I was asked to do an “emotional kick off” for my relief society this week. I’d had my own emotional meltdown the night before giving my 20 minute workshop so I figured that made me a perfect candidate for teaching the concepts that I needed to use. And I felt a little bit like a hypocrite at the same time.
So, as introverted as I’m learning myself to be, I walked myself through my words and my shame and my guilt and my thoughts about my feelings.
I noticed that we have really strange feelings and beliefs about strong, overwhelming, emotions – in the LDS Church and humanity in general. We treat them with distance and only agree to engage them when it’s “most proper” – especially when they are sad or weak emotions…. angry emotions too. It’s like we feel that we aren’t supposed to be too , whatever word(s) might fill that blank. We’re supposed to be happy on the balance of life. More happy than not and more often than not.
As I continued to walk my way through me, I saw that of course, as always, in His eternal and ever understanding way, it was in my greatest moment of need that I was given myriad inspiration from my Father that I was able to share with my sisters. That felt good.
”Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy.” 2 Nephi 2:25
This was the scripture of the day from my favorite “get your scriptures in today” widget on the day that I gave my workshop. I thought alot about joy because it’s an emotion. A quick LDS.org search says that there are 95 references to joy in the Old Testamant, 61 in the New Testament, 120 in the Book of Mormon, 33 in the Doctrine and Covenants, and 7 in the Pearl of Great Price. Joy takes on renditions like joy-ful and re-joice. It is consistently paired with fullness, too! A fullness of joy. I took these things in my heart with me to do my workshop.
In it, I focused on emotional health and well being by talking about healthy, growth fostering connections and the “5 Good Things” (like joy) that come from emotional connection. I gave my sisters an activity that would semi-subconsciously put their feelings on paper. I asked them to draw a person/living being in a rainstorm. This is one of my favorite activities to do because it gets us out of our “logical explanation for our feelings” head and simply into the crayon, marker, or colored pencil in our hand putting our heart & feelings about storms on paper.
Our “storm drawings” were diverse – and telling. But that’s how art is. It tells. Even when you don’t think you are an artist. I told my sisters that I wasn’t there to diagnose or analyze them, but to talk with them about storms in our lives and how we feel about storms, emotional storms in particular. I gave them 5 ideas to consider about storms that I hoped would help each of us get realistic and acceptable expectations about emotions in our lives.
- Emotions, like storms, are natural and uncontrollable occurrences. There’s no need to run from or fight or struggle with them. Let them be.
- Emotions impact motivation. They can motivate you to act just as much as they can motivate you to curl up into a ball and cry, turn inward.
- Emotions are to be embraced – when they are prickly as well as when they are fluffy.
- Emotions require connection. To be fully experienced, emotions do best within connection.
- Connection demands creativity.
We had a great discussion that varied in each of the three groups, ranging from sharing shame & Brene Brown’s marble jar friends to exploring the effects of “when you’re in emotional connection” the zest, clarity, sense of empowerment, sense of worth, and desire for more relationships that result because we are in connection with others, seeing and validating each other, feeling with each other, changing and being changed by each other. We discussed mutual empathy, mutual empowerment, and mutual growth as the creative work necessary to enhance relational connections after a significant disconnection.
And at the end, I shared/reiterated/came short of baring testimony of my belief in the spiritual roots of the necessity and purpose of emotion. Namely, I believe that we are commanded to be emotional beings.
We are commanded to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, strength, and might – in some form or another – over 115 times in each of the standard works (I’m not a scriptorian, I did another LDS.org search). And what is love if not an emotional energy that propels our psychological and physical and spiritual actions?
We are commanded to love. It’s the first and great commandment. And the second one? Surprise! Love, again.
We are commanded to be emotional beings, so what makes us afraid of emotional storms some times?
We are a feeling people of faith – like knowing the sun will rise… like knowing that storms eventually end and that storms are scary when they’re hurricanes and awesome after droughts. Each of these show, to me, that faith starts and ends as a feeling. And what about hope and charity? More feelings, to me. We are commanded to forgive and to serve, all of which take thinking but require feeling.
We are blessed to have faith, hope, and charity in our lives. They are our own emotional trinity. They are our own growth and faith-fostering connections. When we have those – as we are commanded to cultivate – we are and can become inexplicably blessed as we practice them.
We are blessed to act on the the commandment to be emotional and to have feelings. Some folks get a burning in the bosom – an emotional feeling that manifests Truth. Christ felt compassion in his bowels many times, and his bowels were “filled with mercy” at other times. And he was weak with emotion when he suffered for us. Our suffering and our salvation came through him.
Have you seen this?
It’s from here – The Crushing Weight of the Gethsemane and it’s in other places too. I just happened to like this reading.
But that picture? How can you not feel when looking at it? How is it in any way confusing that we are commanded to be emotional. We are created by and through and because of emotion. We are saved in exactly the same way, too.
1 John 4:16 says, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
I’ve thought about emotions a lot this week as I’ve contemplated my Savior as an emotional being and the commandment to love, to be emotional people, in our scriptures. On Sunday, I thought about love when I read beautiful and encouraging words about prayer from a Prophet I used to admire until I learned of his extreme beliefs and writings against the Southern Freedom Movement in the 50s and 60s. I admire him less in some ways. I thought about what it means to love him and his Godly inspiration and to hold him less hostage as a flawed human. Less hostage, does not mean less accountable – bear that in mind. I reminded myself that there is room for all of it in God’s love, when I dwell with God and He with me. I need to get there and I want to stay there – most of the time, because I, too, am still flawed.
I attended BYU’s annual Walk of Light this year. It was my first time going and I felt bad for it being my first time. Instead of staying in that shame of my failure to perfectly support and attend everything. I stayed in the emotional moments of the choir’s songs. The speakers’ messages. The essay winners. The narrative readers. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who I see as an American social prophet preaching against a murderous racial inequality that could only be healed by and with love.
The supreme, most Godly Emotion.
The photos of the struggle for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were shown as we sang the Black National Anthem. I cried. I was emotional. I hugged my kids closer and I saw emotions everywhere. It’s like it was the emotional version of The 6th Sense. (“I see emotional people.”)
I remembered that it was emotions that spurred the actions of the Southern Freedom Movement on all sides. Some sides that demonstrated the work to dwell with God in love and to find God in the deepest of pain and oppression. Other sides’ emotions demonstrated a failure to adhere to the commandment to demonstrate “a love of God and of all men” (2 Nephi 31:20). I wondered what kinds of Mormons marched – on any side – but mostly the sides of freedom. I’ve had my fill of racist Mormons for the day (hour, minute, second…..).
Still, I wondered how their emotions moved them into growth-fostering action. I thought about how my emotions move me – when I move in ways that foster growth and in ways that diminish growth. I committed to myself to continue to work on following that commandment to be emotional – and that commandment only – in the most authentic way that I am endowed to be.
In closing, allow me to share with you just one of the songs from the BYU Black Students Union choir that demonstrated to me what Martin Luther King Jr’s oft quoted dream could, would, and should look like in song. I love that God seems to work best when he takes us out of our heads and into our hearts – the true symbol of the emotional creations we were made to be. Watch & Listen here.
I hope that you will, with me, lift your hands in total praise. With all of the emotion that we are commanded to be. He is the Source of our strength and we are strongest when we are turned toward Him.
My hope is that in 2015, we can acknowledge and cultivate our emotional strengths. Good things come from growth-fostering emotional connection. 5 good things, to be exact. It’s easily the top 5 on my list of ways-to-enhance-my-life in 2015 (I don’t do resolutions).
May it, in some way, find its way to yours!