Redefining Strength in a Time of Pandemic
A friend asked me how I was this morning, and honestly – I didn’t know how to answer. It feels like a complicated question.
I have all the “right” answers ready to give. “The sun is shining.” “I’m so grateful for the reminder to slow down and focus on what’s really important.” “Hooray for extra time to read, write, and bake.” We all know those are the things we’re “supposed to” say.
But what do we do about the other feelings? The loss? The grief? The disappointment? The fear?
At the beginning of all this, I knew deep down I wanted to be a voice of hope and optimism. I still want that. I never want to be someone who adds fuel to an anxiety fire or paints darkness over the light at the end of someone’s tunnel. Not ever.
But…let’s be honest. Let’s get real. This is a hard situation.
Do I believe there are upsides? Absolutely. Do I have hope and faith that we will get through this? You bet.
But this situation we all find ourselves in is challenging. Loss and grief wash over us like waves. We’re tired. Overwhelmed. Struggling.
And after responding to my friend this morning, a light went on for me…we need to feel our feelings – and we need to feel them in front of other people.
I’ve felt all along like I needed to be strong for my kids. I felt like I needed to be strong for my friends and the women in the ministry I lead. It’s a well-intentioned idea, and one many of us were raised with, but I think we have a skewed definition of strength. I think we’ve been led to believe that strength looks like an absence of emotion. Somewhere along the line we’ve come to believe that a strong person is a person who doesn’t feel sad or get angry or disappointed.
But that isn’t strength – and it isn’t helping anyone.
When we fail to acknowledge how we’re really feeling, we deny others the opportunity to speak up. If my kids see me acting as though everything is fine and business as usual, they might worry that their own feelings aren’t okay.
I know what it’s like to stuff your emotions deep down inside. It works for awhile….until you erupt. I know what it’s like to pretend that nothing is wrong while anxiety and fear slowly eat away your peace. I know what it’s like to feel as if there is no one “safe” to vent to. I know what it’s like to fear telling anyone how I feel- worried they’ll respond with a pithy catch-all phrase, unsolicited advice, or judgement.
And because I know these things- I want my kids to know….my friends to know…you to know…that it’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to cry and feel disappointed. It’s okay to feel trapped and overwhelmed. It’s okay to be angry. There is nothing wrong with you, and your feelings do not make you weak. They make you human.
Strength is processing your feelings in a healthy way. Strength is not stuffing your emotions until they erupt. Strength is getting back up off the bathroom floor and making dinner with tears in your eyes. Strength is relearning how to do fourth grade math. Strength is looking your teenager in the eye and telling them the truth – that you’re sad and disappointed too. Strength is knowing the difference between “I know I’m going to be ok” and “I’m not ok right now.” It’s learning to sit with pain – to sit with it until you’re ready or able to work through it. It’s being okay in the messy middle. It’s knowing that positive people aren’t always happy people. It’s knowing that you can be full of hope, and still feel sad.
So tonight, I just felt this strong press on my heart to tell you that it’s okay to feel however you’re feeling. Strength…hope…faith…none of those words exist exclusive of emotion – even the messy ones…the ugly ones.
Feeling upset, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, angry, disappointed, tired, trapped…none of that makes you weak. None of that makes you less than. None of that makes you not enough.
We’re all figuring this thing out as we go, and not one of us is going to do it perfectly. That’s not a real thing. All we can do is all we can do – and your capacity may shift moment to moment. And it’s okay. Give yourself grace. Allow yourself to be real. Let yourself feel things. Don’t stuff it or ignore it. Know that walking in it – may give someone else the courage to speak up and say, “I feel that too.”
You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’re fighting together. We’re feeling together. And we are strong enough. You are strong enough. You are loved and you can do this.