Welcome to the Momnipotent Book Club! We’re reading Danielle Bean’s new book, Momnipotent: The Not-So-Perfect Woman’s Guide to Catholic Motherhood.
I am an emotional person, at times overwhelmingly so (at least according to my husband); I can be volatile in my expression of feelings, and my heart is often impassioned by many of life’s phenomena: the first spring flower, the smell of a baby’s skin, old family photo albums, a cherished story retold by my mother, a letter, a song, the tension and strife of war-torn nations, the effects of sin and suffering on humanity and the earth. I can go on for many pages about what fuels my zealous nature, but the point is that my heart is constantly full, nearly on the edge of bursting with great love or anger or deep sorrow.
As women, we thrive on emotion; we often live for drama, even if we attempt to avoid personal crises in our lives. Somehow when life rides on emotions, we are energized and moved to passionate fervor; this reminds us that our opinions have merit and remain ignited by the fuel of feelings.
Feelings are fickle, fragile, and fleeting. They are fickle, because they can change so rapidly, even in an emotionally healthy individual. This is often based on our hormones (as we well know), as Danielle Bean so aptly points out in this chapter.
Feelings are fragile, because they often point to an unhealed wound or unresolved pain from our past; as women, we are sensitive and naturally empathetic beings, so our feelings can be intensely fragile.
Feelings are fleeting, because they do not last: the fury of a mother’s anger, the emotional turmoil over lost sleep, the postpartum haze, the momentary happiness of overcoming hurdles in the family, the elation of accomplishing our myriad goals, and so on.
Nothing lasts except eternity. This is what we, as women – as mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and friends – should maintain in the forefront of our minds and hearts at all times when it is tempting for our emotions to drive our behaviors.
Naturally, feelings serve a greater purpose in our lives; they point to the necessity of change, help us to be self-aware, and encourage us to grow in empathy, but feelings can also be destructive and hurtful when they are not tempered through forethought and prayer. I have learned this from my own life experience, mainly from difficult (and unintentional) ruptures in relationships that resulted from one too many of what my husband calls my “melancholic dumps:” the wave of honesty that crescendos when I feel slighted by someone or when I deem it appropriate to encourage a “come to Jesus” moment. I have always believed in authentic dialogue, but when I was young and puerile, I falsely believed this meant telling someone how I felt without a filter of any sort, without considering that hurtful words might be slung for the sake of honesty and that somehow the end justified the means.
When I was in graduate school training to become a counselor, I first encountered the power of thinking before speaking. While my feelings and those of others were always validated, I became aware of the importance of allowing the flame of passion to dim just a bit so that the sometimes difficult confrontations with others could be met with mutual respect and truth spoken in charity rather than as daggers to the heart.
Now I write as a young adult, a wife and mother of two young girls. I see in my girls the fragility of feelings, the way a stare or even simply a glance can incite a full-blown meltdown, how administering consequences invites them to run into my arms – not necessarily out of initial remorse, but because they are seeking my love and approval – and how my husband often stands on the sidelines, too uncertain if he should enter the battlefield of female feelings.
Something I like to remind myself often is this: love is a decision not based on feelings. I am reminded of this truth on a daily basis, when my natural inclination is to hurl my fury at the closest available person or at least the first “victim” who dares to call me at the wrong time. But love invites me to change, a kind of gentle beckoning to look within before I express myself so readily, to allow rationale and reason to temper the storm raging within me.
I have had to grow in the awareness that, while feelings are not right or wrong, they should not govern our choices in life. We should not lead others or shape the little souls entrusted to us solely based on what emotes anger or happiness in our hearts. As the given “heart” of the family, we as women must illustrate the beauty of the message of the heart, which is not impulsive or reckless. The message of the heart is what fuels our call to respond to the suffering and madness that engulfs our world; it is the call of our Baptism, the call that naturally occurs in every woman.
There is a fierce and yet quiet strength in this message of the heart: one that is tempered by Divine Grace and yet is not hardened by the world. Feelings remind us that we are human and that we share in the wounds of Jesus and Mary when our hearts are hurting. Feelings are the catalyst of change: within ourselves, in our marriages and families, and in our communities.
Whether joy or sorrow, anger or elation, feelings point to something beyond ourselves, a solidarity with the plight of humanity that is united somehow to the Passion of Jesus. And we fit into that bigger picture when we surrender our passion and zeal to Jesus, asking Him to use the gift of our hearts for His Greater Glory.
To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:
- In what ways have my expressed feelings harmed someone recently? Is there a relationship that needs to be healed because of something I said out of intense emotion?
- How can I allow God to use my passion for the good instead of my impulsive inclinations? In what ways can I stop for a moment today when I recognize intense emotion rising within me and ask Jesus what He is speaking through my feelings?
Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week’s reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.
Next week, we’ll cover two chapters: Chapter 4: Perfect, Schmerfect and Chapter 5: Mothering and Smothering. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Momnipotent Book Club page.
Copyright 2014 Jeannie Ewing