Emotional expression is difficult. Popular culture stands staunchly against it. Culture wants you to be a one-dimensional, emotionally stunted being capable of only simple, singular feelings. Anger. Happiness. Frustration. Depression. In our culture emotions are an either/or choice, not a both/and reality. This includes contemporary church culture. Drown your sorrows in Jesus. Feel no pain. Be joyful.
But I do not believe joy is an emotion, it is a way of Being. Or maybe it is an emotion, but it is a both/and emotion. I can be joyful, be full of joy, and also be sad. Even sadness is an oft-misused description of feeling. Sadness is an amalgamation of so many other feelings…it is a both/and feeling.
You are a complex, multi-dimensional, multi-faceted being. How could any one emotion ever hope to express all that you feel? At any given moment you may feel anxiety over money, pleasure in eating a good meal, frustration with your family, sadness for the poor, and exultant joy in the fact that you exist, that you Are.
Our culture wants to simplify and limit the expression of your being with emoticons, with canned questions to which no one really listens for an answer. People don’t want a true answer to the question, “How are you?” Just say “Fine,” so they can be on their way. They want a polite, expedient reply. But what do we gain from this efficiency of conversation other than a further drifting apart from one another and from our Selves? Give any amount of serious consideration to this problem and you’ll agree that our approach to feelings is insane…and yet we continue.
What I would love to see is a deepening of each person’s understanding of his own feelings in a both/and context. I want to be part of a community which can hold the broad scope of human emotion together at once, and sit with it, to Be as each of us really is rather than reducing each of us to a stupid yellow smiley face.
I believe this is the path to experiencing the joy of Being in and with Christ.
Rather than asking people, “How are you?” which is either a poor attempt at politeness or an effort to manipulate others, you could ask, “How can I serve you today?” Rather than forcing others to serve your needs, turn the tables on culture and “polite” conversation. If someone asks how you are doing, you can ignore the question and immediately respond in kind, “How are you?” Listen to their reply. Dig deeper. Search for a way to serve them. Or answer by saying something like, “What I’m feeling is far too complex to discuss now. Is there any way I can help you?” By avoiding the question you avoid reducing your Self to an emoticon, a single way of Being. Ironically, by avoiding the question and not speaking about one emotion, you can experience and validate all of your feelings. This is not possible when you respond simplistically. Experiencing emotion, experiencing your way of Being, does not require the verbal expression of your emotions or your way of Being. Consider long-married couples, how well they can understand each other’s feelings without uttering a word.
Stop limiting your Self and your experience in this life. Be all of your Self at once. I believe this is the path to experiencing the joy of Being in and with Christ.