Permission Slips, Interruptions, and Filling Up Our Emotional Reserves

November 4, 2020
The Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering

I am a huge fan of autumn. I love the rituals and holidays that mark the days and move us forward. I love a fire in the fireplace, or reading a book while a storm unfurls outside of our house. I love how we decorate for each new holiday, and the joy that it brings to the girls as things that were put away a year ago reappear. I love the traditions that we have, and the general coziness of the season. It has been challenging to make some of these things seem just as festive and fun in the midst of the pandemic, but I’ve also enjoyed the puzzle of how to morph our traditions to fit the current context. What I have come to realize in each of these moments is that it can be easy to get caught up in what is lost and miss what is gained, or worse yet, feel guilty or ashamed. Over the past few months, people have shared so many moments of gratitude with me, but often with qualifications. People will say something along the lines of, “The pandemic is awful, but having my family all together at home has really improved my marriage and my relationship with my kids, but it’s awful.” I watch as people interrupt joy and gratitude with almost self-shaming or diminishment of the gift because of the pandemic or the election or the wildfires or on and on and on.

One of the things I learned reading all of those parenting books when I was pregnant is that children behave better when their internal tank is full of good things. Turns out, this is true for humans at any age. We all behave better when we feel as though our emotional well is full. When our emotional well isn’t full, we sometimes try to fill it with other things through numbing actions, which won’t actually fill the tank but will take the edge off and dull all our feelings. I am here to tell you that the struggle is in fact very real. It is easy to feel excited to have your kids at home learning and hanging out all the time, while also being concerned or upset about those kids for whom school was a break from an abusive household. But don’t let one reality stop you from being present to the other. The other day, someone said to me, “For a year that feels like it has gone on forever at times, it has also passed so quickly.” I totally feel that, and I wonder if it is because I haven’t taken the time to really stay rooted in the moments of joy. I think we all know that old saying, interrupt anxiety with gratitude, but I think a lot of us are interrupting gratitude with anxiety right now. (Or maybe it is just me…) As we head into the holiday season in what feels like a time of complete uncertainty, perhaps we all need to take a moment and give ourselves permission to fill up our emotional wells with real joy, gratitude, and love that we get to experience. Let’s give ourselves permission to be present to our feelings and work for justice where we can, while also not interrupting a moment of joy when it comes. Fill up that emotional well with the joy of traditions you can do safely or with new activities that might become traditions – the Gratitude Challenge has several really cool things to help with this. Take time to be present and give thanks, and by all means, try not interrupt those moments but hold onto them so they become the reminders of joy that can interrupt anxiety as a moment of gratitude.

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