As I said, there is always a reason for a particular emotion. Depression, for example, means a lot of things to a lot of people; rather than ask people, we do brain scans. Then we medicate feelings with drugs that have side effects similar to the symptoms we’re trying to treat. But, as one psychotherapist says, depression is the pysche’s way of saying, “I’m not going any further until you stop this bleeding.” So how do we stop the bleeding?
To get at that question, we need to back way up: what are feelings? I have overwhelming feelings; my suspicion is that their size and weight comes from years of being missed and unseen. It’s common knowledge that toxins in our food make us physically ill; why is it such a stretch to think that toxins in our social/relational “food” can make us ill as well? If one in four people suffer from what is commonly called mental illness and that number is steadily going up, could it may be because there’s something in our social water or air? I don’t think it’s too big of a leap to draw parallels between the physical pollution and destruction we’re inflicting the world over and the state of our mental and emotional well being.
In other words, feelings are flags. Like when the ref throws a red or yellow piece of cloth onto the field after a player does something ‘illegal,’ feelings mark either violations to or elations of our soul, of our personhood. If “anger is the fluid love bleeds when you cut it,” “grief is the price we pay for love,” and “the joy of the Lord is our strength,” why on earth would worship teams be leading us in songs that say our feelings don’t matter? Maybe they mean that our circumstances don’t matter in terms of worshipping God, but “emotion” and “feeling” are more synonyms than “feeling” and “circumstance.”
So let’s get back to that flag on the football field. That’s a penalty flag and the ref throws it to stop the game. Someone may have done something against the rules; someone may be hurt. At any rate, the game stops until the problem is diagnosed and the penalty announced. In our society, when an emotional flag is dropped, someone may have done something hurtful and/or someone may be hurt, but we take zero time to stop, to diagnose the problem (the DSM is not what I’m talking about here) and “announce” the penalty – as in, name what’s hurt or broken in community and deal with that before carrying on. Flags are being thrown all over the place – and even when the flag is related to an earlier childhood trauma as opposed to a current situation – they are simply piling up on the field for players to trip over.
We cannot pick up our own flags. And just because a particular flag may be more related to something that happened a long time ago does not mean that we don’t have to care for the current situation. There’s a reason the two are linked by that flag (we often use the language of “trigger” to talk about this). We may not be “responsible” for the original trauma, but I don’t want to live in a world where we reduce everything down to only the bare minimum of what we’re each individually responsible for. That’s not what “laying down your life for your friends” looks like, anyway.
I’m tired of “please pray for me” being an acceptable thing to ask of others in the church but “please come over and sit with me in my darkness” is not. I’m tired of the texts that say “well, you know, if you think about it, maybe you might say a quick prayer for me. Today is hard” when what you really mean is, “I am nauseous with loneliness and despair. I feel invisible and like I will never get what I want” or “I’m struggling to find any meaning at all in anything.” I’m tired of hearing “you are not alone” when the very people saying it don’t get up and prove it. I’m tired of hearing “let’s talk about it,” and I’m tired of just talking about it. It is time to DO something. It is time to stop the bleeding.