Where Did That Come From?
This past year, our oldest daughter, Kate, got married, and truly, everything about that day was dreamy: The weather was gorgeous, the venue was idyllic, and everywhere I turned I saw faces belonging to our most beloved people. It was spectacular, every bit of it. My husband, Zac, and I love our son-in-law, Charlie, and we approve wholeheartedly of this match. So much expectation. So much gratitude. So much joy.
And then, post-wedding, my heart was pretty quickly wrecked.
For all the good that a child’s wedding brings, there is bad that nobody warns you about. Because the moment Kate left our nuclear family—the one made up of Zac and me and her brothers and sister—she and Charlie became their own little family of two.
It gets worse.
Kate and Charlie started telling Zac and me about ridiculous dreams they were dreaming, like most people in their twenties, using words like adventure
—all words I said to my mom and dad what feels like not so long ago. Over dinner one night, my daughter had the dang nerve to look at her father and me and, with all the casualness in the world, say some stupid sentence that included a whole bunch of words I didn’t really hear and three phrases I totally did: “out of the state” . . . “maybe out of the country” . . . “not forever, of course, but for a few years.”
A season? Of adventure?
A season of adventure apart from me?
The walls of the room in which we were eating began closing in. My chest, which moments before had felt rightsized for my body, was now two sizes too small for my heart to take a beat. My airways constricted. What fresh hell had I tumbled headlong into? My reaction was not rational, I knew. I realized it in my head, but something bigger than knowing the right answers was happening to me.
I played it cool. I pasted a grin onto my face. I held eye contact with my child—Nice and steady, Jennie. That’s it, that’s it
—and I focused on inhaling calmly. This wasn’t about me, and I knew it. Equally true: This was absolutely all about me.
Thankfully, I didn’t erupt that night. I didn’t come apart in waves of tears. I didn’t faint or fume or fall apart. I made it through in one piece. But the following week, and the week after that and the week after that, in casual conversations with Kate, the subject kept coming up. And again, my chest and airways told me that this wasn’t nothing. No, no: This, I knew, was a thing.
Cognitively, I understood that I wanted Kate and Charlie to go and create and live their own beautiful story, whatever that meant. So why couldn’t my body and heart catch up? Can’t Stop the Feeling
Let me ask you a question: Have you ever had a disproportionate emotional response to a situation that should not have affected you in such a dramatic way?
Let me ask you one more: Have you ever stopped to think about what the reason for that response could be?
There are always things beneath the things. We are not simple creatures. Even those of us determined to live steady, unemotionally charged lives are shaped by a million small moments that stay with us. Those moments shape who we are and how we think and how we react—and, yes, how we feel—in a given moment to a given circumstance.
Among the many things I’ve been learning and want to share with you in the pages to come is that those revved-up reactions tell a story—a story about something we’ve lived. They point to a deep-seated something that has gone unaddressed in our heart.
We experience something impactful. We react to that thing by stuffing our feelings or minimizing our feelings or ignoring how we feel altogether. Then something else comes our way, something that’s not even that big of a deal, and we lose it. We unload on a loved one. We catastrophize. We ugly cry, heaving until we can barely breathe.
And then we regret what we’ve done.
Why did we freak out?
Why did we demean our spouse?
Why did we shame our kid or yell at our roommate?
Why did we make that insane assumption and blame and threaten and walk right out the door, slamming it behind us as we left?
What was that all about? What was underneath it all?
Short answer: a lot,
as the science and the Bible will show us.
Somewhere along the way, maybe from things I heard at church or just from growing up, I learned I wasn’t supposed to be sad or angry or scared. I was supposed to be okay, so I needed you to be okay too. Or maybe it’s just because I hate the feeling of being out of control, and I believed these feelings were too scary, and sitting in the hard felt . . . too hard.
Every time I experience sadness, fear, anger—emotions I’ve been conditioned to not want to feel—my brain immediately moves to fight off the feeling much like my immune system takes down a virus. My brain attacks the feeling, judges it, condemns it, and tells me why I shouldn’t feel it at all. It tells me that it is all going to be okay. It barks out all these orders about what I need to do so that I can finally stop feeling the feeling.
Worse still, sometimes when you share with me your sadness, fear, or anger, I do the same stupid thing to you.
It’s wrong, and I’m sorry. Your feelings, my feelings, are not evil things that need to be beat back.
Feelings can’t be beat back, by the way. Even if you’re the most effective stuffer ever to live, the very best at stuffing feelings way down deep, so far down you believe they can never be found, I’m here to tell you those feelings don’t go quietly. The people who know you know that they’re there. If you are honest, you know they’re there too.
That hint of rage you felt toward your dad, the fear of rejection you felt with your family, the striving that has exhausted you at school or work, the jealousy that creeps in whenever you are at that one friend’s house, the bitterness that flickers when you talk about why you don’t yet have kids, the despair you feel in your gut every time you think of the person you love buried underground—I know you think you packed all those things safely away in a box so that you won’t have to see them again.
But inevitably they pop out at unexpected times, like over a lovely dinner when your daughter is just dreaming beautiful dreams.
Whatever the triggering situation, at some point the next day or the next week or sometime even later than that, you look back on the catalyst—and on your response—thinking, Why on earth did I say (or do) that?
You wonder, How on earth did those feelings sneak up on me?
You wonder why they didn’t play fair.
The truth of the matter? They were
Or playing predictably,
Because those feelings are tangled up with something very real in your past or present, something that absolutely is
a big deal to you, whether or not you’re ready to admit it.
Feelings can’t be beat back.
They can’t be ignored or dismissed.
They are trying to tell us something.
Copyright © 2024 by Jennie Allen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.