“God has also set eternity in the human heart” (from Ecclesiates 3:11); and this, my loves, is on purpose.
As a woman growing up in a culture that told me that my interpretations of reality and my big emotions were not to be trusted, I have always believed my feelings to be “too much” and thus mistaken and dismissable.
Though I know that big feelings are not exclusive to women (we’ve all seen our fair share of male temper tantrums that are often viewed as demonstrations of strength and passion), in a patriarchal and misogynistic world, I as a woman with big feelings would most definitely be classified to many as “crazy” or “hysterical” — a gaslighting term which has been used to invalidate any state of women’s being that makes men uncomfortable or challenges the patriarchal status quo.
I feel things deeply: I long achingly, I grieve tangibly, I rage viscerally, and I celebrate passionately. When something of great emotional distress occurs in my life, it is not uncommon for me to become physically ill or to feel deep devastation that I cannot put into words. I have always viewed this characteristic of mine to be a burdensome problem.
I have felt especially plagued by these “too much” feelings since the start of the pandemic. With the horrifying destruction of both the coronavirus and ongoing systemic racism, I have been an emotional wreck and roller coaster. Moreover, my body keeps telling me, “SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG! TELL SOMEONE! DO SOMETHING!” But, as I’ve been conditioned to do, I often end up labeling these feelings as “too much” and untrustworthy, and I disregard them.
Though I’ve woken up to this harmful and unnecessary conditioning, I have to admit that I still struggle with it.
On September 23, 2020, news broke that the police officers responsible for killing Breonna Taylor were not charged, and only one of them was indicted for wanton endangerment. Black communities and their allies expressed their outcry at the injustice of the meager indictment. I was deeply distressed by the news.
Less than 24 hours later, one of my relatives, who serves as a county commissioner where I live, shared to social media that the commission had just approved $2.2 million for the sheriff’s department to outfit their officers with body cameras, which would help “protect officers from unfounded claims,” as he put it. With hurting folks in our community reeling from the news about Breonna — who was originally from our county — his post struck me as extremely insensitive.
Feeling angry, grieved, and momentarily courageous, I started writing him a private message to ask him to take the post down — or at least to change some of his commentary — out of sensitivity to any BIPOC in his constituency or otherwise who may have been feeling a lot of pain that day regarding Breonna’s case. I pressed “send” but my computer froze up at the same moment; my well-thought-out message didn’t go through and disappeared.
I groaned with frustration and considered whether or not to start over. Relatively quickly, and regretfully, I decided not to. Here’s why: I realized that the argument I was giving him was based only on feelings — not on facts, figures, or logic. So I promptly discredited myself (both the feelings I felt and those I perceived from others), skipped an opportunity to share my gift with a person in power, and failed to put in the work that is necessary to being a true ally.
When I silenced my own voice, I dehumanized myself and allowed fellow human beings to be dehumanized. As I’ve done all too often in my life, I let the lie win that those big feelings were too much, had no place here, and were not to be trusted. I passed up an important opportunity for truth to be shared.
Now, let me give the caveat that it is not any and every feeling out there that points to truth. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh expressed anger and emotion when he denied during his Senate confirmation hearings that it was him that sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Amy Cooper — a white woman — showed anger and exasperation while she called the police when Christian Cooper — a black man — asked her to leash her dog while he birdwatched in Central Park. As a personal example, I feel disappointment and despair when I fall back into the trap of believing that I’m unworthy of belonging.
I believe the difference I’m getting at here is this: our emotions are a compass towards truth if they are a call to human flourishing, beloved community, repaired relationships, and justice; these are the emotions stirred up in us by our longing for eternity and wholeness. On the other hand, intense emotionality that erupts in response to the desire to maintain power and control, refuse remorseful transformation, deny harms done, or only look out for oneself are feelings that stem from and point to a lie.
What do I mean by a “longing for eternity?” As it says about humanity in Scripture, the longing for eternity has been set in our hearts by the God who created us (Ecclesiastes 3:11). I am one who longs deeply for eternity, which is to say that I long for complete belonging and loving community, for wholeness and a deep restful feeling of lacking nothing and experiencing no harm. So let’s call these “eternity-driven emotions,” then, to keep the distinction clear.
Our bursting and weighty emotions filled with longing tell us that we were created by and for eternity. We were made for more and our hearts know it, so our eternity-driven emotions are indicators of the good that is and the good that isn’t but should be. They are an embodied compass, trustworthy reminders, and very human signals that point to shalom (a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, health, safety, and well-being). What a beautiful gift!
Our lovely world is pretty messed up, so without a bold disruption, physical and emotional embodiments of truth will continue to be gaslit and denied in order for the status quo of white supremacy, patriarchy, and other social inequities to be maintained. These systemic injustices thrive on the dismissal of emotions, reactions, and embodied experiences that signal to the world that something is wrong and harm has been done. As such, eternity-driven emotions must announce themselves and claim their space for justice to be realized.
In an act of defiance to the harmful status quo of society’s inequitable “-isms,” what if I chose to see my eternity-driven emotions as an asset and a compass, rather than a burden or untrustworthy distraction? What if I chose to believe that this gift of mine is not “too much,” and is, in fact, greatly needed in our world?
It’s long overdue that we trust and follow the lead of the emotional, deeply-feeling person that sees the wrongs that need to be righted. It’s long overdue that we give value and merit to people’s embodied suffering and justice-calling emotions. We need those who weep to educate future learners, those who rage at injustice to be the ones to enact just policy, and those who long for eternity to lead with humility and insight.
Our world needs the “crazy,” “hysterical,” and the “too much” to speak up and problem-solve and lead and legislate. We need the gift of their eternity-driven emotions and embodied truths to guide the way towards the type of community and society we long for. The eternity set in our hearts will always call us to it; it’s time for us to heed the call.
How to Care for a Woman’s Voice
Stephanie A. Sellers, 2016
When a woman’s voice becomes stadium-sized
becomes the squealing brakes of an 18-wheeler
becomes bomb blasts, chainsaws, and jackhammers
going off simultaneously, shaking the walls
because no one has been listening to her
Take her hand, like worship
as attentive as ensuring the delicate edges of
molasses cookies do not burn
as alertly as staying in your lane at high speed
in heavy traffic, during a rainstorm, at night
Receive her words like jeweled beads on silk
and embroider them into your mind
Study and caress them
brush away her tears of rage
until you hear every meaning her words contain
then recite them like a poem back to her
sketch them onto bars of music until
they make a melody
Paint them into hieroglyphics upon your heart
cup them like water from a stream and drink
until your throat aches for more.