I once lay on the floor of a Cape Cod basement, hugging a coffee table leg for an hour when I thought my girlfriend at the time was cheating on me. She had gone on a midnight fishing trip alone with another guy and my innards were wrenched. I was young and didn’t know how to react or process, so in the presence of all my friends, I curled into a ball on the floor, wrapping myself around the leg of the table.
Was it a prayer or an emotion? Was it both?
How does one carry the rich platter of emotions which burns within us to the Transcendent? I praise God that He often speaks in tongues much deeper than language can convey, as he knows the groanings and growlings of our innermost being. Sometimes my prayer is the act of lying on the floor, unable to move because my grief has laid me down and pinned me to the floor; sometimes my worship is jumping up and down and screaming out of excitement from atop a cliff.
“The body responds well to metaphors,” Elliot once told me.
Sometimes the words won’t come, but the language comes dripping from my posture, from the weight in my eyebrows or my sedentary days on the couch. The Lord is not removed from these actions, these movements. He not only gave us language and mouths with which to formulate our thoughts, but bodies with which to communicate our emotion.
We jump and dance in joy and mope and weep in loss.
Why are we so quick to assume the Transcendent knows nothing of our weariness and pain? I’ve loved and lost more times than I can count and though Shakespeare would be proud, it’s a hell of a lot of baggage to carry.
But then Jesus says, “Hey, my burden is light. Give me that.
Even that little carry-on you’re hiding behind your legs, I want that too.”
It’s a wild God who looks at us and says he wants us; an absolutely insane God who wants all of our baggage too. All of our shortcomings and weaknesses. Our sorrows along with our joys. Perhaps His joy is not in which emotion or feelings we carry, but in the fact that we are willing to relinquish them into His eager arms, to let Him feel them with us.
Like a boyfriend taking on the role of Mr. Hero, He is excited to take from us our burdens and walk alongside us. The difference is, He is strong enough to carry them. And carry them well.
In Chicago, a friend whom I had fallen in love with told me she didn’t feel the same way. I didn’t know what to do so I walked up to my dorm room and sat on my bed. I didn’t write or cry or punch anything, I just sat there.
I didn’t even pray, I just sat there.
And then I sat there longer.
It was at least an hour until I rose from my bed, having accomplished nothing but to feel the feelings.
And I don’t think that was an hour wasted. I think that in feeling whatever it is we feel, we worship the One who put those feelers in there in the first place.
It is no sin to feel anger or sadness. Nor is it a sin to rejoice and celebrate.
Perhaps we walk waywardly and stray from the path of the Lord’s intentions when we try to numb these feelings by acting out. By punching walls. Or people. By looking at porn, because at least those girls will love me. By shooting up because at least this friend will hang out with me for a while.
God did not give us emotions, or the ability to feel them, only so we could escape them and not process the reality of our lives. My friend Liz once told me “emotions are the way we interpret reality and the things that happen to us.”
Emotions aren’t bad, but how we deal with them speaks volumes. Your sadness can turn inward and self-centered and your anger can coagulate into a lifelong grudge.
But it is no sin to feel. Jesus was a man alive to His emotions; the entire spectrum is on display in the New Testament. When his friend John the Baptizer died, He went out to a solitary place to be alone, to weep and grieve. And when His friend Lazarus dies, we get the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” When the Jews had kicked the Gentiles out of the temple and used their lot to set up sales booths, Jesus’ anger flares and He goes nuts and whips people for being so stupid.
I love how the Hebrew word typically translated ‘heart’ actually means ‘guts.’ As in, they understood that there are emotions so deep and rich that you feel them in the deepest bits of your body. There is an ache in your guts. So when the Psalmists write about grief and broken hearts, they are writing from that deep place within them.
From their guts.
When I enter a season of deep emotion, I often turn to music or poetry to help cope with the mountains of emotion which rise from the earthquakes of my soul. I typically have to force myself to return once more to the Lord or to His Word, because I tend to think of it as dry or irrelevant. But when I do, it usually involves a series of words flowing out of me—not unlike these—and I am reminded once more of the intimate nearness of the Lord.
I’m reminded that there is no emotion or feeling or thought foreign to Him.
I’m reminded that He is near to me while remaining ineffably large enough to handle my anger, my sadness, or my grief.
May we be a people of tears and of laughter.
May we be a people who lament and rejoice.
May we be a people whose anger flares and joy soars.
May we sit still and may we rise from our beds.
P.S.—Please do yourself a favor and put this on repeat. You may laugh, but this song has done wonders for me.
So on time. Needing to feel the feels of regret and let God meet me there.
Thanks!! Needed this one today:)
Well said Ethan!!! Thank you!!!
I sat in a teaching once where the lecturer taught us about emotion. He said emotions are amoral. Not right or wrong but instead it’s how we act on those emotions that make them right or wrong.
He went on to give examples of Jesus using every emotion, righteous anger, sadness, etc but as he talked I couldn’t reconcile how you could fear in a ‘good’ way.
So I rose my hand and asked him how to fear well and how that translated to the fear of the Lord.
His answer astounded me.
He told a story of a friend who was hiking through an ice field when a storm came. The man knew he needed to find shelter immediately because storms there were bad enough to kill people. He found an ice cave and stood inside, entranced by the wild and beauty of the storm.
The image the lecturer created was so vivid I felt like I was there.
Then he said, the fear of the Lord is like that moment. Being safe in the intimacy of the ice cave, while being in awe of the storm.
Loved that image and thought you would too.
Thanks for writing this post. Emotions are so important for us to live well. I hope more people realise they need to express them well.
Love this! I wrote something similar to this a few years ago after being rejected: it’s okay to deal with the emotions but we cannot take residence there. Thanks for the reminder and for a great post!
This is a beautiful, much-needed reminder.
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