Sometimes feelings suck.
There, I said it. But I know I’m not the only one who has thought it.
Christians, I’ve noticed, have a complicated relationship with feelings; we treat them like they’re a sin. We know that our feelings lie to us sometimes. We know that, as a result, we can’t let our emotions control our steps. But too often, I’ve seen people who (rightly) believe that give advice like this:
“Just think happy thoughts”
“God doesn’t want you to feel that way.”
“It’s just mind over matter.”
The people who say these things mean well. But on the receiving end, there are few things more frustrating to hear. Medical and psychological research has proven time and time again that repressing your emotions does more harm than good. And let’s face it, bottling up your feelings just doesn’t feel good. So why do we, as followers of Christ, feel like we have to? It’s because we have adopted an incomplete image of Jesus.
When we picture Jesus, we picture him teaching and preaching. We picture him healing the sick and the blind. We picture him calm and serene in the middle of a storm telling the waves to be still. But can I tell you a secret that adds much-needed depth to our picture?
He felt deeply, and not just good things. The Gospels tell us that Jesus felt anguish, distress, hunger, loneliness, and pain. When his dear friend Lazarus died, scripture says that he wept. Of course, Jesus had to know the miracle he was about to perform. And even if he chose not to raise Lazarus from the dead, he knew better than anyone that he would see Lazarus again one day. But still, he allowed himself to grieve. There was no one to say, ‘suck it up, Jesus, there’s no reason to cry.’ And who would dare?
The night before his crucifixion was even more fraught with emotion. When he and his disciples withdrew to Gethsemane, he told them “my soul is sorrowful, even to death (Matthew 26:38).” The gospel of Luke records that his sweat became like drops of blood, a rare phenomenon that occurs when the body is under extreme stress. He felt alone; he begged Peter, James and John to stay awake and pray with them, but they couldn’t keep their eyes open. He felt anxious about the Father’s plan: “if possible, let this cup pass from me.” He knew what must be done. He knew that the outcome would be for the best. He had a deeper trust of the Father than we could even fathom . But still, he unapologetically allowed himself to feel.
So yes, we should have joy in the Lord. We should trust the Father. But no, we should not hold back our tears. There is no need to deny what Jesus admitted and the Father already knows. Let yourself cry, even if you know everything is going to be okay. Allow yourself to grieve, even when you know you will see your loved one again. Admit that you feel anxious, even when you know that the Lord is taking care of you. It’s not always fun, but it’s much more freeing to feel than to suppress feelings. Emotion is human; allow yourself to feel today.
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