The Webster Dictionary defines stoicism as “the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.”
There’s a point in many of our lives when we feel that we have been hurt too much and the only way to ever prevent more hurt is to stop feeling altogether.
I am generally a calm person. I avoid conflict, if I can help it. I don’t know why, but I thought that by putting my feelings on the back-burner I could avoid these conflicts and the pain that comes with them. I felt stronger ignoring these feelings. I thought I could go through my life unscathed.
I was having a conversation about this very thing with someone who I consider a mentor. She told me that feeling deeply is what makes us human; it’s our essence. She proceeded by saying that I was missing a large part of what it means to be human by actively choosing to ignore situations that would cause me to feel a certain way. And I stopped in my tracks. How could I have gone so long without experiencing the quintessential part of being human? At that moment, I believed I was wrong in cementing my heart.
Partly why I stopped trying to make myself more vulnerable to the actions people took and things they said was because I just thought it had become ingrained in my psyche. It was a problem that I always struggled with unconsciously.
I can clearly remember one occasion when I was completely taken aback at the stoic in the mirror. My mother was going through a hard time and a family friend told me, “You are so courageous staying strong for your mother and not showing any weakness.” I wanted to punch that lady. Here I was sitting next my mother who had fatal news from the doctor, and some lady was commending me. I was broken inside! But, just because I didn’t have a way of expressing that utter sadness, I was branded as some sort of cold, unfeeling hero. I have never felt more uncomfortable in my life.
But there gets a time when the world becomes too much and even the callous cannot bear to ignore it. And that is the great deluge. All the memories, the thoughts, everything come back into your mind and your eyes flood for hours and hours. We want to avoid the deluges.
So, I turn to the only option I have to solve this problem–God. We should look to God first before we go through the toil of trying to solve a problem on our own. Even better yet that we try and fail on our own, because it illustrates how we have no power to combat the forces of the mind and universe out of our own doing. God offers a solution for the sad, the unfeeling, the prideful, the anxious, and the list goes on. God does not want us to go through the world unfeeling. We need to tread carefully, deeply, intentionally feeling every step of our lives. And that is where we become the champions of God. Jesus demonstrated compassion to us. He demonstrated patience. He demonstrated kindness. He demonstrated humility. As Christians, and as members of this world, we have a duty to exemplify all that Jesus did.
While it was convenient at times to not feel deeply moved or sad, Jesus showed us that we are not to take the convenient path. God does tell us to guard our hearts. But a life full of God is also full of these emotions, so we should not be afraid. Indeed we should not fear these feelings because we have a Lord who lived through each and every one of them. We already have an example. The hard part is done. All we need to do is trust in Him for all things and try our best, though we may fail time after time.
Personally, I still struggle with this problem. I need prayer all the time to keep me accountable for my feelings and how things I say may sound. But, I know that it is all a part of one very big journey towards growing into myself and in my relationship with Jesus.
words and photo by Anashe Barton