We don’t like feelings. Especially we Mennonites, I think. We treat them like parasites. Something that you don’t talk openly about. Something gross to be gotten rid of. Something that eats you from inside. Preachers say, “don’t go by your feelings.” People say, “I shouldn’t feel this way.” I say, “I don’t want to feel this way.”
But what if we cannot help how we feel? Am I the only one that has tried to manage how I feel inside, to stomp out feelings, to hide feelings, to ignore feelings, to pretend they aren’t there, to kill them with poison or logic or neglect or shame? Am I the only one who has had no success? Please, I’m not to the point yet so don’t assume I’m saying we can do nothing about our feelings.
I’ve had a canyon of feelings ever since I can remember. I was one mess of a baby. One mess of a child. One mess of a teenager. I am not a teenager anymore. And you are wanting to know if I’m one mess of an adult, I guess. I’m not telling you. But I feel like I am slowly discovering something that is slowly changing me. May I tell you?
What if I would suggest to you that feelings are not a sickness, but a symptom? What if feelings are the irregular heartbeat to a heart that has broken somewhere? Can we regulate that rhythm without mending the instrument?
Feelings are reckless, illogical, powerful, controlling. Who wants something like that? And yet we are born with them inside ourselves. As children we are driven by them. We wear them on our sleeves, unashamed. They affect everything we do. We do what we feel like and complain when we are made to do what we don’t feel like doing because we feel like complaining. Slowly we are taught to ignore those feelings. And suddenly we are adults among seemingly unfeeling adults. And we feel very alone and many other things, but would never admit it to them.
I say “we” as if assuming that is your story too, when I know nothing about you. You may as well know that I am including you because it feels less personal. Just be glad I don’t say “you”. But maybe I’ve still gone too far. Maybe you don’t understand at all what I mean.
So many feelings have swept through me. Rivers of them, leaving behind leaves and things till I’ve become choked with these memories. I call it baggage. Grownups are baggage carriers. We think carrying all this baggage makes us strong. But it actually just makes us weary and worn down when we could be happy and dancing.
And it all starts with those feelings. We don’t understand them and they are so strong that we fight against them and try to shove them into iron cages. And then we make these iron cages stronger and stronger to hold in these feelings that only seem to be getting stronger and more deadly. We begin to see them as our enemy, our ruin. And we are only as strong as that iron cage. Behind the bars the ugly feelings grow cold and dark and toxic. Every time we peer through the bars we are more sickened and terrified than we were before. Every time those feelings are harder to admit. And sometimes they break forth and murder everything and everyone in their path, including us. Of course they are our enemy.
But what if we would stop throwing every bad feeling into this poisonous pit? And instead, we would say with our words what we feel, in all its horror. What if we would weep for those we have hurt and for those who have hurt us. What if we would let that pain blind us with tears and rip up that mask we have perfected so carefully. What if everyone would see us for who we are. What if we would look ourselves in the eye and not look away again.
What if we would begin again, like a child. We would love openly, but like one who has found Love, we would never demand love. We would cry without shame, but like one who has felt other’s pain, we would never manipulate with tears. We would laugh without fear, but as one who has walked through deep darkness, we would not lose our calm. We would do what we love with inspiration, but like one who has learned joy, we would live for other’s joy. We would live in wonder, but like one who has learned more, we would see more. We would live fearless, but like one who knows our own selfishness, we would never become confident in ourselves.