It’s fair to say that I feel things deeply. And it’s also fair to say that I need a “wide berth” for certain feelings—meaning I need to allocate sufficient interior space because of their bigness. Feelings that feel awkward, embarrassing, complex, or profoundly unpleasant. At top of list for me is the feeling of disappointment.
Last night I experienced disappointment. It had to do with the timing of our moving into the cabin we’re building in SW Michigan. We were repeatedly told one thing, and then last night were told a surprising and different thing. When it’s all said and done, the timing is only off by about two weeks. Yet rationality doesn’t seem to resolve my disappointment now, even though six month from now, two weeks won’t matter one diddly-squat!
So today, I feel disappointed.
Disappointment for me has a tale. That tale goes way back to my childhood and how I learned to cope with my desires, wants, and preferences. It feels like a complicated blend of anger and sadness. I feel angry and perturbed with the person who repeatedly told us one thing and now has told us something else. But I also feel sad. Sad because I yearn intensely for the arrival of the Lily Pad (our cabin). I can’t wait to inhabit it, create beauty in it, and enjoy the restful haven I anticipate it will be! For months, I’ve been carrying two tons of cargo in my truck of desire. It began to pick up speed as I neared my destination, and then, suddenly and unexpectedly: I was required to downshift and idle!
But anger and sadness aren’t all my feelings. There are many layers to my disappointment. I feel embarrassed that I’m disappointed. I chide myself and say, “You should be more mature by now—more accepting of such minor changes in plans.” (And maybe I should.) I feel vulnerable because it exposes the fragility and force of my desires and the anguish if they’re not fulfilled. I feel frustrated and angsty, like I want to yell at someone. (And you know who.)
So, when I say that I need a wide berth for disappointment, I mean that it takes a lot of interior space to allow all those feelings to enter the room and be welcomed, felt, acknowledged, and given legitimacy. It’s been my experience that if I shame myself for feeling what I feel, or chide myself, or try to reform the way I feel, it never helps me feel any better. And it often doesn’t lead to a good outcome.
How We Transform a Reaction into a Response
Giving wide berth to any feeling, including disappointment, is a way to unhook it from a rash or even destructive reaction that we will probably regret. (Like yelling at you-know-who.) It’s something I’ve been practicing, albeit clumsily, for a few months. It stems from a conversation I had with my spiritual director (years ago) when she described how we transform a reaction into a response. Nancy unpacked for me the virtues of practicing the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, and Action.
Here’s how it works:
1. In order to respond thoughtfully and responsibly in a challenging situation, I first need to become AWARE of what I’m feeling and what’s going on inside me; of the patterns of my personality that are in operation, and yet are sometimes unconscious and often habitual.
2. Then—and this is the wide berth—I need to offer myself, my patterns, and my feelings
ACCEPTANCE. I need to extend grace and mercy to my humanity and stake my birthright to be
who I am and where I am developmentally, no matter where that is. Nancy said that acceptance is the stage we are most likely to skip over, in favor of taking action!
3. Once I’m aware and accept all the parts of me contained within this wide berth of my soul, then I
can discern how to ACT in a way that is wise, good, and loving; instead of the alternative, which is reactive and sometimes retaliatory.
So I’ve had a few recent incidents, like last night, when I felt all out of sorts and tried to practice giving wide berth to myself and my inner turmoil. It wasn’t magic. I didn’t instantly calm down and feel better. But it did give me space to sort things through, legitimize each and every feeling, and the reason for their existence.
The wide berth gave me an option that wasn’t available to me had I kept all that I was feeling in dark, cramped quarters. It allowed me to engage my better thinking, to consider a larger picture of life. (I.e. This person who disappointed me hadn’t intended to mislead me. He has a lot going on in addition to getting our cabin set-up.) As a result, I was able to ACT in a way that was consistent with my values, both personally and as a follower of Jesus.
Sure, I still feel a bit deflated. And I also sense that my interior world is calming and my attitudes and actions are aligning with who I want to be and God desires me to be in the world. This feels like integrity, a much-preferred way of being than acting out my disappointment.
So, here’s a question for you, dear reader: How might this go for you, if you offered your most difficult feelings a wide berth, and accepted yourself as a human being, always on the way? Let me know how it goes!