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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Good Girls (and why we shouldn’t always try to be one)

 

A few years ago I attended a seminar about working with teenage girls. I was hoping for some useful tips, inspiration and new ideas, and I came away with all of those. But I also came away with something a little more unexpected- a revelation about myself.

This seminar introduced me to the concept of the ‘Good Girl’- one I instantly identified with. Good Girls like to please. They tend to overachieve. They don’t like getting into trouble, and care very much about the opinions of those around them. And this behaviour is held up as a model, something to aspire to. Compliant teenagers?! The Holy Grail! But of course, scratch the surface, and underneath lurk the same swirling mire of complicated, hormone-driven emotions that are an integral part of growing up. Good Girls tend to suppress these emotions, rather than display them. Rebellion may be internal, or (as was in my case) concealed; they aren’t looking for the attention that confrontation brings, but seeking to avoid it at all costs. Parents of Good Girls may drift along in blissful ignorance, unaware of the double lives their apparent model offspring are living. And of course, the danger then is that if Good Girls do derail, they do so in spectacular style.

Recognising this trait in myself was the beginning of a journey of discovery for me; realising that other people’s opinions of me are not the be all and end all, and realising that God’s opinion of me does not change according to how I behave- He loves me unconditionally, for who I am and not what I do.

I’ve been reminded a lot about this recently. For one thing, my girls and I have been watching Frozen (a lot). And listening to the soundtrack (on loop in the car, much to my husband’s dismay. Although he does do some good Sven impressions. But I digress.) Readers of this blog will be aware that I am a big fan of the movie (see previous post Fearless not Frozen ) and every time I watch it I find more in it that makes me think. At the start of the film Elsa, one of the principal characters, is an archetypal Good Girl. She has been taught from an early age that she must hide her powers away from the world, and protect her little sister at all costs:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see,

Be the Good Girl you always have to be,

Conceal don’t feel, put on a show…

Make one wrong move and everyone will know…

But (spoiler alert- if you live on another planet and have not yet seen the film) this does not turn out well. Unsurprisingly, trying to suppress who she really is and constantly put on an act for everybody else eats her up inside; consumed by fear she is unable to harness her powers until she embraces who she is, and is accepted for who she is by those she loves.

Another reason this has been at the front of my mind is that I have the makings of a Good Girl myself. A compliant, eager to please, academically gifted child to whom expressing her emotions does not come naturally. I am trying to encourage her to share how she feels, and to reassure her that getting angry is not always a bad thing. To tell her often that no matter what she does, her mummy and daddy (and her Daddy in heaven) will love her just the same. To make sure she knows that she won’t be able to please everyone, all the time, and that that’s OK. That being herself, knowing herself, standing up for who she is and what she thinks is right is more important than keeping the peace.

My hope and prayer for both my girls is that they would feel able to be themselves, wherever they are and whoever they’re with; that they may be thermostats that influence the environment around them, not thermometers that merely reflect it. And that they would realise that ‘Being Good’ is often not all it’s cracked up to be.

 

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