Emotions are pesky things. We all have them, although maybe we show them in varying degrees. It doesn’t take much for me to get excited about something (like the pumpkin cheesecake ice cream I discovered yesterday) or angry about something (like the rude teenage girl who cut me off in traffic today).
Lately I’ve been really trying to understand my emotions better, and to figure out how I’m supposed to live with these obnoxious things. A tough experience I recently had helped me see things in a different light. I hope maybe it will be of help to other people.
I live across the country from my family, who lives in the state of Oregon. Towards the end of one workday, my phone buzzed with an alert from my news app. Usually I dismiss these quickly, but my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach when I saw the words “shooter,” “community college,” and “Oregon.” I turned off the light, hid behind my desk, and spent the next few hours frantically trying to find out what happened. I called and texted everyone in my family, and searched online for every possible news update. After some time, I ascertained that none of my family or friends had been hurt. But I continued to watch the news reports and listen to the 911 calls. I saw the panic, the confusion, the blood, and the tears shown in the news photographs. I sat in my office and cried – from helplessness, from relief that my family was safe, for the people whose lives had suddenly ended, and for fear that this could happen anywhere.
That same weekend, I experienced sorrow in another, more personal way. I found out that I had been hurt by a friend, and it was a terrible feeling. I had been lied to, and I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I struggled with forgiveness, because I didn’t want to forgive.
The whole next week I found myself fighting to have the proper “Christian” response - to pray, to forgive, and to be positive. But all I could think about was how terrible the world was, and how insensitive and cruel people could be. I wanted to do something to help. I didn’t want to face the ugly world outside, and some days it was difficult to get out of bed. I tried to attend a night of Eucharistic Adoration and praise and worship. Partway through I had to leave the church, sit on the step outside, and cry. I felt completely useless. How was I supposed to worship God? How was I supposed to love Him, or other people, when all I felt was sorrow, fear, and anger? I felt ashamed, because I thought a real disciple of Christ wouldn’t be afraid. A real disciple would quickly forgive. But I couldn’t. As Christians we’re told to be light in the darkness. What do you do when you feel like there’s no light left in you to give?
Lately I had been reading from the section of the Catechism which speaks to our passions and emotions (very fitting). The Catechism explains that these passions and emotions are part of who we are as human beings, but that they are only good or bad in so far as we incorporate them into our virtues or vices. (CCC 1767, 1768) A few days after all of these happenings, I read a little further and discovered this paragraph:
The whole being – all of it’s sorrows, fears, and sadness.
It hit me that those three elements are specifically mentioned. Because my sorrows, fears, and sadness are part of me. They are part of being human. The Holy Spirit does his work through me – through all of me. Even through the ugliest and most crippling of emotions. Even on the bad days. Even on the worst days.
I pulled out a notepad and scribbled down every emotion I had felt in the past week. Then I slowly read through them. And I asked God to show me how he could be changing me through these emotions. I won’t share all of what I wrote, but here are some of the thoughts I had:
-Anger and hurt at my friend who hurt me: This made me evaluate my friendship, but also helped me see what that person was dealing with. I had to ask God for the desire to forgive, but maybe that’s what making the choice to forgive means.
-Being frightened and shook up by the shooting at home: This made me tell my family I loved them, and helped me look past some of the smaller disagreements I may have with them. I was reminded to place the people I love in God’s hands. It also gave me a very small glimpse of what people are going through in other parts of the world.
-Feeling discouraged and sad because of the ugliness in the world: This was, and still is, one of the hardest thing for me to deal with. But wherever there’s suffering, God is teaching me to see the opportunity to be more compassionate. And as I sat there with my notepad, I started to realize that He needs me to fight for the goodness that is still in the world.
We all have sorrows and struggles, because we are human. Sometimes it is something more monumental or tragic, such as the terrible devastation in Paris this week. But maybe it’s also the small everyday things where sorrow creeps into your life. No matter what it is, the Holy Spirit is still here in the middle of it. And he is working.
You may tell yourself that there’s no way God can work through you when you are so imperfect, hurt, or overwhelmed. You may think that someday you’ll do enough as a parent, a wife, a brother, a daughter, a student, in your church, at your work. Maybe someday you’ll do something great for God.
Let all that go. The Holy Spirit can work through you now. Today. He will work through your strengths, your talents, your love, your joy. He will use your mouth to speak truth, and your strong hands to help the hurting. But He will also use your weaknesses. Your hurt, angry, or confused emotions. Your hard heart when you don’t think you can forgive. Your eyes, red from crying. Your tired arms and legs that don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. Your anxiety for your future or your family.
When we stop pretending and accept the state we are in – emotional, broken, flawed, weak, hurt – we start to see how God can be present in that situation. And Christ gives us the perfect example, especially in the Agony of the Garden:
Here we see Christ’s very human emotions. He was troubled and distressed, and his soul was “sorrowful even to death.” “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Out of all of this he speaks the perfect prayer to the Father: “Not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14: 32 – 42, Luke 22: 29 – 46) And through his suffering, the Holy Spirit accomplishes the work of our salvation.
Our emotions can be difficult and debilitating to deal with. There is no easy fix, especially when something extremely terrible has happened in our lives. When we are faced with darkness and suffering in the world, such as we saw just saw in Paris, we may be tempted to just shut it out. But what I learned that week was to ask the Holy Spirit to accept me, to change me, and to do His work in me, even through the emotions I found so crushing. I challenge you to do the same this week.
“Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
That I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
To defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
That I always may be holy.”
~Saint Augustine of Hippo
Sarah Kuenzi is a campus minister in Toledo, Ohio. She likes long walks in the grass and has a laugh that can reach across the Atlantic. Her closest friend is the Catechism and she loves a good beer. She has an unprecedented knowledge of all things Star Wars and J.R.R. Tolkien and would love to tell you all her theories over a beer, or two, or three.
Article Photo by Jerome Delay