Christian College Student Concept #1: "I’m going to shut out negative emotions, because I want to encourage everyone around me, and there’s no way I can do that unless I’m cheerful and pleasant."
(If you are tagged in this note, it is because you are a part of the story, and I want to thank you for the influence you've had in this step of my life. The list is by no means all inclusive, just the ones that stand out in my memory of the events recalled in this particular portion I've written about. I'll only tag you once, in the series of notes I'm writing, but know that your influence carries on - it's just going to be a LOT of writing, and I don't want to clog up your facebook wall. So, yes, thank you.)
(Also, if you want this to flow more cohesively, go back and read pt 1)
The funny thing is… I can go right back to that way of thinking. Why is it that we can learn something so profoundly and genuinely… and forget it so quickly? Human flightiness? Perhaps.
I came back to school the day after the funerals. And I knew that I had a reputation – I was smiling Bethany, who always had a lighthearted comment or encouraging remark, totally focused on cheering up the people around her. (Friends – this is by no means your problem. It’s all on me). I couldn’t do it at first. I could barely even think, let alone feel anything. It became a problem academically. One of my professors summed it up like this:
“Everything seems pretty trivial now, doesn’t it?”
Yes, Professor Bouw, it certainly does.
And then I was advised (by a different professor) to engage in school once again by training my mind, again, to look for the good in those situations, to understand God’s purpose, to see what I was gaining out of this situation, so that I could once again have a cheerful outlook and be able to encourage the people around me.
And I tried it. Because I am an idiot and never learn a lesson the first time around.
I was still sad. But not nearly as often. In fact, I was pretty happy for a couple of weeks straight through. And then I dipped down again, and was very unpleasantly reminded that grief is not something that can be taken care of quickly, or that can be ignored.
But I still didn’t see any connection to the way I was trying to deal with it. And really, it was very effective most of the time. When I was only thinking of pleasant things, I did tend to have pretty positive emotions.
And then, the night before I was to leave for spring break, I received a text from my hall director, telling me to be in her apartment in 15 minutes, with the other PA’s (RA’s for non-Taylor people). And when I arrived, I was told that our housekeeper, Amy, who I had known and had many conversations with and enjoyed immensely, had been taken hostage and then killed by her estranged husband that day. I was stunned. I was feeling my own very real, raw pain again, and then also thinking of Amy’s daughters, one of whom is a student in our hall…
And… the memory is hazy… I honestly don’t know if I was expected to do this by other people or if I put this expectation on myself, but I got the impression that I, as a PA, was supposed to be walking around the hall, comforting and encouraging the students.
And I couldn’t do it. I knew I couldn’t. My pain was too real, and that new pain was also digging up the suppressed pain I still had for Brandon and Amanda.
And then the next day, a professor who I hold in very high regard, gave a lecture. About cheerfulness. And how it was the mark of a mature Christian.
And I argued with him. For the first time. I was offended. I asked what he could possibly see in the situation with Amy and her family, that he could be thankful for. And he said that I should think about what I could gain from the situation. Look for long-term positive effects in how God would use that situation. I was told by various members of the class that I needed to recognize God’s ultimate control over the situation, and that this was all a part of His plan. And that I needed to look longer at everything, so that I could see positives.
I felt a little bit like I was in the middle of The Stepford Wives… or in Camazotz, for those literate in Madeleine L’Engle. I still argued – the idea of concentrating on what I could gain from others’ pain seemed completely self-centered. My professor argued that the Bible instructed us to think that way, and I asked for scripture references to look up.
And I did. And I read some more scriptures. Within one of the references he gave me, there was a verse that said to “grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to morning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” My professor also gave a list of verses in the Psalms, singing praises to God, as support. But when I looked at the Psalms, there were also a huge number that began “Hear me, O Lord, as I voice my complaint…”
So now I’m here. This concept of continual self-constructed cheerfulness doesn’t feel right, doesn’t follow logically, and isn’t supported by a cohesive view of scripture (as far as I can tell).
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…
So now I’m done. I still have that joy. I can still feel it. But I in no way am going to go back to this idea of needing to train my mind to be constantly cheerful. Or believe that I cannot be an encouragement to people around me if I am not cheerful.
I came across an article I wrote as a senior in high school, which seems like ages ago, but I know is not actually that long… in which I prompted this question.
“So which is better then? To present a front that you don’t feel any pain so that you won’t burden others? Or to show that you’re just like them and that you feel?”
A teacher asked me about it. If I had an answer. I didn’t. Of course. I had no idea. I was 18 and hadn’t experienced anything significantly painful, to have to choose one of the two ways to act.
Now, at the wise, wise age of 21 (she said tongue-in-cheek), I have a little more of an idea. Pain is universal. Human. Every single person experiences pain of some kind going through life. Why put so much effort into pretending it doesn’t affect you? Shared pain creates a bond of understanding – a connectedness at a deep level of humanity. I don’t believe there is any greater satisfaction to be had from being superhuman, untouchable.
As my mom says (who is older even than 21 and actually is much wiser), "God created us with a whole spectrum of emotions... and I think He is big enough to handle any of them."
Myth busted? (I’m such a nerd.)