Some people don’t know when to shut up. Others don’t know when to speak up. Everyone has problems. But to those of us who know how to hide our problems, this blog post is for you.
I had a rough first few weeks at school during the fall semester last year. I don’t remember why, I just remember it was bad enough that when people would casually ask how I was doing, I knew “good” or even “fine” was a lie and would resort to something like, “Well, we’re having beautiful weather today!” This almost always got me off the hook. Which is halfway what I wanted. I mean, honestly, I did want people to know how I was. I wanted to be vulnerable. I wanted to admit my struggles. But I was too scared to show them. Emily Freeman, in her book “Grace for the Good Girl,” described my feelings pretty well: “I taught people around me that I had no needs and then was secretly angry with them for believing me.”
But I had my reasons for pulling a red herring. After all, I couldn’t admit I was struggling.
Everyone has bad days. But this wasn’t a bad day. This was an onslaught of bad days. If I admitted that to the world, what kind of Christian witness would I be? I am constantly preaching joy; what a hypocrite I’d be to be frustrated with life for so two whole weeks! Besides complaining is terrible for you; I know that. Even “venting” requires treading softly. What about perspective? What about faking it till you make it? What about looking for the positive?
So, nope. I could’t say anything. I had to keep answering “how are you?” with “Could be worse!” and a pasted-on smile.
Again, Emily Freeman says it well: “…I tend to think in extremes. Just as decisions are either right or wrong, emotions are either good or bad. Happy? Good. Sad? Bad. Joyful? Good. Disappointed? Bad. Compliant? Good. Confrontational? Bad…Feeling scared meant I needed more faith. Feeling anger meant I needed more control. Feeling confused meant I needed to get it together and figure it out.”
I did this (and, to be honest, often still do). But when I labelled emotions as good vs. bad, not only did I keep bottled up, I also accrued more and more shame with every passing day. What a weakling; my problems are so small compared to the rest of the world. What a baby, crying myself to sleep. What a rotten Christian; I should be so engulfed in the peace of God that transcends all understanding that I don’t fear or worry or stress. And even if I do (because I will be the first to admit I’m not perfect), I should be able to get over it within a day, I think.
But these guilt-ridden thoughts are illegitimate. It’s true that some emotions are more pleasant than others. It’s true that complaining can easily be harmful. It’s true that faking it till you make it can work.
But, as I’ve said before: feelings are feelings. They are neither right nor wrong. And negative feelings are truly a part of life.
This being said, I think there are two things that are important to note:
While we should not pour out our hearts every time someone asks how we are doing (which, as I’m writing this post to the folks who know how to hide, is certainly NOT our problem), it is essential that we each have a few close friends or family that we are willing to force ourselves to share with–even when we feel like a Debbie Downer. Think of your closest friend and tell me honestly that you’d rather he/she suffer through some significant struggles alone instead of coming to you for support. One of the many beautiful things that God created in humans is a desire to lovingly support one another. Obviously, having a constantly-negative friend is unhealthy, but a relationship in which each individual takes turns leaning on the other gives your friend an opportunity to serve the you in a way that is a blessing to both parties. When your friend is hurting, you want to be there to help. Don’t steal a chance to love you from your friends.
Secondly, having a worrisome week does not disprove the joy of the Lord. Being afraid of the future does not undermine God’s peace. Being a cheerful, excitable, smiley, and happy person ALL the time does NOT make you a better witness; it makes you an unapproachable non-human. As Christ-followers, we can be a better witness to the world when we’re willing to show our weaknesses, our pain, and our negative emotions, and then to show that we still trust God anyway.
In the end, then, the next time you are really struggling I dare you to pick one or two close friends to be honest with. You don’t have to dwell on the negative, but you have to be open enough to be able to share sincerely your current pain. Negative emotions have no legitimate right to shame you and you don’t have the right to steal from your loved-ones the opportunity to show you love.
Please share some of your experiences either with being willing to share or hiding your struggles. Do you feel ashamed when you’re scared, upset, or feeling alone? Do you appreciate your closest friends confiding in you?