It seems that everywhere we turn, someone is telling us how we should feel. Or rather how we shouldn’t feel what we are feeling. Are you afraid? Stop! Are you too calm? Stop! Why aren’t you angry that people aren’t wearing masks? Why aren’t you angry that people are making a bigger deal of this than they should be? Social media posts, the news, and even the responses of people around us are full of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” How is it even possible to decipher what we are feeling right now with all the unclear messages and expectations?
When considering the idea of mental health and the church during this time of COVID-19, I have struggled to know what to share–to know what message would speak to everyone in our diverse mindsets and situations. Something that has stood out to me during COVID and beyond, however, has been the way that we often want to face challenges with our intellect, throwing out reasons why or why not. However, what if the correct initial response to hard life events isn’t with our minds and throwing responses? What if our first response needs to be to sit still, to sit with the situation and know that He is God. Presence and not flailing, being and not doing (Ps. 46:10). I know there is nothing scarier than recognizing the depths of our fears, hurts, and sadness, which is why I suppose many people are turning to anger these days. No one wants to sit still and acknowledge their pain–but we need to.
Defining a feeling or emotion is a good place to start when considering if it is okay to have certain emotions. The simple definition for an emotion would generally consist of one word like sad, scared, angry, content, confident, happy, etc. Often, when a phrase starts with, “I feel that…” a long sentence follows full of the interpretation of the emotion. What if you could just say, “I feel sad.” Leave out the reason why for just a second. What does “sad” feel like? Do your shoulders droop, does it feel like a huge weight is on top of you, and even breathing takes effort? What does being scared feel like? Does your whole body tense up? Maybe your stomach ties itself in knots? What does anger feel like? Does your heart rate increase, your facial expression change, or does your whole body constrict? What does happiness feel like, or peace, or confidence?
So, what if we stop? And sit still. What if we become aware of the churning feelings within us and define the emotions we are feeling. What if we gently release our human intellect that is fighting so hard to explain, reason, and blame? Sounds easy, but this might be the hardest step of all. Keep in mind the often quoted verse in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it.” In context, this verse is not about feelings (sadness, fear, or anger), but rather our interpretations of those emotions, our own deep, inner motivations. Thoughts wrapped up in intense sadness, anger, and anxiety are often unhelpful and aimed at destroying ourselves or others. This is why we need to pause in the stillness and submit all of our thoughts to God (1 Cor. 10:5). We need to sit in the stillness, present and aware of the feeling for 5 or 10 minutes. Then, in that stillness, we need to ask God what He is telling us. Maybe He wants to remind you that you are not alone (Heb. 13:5). Maybe He wants to sit with you in your grief (Matt. 5:4, John 11:35, Ps. 56:8). Perhaps He wants to be your rock, your place of trust and giver of peace (Is. 26:3, Ps. 56:3). Maybe He wants the passion of your anger turned to the real war (Eph. 6:12, James 1:19-20). I cannot pretend to know what your heart needs at this time, but I do know Who does. This is a way of meditating on God–listening to Him by quieting our thoughts, releasing our interpretations, our offenses, and our judgments. Then we can hear what God is saying to us through the situation and our feelings.
Note: Please keep in mind that if you are experiencing depression or anxiety that is debilitating (impacting how you function) and has been present for two or more weeks, or if you have had thoughts about hurting yourself or others–please reach out! If you are in an emergency situation, please call 9-1-1. The church has a list of professional resources and would love to get you connected to someone who can help.
By Tabitha Corbin. Tabitha has her LCSW and is a counselor at The Center for Integrative Counseling and Psychology. She and her husband, Grant, are members at Harris Creek.