Last weekend, my friend took me to see the movie Inside Out. Being in the process that I am of struggling to recognize and respond to my feelings, this movie was very educational and encouraging for me. There was a scene of the movie in which a character felt sad. The character, Joy tried to distract him from his sadness and “cheer him up,” but the character, Sad(ness) sat down next to him, and she empathized, validating his feelings and sharing in them. Sadness has often seemed to me a big scary monster hiding beneath the water in my heart… I often picture heart and identity matters in landscape scenes.
I wonder if this is why I am so drawn to whales in this season. They’re massive creatures, they keep to themselves, they do their whale thing, but they’re powerful. They’re alone but not lonely. They’re not subject to the water, the water is subject to them. I guess I have been afraid that the sadness sea monster would get angry and chew me up and spit me out just before I died. This, actually, is how sadness has often felt: unmanageable and overwhelming. Perhaps this has so often been the case, however, because the “sea monster,” which was really just a whale, was inviting me in to the water for some company, and maybe, when I rejected that invitation, the whale began to stir up the waters. Maybe it was the crashing waves that ended up bashing me, while the whale kept me from drowning.
For those of you who don’t think in pictures or automatically follow symbolism, I want to try to explain what I am seeing in my mind’s eye. I have begun to think of my feelings as characters representing versions of myself. Sadness is a character, represented to me, by a whale. Imagine a whale that has an entire, empathetic, wise, compassionate personality. The water in which the whale lives is, in my mind, the manifestation of sadness; it is the crying, the puking, the shaking, the restless nights, and the still inability to not stare off into space. If I don’t run away from sadness, I give her the opportunity to sit down with me and say, “Wow, I’m really sorry that happened to you.”
This is where the compassion of Jesus begins to become a concept that I can actually grasp. By learning to get into the water with Sadness (my beautiful whale), I am also learning to value myself with the grace that flows from the compassion of Jesus. I have never before learned to value myself. I have only learned to ascertain the degree to which I was valued by others. I have only learned to tread through the terror and ambiguity of others’ perceptions of me, and whether or not I measured up by those standards. I have recently learned and am still trying to uncover and discover the fullness of this truth about and within myself. Please don’t think that I am making this proclamation with pride. I’m saying this as if I’m reading a newly received telegram containing startling news. I do not invite you to respond by telling me how valuable I am. That would be counterproductive. I’m learning to value myself, and I’m learning to accept the value my Creator has for me in that process. I’ve always felt guilty for not understanding how to let God’s value for me be enough, but I’m finding out (very slowly) that my value for myself acts as a translator for God’s value for me.