“‘Dear Natalie, I have followed you for years. I adore your boys, I LOVE seeing them daily, it brightens my day. I love seeing your beautiful face when it is joyful. You have a beautiful heart. I feel as though I owe it to you to let you know…I cannot follow you anymore. You seem to be hellbent on grieving, on being negative, on grieving a man you divorced when you so clearly have so much to be happy about. You have what seems to be an amazing man by your side, kids who adore you, and so much going for you. I cannot have all of your constant grief and negativity in my feed anymore. I truly hope you find happiness. Love, ____’
I was on the bicycle at the gym when I listened to the full 3-minute message left in my Instagram Direct Messages, from a woman I only knew through her comments and responses to IG stories I’ve shared. Of course what I have written above is not word for word and there was a lot more in her message; but I couldn’t retrieve the messages any longer to share verbatim.
This particular week alone I had already had multiple people in my messages letting me know how unlike Jesus I am, etcetera etcetera, how I don’t fit in the box they thought I should be fitting in.
That is what happens when you allow thousands of people to follow you publicly, when you’ve ‘built a platform’ off being your authentic self and telling the truth you feel free to tell.
I grew up hearing hate towards emotions, especially the sad ones. I began to hate sadness too — I hated when my mom cried and was annoyed she did so often. Crying was for the weak, the out of control, the too-sensitive — this is what we’re taught. I was overly happy at school and in church, and extremely angry and bitter at home. I’d scribble dark poems into notebooks, then make myself bleed with sandpaper and safety pins, aching to escape the skin that held my soul in. I was cursed with an ever-present darkness, I tried to repress it, ignore it, numb it.
I carried an ability to repress into college and then marriage. My first miscarriage led me to study Jesus and grief — adoption pushed me further. Divorce stripped me raw, inviting me to sit in all the pain instead of ignoring it.
The more I’ve opened myself up to experiencing emotion and life as it unfolds, the more I’ve unpacked my trauma and the ways God has created me as an individual, the more honest I become. I may seem ungrateful or ‘hellbent on grieving,’ but the truth is I’m hellbent on being real without shame. With that comes freedom, even if it comes with rejection.
I’m incredibly grateful for Jesus, for my children, for my family, for the beauty of creation, for the roof over my head and the way my church community helps make sure we’re fed. I’m grateful and also I’m sad about certain things — sadness makes people uncomfortable.
But I refuse to make myself smaller anymore. I now see the ability to be honest about our emotions as bravery, strength, courage. He is big enough to hold us, even when others say we are too much, directly or indirectly.
I will never not praise Him.
I’d rather be rejected for who I am than loved for a lie I tell myself and others. Wouldn’t you?
The reality is, I only share the actual details of my life when and if I feel ready. Most of my posts about grief and disappointment are vague in that I share the experiences of them, but not the exact reason why I am experiencing these things.
Here is a recent example:
The more things that ‘go wrong’ or go opposite of what I thought in my little life, the more I realize I don’t know as much as I thought I did. About myself, others, the world. Another thing that continues to happen as I realize how broke I actually am, is I find oceans of grace I didn’t notice before. For myself and for others. I mean, look, I’m posting a selfie from a bathroom for crying out loud (jk my issues are bigger than that). Anywho.
Life is hard no matter who we are and whether we want to admit it or not — I’m just grateful Jesus knows me intimately, knows my brokenness and my wholeness, knows my heart and my head, and still loves me fiercely and endlessly.
No matter what happens, He remains. No matter what happens on earth, there is Heaven. I genuinely don’t know how people survive without that kind of comfort.
This voice message did not shock me. Nor did it make me immediately mad. It made me stop and think, like these messages usually do.
My response was something like this:
Thank you for sharing with me your heart. I thought I’d let you know that I am not really grieving so much my divorce, as I am grieving the current reality I am living. I don’t actually share all of my life on social media, I share what I feel I want to share and there is a lot more going on than the details provided in my squares. I do not owe the world my details and only share what I feel I can and want to. I’m not hellbent on being negative or grieving, I’m hellbent on being honest. All the love to you, maybe our paths will cross again.”
I had shared a few details with her that I shouldn’t have —which are not included above in the quote — out of a defense of self, because I am human and hate not feeling validated.
And look: she is not the first. She is just an example of many, many people who have told me to my face or online that I am too sad, I share too much grief, that I need to get over things and move on.
But here is the thing I continue to learn with social media that remains true with real-life people and relationships: grief and disappointment are uncomfortable for other people. In our world, it is not okay to not be okay. We want to see pretty, posed, picture perfect squares with short and simple but cheerful captions.
My recent posts of life’s difficulties and grief are not directly pertaining to my divorce that happened barely a year ago, or pertaining to the three children I lost (an adoption in process + foster daughters) because of my divorce… but if they were because of all that loss… it’s also okay.
And I don’t need your approval to grieve the loss of a life I was living. I don’t need permission from the masses to be disappointed. I don’t need my losses to be scaled and weighed and quantified, and therefore disqualified for grief. And neither do you.
Any loss, whether death, relationship, career path, dream, health, whatever…is loss.
I am in a space grieving new loss, new brokenness, new realities that I have helped create. I am disappointed in decisions I have made, in excuses for others I continue to make, in my lack of self-love and self-worth which allow unhealthy relationships to dictate pieces of my life.
Recently I polled Instagram and asked what people like reading from me… the amount of responses along these ideas were absurd:
‘That is it okay to not be okay.’
‘I appreciate when you share your struggles.’
‘The real, raw, hard stuff. I connect with real people.’
‘I enjoy your writing because you are raw and truthful.’
‘More about grief please.’
You shouldn’t need permission from anyone but yourself, but take this as permission from me that it is okay to not be okay. It is okay to be disappointed in brokenness: in loss, in betrayal, in being lied to, in being taken advantage of, in not having a body full of fertility, in divorce even if you were the one who pursued it.
I’m not promoting you sit around and wallow in self-pity. I am saying that it is possible to exist in both grief and gratitude. We are allowed to fully experience life as the human beings we are, which is typically an experience grief and joy — unless we’ve become really good at numbing and repressing.
I’m one to share just as much of the experience of brokenness as I am the experience of joy and healing. I’d love to not feel the heaviness I so often do, but I am not going to waste any more of my life repressing and denying its existence: I end up numbing out the joy too. To some it feels extensive and too much, and that is okay. It is. We are all in different spaces. But if you find yourself in a space where you are craving to read some real life rawness, that life isn’t all butterflies and roses even if we hope that maybe it will be, I’ll be over here in my small corner of the world.”
From podcasts to video shows, parenting resources to happy tears – join the Love What Matters community and subscribe on YouTube.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Natalie Brenner of Portland, Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook and her website. Learn more about her book here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read Natalie’s powerful backstory of adoption:
Help us show compassion is contagious. SHARE this beautiful story on Facebook with your friends and family.