I killed a cat once.
And before you turn me into PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), you need to know that it was simply an unfortunate accident.
For the first nine years of my life, I lived on an acreage 5 miles away from the nearest town of 400 people. We spent our summers barefoot with shirts being optional. We made “Dandelion Stew” in my Mom’s empty horse trough and played in my Dad’s sawdust pile behind his sawmill.
In the evenings, my Dad would come in for supper and afterwards push us on the tire swing for dessert. We would yell, “Higher, Daddy, higher!” and sometimes our feet would touch the leaves on the branches above.
Every night, God would paint a different sunset and the grasshoppers, crickets, and cicadas would come out to sing us our Bedtime Song.
Living on an acreage - completely surrounded by corn and bean fields - gave our farm cats a full-time job of keeping the mice population down. We always had cats, which meant we always had kittens.
One of our favorite things to do on the acreage was to find the newest litter. Momma Cat would always move her babies if we stumbled upon them too soon. And since there were four of us children involved in the hunt, we normally found them too soon.
On one of those summer evenings, we found a litter in the garden shed with a unique dome roof. The kittens were probably around 6-weeks old and were playful and curious. There were plenty of them to snuggle and it felt a little like Christmas morning.
As the sun was setting on the opposite end of the dim shed, I realized it was getting a little too dark to enjoy the kittens that were all around us…running, pouncing, and wrestling. I noticed the single lightbulb with a pull chain hanging above me. It was a little too high for me to reach, so I decided to jump…
The next thing that happened, I haven’t been able to forget in over 25 years.
I missed the pull chain and ended up landing on one of those sweet kittens with my feet. I inadvertently broke its neck and watched its body flip-flop around on the dusty cement floor.
I screamed the kind of scream that meant something was terribly wrong. I was horrified when I realized that I had killed it.
I immediately took off running to the house, bawling.
I found my Mom making supper in the kitchen and somehow managed to tell her what had just happened.
I was devastated. In fact, it was the first time in my life when I remember feeling crushed. The sunset wasn’t as pretty that night and the Bedtime Song sounded flat.
Now, there’s another part of that sad childhood memory that is equally memorable.
It was my Mom.
I remember her being there - when I needed her the most.
That evening I didn’t join my siblings to play outside again. Instead, I stayed inside the kitchen and sat and cried. I remember getting up from the upholstered rocking chair to walk over to where my Mom was cooking hamburger on the stove.
I didn’t have to say one word. She just knew. She wrapped one arm around me as she continued to brown the meat on the stove. I buried my face into her shirt and cried some more, listening to the hiss of the hamburger that sizzled in the pan. I found great comfort in that moment and sensed that it was - somehow - going to be OK.
Yes, over 25 years have passed since that particular summer night and it’s left a lesson that I’ll never forget: there are times when it’s appropriate to sit with Sadness.
Sadness is an emotion that we oftentimes avoid - like going to the Dentist or getting our annual physical. It’s not as exciting as Joy, doesn’t worry as much as Fear, and doesn’t say as many bad words as Anger. (And Disney’s Inside Out did a brilliant job of exploring these characters.)
Not too many of us enjoy when Sadness comes around. Because, when Sadness shows up, it can be a real downer.
(And I sure hope you laughed out loud there.)
There have been certain seasons in my life where Sadness has been a little more prominent…like when I moved to Switzerland when I was 17 and missed my family terribly…and when I wasn’t allowed to be in a relationship that would later become my husband…and when I miscarried for the first time…and when we moved away from everything familiar to start something new…and when Reality introduced itself to Postpartum on four separate occasions.
Yes, the messy fingerprints of Sadness have left its smudges on my life. And yet, through those moments there were things produced in me that couldn’t have been learned any other way.
One of the ways we can teach our children to feel appropriately is by allowing them to feel in the first place.
Just like it would be inappropriate to laugh during a funeral or sob during a wedding, there is a time and place for it all.
In fact, Ecclesiastes 3:1 says,
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
If we never sit with Sadness, we won’t be able to fully embrace the laughing and dancing that follows.
Now, I have two children that are wired just like me - they love fiercely and hurt deeply. And because of that, little things are big deals all too often in our home.
…Someone colored on something they shouldn’t have.
…Someone popped the beloved balloon.
…Someone got hurt in the wrestling match that got a little out of hand.
Really, their version of “Dandelion Stew,” tire-swing rides, and unfortunate kitty incidents.
We need to give our children permission to have a feeling - whether it be Sadness, Joy, Anger, or Fear.
With that being said, giving our children permission to have a feeling without installing guardrails would be catastrophic.
Hence the saying we have in our house that helps them stay in their lane:
“It’s okay to have feelings - your feelings just can’t have you.”
Meaning that we are the boss of our feelings, and not the other way around.
I take comfort in knowing that even Jesus had feelings.
He experienced Anger when he made a whip out of cords and overturned the money changers’ tables in the temple courts (John 2:14-17). He felt Hunger after he had finished fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:2). He was Tired because his disciples found him sleeping during the storm (Mark 4:38). He felt Betrayal when Judas did what he did (Luke 22:47-48) and Rejection when Peter disowned Him three times (Luke 22:54-62). He even knew Sadness when Lazarus died, because “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
Isaiah 53:3-5 says,
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Yes, Jesus sat with Sadness a time or two. And since He did, I guess it’s OK if we do too.
What a different memory the kitty incident would have been for me if I would have approached my Mom with my swollen eyes and snotty nose and she told me to, “Knock it off. Cheer up!”
When instead, she allowed me room to weep and mourn. She was empathetic of my pain and gave me permission to sit with Sadness.
I’m giving you permission to do the same. The next time Sadness comes around, take some time and sit with it. Allow your children to do so as well. Because after you’ve cried all of your tears, you’ll be ready to fully experience and embrace His Joy that comes next.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.