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SPIRIT MATTERS: Managing renegade emotions during a pandemic

I don’t know about the rest of you, but this isolation thing is wearing me down.

For many reasons.

Today, I am just going to focus on one of them.

Unresolved issues.

I read somewhere in the last week or so, what many of us have probably figured out by now. Being confined to home during a global pandemic, and feeling helpless, can trigger us into feeling things we haven’t felt in a long time, things we thought we had dealt with, or things we have pushed down, way down into our hearts.

And feeling them strongly.

Most people who know me, know I am for the most part, easygoing, fairly balanced in my emotions, have a great sense of humor and … have a “calming, healing demeanor.”

I try to maintain this equilibrium by regular prayer – “prayer without ceasing” even – as St. Paul admonishes us to do.

Well, in light of what we are going through, I can tell you the legitimacy of “calming, healing demeanor” has come into question, at least for me.

I have a friend who knows me pretty well. On numerous occasions, he has told me I need to allow myself to be angry more. Beyond that calm façade, he says, lies many unexpressed emotions in the name of keeping the peace. He says to be fully me, I have to allow myself to be angry at things that don’t bode well for my soul.

Allowing myself to be angry is difficult for me.

I am a “highly sensitive person,” according to those traits outlined by Dr. Elaine Aron in her research.

Without going into too many details, the bottom line is that I have a highly reactive nervous system.

Everything registers, and it registers deeply.

So, when strong emotions naturally hit and vary throughout the day, as they do currently, my first reaction is to feel out of control, and then to try to soothe myself, because feeling those strong emotions is just too difficult. Too overwhelming.

Last night, I received an email from a spiritual magazine company with whom I had a longtime subscription. The email offered me a cut-rate deal for a year’s subscription to entice me back. I caved and re-subscribed. I have really enjoyed this magazine for years, but during my most recent subscription had found I was frequently tossing the publication aside until I “could get to it.” That time usually never came.

So, after my subscription went through last night, I logged on to the magazine’s website, the content of which is usually limited to paid subscribers.

It just so happens that in the current issue, there are articles on – you guessed it – “The Spiritual Flame of Rage”… and “wounded healers.” Some of you might recognize the term “wounded healers,” as it was coined by the late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen. He even wrote a book entitled “Wounded Healer.” I’ve been told by people I know on several occasions, that they see me as such.

I’m thinking Someone was trying to get my attention.

Just a hunch.

The article on rage talked about what many of us on a spiritual quest feel – that anger is, well, not “spiritual.”

And that forgiveness is the most important thing.

Well, yes, forgiveness is important, but any of us whom have ever had to forgive someone for a deep hurt – I’m guessing that is all of us – knows that getting to that genuine letting go is a process.

Forgiveness takes time.

Years. Decades, sometimes, unfortunately.

Even as we do what we can to pray our way through the hard feelings, or write unsent letters to the person we feel wronged us in some way, or spend years in therapy… forgiveness takes time.

In other words, if someone has genuinely wronged you, and you feel a reflex of anger or rage, you shouldn’t just try to push those feelings aside, and ignore them.

It is not good for you, and it is not good for those with whom you live and love.

Feelings of anger can be justified. They are a way of our body-mind-spirit telling us something is not right. They demand our attention, even if we would like to flee from them. We need to allow ourselves to feel them and process them, for our own well being.

And yet, they do not allow us to “give an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” as Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, in that passage, he tells us if someone strikes us on our right cheek, we should turn and give him the left cheek as well …

Yes, these are difficult words to wrap our heads around, as are many of Jesus’s words.

In the Kingdom of God, Jesus shows us a world that is predicated on nonviolent behavior toward ourselves and toward each other. He even demonstrates this when Peter cuts off a Roman soldier’s ear when they came to arrest Jesus, and Jesus restores the ear.

Bottom line, when we are assaulted with an array of negative emotions during this unprecedented time, emotions that seem to come out of nowhere, we owe it to ourselves and to each other to first be patient and loving and compassionate toward these feelings, and then try to do what we can to process them. At this time.

They might resurface again sometime in the future, and we should respond to them then the same way: with patience, love and compassion, so we can slowly, organically heal the wounds that go deep within our souls.

What we cannot do is return these feelings with “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

In simple words, don’t be angry, or guilty that you are feeling anger.

Write it out. Talk it out. Run it out. Stretch it out. Walk it out. Dance it out. Pray it out.

Just get it out.

Without further harming yourself or anyone else.

And do it in and through the peace of Christ.

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality in The Times' readership area. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at to share how you engage your spirit in your life and in your community.

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