… whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. Genesis 2:19
When I picked my daughter Jocelyn up from kindergarten last week, she told me she was “home sick” at school. I didn’t know she even knew that term, never mind what it means. When I asked her, she told me she had heard me talk about “home sickness” with Zack after his first sleepover. With some more digging, I discovered there had been a substitute teacher in Jocelyn’s class that day, one who had made her write more than her regular teacher does. She claimed that is what caused the “home sickness.”
My gut told me she hadn’t really experienced “home sickness.” Instead, I think she latched on to that term when her hand got tired, she didn’t want to write anymore, but was forced to. Sure, she would have preferred to be at home playing with toys rather than being at school working, but I think the real emotion she was feeling was a combination of being tired, frustrated, not familiar with the substitute teacher, and feeling like she had no control. When I tried to explain this to her to see if I was on target, she adamantly said NO! She felt homesick and that was that!
I certainly couldn’t deny my daughter her feelings. Even if I doubted their accuracy, I had to work within her reality, comforting her and bringing her back to center.
But it got me thinking about labels and how we use them to define things for ourselves. God gave us free will. In Genesis 2:19, God gave man the right to name each living creature. That same right applies to naming our own realities and emotions. Whatever names we choose, thus they are labeled.
Of course there is a tremendous benefit in naming our emotions. Coasting along without delving into how we feel leads to a shallow life. In that case, we are simply existing, never plunging into the depth or breadth of this gift of life God has given us. Moreover, if we can’t identity how we feel, we can’t resolve our negative feelings, nor can we rejoice and be grateful for the positive ones.
However, there is a tremendous danger in naming our emotions when we do so incorrectly, especially in regards to negative emotions. If we misname a bad feeling, we box ourselves in, imprison ourselves in a jail cell of heart ache, one we can’t get out of because we’re using the wrong key.
I know someone who recently tried stepping into a new career path. In the days leading up to it, she was overwhelmed with an emotion she called “anxiety.” Labeling the emotion “anxiety” had her trapped in a reality that said she was weak and incapable of handling this new situation.
I saw it differently. She possesses all the talent and skills to not only handle her new challenge, but to succeed and shine at it. However, the label of “anxiety” had her dreading the new experience, one that was meant to be exciting, and, perhaps, the start of something wonderful.
From my perspective, the emotion she was feeling was “nervousness,” a perfectly normal reaction to something new. I’ve read numerous accounts of famous people admitting that they always feel nervous right before stepping outside their comfort zones, just before living out their dreams. Some even feel downright fear, to the point of nausea and actually vomiting.
Not only is nervousness normal, it can be very positive. It keeps us sharp, on our toes, mindful of the importance of things. It can also be the precursor to thrill and excitement. I argue that anything worth doing, anything that truly matters, always comes with nervousness.
Jocelyn has brought up that “home sick” day several times over the past week. Even though I firmly believe that wasn’t the correct name, it’s too late. Like Adam, she has named it, and so it is. I can’t change her interpretation of that situation now, no matter how hard I try.
But I can work with her on understanding a larger variety of emotions for future situations. If I provide her with more emotional names to choose from, she’ll be better equipped to discern and label her feelings more accurately. Moreover, she’ll be better able to address them.
I think in today’s day and age, society defaults too quickly to labels of “anxiety,” “stress” and “overwhelmed.” I am not denying, at all, that these emotions exist. I suffer from each and every one of them at different phases and stages of my life. But just because a feeling may be uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it is negative. Just like the pangs of childbirth hurt like hell, they do lead to new life. If we can label more of our emotions with names that can transform us, we will have the power to change our realities for the better.
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