Where did all these feelings come from?
All of my life I have been called an “emotional person.” But here is a fact: everyone is an “emotional person.” Emotions are natural and normal, and there are a variety of ways we can express them. Our emotions are created by God, but the way we tend to relate to them is influenced by what our cultural context says about them.
Culture is happy to tell us which emotional expressions belong in the privacy of our own homes, and which ones are “allowed” to be expressed publicly. Because of these unwritten rules we are immersed in, we treat some of our feelings as friends, some as enemies. So, while we know the origin of emotions is God, what can we do when we are expected to not express our emotions—and they’re still there?
What am I supposed to do with my pain?
In 1 Samuel chapter 1 there is a story of a woman named Hannah who had borne no children, and this brought her intense grief. The Bible says Hannah was taunted by others and that she would be “reduced to tears and would not even eat” (1 Samuel 1:7b NLT). The rest of the story goes like this:
Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord…
As she was praying to the Lord, Eli [a priest] watched her. Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”
“Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow” (1 Samuel 1:10-16).
Hannah, while crying out to God in her anguish, gets accused of being drunk.
Consider this for a moment: What are some of the things you have heard your culture say about handling your feelings? Can you think of a time when you expressed your pain and it was not received well by others? How did this impact your experience of the pain? Did it change how you chose to respond to your pain next time?
Just because others may feel uncomfortable or judge us when we express our honest emotions publicly––especially ones like pain, anger, and sorrow––does that mean it is wrong to express them?
Bringing our pain to God
In Psalm 55, David speaks directly to God from his heart about his agony and despair. He even describes what his body is going through in the midst of this emotional upheaval. Verses 4 through 7 say this:
My heart pounds in my chest.
The terror of death assaults me.
Fear and trembling overwhelm me,
and I can’t stop shaking.
Oh, that I had wings like a dove;
then I would fly away and rest!
I would fly far away
to the quiet of the wilderness.
In Matthew 26, we see Jesus in his last hours of life. One of his friends has betrayed him, and he is expressing his anguish to three of his other friends in an olive grove. The story says:
[Jesus] took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?” (Matthew 26:37-40).
How might you feel if you were about to be killed by the government, you asked your friends to stay up with you and pray, they fell asleep, and you were all alone in this moment? Jesus responds by openly expressing his torment to God.
There are many more examples like this in the Bible where people express their pain in culturally unfriendly ways, bringing it to God. Does God answer immediately? Sometimes. Does God remove the pain? Not always, and when he does it usually takes a while.
What we see in the Bible is that God does not need people to hold the pain inside, sweep it under the rug, or diminish its intensity. These people do not hide their twisting, pained faces from God in their deep suffering. They bring it to God in its fullness.
What is stopping you?
We have all learned to adjust our emotional responses in ways that subscribe to cultural expectations to “save face.” And certainly, there are ways we express our emotions that do not serve us well in the long run. But is it possible that God has allowed us more space than we think to share our feelings?
The same God who invited Hannah and David and Jesus to come as they were also invites you to bring to him your feelings that the world may call messy. God does not ask you to straighten yourself up, wipe away all your tears, and stop your crying before you come to him in the throes of anguish. God loves you just as you are and wants to sit with you in that pain.
What is one painful emotion or experience you can share with God right now? May God meet you in this sacred space of your transparency, and may you feel God’s love wrap around your ache.
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