the burden of pretending

Yesterday at work, I felt a fresh wave of sadness as I read news of yet another friend losing a loved one to COVID-19. When I told my wife, she said, “This is getting scary. Please don’t die.” Anger joined with my sadness when I heard about another friend who was not wearing a mask in public because she does not like wearing them.

Men in America have often been discouraged from expressing their feelings, especially the “weak” emotions, like fear or grief. Real men are supposed to be tough and controlled, maintaining a veneer of strength even when inside we are feeling deep pain.

Christians are no better off. Our fear is discouraged when we are reminded that the Bible says “do not be afraid” 365 times (side note: it actually doesn’t, though it does frequently address fear). In the midst of sorrow, Christians sometimes “comfort” the grieving by saying “Everything happens for a reason.” When Christians are angry about injustice, we are told to remember the importance of unity, which is often code for “Keep quiet.” I believe this is especially true for Christian women.

If this is place where you are coming from, you may wish to stop reading now. You have been warned.

I am afraid. I am afraid that my wife or my children will die from COVID-19. I am afraid of what would happen to them if I died. I am afraid that I will never be able to hug my mom again. I am afraid that if I do catch COVID-19 that it will affect my mind. I am afraid that things will never be the same. I am afraid of what will happen if Trump fails to concede the election. I am afraid of what might happen as he continues to spread falsehood and propaganda.

I am angry. I am angry when I see friends defying mask requirements. Some days, it takes everything within me to not say, “Put on a f@%!ing mask! If you don’t like wearing one, stay home!” I am angry when people seem to be more concerned about their individual liberties than loving their neighbors. I am angry when president Trump continues to spread propaganda and insist that he will still win when there is no path to him doing so. I am angry that he continues to promote suspicion and division in a deeply hurting nation that desperately needs leadership. I am angry that other leaders in what used to be “my party” continue to support his delusion and deception. I am angry when I see people twisting facts that are plainly obvious.

I am sad. I am sad that people are sick and dying. I am sad that our hospitals and morgues are full and that our healthcare providers are exhausted. I am sad that people keep pretending that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu or that it is politicized to keep Trump down. I am sad that suicide rates have skyrocketed. I am sad that since December, I have only spent an hour with my mom. I am sad that I have barely seen my dad or my wife’s parents this year. I am sad that my daughter’s wedding was not what she had initially planned. I am sad that I won’t get to go home for the holidays. I am sad that many people seem more committed to Trump than they do to the United States. I am sad that I cannot join together with my friends for coffee and embrace.

Maybe you are angry, afraid, or sad about the same things I am. Maybe you feel differently than I do. Maybe you feel these things and you have no idea why. Regardless, let yourself feel. God created us with emotion. Jesus felt every one of these things and he never apologized for them.

Pretending is a heavy burden. Be who you are. Give space to others to express their emotions when you have the margin to do so. Beware of the tendency to spiritualize or shame others for their emotions. Instead, listen without judgment and love without reservation.

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