It is extremely easy to go throughout life without really connecting with another human being. I mean, yes, we can ask, “How are you?” and hear the quick, “Good, how are you?”
But it’s another thing altogether to CONNECT with others.
Okay, how does one truly connect with another? Well, there are a lot of ways, but one of the most powerful: through emotions.
When one person can share their FEELINGS, it creates a sense of shared space. Real Life Flickers in the eyes. It’s not only good, it’s great.
The only issue: we don’t, by and large, sit around and share feelings on a day to day basis. Feelings and emotions seem like fluff, unneeded, unwanted.
In short, they make us uncomfortable. Especially the German Catholics. I know. I married one.
Guess what? I am perfectly fine with uncomfortable as long as it eventually leads us to CONNECTION. With that in mind, I instituted a new weekly event: Feelings are Fantastic.
I knew from my work with James Clear and his book, “Atomic Habits,” that if I wanted this to stick I needed to create an Implementation Intention. I had to name the time and place. I knew it would work best if we were actually eating TOGETHER around the table.
I looked at our week. I figured out the best night.
I took a big piece of freezer paper and tore it off the roll. I got out some markers and wrote out: “Every Fantastic Family Shares their Feelings. What were three emotions you felt last week? What did you do about them? We wanna know! Can’t wait to hear! Monday Evening Dinner 6 p.m.”
I posted an Emotions List on the door. The kids immediately began to poke fun. I smiled. Yes, emotions are awkward. It’s not common. I was light but firm and said, “You’ll love it. And all great families share their feelings.”
One of my teen daughters rolled her eyes and said, “You can’t make us share our feelings.”
I smiled again. Little did she know.
Monday evening rolled around and guess what? I had to deliver kids to basketball practice so we had to nix our Big Event. I knew Tuesday would work just fine and told that to the kids. I heard, “Oh, I thought you had forgotten.”
They began to look over the posted word list. My 11-year old said, “I am feeling dull and neutral just looking at this list.”
I began to think my family was dull and neutral. But I stayed the course. On Tuesday night, after we were done eating, I explained that it’s super easy to get lost in the shuffle of life and it’s important to stay emotionally connected as a family. I took the Emotions List and asked them to look it over and choose three words that they had experienced in the last week.
My husband Russ started and he just dove on in. “I was feeling really anxious this week about Small Group.” He paused and gathered his thoughts. I looked at our 15-year old son lounged out, feet ON THE TABLE. My mommy eyes told him to GET THOSE FEET OFF THE TABLE and as he obeyed me, it dawned on me that our kids probably didn't even know about this program.
I turned to Russ, “What’s Small Group?”
He explained, “Well, for the past several months ten of us from Holy Spirit have been meeting every Monday night. We’ve been getting to know each other and sharing life together. The purpose is to create a deeper bond of unity for our church community. You know how easy it is to just go to church and then leave, right? Well, when you truly know other people in church, you talk and build community. We want our church to feel closer and so we are doing that through something called Small Groups.
“The only issue is that now I am being asked to start my own Small Group. And I was feeling anxious about that. There’s a lot of great guys in our parish. I needed to pick ten for my own group. Once they agreed to join my group, I knew I’d have to figure out how to run the group. So I talked it over with your mom and she helped, but I still had some anxiety about it.
“I decided to pray and just tell God what I needed. I never have enough time in my day to get the basic stuff done and now I needed to talk to the three guys left on my list and invite them to my Small Group. I asked God to help me get that done.”
People. At this point our kids were DIALED IN.
Russ started chuckling and explained how, on Sunday, one of the guys "just happened" to be walking out of church as Russ was walking in. They stopped and chatted; Russ was able to invite him to Group.
He then turned around and ran into the second guy and was able to easily extend the invite.
After Mass my husband began to walk out of church and he just smiled. The third man’s family was sitting right there. He was able to connect.
That made him feel inspired; he felt like God was truly orchestrating, guiding, helping. It was a powerful moment. Then a kid goes, “Well, I don’t wanna go after that.”
Mitch stepped in. (Oh. And I may have cheated because Mitch is one of our adult children. He eats at home every Tuesday night. Mitch is fabulous. He is truly past the eye-rolling, Mom, this is dumb stage. If you would like to borrow him, I’m sure he would be fine to visit your family at dinner time. Just feed the boy!)
Mitchell shared how he had been feeling some anxiety lately, too. Since leaving seminary in May, he has been working with Ebby Construction. He shared with us how he is a bit stunned how fast the money leaves his account. “It’s truly easy to spend money on little things and they add up.” He said he had a plan in motion on how to handle it, though, which eased his stress about it.
He then shared more about his spiritual life and how he felt like his faith had become more external. He was “going through the motions of his faith life.”
Then he shared, "One of my co-workers stuns me because when he talks about God, he uses the phrase 'My Jesus.' It blew me away. It’s easy to think of God as someone out there, but to call Him ‘My Jesus’ is a whole different story. It brings Him close, an intimate friend.”
Russ and Mitch then bantered back and forth, discussing how it felt when they see a close friend. The joy is instantaneous. They both pondered having Jesus as that type of friend.
“MY JESUS.” Love that.
The next three kids went and they shared quickly. “The Chiefs won and I was excited. I didn’t have to work this week and that made me happy.” We pressed for a bit more and they gave a teeny tiny bit more.
I was last. Oh my. As my family stared at me, it was hard to pick out the exact word of how I've been feeling this week. I told them, "Well, I've been writing posts again and it feels great. So I am satisfied. I also wrote a post for young moms this week....and....that made me feel something quite deep."
Russ asked me to clarify and I told them that I had always felt stretched too thin when I was raising my babies. And I promised myself that if I ever got through it, I would make sure I emotionally supported young moms.
This week it felt great being able to actually do that. (What ONE WORD captures all of that?)
Even though I couldn't properly articulate my thought at the moment, it still felt amazing to be able to share some of the "inner" with my kids. They don't normally ask how MY day went, you know?
So what’s the importance of all of this?
Well, think about it. When you feel something during the day, it’s easy to just bottle it up or pass it off as nothing. Yet YOUR EMOTIONS are HOW YOU PROCESS LIFE. They are important. And one of the most amazing gifts we can give to our children is to help THEM express their emotions on a frequent basis.
Here’s the other upswing: if we are given the chance to describe our feelings, the better we can actually assimilate those feelings. That process actually releases some of the negative energy from negative emotions. It can validate our self-worth. All win-win.
A family I know has an Emotional Feeling List on their kitchen table. Every time they eat supper together (which is often) the parents ask the children to choose three words that they experienced that day and to tell what happened as they experienced those feelings.
Was that awkward at first? Yep. But guess what? The kids actually began to look forward to it. One of them cornered the mother and told her, “I’m glad you are making us share our emotions with each other. It really makes us feel closer.”
If the parents forget about it, the KIDS now bring it up!
I am bound and determined to create a more beautiful family culture this year. We have been living quite disconnected. I can see how intentionally sharing our emotions with each other once a week will renew us. I know the kids won’t think so, not at first, but I can tell from our first go of it that it might just breathe some new life into our old bones.
I created two different Emotional Feeling lists, according to ages. If you’d like to access those lists, you can find them in our new resource library.