For starters, I used to be a cry baby (tongue out). I bet you didn’t know that, did you? Growing up, I remember being mummy’s boy. That means I was quite stubborn (well, I still am), I always got whatever I wanted, and I was a little ‘spoilt’ as well (this wasn’t my fault, I am the last born for Pete’s sake). Anyways, as I grew up, I noticed I always had tears in my eyes. I would go into the rest room to answer nature’s call and voilà – tears! I would hear an emotional story and voilà – tears again! What about after seeing really touching and inspiring movies? Your guess is as good as mine – tears!
But I soon realised I was a boy. I wasn’t supposed to cry too often. I was supposed to be strong, and macho and the least emotional. Well, I learned. Pretty hard and pretty fast. Mum’s passing didn’t help. Soon, I became cold, calculating, and unfeeling. I was overjoyed. I had finally mastered the art of emotional control, but I had also forgotten who I was. Hugs and any such display of affection became alien to me. I never had a single issue with emotions again. I had that area of my life well covered (or so I thought).
My tear glands must have noticed the change ‘cos they stopped producing any tears. Then I stumbled on one of Fr Anthony De Mello’s stories about emotional maturity, and I was stunned. I had it all wrong. How come no one ever told me? By now, I was already a priest and I had to start unlearning most of what I had previously learned.
Fr Anthony De Mello, SJ, tells a story of a disciple who came to his master with a triumphant look on his face one day. The master lifted his head from where he sat in meditation and couldn’t help but notice his disciple’s boisterous mien. So he said to his disciple, “Hey Johnny, you look so happy today son. Did you witness an apparition?”
“No Master,” Johnny replied. “But I have mastered the art of emotional control. I have finally gotten rid of all my feelings and emotions. I stand before you, completely pure and holy.” Johnny continued smiling as he awaited his master’s approval.
The master looked at Johnny, shook his head and said, “what’s the value of good, when there’s no option of evil?” Johnny had no reply. The master continued, “how can you be emotionally mature when you’ve lost your emotions?” Again, Johnny boy was silent. Then the master looked at his disciple one last time and said, “the first stage of emotional maturity is befriending your emotions, not killing them. What’s the point of knowledge if you’d never be tested? Please go and get your emotions back.” And Johnny boy went away sad.
Does the above story sound familiar? Well, I have reworded it, but it’s the same sense. Before I stumbled on De Mello’s story, I already knew something was wrong with my style. The young people I worked with kept telling me I was too uptight and insensitive. In my ignorance, I thought they were all trying to corrupt me (some of them had ulterior motives, no doubt), but some others were genuinely concerned about my robotic, constantly evasive approach to sensitive emotional issues (God bless them).
I was later to realise that this was the fear of being ‘too close’ at play. I didn’t know I was allowed to feel and care and love. These were not emotions I was supposed to run away from.
Called to a higher vocation of purity and chastity, I was to go all out, with a heart of compassion and concern for people around me. I was to feel their hurts, experience their pains, rejoice in their successes, and embrace their disappointments. At the same time, I was to learn to talk about and share my imperfections with others who could help me become a better man. In other words, I was allowed to be human.
It was then I truly realised the meaning of the words, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was” (Heb.5:1-4).
Well, enough of me. Let’s talk about all of us. Rather than constantly teach our kids and young people to run away from affection, or hide their feelings, it is a whole lot better to show them what true love is. How can your daughter be deceived by sweet talk from randy guys if you constantly remind her how beautiful she is and how lucky you are to have her? Why would your boy grow into a selfish and insensitive cold ‘bastard’ (pardon my language) if he constantly sees how much respect and love you have for his mother and him? We won’t even have abusers and rapists, and all manner of sexual perverts if families learned to be less dysfunctional.
I believe it was Whitney Houston who made popular the song, “I believe the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier. Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.”
We must let our teenagers know the difference between genuine love and lust. How else can we do this if not to let them be real and authentic. We must let them express their feelings and genuinely talk about their challenges. Let them cry when they’re hurting, and laugh when they’re happy. Teach them it’s okay to be angry, but not okay to be violent. Teach them to care for others and have respect for everyone’s opinion. Teach them to look before leaping and consider the implications of all their actions. Families must become more functional, and compliments should readily come to the lips of parents.
Finally friends, it’s better to try to understand our emotions and control them for our good and the good of others, than to bury them or run away from them. Too much emotional suppression could lead to depression and nervous breakdown. Remember that emotional maturity is an ideal, and we just have to keep hoping we get there by God’s grace. Take me for instance. I finally found out I’m an empath and I’m very emotional. I seem to carry people’s problems on my head till I almost break my neck. But it’s okay. And I’m finally becoming a cry baby once again. And as embarrassing as it is, it’s who I am. Don’t worry, I don’t cry in public. Lol!
-Rev. Fr. Oselumhense K. Anetor