Q: Are people with emotional problems (like depression or anxiety) just unspiritual people who need to repent of their sin and trust God better? A: No.
Emotions are a gift from God.
Sad, glad, mad, scared—all these things are part of our experience as human beings.
Physical pain is a gift from God, and part of being healthy. Leprosy is a disease that kills pain receptors. It sounds like a good thing, until you understand that without physical pain, you don't know to take your hand off a hot stove. Leprosy patients end up with terrible injuries because they can't feel pain.
This is what has happened to a lot of my clients who struggle with depression and anxiety. They've been told that if they trust God, they won't feel bad. So they try hard to trust God, holding their hand on the emotional stove, and winding up with terrible emotional injuries.
Remember what King David was called? The man after God’s own heart.
He wrote a lot of the Psalms, and those express all kinds of emotion. Praise, love, trust—we know about those.
The Lord is my light and my salvation--so why should I be afraid? The Lord protects me from danger--so why should I tremble? When evil people come to destroy me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will tumble and fall. Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will know no fear. Even if they attack me I remain confident. Psalm 27:1-3
But he also wrote about feeling abandoned, being incredibly angry, feeling anguished and despairing.
"O God my rock," I cry. "Why have you forsaken me? Why must I wander in darkness, oppressed by my enemies?" Ps. 42:9,
Break off their fangs, O God! Smash the jaws of these lions, O Lord! Ps. 58:6
My heart is in anguish. The terror of death overpowers me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me. I can't stop shaking. Ps. 55:4-5
Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Why do you look the other way? Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression? We collapse in the dust, lying face down in the dirt. Ps. 44:24-25
Yeah, I know that David ends up praising God at the end of a lot of these psalms. But he processes through the emotions. And he does it over and over and over and over and over.
I love the example of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.
Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went at usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, "Pray that you will not be overcome by temptation." He walked away, about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine." Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. Luke 22:39-43
Here's what I see:
- HONEST EXPRESSION of emotions
- RECEIVING COMFORT AND SUPPORT
- MAKING A TRUTH-BASED DECISION
- CONTINUING TO EXPERIENCE EMOTIONS
Sometimes our emotions are buried so deeply that we can't identify them. Or we’ve had them so long that they feel normal, even when they’re making us completely crazy.
But if you struggle with issues like the following, be assured that your emotions are roiling around and need attention:
- Trouble eating or sleeping (especially waking and not being able to sleep again);
- Repetitive, intrusive thoughts; keeping rules scrupulously
- Being irritable, angry, crying, withdrawn, and disinterested in life
- Self-medicating with food, exercise, drugs, sex
- Overachieving or underachieving
- Cutting, self-harm, thoughts of suicide
It's time to get your hand off the stove.
It takes time to learn to deal with emotions in a healthy way. It’s OK not to be doing perfectly. You can still figure it out.
Here’s a secret: YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER BE PERFECT. There will ALWAYS be challenges!
No matter how well you think about things, or pray about things, you will still feel sad, mad, and scared sometimes.
But keep track of your FUNCTIONING. If you're not able to do normal life in a fairly normal way, get help.
Here are some things my clients find helpful when they're learning to process emotions:
- BE HONEST - journal
- Read good books (check out my booklist tab)
- Allow time to feel
- Find safe people – talk to those who wish you the best and encourage you. You should feel better after being with a safe person.
- Relax daily - exercise, enjoyable hobbies
- Laugh daily
More than anything, BE READY TO CHANGE. You know the old definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. Yeah, we're not all up into that here. Change is scary, but in the end, it's fabulous.
So there you go, friends, my little cheat sheet on emotions.