by Nevena Martin
2 Corinthians 5:7: For we walk by faith, not by sight.
Much like my middle child, I’m an emotional person. Lots of big, full-forced feelings bounce around my heart and soul all the live-long day. It’s super fun … Maybe you’re like me in your emotional life. Or, maybe you’re more like my husband, James — steady, even as the storm rolls on around him. Perhaps, though, you’re not like either of us and fall somewhere else along the emotional spectrum.
For almost the entirety of my life I’ve judged myself for being so emotional. I’ve yearned to be more like James. I’ve wanted to feel in control of the visceral feelings which, at times, dictate my thoughts, actions and mood. While it can be exhausting to parent a child with lots of hot and cold switches, it is, from my experience, even more difficult to live with those buttons adhered to your insides, ready for the world to push them at any moment.
Like any self-aware person with amazing health insurance, I have happily marched myself into therapy for years to mull over and sort through and observe my many states of mind. During a recent session, we focused on anger. Anger is a tough emotion; if done wrong, it can be a forceful traffic light, a drunken GPS sending you down the wrong route.
You see, the night of Nov. 8, 2016 is one that will live in infamy within my soul. That night is the one which broke my back, it cracked my heart and soul wide open, and I finally became the messy puddle I had been trying my best to hold back for years. As my neighbors shot their pistols in the air in celebration of a madman being elected, I lay sobbing on my floor, my anger having turned inward and my faith in humanity pouring out. For weeks afterwards, I walked around with swollen eyes who leaked at any provocation, small or large. It would take several months to get the diagnosis of depression and a prescription to help realign the neurotransmitters in my brain. I’m grateful to have found respite and healing in those glorious SSRIs and in the support of friends and family with whom I shared my journey.
Like many who suffer, until now I’ve kept it a fairly-private struggle. It seems like a heavy burden to share, and it’s also hard to know who to trust with something so fragile when you feel so vulnerable. During this dark time, I did find the strength to search for a church – I first heard of Oconee Street at an activist meeting where someone mentioned those in the community working towards helping our undocumented brothers and sisters. A month later, I saw an advertisement for an upcoming Christmas pageant at Oconee Street and decided to check it out. Y’all got your hook in me that night – what an amazing pageant that was. I want to thank y’all for being the community I needed to start walking back towards the light.
I’m happy to report that after nearly a year, I’ve weaned myself off medications and feel better. The issue now is that I no longer have a nice, warm, thick quilt insulating me from the world – my emotions are back to full strength, and the world is as it ever was. That’s how I came to be sitting across from my therapist, discussing anger. Anger is a difficult emotion because it’s a secondary response to fear, frustration, hurt and hopelessness. It is also a necessary emotion that serves us well if utilized correctly. Without a black man, in his righteous anger, sitting at a lunch counter he was banned from; without a black woman, in her righteous anger, refusing to stand up on a bus, I’m not sure how the Civil Rights Era would have turned out. Righteous anger, tempered with nonviolence. Sounds pretty Jesus-y, yes?
When I’m feeling acutely-judgey about myself and all my emotions, I find solace when I look to Jesus. He, too, was a person full of feelings. As G. Walter Hansen so eloquently wrote,
“The gospel writers paint their portraits of Jesus using a kaleidoscope of brilliant “emotional” colors. Jesus felt compassion; he was angry, indignant, and consumed with zeal; he was troubled, greatly distressed, very sorrowful, depressed, deeply moved, and grieved; he sighed; he wept and sobbed; he groaned; he was in agony; he was surprised and amazed; he rejoiced very greatly and was full of joy; he greatly desired, and he loved.
In our quest to be like Jesus we often overlook his emotions. Jesus reveals what it means to be fully human and made in the image of God. His emotions reflect the image of God without any deficiency or distortion. When we compare our own emotional lives to his, we become aware of our need for a transformation of our emotions so that we can be fully human, as he is.”
During this time of listening and turning away from that which distracts us, I want to urge you refine those things about yourself which catch on life’s hardships like a hangnail. Refine, transform, not eliminate. My buttons will always be there, but my reactions can be worked on. If I, rather than using my ego as my guide, use Jesus as a model for navigating my emotional landscape, then my emotions won’t be (wholly) in charge of me. If I can walk by faith rather than by sight, if the world pushes my buttons and I respond by looking to God rather than to my ego, then I feel like I’ll be well on my way to shaking hands, laughing, with the savior true.
Prayer: (lyrics from “No Hard Feelings” by The Avett Brothers)
When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest
Won’t be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it’s ash and dust for cash and lust
And it’s just hallelujah
And love in thoughts and love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings
Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold
Under the curving sky
I’m finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as it’s been to me
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies