watched an older couple, I’d say mid-70s, go back and forth about the price of twinkling lights. John nor my daughter were there to tell me to stop staring. When the woman walked away from him, she said, “Do whatever you want. That’s what you’ll do anyway.”
“You’re going to argue about this too,” he said.
They were both attractive people except the hardness on her face and the distraught look on his. As I settled down at home, I realized how out of sorts I felt after watching them.
I know, I know, this blog post should probably be about not letting people affect us, but it’s not. It’s about emotions that do affect us, especially during this season.
In January 2013, I stumbled onto a woman’s story online that haunted me until it changed me. She was a mother, a grandmother, and a prominent pastor’s wife in Texas. Four days after Christmas, Harriet Deison drove her Lexus to a gun shop across town, bought a gun, and shot herself in the parking lot.
I lay in bed night after night thinking about her. Internet access made it easy to get to know her through photos of her children, her grandchildren, and her garden club friends. Her obituary pictured her with her dog. There was a photo with her husband where she’s leaning her head on his shoulder. Since then, he’s written a book about her. I ordered it, but can’t bring myself to read it. Alongside her pictures online were countless testimonies to her kindness and help and ministry in and outside their church.
I wondered what happened so painful during Christmas – the most magical time of the year – that she couldn’t stay. I thought about ways to reassure her that she had choices other than suicide. Until the last couple of years, I never came up with anything valuable except I understood. Maybe that would have been enough.
The same thing happened this summer with a 30-year-old pastor. He left behind a wife and three little boys. Andrew Stoecklein was just back from a sabbatical he took for his mental health, a sabbatical that didn’t work.
If I could talk to Harriet and Andrew and others like us, I’d say feel our feelings, honor them, deal with them, heal from them … no matter what.
Find help. Be your own help. Talk anyway even when people don’t want to hear about wanting to die. Don’t shut yourself up or out or down. Don’t shut down your feelings. Find a way to stay alive one more day and one more and one more. Talk about being tired. It’s exhausting to feel depressed. And feel … keep feeling … feel more, and honor every single emotion even if you can’t explain it or justify it.
In a strange way, I think Harriet helped save my life. That was four years ago, so it’s taken a while, but her death pressed me to come up with ways to stay alive, which meant coming up with ways to deal with my emotions.
So, thanks to her, I took my own advice the last two years.
She gave me permission to disagree with women I respected who said to put my feelings in their place. Instead, I put them in a prominent place before God. I asked Him to help me handle myself since I’m full of them. I’ve cried a lot since then. I’ve talked to my family and friends about how I feel. I’ve stared at more people to see how they’re handling their emotions … you know, to gather dos and don’ts.
She helped me accept and admit my confusion about church and Bible sayings. After all, they hadn’t saved her. I conceded that verses like these confused me and seemed contradictory, and that God was bigger than scripture.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9.
Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Psalm 37:4, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Because of her, I’m finally reading the Bible (a goal I’ve had for years) in its entirety for the first time. I bought five versions of the book in hopes one would click, but the Bible was never the problem, was it?
Harriet encouraged me to do whatever it took to maintain my sanity and stability, as well as my sensitivity. Instead of laying down my life for others during a season I didn’t feel like I had much to give, I practiced self-care and wrote about it. Getting better, feeling my feelings, and being there for others weren’t tradeoffs. I could do all three, but not always all at once.
Although I wish she hadn’t, I’d like her to know that laying down her life for a final time wasn’t wasted. She saved some of us in spite of her pain.
This Christmas and in 2019, I hope we’ll give ourselves the present of being present for ourselves, being aware of how we feel, and steadying our emotions. Instead of letting our emotions make us crazy, may they bring us Joy at this most magical time of the year. There are good emotions too, you know.
In This Together,