Our emotions are often disparaged as not “real” or unreliable as a basis for decisions or responses to God. I believe, however, that emotions are God-given, the language of our souls, and that our emotions enhance our relationship with God and our ability to discern God’s will for our lives.
In I Kings 19:4-5, Elijah was in the wilderness. He had enjoyed a huge victory over the prophets of Baal and had been riding high. But King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were now after him to kill him, and Elijah ran away, sat under a broom bush, and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life.” How’s that for laying his emotions out there?
Then an angel appeared to him, told him to eat what was before him, and he was strengthened by it for what was to come.
Elijah had had a good run, but sometimes we pay the price for doing what is right. Now he is running away, depressed and hopeless. He’s had enough.
How many times have we felt the same way? Weary of trying to do good, tired of feeling broken, confused, lost and alone.
How do we deal with these emotions that are the language of our souls? One way might be to allow our emotions to control us, in which case we’ll probably end up doing things we regret. Another is to hide our emotions, to stuff them down, because, after all, no one really wants to hear what we have to say or how we feel. Unfortunately, it often seems there is no place in our world, or even in the church, where we can share these feelings. Burying our emotions is not only unhealthy, but it accomplishes nothing. Sometimes, we just try to run away from our emotions by getting busy and overcommitted so we don’t have to deal with our brokenness.
What if we listened to our emotions, cried them out to God, and through our emotions came to sense God’s presence with us, as Elijah experienced the comfort of the angel and new strength from what God provided? Regardless of whether we are experiencing sadness or joy, our emotions can be spoken to God. God wants to hear our feelings so that a way can be provided for us to move forward.
Jesus did not lose control, hide, or run away from his emotions. He listened to his emotions and expressed them throughout his ministry for the glory of God and to teach the people.
For example, when Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept with Mary and shared her grief. John 11:35. As a result, those around him could see how much he loved Lazarus, and Jesus glorified the Father by raising Lazarus from the dead. In Matthew 21:12-13, Jesus showed his anger at the people buying and selling in the temple and knocked over their tables to teach the lesson that God’s temple is a house of prayer, not a house of thieves or merchants. Jesus also experienced frustration and anger with his disciples, as when they tried to keep the children from bothering him. Jesus’ response was to tell the disciples to let the children come to him, for the kingdom of God belongs to them, and they should be welcomed. Luke 18: 15-17. And, when Jesus prayed in agony of spirit in the Garden of Gethsemane, that the cup of death might be taken from him, his sweat fell like drops of blood, but an angel appeared to strengthen him, and Jesus willingly accepted God’s plan. Luke 22:39-44.
In all cases, it is in the depths of honest emotion that God hears and provides a way. But the starting place is how we listen to our emotions, and how we open our souls to express our emotions to God.
So, I suggest this: Set aside a time to be alone and quiet. To be still and feel your emotions is the beginning of healing and strength. Tell God how you are feeling, and listen to God’s voice. Let God meet you and show you the way through.
As the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” tells us:
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!
Something beautiful comes from expressing our emotions, this language of our souls. God is with us. We can bring “everything” to God in prayer -- our anger, our doubt, our fears, our joys, our longings, our frustrations. God knows. God hears. God understands. God brings peace.