As winter melts into spring Saturday mornings take on a new tone. The drone back and forth begins around 8:00 AM and meanders throughout the neighborhood; each home regularly and meticulously grooming their lawn with neat, crisscrossing patterns. The way we ensure our yards flourish is by having clear delineations between what we allow to grow and that which we keep at bay. Grasses are groomed to thicken through growth and regular mowing, weeds are plucked at the root to ensure they do not rear their heads again later, flowers are carefully pruned to ensure their blossom reaches its full potential. In this clear-cut environment mowing makes perfect sense. However, we often are not just mowing our lawns but our emotions as well.
Growing up I had a heightened emotional response to most things. I think the term I heard most often was “too sensitive.” A baseball strikeout would lead to a surge of embarrassing tears. I would head back to the dugout to be met with heckles from the other boys or a gruff, “brush it off” from the coach. A teacher’s reprimand would result in a flush of humiliation and tears forcibly withheld just below the surface. When happy, my joy would spill out everywhere. I would bounce off the walls only to hear the rebuke, “Settle down!” Everywhere I turned my exuberant heart was being asked to conform to a predetermined spectrum of emotional expression. While there is a time to hold emotion for a moment, in order to release it later, I was never taught how to do it. Rather, I was taught to mow my emotional lawn. Day after day, I took my emotions, sheared them off and buried them deep within me.
Emotions are a gift. They reflect the inner workings of our hearts. They are a window to the soul; providing a vivid view of how we respond to the world and people around us. Our emotions can provide us with remarkable opportunities to examine our own heart and our relationship with others if we tend them well. Yet, all the while, well-meaning and well-intentioned people in our lives are communicating a very different message; emotions have no place here. We are told to “get over it,” “move on,” “suck it up,” or “look on the bright side,” as if lingering with our emotion is foolhardy. It’s as if we enter a dark room where we need to sit and process our emotional film and someone keeps flipping the flipping light on! Our ability to explore the roots of our emotions, gage our reactions, and grow in our character is immediately eroded.
Why shouldn’t we take the lawnmower out? Unlike pristine suburban yards, we do not know our emotional landscape and delineations fully. There are no boundaries between our emotional grasses, weeds, and flowers. In fact, our hearts are deceitful and may urge us to cut the wrong things. It’s only by sitting with our emotions and cultivating their growth that we begin to differentiate between what should be pruned, plucked and fertilized. At times, we may even need to rely on an emotional horticulturalist (a.k.a counselor) to help us identify what is growing, whether it’s healthy, and how to uproot or nurture it!
Grasses are temporal emotions. These emotions generally spring up in response to something that happens around us, or to us, but fade away with equal ease: joy, surprise, laughter, confusion, sadness, disappointment, fear. For the most part, emotional grass is low maintenance; with regular watering and shearing they can become a rich landscape on which we live out our daily lives.
Weeds are the smothering scourge that interferes with healthy emotional responses. They entangle our relationships and stunt their growth. Anger, pride, self-doubt, anxiety, and fear can all become emotional weeds. They are like their physical cousins – they can’t just be cut down. When we try to stifle our emotional weeds, we cut them off temporarily but scatter the seeds to more parts of our heart. The only way to truly remove the weeds is to seek help plucking them out.
Our emotional flowers reveal something in us that is a God-given gift. The seeds for these gifts were planted long ago and will sprout on an emotional scale at various times of life. Bursts of joy may signal an area that is filling your cup. If explored further, those bursts may be grown into passion projects or new careers. On the other hand, areas of loss or deep grief could be preparing your heart to walk alongside someone else who has experienced a similar loss.
Our hearts were designed to feel deeply. Recognizing the difference between grasses, weeds, and flowers helps us grow into beautifully relatable people. The next time you are tempted to cut your emotions short, leave your lawnmower in the garage. Instead turn to a friend, to a spouse, or to God with what is in your heart and tend to it. You may find that instead of just having a groomed exterior, you can cultivate new life both within and without.
Photo Credit: Brian Fee