In the Psalms we read words that do not sound very “Christian.” We read things like, “Bless the one who grabs your babies and smashes them against a rock.” (Psalm 137)
Perhaps the reason they don’t sound very Christian is because the word “Christian” has lost its meaning. For many people in the world today, the word “Christian” means that you generally believe in a higher power and try to be a “nice” person.
And it is precisely this association with being a “nice” person that gets us sideways in acknowledging and dealing with the full gamut of our emotions before the Lord. When we think that being a “good Christian” is the same thing as being a “nice person”, we get ourselves in trouble.
There are some people who have wronged you and others who just rub you wrong, like sandpaper on your skin. There is evil in the world and reasons to become angry. What do you do with those emotions? Do you stuff them? Ignore them? Distract yourself and move around them? The Psalms teach us to acknowledge them and move through them with God in prayer. In fact, there is an entire category of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible called “Imprecatory Psalms” that invoke judgment, calamity or curses upon one’s enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God.
Our problem is we lack self-compassion and so we immediately judge our emotions as either good or bad. If an emotion is a “good” one (i.e. usually happy, joyful, thankful) we welcome it and experience it. But if an emotion is a “bad” one (i.e. usually fear, anger, sadness, grief) we want to get rid of it as fast as possible.
In her book Emotional Agility, Susan David says, “Emotions are just data, they are not directions.” That is a very important thing to remember. Just because I feel like smashing my enemies’ babies into the rock, does not mean I take action. Those emotions are data – they are telling me about some value that I hold dear that perhaps my enemy has violated – but they are not directions for my behavior. How I move forward and act needs more input than my emotions alone. We all know what it feels like to act on a hot-headed emotion filled moment, only to regret our words or actions later.
Rich, full lives are not lives absent of suffering. The reason our favorite stories involve conflict and struggle is because those are elements that make for a great story – and for a great life.
If we are to acknowledge and be enriched by the emotions we experience, regular times of reflection are needed. Every faith tradition in the world seems to prize some form of silence. For Christ followers, silence is a time to hear from God and be reminded that you are his beloved child. Solitude is where I can pause and first acknowledge my emotions (step one), and then honestly and with no filter, bring them before God in prayer. It is amazing how emotions can lose their power over time when we do this. It may feel impossible in the moment, but with God all things are possible. Jesus transformed the 2 fish and 5 loaves into enough to feed 5 thousand people and he can transform our feelings into the soil of a great story too.