In the history of all days, today is one of the most beautiful. The sky is clear & blue, it’s literally 72 degrees, and there’s a slight breeze.
I have a friend who is sad today. I mean, life changing, devastatingly sad. He is “between seasons”, as our friend Pastor Rob Bell would say. Or, more specifically, he is exhausted from white knuckle hanging on to something that’s already gone.
I’ve been there, haven’t you?
As I pulled out of Mom’s driveway this morning headed back toward my house, I thought about the beauty of this day. And I thought about all the days just like this that I was so entwined in wanting things to be different that I could not see what already is.
I get caught there sometimes, in the gap between what I have and what I want.
I legitimately thought for years that I would feel content and happy if I could just have the right job, the right house, the right friends, the right relationship, the right family.
There was a picture in my head and heart of this beautiful home, filled with happy people, and peace.
I changed cars, I changed jobs, I changed houses, I changed furniture, I changed my yard, I changed my kitchen, I changed my weight, I changed my education level. I changed everything. Still, not happy. Not content.
In fact, things just kept getting worse.
What I didn’t know. What I couldn’t have known, is that contentment can only grow in the pot of ME. It can’t grow in a house, or a car, or a marriage, or a child, or a job, or an MBA. It just can’t.
There are some completely confusing statements about contentment out there, too. #1 on my list is:
“Learn to be content with what you have”
This statement, dear reader, is complete bullshit.
The idea is good – contentment doesn’t come from exterior things. But the advice is no good. What if the things in our life are awful? Or (even more confusing) mediocre and barely, occasionally, meeting our basic needs? And, most certainly they are because if we haven’t yet done the work to heal what hurts, we have hired people and situations to hurt us in a way we know best.
Someone important left us? We hire people and situations guaranteed to abandon us.
Someone important hit us? We hire people and situations guaranteed to devalue us.
Someone important verbally/emotionally abused us? We hire people and situations guaranteed to continue the tradition.
The “why” of this is another post (note to self).
Anyway, we do these things. And we are just not going to beat ourselves up about it. What we ARE going to do is try to understand how to feel better.
One of the first things we must do for ourselves – our very first gift – is to begin to name our feelings.
I started this process 20 years ago and it was surprising to me that I really could not tell what it was I was feeling. I just knew I felt bad. My heart hurt. My head hurt. My body ached. I felt tired all the time.
“Our emotions are our body telling us the truth” – Pastor Rob Bell, Seasons
I began to try to say how I felt out loud and found I had no words. Like, literally no words. I had never before said “I don’t like that”. It was surprising to me to learn I didn’t know what I did and didn’t like! How do I like my eggs? What do I like on my pizza? What is going ON with me?! I had no idea. I just felt numb and icky.
So, whenever I felt icky, I would stand in front of the mirror and practice saying my feelings. I was trying to name them. It was like being color blind all my life and slowly gaining sight. I would pause and get still, sometimes close my eyes, put my hand on my belly, and this is what would come:
I feel angry.
hmmm… my heart aches. I must feel hurt.
Why do I feel hurt? Because I feel disappointed.
Why do I feel disappointed? Because things didn’t turn out the way I hoped they would.
OK! Listen, the first time I landed on “disappointed” it was like I could jump over the Empire State Building. I had no idea that those finer emotions even existed in me! I had rarely (if ever) acknowledged them or felt safe to express them.
Fast forward 20 years, and this helped me work on boundaries after my divorce. (Read: Never, Ever Get Hurt Again. Ever.)
Study after study has confirmed that when we can NAME something, it loses it’s power over us. We stop running. We learn to sit with uncertainty and keep breathing in & out. We get up and take a few steps, or maybe we just get up and stand.
Whatever it is, wherever we are, it’s just ok.
We learn to give ourselves grace and hold space for whatever it is we may be feeling. Sometimes it won’t be pretty. It will often be something that brings a feeling of deep shame. It’s ok. Many, many, travelers have stood where you stand. Keep going.
When you feel like the waters of your heart and mind are muddy, find a quiet space, put your hand on your belly, close your eyes, take some steadying breaths, and say “what am I feeling?”.
You’ll know when you hit truth. You’ll feel it in your bones.