Emma Tanner

A Work in Progress

Surface Pressure

There’s something about the start of a new year that makes us reflective. When that coincides with a new Disney movie with a killer soundtrack…. double whammy. I am a Disney girl through and through, and when Disney meets the lyrical and musical genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda, what can possibly go wrong?!

I can’t stop listening to this particular song from Encanto, sung by Jessica Darrow, the voice of Luisa. (Do click and listen to it if you haven’t already!)

Ouch.

I know so many people who, like Luisa, are carrying so much at the moment. Who feel the weight of pressure and expectation, from family, and friends, from the churches they lead, or the teams they manage, or the people they work alongside. Who are supporting people in many areas of their life, and feel like there is a crushing weight on their shoulders. Who feel like they need to be the strong one; that without them being that to so many other people, the house of cards would come crashing down.

Some of those lyrics are almost painfully resonant for me.

“Under the surface
I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service…”

“Give it to your sister, it doesn’t hurt and
See if she can handle every family burden
Watch as she buckles and bends but never breaks
No mistakes, just

Pressure like a grip, grip, grip, and it won’t let go, woah
Pressure like a tick, tick, tick ’til it’s ready to blow, woah-oh-oh…”

When we have a lot going on, when we are juggling so many balls that dropping one is inevitable- and we just hope that the one we drop bounces rather than shatters- it is so easy to look inwards. To pull up the metaphorical drawbridge, and withdraw. To tell ourselves we can only rely on us, that we are the only ones who can sort this, that no-one else can help, that everyone else has loads going on as well so we must just suck it up and keep going. Grin and bear it. Stiff upper lip and all that.

The problem with that is that it’s not true, and it doesn’t work.

A couple of months ago, I was wrestling with a family crisis. It came to a head on a Sunday morning, and I found myself on the sidelines of an under 14s football match having a minor breakdown (internally, of course, I’m very British) whilst simultaneously trying to cheer on my daughter and her teammates and make small talk with the football mums. When it all got a bit much (pressure like a tick, tick, tick ’til it’s ready to blow, woah-oh-oh…) I took myself off for a walk. It didn’t help that all the people I might have felt able to talk to were in church, and uncontactable. I also mentally ruled out quite a few others, on the grounds that they were all battling even bigger demons and I didn’t want to add to their stress. I started having a very self-pitying conversation with myself.

“No-one is here for you. You’re always there for everybody else, but when you need someone, there’s no-one here.”

“No one cares.”

“You’d better sort it on your own, as usual.”

What a load of egocentric, ridiculous clap-trap.

With the benefit of hindsight, and when my brain isn’t in crisis mode and can think a bit more rationally, I can recognise and call out the BS. And thankfully, God helped me to do that in the moment, too.

I was on the verge of losing it and succumbing to hysterics and I started praying as I was walking. I felt prompted to put on my spiritual armour, and I started praying Ephesians 6.

“Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

Ephesians 6:13-18, The Message

God reminded me that he was in control. That his resources of love and grace and peace were infinite, and more than enough to cover this (and any) situation. That I didn’t need to carry burdens that were never intended for me to bear alone- Jesus has already gone ahead and done that. I just needed to trust him with them, and hand them over. What a relief.

The other thing he prompted me to do was to reach out to a few trusted friends and ask them to pray, which I did. The next day I opened up to a couple of those friends, and- much like Luisa Madrigal in Encanto- felt so much better for being honest about what was happening and how I was feeling. People can’t stand alongside us if they don’t know anything is wrong; if we don’t let them in.

I’ve been reading Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, which talks a lot about the importance of vulnerability; of being prepared to be open and truthful with those around us about how we are feeling. I’ve found it both thought-provoking and challenging. It’s definitely made me change how I try and lead my team, and how I interact with those around me. Being honest and vulnerable with other people gives them permission to be honest with us, too, and to reach out for help when they need it.

I think often (especially in good-girl circles- I’ve written about that concept before-) there is the temptation to think that we are somehow letting the side down if we admit that things are less than perfect, or that we have a problem. We prefer to be the ones helping than the ones accepting help, or acknowledging that we need it.

WE ARE FINE. Except for when we’re not.

“But wait
If I could shake the crushing weight
Of expectations would that free some room up for joy
Or relaxation? Or simple pleasure?
Instead we measure this growing pressure
Keeps growing, keep going…”

I think that freeing up some room for joy, relaxation and pleasure sounds like a good thing to aim for this new year. That might mean letting go of other peoples’ expectations, or our own- being kinder to ourselves. It may mean letting go of some burdens that we don’t need to be carrying, or starting to share them with other people- or even better, surrendering them to Jesus, whose shoulders are infinitely broader than our own.

It may mean being intentional, unapologetically carving out time for those things that restore our souls and fill up our emotional tanks, equipping us for whatever we are facing in our day-to-day. Yes, we’re all busy, but those things- whether they’re quiet times, country walks, spending time with friends, spa days, cycle rides, DIY, reading, writing- it’s different for each of us- can be the life-saving pressure valve that prevent us from blowing.

It may also mean watching more Disney films. And listening to more Lin-Manuel Miranda. On that note, I think I may go re-watch Moana….

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Bee Yourself (Life Lessons from Disney Volume 2)

I was in the car today, listening to the radio, when an unwelcome voice came into my head.

“You are so old, listening to Radio 2! If people could see you they would think you are so sad…”

A trivial example, I know, but a couple of years ago I would probably have listened to that voice, and questioned my choices. (I still remember ageing about 10 years in my own eyes when I made the epic decision to switch from Radio 1 to Radio 2. It was Chris Moyles leaving that was the final straw. But I digress). In the last 2 years or so I’ve gradually started to become more comfortable in my own skin. Or, in the wise words of the fantastic Genie in Aladdin, to Bee Myself.

This is a lesson I have found particularly hard to learn. From childhood I have been taught that what people think of you really matters. That it doesn’t matter what’s going on indoors, as long as we put on a good show for those watching from the outside, and that they think well of us. “What would (insert name of easily outraged person here) think?!” I am gradually teaching myself a new answer to that question: “I really don’t care!”

Of course, we all care what people think of us to some extent, and it’s right that we consider the opinions and sensibilities of those we love and respect. But if we live our lives governed by other people’s ideas of who we should be and how we should behave, it will cripple us.

We all have different ideas about pretty much everything. What we spend our money on. What we watch on TV. How we bring up our children. We need to acknowledge those differences, but be OK with them. What’s right for one individual, one family, may well not be the right thing for another. When we are insecure about ourselves and the choices we make we often feel the need to make other people, who may do things differently, feel small. And at the end of the day that won’t make us feel any better, it’ll just make the other person feel a whole lot worse.

Jesus famously said

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Matthew 22:39

We tend to focus on the first part of that statement- but that is only half of the story. We need to learn to love ourselves. God loves us as we are now; he doesn’t need us to change first. And it’s his opinion that really counts. We may be a work in progress, and there will probably need to be some growing and changing that needs to happen so that we can do all we were made to do- but we don’t need a personality transplant for God to like us. He made me me, and you you; we were never meant to be the same.

So let’s cut each other, and ourselves, some slack. Let’s not worry too much about what other people think and just get on with being us- the real us, not the people we think others want us to be.

In the words of Sting, from the song ‘An Englishman in New York’:

“Be yourself, no matter what they say.”

 

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Fearless not Frozen

Yesterday, my husband and I took our girls to see Frozen, the new Disney extravaganza loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. We all thought it was fantastic, but the sequence above and the song it contains completely mesmerised me. In it the young snow queen, Elsa, starts to use the powers she was born with but has always been told she must hide away. As she starts to experiment, to draw pictures in the sky with frost and ice, and then to get more adventurous and conjure up an elaborate ice palace, you see her start to come alive, to become more confident as at last she is released to be the person she was created to be.

In ‘Let It Go’ she sings

The fears that once controlled me

Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do

To test the limits and break through…

It brought tears to my eyes as I watched it (not hard, as I am a Disney girl through and through and  so emotionally labile I have been known to cry in certain adverts…!) But even after we’d left the cinema, back home, I kept coming back to this scene in the film. At the start of a new year, full of promise, hope, expectation and uncertainty, what a great reminder that we need to use the gifts we’ve been given. There is freedom  in being who we were made to be. And using our gifts helps us to hone them, to employ them more effectively. In the film it is only through using her powers that Elsa discovers just what she can do and how she can control them and use them for good.

I don’t think that anyone I know has the power to turn anything they touch to ice. We all however, without exception, have our own unique set of gifts and talents, and most of us will have some that we aren’t using. Maybe we’re afraid, like Elsa, of the reaction of those around us. We may be afraid of failing if we step out into something new. We may be comfortable carrying on doing what we know we can do, happier in our comfort zone than out of it.

For me, the challenge this year is to keep writing. To stop making excuses about being too busy (if I have time for Facebook and Candy Crush I have time to write, right?!) To stop worrying about what people think about my writing and just do it. To stop being afraid of not being good at it and keep on keeping on. To stop reading books about writing books and just get on with the blinking thing.

I don’t know what your ‘thing’ is, but I bet there’s something. In the words of Orrin Woodward

It’s not the gifts you don’t have that hold you back as much as the gifts you do have that you don’t use.

So let’s get out there in 2014 and be the unique and wonderful people who God created us to be, all different, all complementary, all with our own particular part to play, not afraid of failing but free to be who we really want to be, who we really are. Oh, and go and see Frozen. It’s great.

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