“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5 ESV)
We struggle to put words to what we feel. We struggle to listen to what our souls are saying – or we fail to realize that we can acknowledge and regulate the screaming experiences of our emotional bodies. We find ourselves disconnected or overly enmeshed in our relationships with others. “Cry of the Soul” by Allender and Longman introduced me to emotion from a biblical perspective. God is emotional. Emotion is not an add-on. Emotion is the language of the soul and therefore the language of our relationships. Emotion is nearly all that a mother and baby communicate in the first moments, days, weeks and months of their life together - imbedded permanently in bodily experiences. We understand and interpret emotion through our bodies and we can never divorce emotion from any thought, idea or experience. Those who try to function only rationally in relationships and disconnect from emotion are in fact removing the substance of relational knowing.
So, what does it look like to embrace our emotions and come to a maturity in our relational lives? For some, it is allowing their emotions to be heard, more and more, and thus to experience their relationships more fully. Emotions can feel like our enemy when they tell us something we don’t want to hear…
I am angry with my spouse.
I am bitter towards my parents.
I can’t accept my friend is dead.
I am disappointed with myself.
I feel abandoned by God.
“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35 ESV)
…These emotions are hidden by our shame which seeks to remove them from our conscious awareness. To name some of these emotions can make us feel exposed, unloved or even rejected. I know for me – the hardest emotion I ever had to own was a deep and profound bitterness towards God for allowing our sixth baby to miscarry. While profoundly thankful for the gift of my son, the loss of five babies was too much. I had laid it all on the line in prayer for the last one. Then God let me down. God’s promises had failed. I held onto this pain for three years while my heart grew darker and more distant from the God I adored. Maybe God doesn’t love me? I couldn’t name something so terrible.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 ESV)
I have always been emotional... my struggle has been to regulate those emotions. Through the healthy presence of others, I have learned how to regulate my emotion and learned that I can name and experience them more reasonably and without exaggeration or diminishment. In recent years, I have grown to feel new emotions – feeling present to the beauties of life and experiencing joy and even elation in the daily gifts of relational love. Learning to experience and name emotion is like adding technicolor to a black and white film… or perhaps more fitting, it is like moving from the silent film to “talkies”. It may feel like we are learning a whole new language. However, with help over time, emotions can flow more naturally and easily as we allow them to fill in the sound and color that make our relationships rich and achingly wonderful.
“…the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26 ESV)
The beauty of the grace and peace of Christ is that God is now in us by His Holy Spirit – pouring out His love in our hearts and groaning with and for us in the overwhelming circumstances of our lives. We experience this presence emotionally! God grieved with me in the loss of my babies. He weeps for my woundedness and encourages me in my growing desires to love others in the same way that He loves me. His love for me is not just about fixing my problems but about being with me in all the realities of this broken life. We can offer the same thing to others and discover an indescribable joy in the mystery of relational knowing. We are invited to wake up to our emotional messages to listen, embrace and live them fully in the presence of God, ourselves and others.