Growing up, curse words were strictly forbidden. And rude gestures.
To be honest, they were so taboo that I didn’t even clearly know what they all were until I was well into adulthood.
At the age of five, I found myself embroiled in one of my first knockdown, drag-out girl fights. I have no recollection of the origins of this particular battle. I do remember the other girl was a bit too prim and proper for my liking… until she wasn’t. We yelled. We pulled on hair and clothes. We threw rocks at each other. It wasn’t pretty, but it sure was fun.
The fight culminated in a face-off in the middle of the apartment complex where we both lived. She was running away and I was screaming something about her chicken-livered heart, when she turned around and gave me the finger.
Now, I had no idea of the meaning of this gesture. I didn’t need to in order to feel the power of it. I felt it BIG. And in response I whipped out my own tiny middle finger and raised it on behalf of all the scrappy girls trying to survive in the world.
It felt amazing. Glorious even.
Until I heard someone scream my name from the sliding back door of my apartment, “Kaysie Deanna DODDDDDDDD!!!! Come inside right NOW!”
Only I didn’t know the word “crap” either, so I couldn’t even say that.
Fast forward thirty-ish years and I found myself raising my own little ones and holding them to similar standards. I did my job well. Naïveté thrived in our home. Once while driving past a billboard advertising a rated-R movie, our then eight-year old daughter, Morgan, asked us what that rating actually meant. We explained that those movies were full of inappropriate content like swear words and violence. Morgan then leaned over to her little brothers and whispered, “Ohhhhhh… I’ll bet they say ‘stupid.'”
Bless her sweet little innocent heart.
Not that all of our kiddos toed the line this sweetly.
Charlie came home from his first week of first grade and announced to me that he had “learned all the swears.”
“Really, Charlie? All the swears? Do you even know what those are?”
“Yep. I learned them all today. Here, I’ll show you.”
And he proceeded to methodically spell EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Well, until I stopped him as he began to spell one that started with the letter “f.”
A few years ago, in the midst of great loss, heartache and stress, I suddenly found that all of these words that had been forbidden to me were popping into my head and coming out of my mouth with greater and greater frequency. Now, let me be quick to say that I didn’t (and don’t) have a problem with this. I think an appropriately-placed swear word here and there allows me a necessary outlet for the expression of another f-word I was taught was undesirable by God and others.
This f-word is actually harder for me to say than the one considered by most to be totally off-limits.
The unacceptability and unreliability of feelings was not only a not-so-subtle message in my childhood home, it was the main teaching point of many a sermon taught from the pulpit of the various evangelical churches I grew up attending. In fact, if you do a Google search for “fact faith feelings train” you’ll find no shortage of clip art and faith-based teachings to support this idea.
Like this one…
I mean, it sounds right, doesn’t it?
Except that this isn’t actually what scripture says. 2 Corinthians 5:7 is the oft-quoted text used to back up the claim that feelings should take a back seat to the human experience if the human wants to follow Christ. Instead, this scripture tells us that we “live by faith not by what we see with our eyes.” (TPT) And by the way, don’t we as humans typically believe that facts are formed by what we see with our eyes? Hmmm… I actually think Paul would say his faith was informed by his encounters with God and his life experiences. And wouldn’t his feelings about those encounters and experiences be crucial? Remember, he didn’t have the New Testament giving him the facts. He was writing the New Testament.
All that to say, I received a very clear message as a child – feelings are not okay, not safe and not reliable.
And tbh, that set well with my temperament too. I liked feeling invulnerable. I liked feeling like I had everything under control.
Except that it just wasn’t true.
Our bodies don’t actually work this way. In fact, when we receive information in any form, the first thing our brains are designed to do in response is to feel. It’s a safety measure given to us by God within the very design of our bodies and brains. Our feelings are meant to inform the way we take in information, the way we relate to one another, the way we survive in this crazy hard world we live in.
Yes, facts are important. Yes, faith is elemental. But as my therapist likes to say, it’s a “both/and,” not an “either/or” situation.
Facts, faith and feelings are all meant to work together within and around us as we grow and develop.
For my part, I wasn’t (and I’m not) invulnerable. I didn’t (and I don’t) have everything under control. And the more I let myself feel my feelings, the more I learn to trust that they have some really good things to tell me.