I’m quite good at finding the silver lining in things. I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. I look on the bright side. I believe in hope. But three weeks into the global pandemic that is COVID-19; the silver-lined bright side was beginning to wear thin. I realized I needed to practice what I preached, and honor my own need to name disappointments and frustrations and loss. I needed to tell the truth about the parts of this that suck, too. Alongside my 1000 gifts of gratitude, I felt convicted that I also needed to make a little list of losses. After all, 42 of the 150 Psalms are ones of lament. Why was I living as if only the praise Psalms were worth singing?
So, I made my list of gifts and gratitudes: Thank you for hope. Thank you for shelter. I have food. We have wifi. Thank you for health care. Thank you for warm weather and a pool to swim in. Thank you for our teachers. Thank you for the promise of Easter.
And then, I made a list of losses: It sucks that after two years of work, my book released at the worst possible time. I’m disappointed myMom couldn’t come to visit. I’m so sad my kids are missing out on things they’d really been looking forward to, especially my oldest who was anticipating graduation. I don’t like distance learning. I really missed getting to sing with others at church on Easter Sunday. I miss being able to work out.
I asked God to be present with me as I made my lists, and it felt good to come clean about the mixed bag in my soul. And so, when asked to share a devotional online the following week, I decided to share about the invitation God gives us to tell the whole truth about the good, the bad, and the ugly of our experience. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one who was suppressing a little list of losses, and with it, keeping a weight bogged down in my soul?
Half way through sharing about my list, someone interrupted me. “But at least you could still meet online,” she offered when I shared my Easter disappointment. “And there will be other graduations,” was offered in response to my eldest’s disappointments. Her objections made me pause, not least because I have said and thought similar things to myself, and to others.
Her objections were an interruption, but they were also a gift in their timing, because all of a sudden I realized something I’d been struggling to name for the past weeks. The critical mistake we make in emotional times is thinking that feelings are a zero-sum game. That one good thought cancels out one bad thought. If my disappointment about not getting to see friends is a -6, then surely good news or a comfort about everyone being safe, or at least us being able to Zoom, should be a +6? And then we will ALL BE FINE. The myth is that anything positive we can throw at a -6 to relativize it (“at least I don’t have x person’s problem, because that’s a -10”) or minimize it (“a problem shared is a problem halved, so my -6 problem is really only a -3 problem because I have friends”) makes -6 LESS of a -6. But that’s just not true. Minus 6 is what it is.
Two days later, I saw something that helped put this into perspective. Hanging over the side of the pool, my son and I were dipping our fingers into the pool and watching the ripple patterns run along the bottom of the pool in shadows. It was mesmerizing. I suddenly had a flashback to high school science and hours spent studying wave interference patterns. For the first time in nearly 30 years, high school science felt immediately useful to me… for understanding human psychology. You see: when something disturbs the surface of water, there is a ripple effect: events have far reaching consequences. When TWO things disturb the water’s surface, ripples ring out from each of those points, and that’s when the interesting stuff happens.
At some points: the waves DO cancel each other out. You get “nodes”, or dead spots, where the peak of one ripple meets the trough of another, and just for a moment – the surface is flat. Sometimes I’ve had a day when so many things —good and bad— have come at me that I feel canceled out. Flat affect. I am numb.
But there’s more that happens when waves come at each other from different directions. They don’t all cancel each other out. When two troughs cross paths, they double in depth. And when one ripple crest meets another crest, their height doubles, too.
So, just millimeters after the “flat” zone, you could be faced with a double high. Or a double low. And for any little paper boat trying to sail those waters, it gets mighty choppy for a while.
Honestly, those wave patterns felt like a mirror to my days. So grateful and enjoying my kids and counting my blessings one minute (double high! And the memes are so great!). Calm, normal, coasting. The next second? Sobbing over not being able to log into yet another new digital platform. Then numb. Then low. Then high again. It’s all very rollercoastery. There is no smooth sailing when you’re riding the ripple effects of the soul.
Even the scientific name for it is helpful: interference.
We are experiencing massive interference in our equilibrium. There will be ripples.
I have wise friends who keep reminding us we are complex people: we need room for BOTH/AND emotions. We are both hopeful and disappointed. We are both committed and completely exhausted. I need to hear these things. But I needed to see it too, and watching those ripples helped me name the myth of things “canceling each other out”. Sometimes they do. But sometimes I should brave myself for twice the ride, because no matter how much ballast I’ve packed for my soul, interference happens, and even though I know I’ll ultimately be safe – it’s still bumpy.
Maybe you also needed to remember the ripple effect today, where dead zones, double highs, and double lows are all just part of the way things happen on the waters’ surface, and beneath the surface of us all, too.