As I’ve sat with people over the last year, many have described a sense of being stuck emotionally. Because I’m human, I’m no stranger to that experience. What I’m learning is not to judge the stuck-ness but to accept it with self-compassion and patience, trusting that God is working in it and will help me through it if I simply allow myself to feel what I feel.
One morning I was on my way home from my chiropractor’s office, and I got turned around while taking the back way through a beautiful residential area. As I stopped at an intersection, I quickly activated my trusty navigator—the Waze app—to find the best route home. After turning right as directed, I drove a short distance before passing the beautiful, historic white church where my father served as pastor in his retirement years. It’s common for retired pastors in the Methodist tradition to be invited to serve a small local church in need of a shepherd, and I believe he was equally blessed by their love and care in those years after losing my mom. It was the last church where I heard him preach and knelt to receive Holy Communion by his hands, just as I had done countless times throughout my life.
Suddenly my eyes were filled with tears, and in that moment, it occurred to me that I’d had a similar tearful experience the previous week while driving by the long-term care facility where Dad passed away in December 2019—just a few months before the pandemic rocked our world. I knew this was evidence that physical places were evoking a grief response—something that hasn't always been the case since Dad's passing. Out of the blue I had an inner nudge, “Drive to the cemetery where Dad and Mom are buried.”
Instantly I knew this was a prompting of the Holy Spirit because I’m not one who visits gravesites regularly. In fact, other than a few funerals, I’ve visited the cemetery where Mom and Dad are buried only a handful of times in the last twenty years since Mom’s passing. I prefer to hike or walk or journal to process my thoughts and emotions. But admittedly, I’ve needed something more of late. During the last year, after the loss of my job and the official end of a dear friendship I’d hoped might be restored, I’ve been sensing an invitation to go deeper and address some unprocessed grief. Intuitively, I knew that this prompting to visit the cemetery was a part of that invitation to grieve. With two similar experiences two weeks in a row, I knew it was time to say yes to the invitation.
So, I drove to the cemetery that I had not visited since our family stood huddled together under a small protective awning that, despite its best efforts, could not shield us from the bone-chilling wind as we laid my father to rest. I was struck by the contrast of that winter’s day to this one—a mild August morning with low humidity and a gentle breeze.
As I parked and walked slowly toward their resting place, the tears began to form. Then, as I stood gazing at their names and dates, the tears I had been unable—and perhaps reluctant—to access now began to flow freely. Simultaneously, memories began to surface as if a photo album had been opened, but rather than shut it quickly as I tend to do, I allowed the images to come, increasing the flow of my tears. With no one around to see or hear me, I sat on a nearby bench and cried freely as I shared vulnerably with God. After acknowledging authentic feelings that had lain dormant for some time, I gave thanks that God has been with me through every loss, every heartbreak, every disappointment, every time of loneliness. I acknowledged, with sincere gratitude, that only God’s presence can meet my deepest needs. Amazingly, in that moment the clouds parted and the sun shone down strongly on me. Overcome by the literal expression of the light and warmth of God’s love, tears of joy mingled with tears of grief, and I sat with my face upturned toward the sun, soaking in the love of God.
As I walked back to my car and prepared to drive away, I looked to my right and was struck by the beauty of a bed of purple petunias. Suddenly two yellow butterflies emerged—and then two more. As they flitted and danced among the flowers, I thought of Mom and Dad—and my mothers-in-law Miriam and Judy—who are now fully transformed and whole in God’s presence.
The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for mourning and a time for dancing, but what the author doesn’t say is that they are not mutually exclusive. Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to hold opposing emotions at the same time. Sadness and joy are not either/or but both/and. So, if we feel stuck in one emotion, we can get curious about what other emotions we haven’t acknowledged or allowed ourselves to feel and allow space and time to feel whatever surfaces.
Whatever you’re feeling today, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you pay attention to your inner movements and the invitations of the Holy Spirit. As I experienced today, sometimes going to an actual place—or holding a physical object of some significance—can help you to access emotions that need to be expressed and witnessed as you focus on God’s presence in the here and now through your surroundings and five senses. (Referring to a feelings chart or wheel is another helpful way to identify and express emotions when you're unsure what you're feeling.)
Most of all, here's what I want to leave you with: wherever you find yourself on any given day, God’s loving presence is always with you, even if you don’t recognize it. Even if you feel stuck. Even then—and especially then—God is laboring in love in your life. Feelings come and go, as do times of stuck-ness, but God's love for us is as constant as the sun. And God's loving presence is the safest place to allow ourselves to feel our feelings.
Hi, I'm Sally!
I'm passionate about connecting with God and connecting with people, offering spiritual encouragement and companionship. I'm so grateful to be on the journey with you as we walk with God together.