Holding joy and grief

March 18, 2022

If you have ever asked me “how are you?” there’s a good chance that you’ve gotten some version of “I don’t know” in response.

At one point, this was solely my 2-ness — too busy feeling everyone else’s feelings to know what I myself was feeling. Strong “emperor has no clothes” vibes. What’s most disappointing is that this was actually a healthier response than I gave as a younger person, when I couldn’t even differentiate between my feelings and others’ feelings. “These feelings are not my feelings” is progress, but filling in the blank with what I am feeling is something else.

More recently, though, it’s not that I’m lacking an answer; it’s that I have too much of an answer. Whereas it used to be hard to answer because my feelings were in tension with others’ feelings, it’s now because my own feelings are in tension with each other.

At the beginning of the new year, I worked through Emily P. Freeman’s questions for reflection. As I started with the first question — what worked last year — the thing that immediately came to mind was: “My heart held more this year.” 

It held immense joy — but also immense grief. 

It held the joy of loving bigger last year — and it held the grief of spaces where I didn’t love big, or even well, last year. I lost a friendship. I was impatient with my kids. I was angry about a lot of things. And I also felt my love for people deepen in new ways. I was moved to compassion in places that were hard. I felt God continuing to make me into a person of love despite my many shortcomings.

It held the joy of gratitude for how God forged our community into a family in 2020 (which, coincidentally, was the first time I was able to feel grateful for anything that happened in that season) — and it held the grief of moving away from that community, those friends who had become family, last year. Because they are now my family, I get to keep them forever. And in the rhythms of my daily life, I grieve their absence.

It held the joy of the most confirmation and purpose in my vocation than I have felt in a long time, if not ever — and it held the grief of one of the hardest years of my professional life. 

None of that fits neatly into a single sentence, let alone a word or two. How am I? I’m good and terrible all at the same time. I’m reading Paul as he writes about being “immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy” and I’m nodding.

But really, these things are hard to say, I’m realizing, because I want a resolution. This feels like the middle, and I’m more comfortable once I’ve reached an ending. But maybe this is one of the places where I’m holding the door open. Maybe it’s where I’m practicing holding things in tension. Maybe it’s where I’m learning to live a more integrated life.