I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:3–6
Growing up I received the message that it wasn’t okay to say how you were feeling, when you were hurt, or what made you angry. This was all to be stuffed down to maintain a fragile peace and to ensure that you would continue to be loved. This approach to feelings has spilled over into every relationship I’ve ever had. About a year ago, God showed me that He longed to heal this wound in me. And as in all transformation, my participation was required. So, I began practicing bravery in relationships—sharing when I felt hurt, overlooked, undervalued, or angry—every now and then. “Practicing” because I wasn’t sure I could do it or that I’d like it. This practicing is one of my biggest life battles because God is asking me to do the thing that, for me, is the hardest thing.
This weekend while riding in the car, I off-handedly told my 15-year old daughter that something another person said had annoyed me. Even as I said it, I knew there was more to the feeling, but I left it at annoyance. By some miracle, she has not inherited my stuff-it-don’t-say-it philosophy, so she proceeded to tell me it annoyed her that I was so annoyed. She said she couldn’t understand why it mattered so much to me that the other person said what they said. He was just expressing his opinion.
I felt stung and like I was 12 again and my feelings were not valid and shouldn’t be shared. My face burned and my gut tightened.
My daughter’s words hung in the air between us, waiting for a response. Everything in me demanded I not speak and the more time that passed, the more hostile the silence became. I know this kind of silence well; it has been a pillar of my relationships. A full five minutes went by and the silence felt like being in the presence of an old friend. I could wait out the awkwardness and then move ahead as if this moment had never happened. I’d done this all my life. I had a bottomless storage tank in my heart for unexpressed feelings.
I glanced over at my daughter in the passenger seat looking out the window. I know she sensed the tension in this silence and probably began to believe that she had done something wrong—that she shouldn’t have shared her feelings with me. But she could not have known the battle raging in my mind and heart. It started to feel cruel not to say anything even after the hundreds of seconds that had passed since she spoke. It was an act of aggression to shut down. Panic rose in the back of my throat as I considered responding. I prayed, but not in words; it was mostly just silent heart groans.
I breathed deeply, kept both hands firmly on the steering wheel. “Here’s why what he said mattered so much to me: When I was a kid…” I recalled what had happened at least 25 years earlier and the feelings that had been triggered. She listened with all the love she has in her, which is enough to fill an ocean. She asked a soft question and when she did, relief rushed over me and light filled my soul. I did it! And I was okay. I was safe. She still loves me.
We have no idea the battles being waged in the hearts and minds of people around us. May we be gentle and gracious with each other. And may we be brave and open as God heals our wounds.