I was in fourth grade. I can still see the classroom, I still remember where my desk was. It was recess time, but it was too cold (or maybe rainy?) to go outside, so we were playing an indoor game. Only, I didn’t feel like it. So I sat down at my desk and put my head on my arms. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Canon, coming over to me and pressing a hand to my forehead. “Are you not feeling well, sweetie?”
“I’m okay,” I said. “I’m just tired. When I get tired, I start to feel sick.”
Mrs. Canon smiled. “In this case, I think you’re tired because you’re sick. You feel a little warm. Let’s go to the office and call your mom, okay?”
I remember the emotions that surged in my little 9-year-old heart at that. At realizing that maybe it was something real, maybe I needed more than a good night’s sleep. I remember being so grateful that this teacher I loved had taken time out to check on me, to walk me down to the office of our primary school while the other kids threw the beanbag around the circle. I remember the compassion in the receptionist’s eyes as she dialed my home phone number for me and handed me the phone.
And I remember breaking to pieces when I heard my mom’s voice. She asked me what was wrong. I told her I was sick. And I started crying. Not because I was that sick–it was just the flu, gone in a few days. No, I wasn’t crying because of how I felt in my body. I was crying because of how I felt in my heart.
These women, these women who took care of me day and night, cared. They saw the truth of me, even when I didn’t. And they helped. My mom was at the school in a matter of minutes, taking me home and tucking me onto the couch with a movie and a blanket. I don’t actually remember that particularly, I just know it’s what she always did. Because that’s what love does. And that’s what our hearts always need.
A couple weeks ago, I was having a bad week. Though usually I’m an ace at leaving the worry to God and putting my nose to the grindstone, that week it just wasn’t working for me. It all felt like too much. Or rather, like not enough. Like no matter how hard we worked, we were always going to come up short. I spent hours that week walking or jogging or swinging and just pouring my heart out to God. And I know He heard me, because I know He always does. I just didn’t feel it.
I’m a bit of a stoic. I can admit that. Sharing my feelings doesn’t come naturally to me when I’m in the grip of them, even with my husband. One of the reasons I knew we were meant for each other was that he seemed to understand, even when we were teens, that if he let me hold my silence, I’d hold it indefinitely. Instead, he made me talk. Open up. Share what I was feeling, even–especially–when I didn’t want to. But if left to my own devices, I just button my lips to anyone but God and adopt the “suck it up, Buttercup” mentality.
I don’t know why. It’s just who I am. Who I’ve always been. I would rather put my head down on my arms at my desk and suffer in silence than let anyone know I’m not feeling well.
When I was a kid, I could count on someone noticing. My teachers, my mom, my grandmother. They always knew. They always asked.
As an adult, it’s different. Sure, my husband will notice, but sometimes he’s right there in the same storm with me. So if I need to talk about it with someone who isn’t, that’s on me. And, for me, that’s hard.
It was Thursday by the time I finally reached out to my best friend–having been in this particular funk since the previous Friday night. A week of just crying out to God and feeling like I was banging my head against a wall. So finally, I answered her “How’s your day going?” question with the truth. “Not great. I’m stuck in my head…”
I talked it through with her (on chat, so typed it through, I guess). And she saw me. She understood. She’s been there. And just having that conversation broke through the dam.
My teacher, my mom back in fourth grade…they didn’t make it better. Their attention and love didn’t make the flu go away. But it made me better, in my heart. And the same is true now. Being seen and understood by a friend doesn’t solve the problem of circumstances–but it solves the problem of my heart.
And it reminded me of why I’d felt like God wasn’t doing anything: Because He moves through His Church. He shows His love not just through the familiar Words of Scripture (though He uses that, without question!), not just through mental reminders. He shows His love through the people who love Him. Through His family. When kids snuggle up in their parents’ laps for comfort, it’s an echo of what we’re always called to do. To curl up in the security of God’s loving family, knowing that we’ll help each other, see each other, understand each other because He loves us.
But we have to take that step. We have to open up. Be vulnerable. We have to cry out to each other, not only to the Lord. He hears us, yes. He will answer. But many, many times His answer comes through His people. And while He nudges them to reach out to us, often that comes as a question. “Hey, how are you doing? How’s your day?” And we have to be brave enough, vulnerable enough, to answer.
This is something I struggle with, time and again. I think I inherited my English ancestors’ stiff upper lip to a rather debilitating degree, LOL. It’s part of my nature–a part that can be helpful in the short run, when it’s a passing thing, but which I’m still learning to overcome too. Because I need to be seen and understood, as surely now as when I was nine.
I shy away from it because it breaks me a little, and I don’t like to break. I feel weak when I break. But that’s how I’m made stronger too–through those relationships, and through the faith that reminds me that it’s only in my weakness that I can let God be strong for me.
It’s only when we let others really see us that our hearts can receive His healing touch.