“What do you do with the mad that you feel When you feel so mad you could bite? When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong... And nothing you do seems very right?
What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag? Or see how fast you go?
It's great to be able to stop When you've planned a thing that's wrong, And be able to do something else instead And think this song:
I can stop when I want to Can stop when I wish. I can stop, stop, stop any time. And what a good feeling to feel like this And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there's something deep inside That helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a woman And a boy can be someday a man.”
- Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mad that You Feel Song
Every person to ever live experiences desires and emotion. In my work as a campus minister and musician I am continually reminded of this reality, and in my experience, there is one common thread that I wish to propagate. You are not your desires.
The first time I noticed this unfortunate reality was in my own writing. As a high school student learning to play the guitar, I deeply desired to be noticed, loved and accepted. Like all high school students, the world was becoming bigger and rawer for the first time in my life. I started to amass new experiences including many disappointments. There is nothing like disappointment to inspire an “artist” to create. So I began to experiment with song-writing in my late high school years and I quickly had a handful of brand new songs.
My lack of discipline and self denial as a youth was reflected in my writing. I began what I like to call “barf-writing” music. Any reaction I had to this new world I was experiencing I put into a song with almost no filter. This not only fostered terrible music, but it also encouraged my lack of restraint in other areas of life because I was now an “artist”.
In short, I created a label that justified my rampant desires.
I see this every day in my interactions with students. Our society creates new identities and labels all the time just so that no one is asked to change. We have labels for sexuality, music, christian-flavor (or denomination), style, food… all to accommodate our every desire. The measure of our unrestraint is reflected in the endless labels we can attached ourselves to. We have completely bought into the lie that I am whatever I feel.
This supposed “freedom” functionally acts as a prison. The students I work with are constantly worried if they are living “true to themselves”. Is it a wonder why so many students switch majors every year, date someone new each month, have no close friends and never commit to a church? How much of our thought life is devoted to the free choice of “who to be next”? If something consumes your life, are you really free? Complete freedom breeds complete indecision and paralyse.
Mr. Rodgers understood this. He understood that the discipline of self denial brought more freedom than that of endless choices. “And what a good feeling, to feel like this.” True freedom is knowing that your desires do not define you. You are more than a set of reactions and feelings.
As I matured and learned restraint in my life as a Christian, I also began to learn restraint as an artist. Not every desire I have is suitable to express. It is through the constant filtering and discipline of creative thought that I have begun to learn a better expression of my desires. I write a lot less music now than when I was a kid, but the music I write is light years better than what I used to write. Like Mr. Rodgers said, it feels fantastic to have a creative idea and not let it out, but rather restrain it, refine it and polish it. My art doesn’t create me, I create it. Freedom is not to say anything I think, but to think about everything I say.
This is not only good news to the passionate struggler; it also aplies to "dried-up" and depressed people. Just as feelings do not define us when we have too many, the lack of feelings also do not define us. In the moments we cannot feel anything, we can remember that desire does not make a person.
In the words of Jesus I My Cross Have Taken, there is great reward in picking up your cross and denying yourself.
“Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee. Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be. Perish every fond ambition, All I’ve sought or hoped or known. Yet how rich is my condition! God and heaven are still my own.”