Empowered by “And”
I was upset, yet somehow, over the years, I had convinced myself that being annoyed was wrong. I fed myself the narrative that frustration was a sign of weakness and lacked professionalism. Most importantly, I rationalized that unpleasant emotions negated my faith in God. I suppressed pain, disappointment, and downright anger, believing in a toxic positivity that told the world, “There’s a bright side to even this.”
Dragging myself into the bedroom, unwilling and just plain tired from hiding my true emotions for hours, I shed my poker face and principal persona in favor of a moment of unabashed realness. My husband read it immediately, and his concern gave me just the outlet I had desired but could not unleash in public. I began to detail why I was angry, but as suddenly as I let those first few contextual sentences fall from my lips, I tried to hurriedly catch every bad feeling and negative association, gobbling them up in a “let me stop.”
“It’s ok for you to be angry!” My husband snapped. I stared at him in disbelief. “It’s ok for you to be upset! That’s upsetting! It’s ok!”
What in the world was he saying? It’s not really ok. Is it? Any emotion I had outside of calm or pleasant or happy put me into one of two clubs: “Angry Black Woman” or “Resting Bitch Face.” And neither of those made life any easier.
But neither did pretending like everything was fine when it really wasn’t. I had been inundated with so much “just play the game” and “be the bigger person” that I had effectively given up the right to feel any authentic, negative emotion. And in truth, my husband’s anger at my not allowing myself to feel angry initially angered me even more: “just another moment of male privilege that I don’t have the luxury of realizing,” I remarked to myself.
Why was I doing this to myself? My husband was right, after all, and my internal snark at his loving rebuke was merely another way to hide what I was truly feeling: the shame from not giving myself permission to feel my feels and the fear of not knowing what allowing those emotions air time in my consciousness would actually bring up. “I’m too old for this!” I thought as I retreated to the quiet solitude of the couch. Away from everybody who in some way needed something from me, and with my cell phone and computer far out of reach, I started to root around for a way out. Why did I continuously tell myself that life was “better” for me and everyone else if I acted like I was always even keeled, no matter the circumstance or behavior of those around me? What would happen if I authentically owned my truth? Who or what convinced me that bad feeling and bad behavior were inextricably linked? Was it worth it to me to try life differently?
I was reminded of this episode today when author and coach Elena Aguilar shared a powerful strategy with our school district’s leaders. She explained that negative and positive can coexist simultaneously. Instead of trying to fit every trauma, crisis, and bleak situation into a perfect little picture of “turning that frown upside down,” she empowered us to embrace “and.” In other words, losing my grandmother could be the most devastating and debilitating loss I have ever experienced AND I could simultaneously be very grateful for the knowledge she imparted to me. I could be annoyed beyond measure at an employee AND embody a growth mindset to coach her up for the good of kids. As I consider God’s grace, mercy, protection, and love, I remember that this is how He is toward us. Surely, God is disappointed every time I slide away from Him in sin AND He loved me enough to send His beloved Jesus to pay it all for me anyway.
Our Father, while we may be going through some challenging times, remind us that there is nothing wrong with feeling our emotions. It is both healthy and necessary to do so as we oftentimes learn so much about the world, ourselves, and You when we authentically attend to what we are feeling. Teach us to contextualize our emotions as Christians, seeking understanding in Your word and discernment from the Holy Spirit. Lead us so that our actions, no matter what we are feeling, align to Your will and Your way. Help us to remember Your grace and Your brand new mercies as we embrace the power of “and” in our lives! Amen!