Friday, 7 August 2015

Heart on Sleeve. And Then Some.

When I went to watch Inside Out, I wept for pretty much the duration of the film.

This does not separate me from most other people who have seen it. It is a real tear-jerker, and in fact, it annoyed me because Pixar blatantly worked in all things to provoke a dewy-eyed response, plucking on all the right heart-strings: little people, the value of sadness in making happy happen, nostalgia, gooey music... but that's not why I cried.

I cried because there on the big screen was someone else having emotions. And I could see them happening!

I've always found it difficult that my emotions are so "out there."

In the film, inside Riley's head the emotions storm- there is raging, rejoicing and "ewwing" that all go on, before we see Riley's output- often a relatively sensible, measured response to the internal battle. But for me, it often feels the other way round. All that mess, chaos and -granted, sometimes- comedy- is happening on the outside. The control centre where all the emotions are meant to hang out is probably quite calm and empty inside Philippa. Tumbleweeds blow through it. It's on the outside where the havoc is at.

For I am heart on my sleeve and then some.

My heart is not just on my sleeve- a cute little Ode to Valentine- my heart is messy, intense, explosive, extreme and it is all of those things on my sleeve. It makes me feel embarrassed and anti-social in the way you might feel if you rocked up to the pub or to dinner parties with an internal organ on your lapel- throbbing and spluttering and there for all to see.

Of course, hearts are probably meant to be a bit of a mess- you know, all pulsey and bloody, and yeah- intense. But they're nicely tucked away: behind your rib-cage, behind your skin, behind your clothes. It's safe there. But I have never managed to get mine to stay put. It's always lurching itself out all over the place- making its delights, passions, distresses, angers, sadnesses, joys, disgusts known. Even when I manage to keep my mouth shut, my feelings are still writ in large all over my frustratingly expressive face.

People will say, "it's great you're so honest." But it's the equivalent of me saying to them, "it's great you're so breathing." I'm not trying to be honest. I'm just being. And feeling. Everywhere.

When I was at my most depressed last year I went to church and wept. I started in the first hymn and finished about half an hour after everything had been wrapped up. As soon as I engaged with some gospel truth I would start crying, because I wanted, desperately, to hold on to it, but I couldn't see how it would fit with everything else I was experiencing at the time. This happened for months.

In the middle of this time, I wrote a poem called "The Drowning Storm", in which I starred... as the drowning storm. I basically felt ashamed of my emotions. They rendered me helpless and exposed; I was a storm of intensity, but I was drowning; I felt like people didn't want to wade out to meet me in it because that kind of emotion seemed taboo. I wished I could just pack it all away- have it neatly tucked in behind the chest-bone. If I could just get my emotions to do their thing on the inside, and then control the output... but I didn't ever manage it, and I haven't managed it yet. I missed that Emotion Control Class that people around me seem to have attended when they were six or seven.

So what's the answer? What's the "certain brightness"? Honestly, I don't really know.

Maybe, it's in rejoicing that I am forgiven for my emotions where they are messy. And in fact, beyond messy: sinful, destructive, self-centered.

Maybe, it's in knowing that a fruit of the Spirit is self-control. There are ways to have emotions and to not sin. To love others by showing restraint. And I do pray I learn that more and more: that the Spirit helps me to feel, but not to sin. 

Maybe, it's in knowing that Jesus felt things deeply too- and that what he felt spilled over in to visible life. He felt sad, and he wept (John 11:35). He felt angry, and he turned over tables (John 2:15). His deep distress at stubborn hearts and his compassion towards those who suffered was plain enough for Mark to remember and record (Chapter 3). Again, there are ways to express emotion and not to sin. Knowing that Jesus felt "on show" was comfort enough to get me to sleep the other night.

Maybe, it's in deciding what will ultimately take control. In Inside Out, all there is in the control centre are feelings- and they run the show. And in my case, because my feelings seem so big, intense and, for want of a better word, verbal- it's easy to let them run the show too. But though they can delight in, and testify to glorious gospel truth, it is not the emotions that are the truth. When I feel anger, or frustration with myself, or an overwhelming breaker of despair sweeping my way- that's when I need to know: feelings are not ultimately in control. That's what Inside Out got wrong. There is more going on than feelings. There is a better, deeper, more reliable control: there is Truth.

When I felt ashamed and alone in church, I was not. I had friends who loved me and were eager to wade out- they just didn't always know how. My feelings weren't in sync with the truth. I said I cried because I was trying to make the gospel truth "fit" my emotions. And of course, it should be the other way around. Truth is just that- true. You can't trump it. You can't change it. It's fundamental and unbreakable.

And so part of life will then be keeping my emotion in check with what the "Voice that spans the years" is telling me. Sometimes His voice will trump the emotions, and sometimes, His voice will be a call to emotion! Often, in fact. But my hope is that more and more- my emotions will follow His call, rather than their own.

Finally, and definitely- I'm grateful that Jesus is big enough and kind enough and powerful enough  to hide me in Himself and hold me in His hands and take me on as I am in all of my intense messiness. I'm grateful He doesn't wait for me to get my emotions to "fit" the gospel, before He looks me in the eye and says, "you are mine!", before He becomes my refuge, before He starts working for my good. 

What He declares to be true is always true, and this includes His promise of faithfulness to me, even as the storm rages.

There's this amazing account in Mark 4, where Jesus falls asleep in a storm. Waves are crashing, the wind is whirling; the disciples are totally overwhelmed. And yet, when Jesus wakes up, he's surprised that they are afraid. He is with them! Why fear? The whole time the storm has been raging, He's had the absolute power to still it- utterly- with a word. And so in my often very visible emotional storms, I run to Him for refuge. He might not command calm immediately- but He's got the power to, and whatever is bruised by the tempest, his power is not; his faithfulness is not; his promises are not.

And for this I am, heart on sleeve, very, very glad. 


  1. I come here every week and find a bit more light, a bit more of Jesus as I read you and the way you unashamedly and courageously bare your heart and soul to us each time your fingertips hit the keyboard. This is one of my favourite places. I thank God for it, for you. Lot of love PDubz x

  2. Thank you so much, friend x


Blogger Template By Designer Blogs