I was sitting at a traffic light while silently and anxiously calculating my arrival time. Traffic was growing exponentially along with the likelihood I was going to be more than “fashionably” late. Suddenly, and without warning, something strangely familiar caught my attention. The check-engine light was blinking ominously.
I tried to reassure myself it was nothing serious. Perhaps it was a failed sensor or a loose wire. What harm could possibly come from ignoring it for a little while? Anyway, I was running late and way too busy for those kinds of silly concerns. However, the longer it blinked, the more my mind began to wonder. Could it be something expensive or something dangerous? Shouldn’t I do something to remedy this problem? There must be a simple and painless way to fix it and make it go away.
After very little deliberation, I decided to do the only truly practical thing that occurred to me. I covered the flashing light with a large piece of packing tape that had been dangling from a box in my passenger seat. It wasn’t pretty or permanent, but I could no longer notice it flashing. Problem solved.
A few hours later, while driving home, I began to think about the light. It concerned me that it might still be flashing behind the mask of tape. As I carefully and cautiously peeled it back, I was disappointed to see that it continued its rhythmic warning. Still, what could I do? Fortunately, I had a small toolbox in my truck where I found my Dad’s old hammer. One quick smack later, my problem was solved. No more blinking light. Gone forever. I’ll never have to worry about that light again. Before you judge me, consider how this may apply to your own life.
Unfortunately, it seems that our contemporary minds are familiar with this strategy. Certainly we can usually find creative remedies for life’s difficulties. We try to quickly apply problem-solving techniques and we are able to fix many of the issues that we encounter. This strategy works miracles, that is, until we come face-to-face with our emotions.
There are certainly a myriad of feelings that we all find difficult. Sadness, fear, embarrassment, guilt, disgust and anger top my own list of uncomfortable private events. It seems that we each have a least favorite that appears without warning and shakes us out of our comfortable routines. Several decades ago, I heard a perspective on difficult emotions that offered me an alternative to annoyance and experiential avoidance. What if emotions could work like the dashboard of our car? Perhaps, they could be seen as informative and helpful rather than nuisances to be fixed. If we could be willing to feel them, would they be helpful? Moreover, is there a cost to be paid for dodging these warning signals?
Wouldn’t it be helpful to consider that God has created us with an extensive palette of emotions with which to experience the world, each other, ourselves and even Him? It would seem necessarily enlightening and even spiritually enriching to allow emotions to take their rightful place in our awareness as we feel whatever it is that we feel. Moreover, I am convinced that horribly distasteful and immensely painful feelings will not actually harm us, but they can certainly encourage us to turn away from the most meaningful versions of our lives. If we attempt to “fix” our emotions by hiding them away or even covering them up, we can miss out on the wonderful experiences that emerge out of our deepest concerns and values. Perhaps our most uncomfortable feelings shine the brightest lights on what we most deeply love. Those relationships and deepest held treasures are not to be fixed or avoided. They are to be experienced with passion and commitment.