I was tucking her into bed on a Sunday night when her lip started to quiver and I saw that look in her eye. I almost did what I always seem to do when these things come up at bedtime, especially: I wanted to divert her attention to something else. I wanted her to think about something else – something that didn’t make her cry – because then she wouldn’t be upset and she wouldn’t be crying and she’d be able to go to sleep and I’d be able to go downstairs and relax and well….that’s just easier for both of us, right?
But lately, that method hadn’t been working like it always had. Maybe this situation was bigger or maybe she’s just older with more complex emotions. Maybe it’s both – it’s hard to tell. But the diversion tactic wasn’t working, and hadn’t been for several days, so when her eyes began to brim with tears in the dim bedtime lighting of her room, I felt instinctively that something else needed to be done.
I didn’t really think before I said it, but for once, my impulsive words didn’t immediately taste bitter in my mouth.
“I know this is hard for you, honey. It would be hard for me, too. Nobody likes change, especially when it’s forced on you and you don’t get a say in it. And it’s even harder when everybody else seems okay with it. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to have a hard time.”
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I felt her muscles relax against my chest, where her tears had soaked a spot on my shirt and her hair – damp from her shower – was matted against my neck. Her physical demeanor actually changed; as she turned her face up to mine I could see that something was different.
“It’s hard, Mommy. I wish I didn’t feel like this.”
So we talked. She asked me how I feel when things change, and what I do, and what kinds of things I’ve been through that made me feel the way she felt in that moment. We talked. Her tears didn’t stop right that second, or in the minutes that followed, but we made progress.
It seemed to be healing to realize she wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
It seemed to be freeing to be told that it’s okay to feel bad.
It’s a pretty simple concept, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it happen in such a clear way right in front of me.
So today, friend, maybe you need to hear the same words. I don’t know what you’re going through. I don’t know what situation has your lip quivering and your eyes threatening to spill tears down your cheeks. I can’t know all of that…but I do know one thing for sure.
The way you’re feeling? It’s okay. Because the stuff you’re facing? It’s hard.
If there is something in your life making you feel sad or scared or lonely or angry or embarrassed or remorseful, it’s okay. Because the relationships you’ve lost and the words you’ve heard and the memories you carry and the burdens you bear? Those hurt.
You might have been told one too many times that you’re too sensitive. That you feel too much. That you take things too seriously.
You might have been reprimanded for your fear and anxiety and depression. You may have been made to feel foolish for not being able to fix it.
You might have been shamed for your anger. “It’s not right to feel so strongly toward another person,” they tell you.
But friend? I am here today to tell you that your emotions are okay. You’re not wrong for feeling the way you feel. And if anyone – family or friends or, heaven forbid, the Church – has made you feel shame or guilt over your emotions, I am sincerely sorry. No one can tell you how to feel. No one.
Life is hard enough without feeling bad for the way it makes us feel. Of all the things we struggle with, beating ourselves up for having human emotions should not be one of them.
Yes, we have to be careful about how we handle those emotions. Anger ought not lead us into sin, fear ought not prevent us from trusting God and living our lives, and shame ought not keep us locked away in a private prison. We cannot let those emotions gain control of us.
I recently drew a picture for my daughter when she was worried about something. I’m no artist, by any stretch of the imagination, but I sketched out a winding path through the woods. It was a little like a map, with markers along the way of what she might pass on her journey: friends, grandparents, school. And then, at a sharp bend in the road, I drew a picnic table labeled “worry.” The path veered sharply from there, eventually ending at a campsite with a tent and happy little stick people doing what stick people do when they’re camping.
The point, as I explained it to her? Worry is a place you can stop along the journey. There may be other tables and benches, too, where you can sit awhile: fear, sadness, anger, jealousy. What you cannot do, though, is stay there. The path goes on. There is more traveling to do. There is more to the journey, and while it may take awhile to navigate the path and get where you’re going, you will eventually get there.
Feeling those feelings, though, is okay. It is part of being human. It is part of the wonderful, bittersweet, challenging, beautiful experience of life. It’s how we were made. It’s part of the journey set before us.
Whatever you’re feeling, you’re okay. We’ve all been to that particular bend in the road. We’ve all spent some time at that table, and if we’re lucky, we haven’t always had to sit alone. Eventually, though, we all have to make a choice: stay there, or get up and keep moving.
Today, I challenge you to get up. Just keep moving. I won’t lie: the emotion won’t get left in a neat little pile as soon as you start walking again. You’re likely to carry it with you a little longer, dropping a little at a time along the way.
But you’re moving. Your journey does not stop at that bend in the road.
We’ve all been there. Our initials are carved in the tabletop and our footprints are in the dirt. You’re in good company, and you’re okay.
Moving along with you,