"In this home, we do..." The signs in the home decor store on the home improvement channel captured my attention. They talked about being a family that does real communication and shares real emotions. Being honest and loud. Making mistakes. Practicing forgiveness. Living in gratitude. Demonstrating love. I loved the honest sentiments about the importance of being real and open as a family doing life together. I appreciate the the tender sentiments about being silly and saying thank you. But it also made me wonder about how well we share the difficult emotions. How well do we share our pain and anger. Our sadness and frustrations are not something we want to advertise. You probably wouldn't see a sign that said, "In this home we talk about our feelings--even the sad, angry, and hard ones."
These signs were meant to inspire families to be genuine in the way that life gets shared together. It is easy to operate on a superficial level and miss out on going deeper in our relationships. We are busy people and our lives are full. Slowing down to tune into others may feel tedious and unproductive.
Yet, communication about all of our emotions is essential for healthy family life. We can’t function well if we only talk superficially with one another. Relationships thrive when feelings are expressed and listening offers genuine empathy. Communicating feelings is a deeper communication than just talking about the logistics of life. It is sharing our hearts.
Loneliness was the first crisis in God's newly created world. "It was not good for man to be alone"(Genesis 2:18). We are people made in the image of God and designed to to care for one another. God exists in the community of the trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are designed for fellowship. Our culture values independence, but God values interdependence. Why does God want us to depend on each other? What blessings come from sharing our feelings?
Without emotional connection we become strangers sharing the same roof. Emotional connection helps us to see the humanity of someone else and invites us to enter into their private life. In a culture that idolizes independence it is easy to become isolated and feel like no one else knows our pain or could empathize with our situation. When we isolate ourselves in our own pain, we withdraw from those who could have been a support through our challenges.
Expressing our feelings may feel intimidating, but it provides an opportunity to connect with helpful resources. Knowing that someone else has experienced the similar emotions can give us encouragement for the journey. When we are sad, glad, or mad, we should use our words to tell someone else and give them the opportunity to care for us. It is immature thinking to expect that someone will understand our feelings without us having to express ourselves.
It doesn't have to be complicated or intense. Just tell someone about your day and how you felt about it. Tell them every day. Wonder and ask about how other people felt about their day. Ask around the dinner table, "What was the most important thing that happened to you today?" Simply share, and make it a habit.
Sharing our feelings makes the load more bearable. It is helpful to know how the people under your roof are experiencing life, if you are going to be supportive of one another. Telling someone how you feel helps ease your emotional burden. When someone listens to our struggles, we have gained a support to help carry our burden. In carrying for one another, we more accurately reflect the love of Jesus.
"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).
Not everyone with whom we share will be receptive or helpful, but if we never try then we have denied people the opportunity to help us carry our load. It is hard to help one another if we have no idea how someone else is feeling. Even if not everyone is receptive, don’t let that keep you from reaching out. Seek out a professional counselor to listen if you need to, but find an outlet so that you are not carrying a difficult emotional burden on your own.
People might tell you stories, but the details aren't as important as the impact. So something happened to your spouse at work, but how did it feel to them? Did it cause joy? anger? Your child had a day at school. Were they disappointed? bored? embarrassed? Listen for the heart and name the emotion. Were they sad? glad? mad? Wonder most of all how it felt to be them today. And empathetic ear is one of the most powerful tools you have to build connection with others.
When we share how we feel, we invite someone into our world. When we can have a conversation about how we feel then we have connected emotionally with one another. Sharing emotions is a bridge to generating a deeper intimacy in the home. When we listen well to someone else we get the opportunity to experience how someone else is experiencing the world. We can cultivate empathy when we practice the skill of walking in another’s shoes.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster