Sometimes you meet a new friend who just gets it, who knows what it’s like to drown in life’s overwhelming emotions. So when Kristen handed me her new book baby full of overflowing feelings and hugs of help, I knew I had to introduce you. Because we all need a hand up from the emotions we can’t handle.
Sitting on the green shag carpet, she folds herself up and weeps bitter alligator-size tears. Everything she’d hoped for that night collapses and the emotion of disappointment threatens to roll her over and leave her flat. Her parents expressed their regret, but what does it matter now? Can they fix it? Make what she’d wanted return? No. All that’s left is utter despair.
Perhaps you can recall similar experiences. The weight of childhood emotions carries the memories into adulthood and we remember how it felt to be so devastated (even if we can’t remember why). Incidentally, the little girl in the snapshot was me, and I was disappointed we weren’t visiting close friends that night. In my little 7-year-old mind, all fun and sunshine had evaporated. Of course, I got over the little setback, as all children do. And every time I faced another disappointment on life’s track, I learned how to lift my legs a little more and hurdle them.
I’m far from where I want to be, though. As a recovering control addict, I know how often I fail life’s tests. When I stumble, when life throws manure in the way, and when I don’t know what to do, I’d love to say that I keep walking, jumping over the piles, and shrugging off the obstacles. But I still have the occasional pity party. It’s not pretty.
A few nights ago, I was watching a clip where Jimmy Fallon interviewed Jerry Seinfeld. Talking about his kids, Seinfeld mentioned how he’d recently taken them bowling. In typically comedic fashion, he ridiculed the “fences” they pull up in the gutters. Yes, because that’s real life, kids. He argued that we aren’t preparing our children for what awaits them. It’s all gutter balls! Of course, his dramatic cynicism makes us laugh, but his words ring some truth too.
We don’t want our kids stuck in life’s gutters because they weren’t prepared for the potholes and ditches. We want them to know life isn’t always going to go their way. We want them to know how to cope. But more than that, we want them to rise above just coping.
In an attempt to help realign perspective, I frequently tell our children: Life isn’t about you. Truly understanding this fact will help them move forward from the inevitable pity party and find something more purposeful to do with their emotions.
Because we don’t want a child-centered home, my husband and I recognize that our children’s happiness isn’t the end goal either. Do we want them sad and miserable? Of course not. But, true joy happens when you aren’t aiming for it. It is a by-product of something else, not the end result of striving for happiness. When life feels messy, we encourage our kids to do something for someone else (even if it’s a sibling). Share. Give. Encourage. Serve. And see what beauty blossoms from it. Get outside yourself and renew your perspective by helping humanity.
Lastly, as God’s been reminding me over and over again, “Your life doesn’t have to look majestic to thank me.” Usually in the midst of my frustrations and disappointments, I hear God whisper, “Praise me.” Do I feel like it? Hardly. But is that even the point? Taking our hearts to God in worship says more about Him than us, and getting our eyes off ourselves brings us to a place of peace. Regardless of what major rut stretches across the road, He is still God and He is still doing something in my life…and in yours.
Remember that peace and joy rest outside of our tumultuous fears, disappointments, and pity parties: we anchor into something steadfast and sure—who God is and what He says about us. Regardless of how we feel about ourselves in the moment, we must hold fast to God’s definition of ourselves and our purposes. When we truly embrace those truths, our disappointments ride along a sea of hopeful horizons and eternal perspective.
Kristin L. Hanley is a homeschool mom, an online English professor, and women’s Bible-study leader. She loves to hike, bake pies, and play games with her family. To learn more about Kristin, check out her blog: kristinlhanley.com. Her book, Navigating a Sea of Emotions, came out this January.
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