Feel your feelings: Allowing conflicting emotions to co-exist

After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.
-- Luke 22: 41-44

I didn’t want to cry.

But standing there in my dark kitchen, shivering despite the numerous blankets and layers of clothing in which I was bundled, preparing to boil the little bit of water we’d rationed so I could wash just the most essential dishes, I finally let the tears flow freely.

It was Ash Wednesday, and oh, what a start to Lent 2021 it was. The weekend prior, Winter Storm Uri had caused temperatures to plunge across Texas, wreaking snowy, icy havoc everywhere she went. It should be noted that as a Midwesterner, I’m no stranger to winter weather — I’ve waited for the school bus in a negative 11 degree windchill and we just called it a Tuesday, y’all. And although living in Texas for the past 4 years has certainly diminished my tolerance to extreme cold, I still sleep in shorts and a t-shirt year-round (usually with my ceiling fan on) and consider anything above 50 degrees “springtime” and above 70 degrees “bathing suit weather.” But the devastating effects of this storm went far beyond making a few warm-blooded Texans shiver. Uri tested the limits of our state’s power grid, public water systems, and general emergency preparedness like never before, and the test results weren’t good.

In Houston, for example, everything from the architecture of our homes to the makeup of our energy delivery systems is designed to withstand the weather that we typically experience: brutal heat that extends well into October, humidity second only to an actual rainforest (subtropical climates for the win, yo), and…Hurricane Season (cue horror-movie-style scream). Uri brought the coldest temperatures the city has seen in decades, including Houston’s first-ever wind chill warning, and our infrastructure couldn’t handle the truth.

When the power first went out at my house on Monday morning, my roommates and I snapped into action. (Well, right after posting the obligatory “Texas snow day” pics to the ‘Gram, of course.) We dug out all the candles, flashlights, and portable phone chargers we could find and walked to the corner gas station to buy ice for our coolers. We pushed our living room couches together, piled them high with blankets and pillows, and huddled together playing cards and reading books to pass the time. When we heard that we were likely to lose some or all water pressure, we began filling bowls and jugs with the precious resource.

We did pretty well for those first two days. But by mid-week, when the temperature inside the house had reached 44 degrees, the toilets had stopped flushing, and we no longer had any water in the kitchen, the situation was getting more and more difficult to bear. To make matters worse, there was no clear end in sight, since by that point, power companies had abandoned any attempts to provide estimates regarding when to expect service to return. My can-do attitude was waning, to say the least. So that Ash Wednesday morning, as I waited for the water to boil for dishes, I pulled up my Spotify app and hit “play” on my Lenten playlist. In that moment, I needed something to lift my mind and heart even more than I needed to preserve the battery life on my phone.

As music filled the air and hot tears flowed down my icy cheeks, I began to pray:

Lord, show me your abundance.

I knew it was somewhere; I was just struggling to find it, to excavate it from all the dirt and rubble of this experience. Mentally, it was also getting difficult to focus on anything other than how desperately I craved a hot shower. But I kept trying.

Lord, show me your abundance.

As I set the last clean dish on the drying rack, I paused and looked around. I saw the flickering candles scattered across the kitchen island and was grateful for the source of light on this dark morning. I saw the coolers lined up against the walls and was grateful we had been able to salvage so much of the food in the fridge. I saw the gas stove and was grateful that we could still cook and boil water without electricity. I saw the couch bed piled high with blankets, books, and Trader Joe’s chocolates and was grateful that I had such caring and resourceful roommates. I saw the mug of pour-over coffee I had managed to rig up with just a mesh strainer, a paper filter, and a dream, and I was grateful that even in such crazy times as this, I still had my favorite beverage — and more importantly, that no one had to endure the natural disaster that is Paige Without Caffeine.

And even with all this genuine thanksgiving, I still felt the weight of the suffering that all of us were experiencing. I still felt a tinge of anger that after all we’d been through — from Hurricane Harvey to the pandemic — Texas was having to withstand yet another blow. I still felt the ripple of fear — almost as chilling as the wind outside — from not knowing when this would all be over, or what the long-term effects would be. And as I stood there, feeling like Ron Burgundy in a Glass Case of Emotion, I was grateful for a faith that not only allows for both joy and sorrow, but that allows these experiences to co-exist. I didn’t have to choose whether to be happy or sad, content or frustrated, hopeful or scared. I could be all of these things at once, and bring them all to the Lord, who Himself became man and, in doing so, experienced the full range of human emotions.

Some of my favorite gospel passages are those in which we see Christ allowing Himself to “feel His feelings,” as my therapist might say. When Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem and sees that a house of worship has been made into a marketplace, he doesn’t just drop a complaint in the Suggestion Box and go on his way. Instead, he “overturn[s] the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves” and condemns the people for allowing a sacred space to become a “den of thieves” (Mark 11:15-17). There’s such a thing as righteous anger, y’all! And after the death of Lazarus, a man whom Christ considered a beloved friend, Jesus flat-out weeps (John 11:35) — even though His next move will be to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knows that Lazarus will soon be with them again, and He knows that He can bring a greater good out of the situation, and yet — He is still moved to tears when He witnesses the mourning of Lazarus’ sisters and community. And He doesn’t try to talk Himself, or anyone else, out of it with affirmations or false positivity. He lets the dang tears flow.

And then we have the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus experiences the weight of all the sins of the world, as well as the dreaded anticipation of what He knows is coming on Good Friday, and utters a most shocking and beautiful prayer: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Whenever I am tempted to think that God can’t possibly understand my problems, I am reminded that Jesus’ distress the night before His crucifixion was so great that he was literally sweating blood. I have cried to the point of a corneal abrasion, but geez, I have never been that overcome. Our Lord gets it. He really does. And yet, He shows us how to feel our feelings while still remaining perfectly obedient to the will of the Father. Thanks to Christ’s example, we can pray, “Father, this is what I’m going though, and I sincerely wish it weren’t so. Yet, I know you can and will bring good out of this terrible situation, so I trust in your providence, even when I don’t fully understand the how or why.”

And it goes both ways: Just as our faith helps us to find goodness and abundance when things feel dark, it allows us space for sorrow even when things are bright. We are now in the Easter season, a time of hope, renewal, and resurrection — but that doesn’t mean life is suddenly going to be all sunshine and rainbows and Cadbury cream eggs. We’re still living amidst a global pandemic, our society is still plagued by systemic racism, and we all continue to experience our own personal trials and tribulations. We can allow ourselves to feel the weight of these struggles even as we celebrate the joy of Easter and remember that Christ came into this messy world to redeem it. It’s the “both-and” nature of our faith, and it’s one of my favorite parts of being Catholic.

So friends, whatever you’re going through this Easter season, I hope you allow yourselves to feel your feelings, and that in doing so, you experience greater union with the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, who Himself experienced the good, the bad, and unimaginably ugly — all for love of you.