2016-2_LT-GodBlessEmotions

I feel way too much, as in way way too much. I laugh for too long and shed tears over small disappointments, and so much of the time I wish that I didn’t. I wish that I could get through my days with that pleasant but indifferent expression I see on so many faces. I wish that I could always be the stronger, more confident, not-so-easily-shaken version of myself that I only get glimpses of. Instead, I often wonder if God didn’t make my heart of fragile glass.

And I get the feeling that I’m not alone. All around me I see people trying to numb and protect themselves from having to risk feeling too much.

Numbing

Sometimes it’s something like sarcasm or self- deprecation—subtle tactics that help protect us from other people and from having to care too much. Other times we use more overt tactics like drinking, self-harm, or masturbation. No matter what it is, we all have some sort of default distraction that we run to when we feel overwhelmed or hurt or like we just can’t handle our emotions anymore.

But these tactics never last. I don’t think I need to tell you that all these things leave us aching for something more, longing to experience life, and I think that’s because God gave us our emotions—the full, terrible, wonderful spectrum of them—to connect us to life and to Him.

Blessed Are They Who Mourn

But what are we supposed to do about all the emotions we don’t want to be connected to? Could God really use all those horrible feelings to connect us to Him?

“Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). I used to have a horrible habit of skipping over this particular beatitude. I just never got anything out of it, thinking of it more as a promise of future consolation than as a definition of “blessedness.” So what is it about people who mourn that earns them blessing from God?

It’s their courage to face all the realities and all the experiences of life. It’s their wisdom in seeing their emotions as a gift. You see, in order to mourn — to truly feel the depth of mourning, sadness, depression, guilt, anger, shame, anxiety, loneliness, dread, remorse, fear — we can’t numb ourselves. We can’t numb ourselves to our emotions and obtain this blessedness that God intends for us. We can’t praise God and fear experiencing the life He gave us.

Our emotions can be confusing, but they aren’t the enemy we often make them out to be. God is strong, but He is also sensitive. Sometimes it can feel like God couldn’t possibly understand how we feel. It seems like we try and we try–we put our best foot forward time and time again– and still we’re rejected, we’re hurt, we’re met only with more pain. Numbing ourselves seems like the only option. But who could understand this better than Christ? He lived His whole life for others. All He wanted and still wants is to love us and to be loved by us, but instead He is so frequently and so persistently rejected. His love for all of us is more pure than any other love that anyone could offer, and so much of the time we respond with indifference and neglect and anger. If you want to love and be loved (and I suspect you do), then Jesus is right there with you. If you feel alone, you’re not alone; you’re in good company.

When Lazarus died, Jesus didn’t shrug His shoulders and say, “That’s okay. I’ll just raise him from the dead real quick.” No, He wept. He mourned. He allowed proper time—human time—for His emotions, and in doing so He honored all the tears and heartbreak and intensely emotional roller-coasters we find ourselves on every day.

When His friends abandoned Him in His greatest hour of need, He didn’t hesitate or back away or search for some way to lessen the blow. He took the full force of the blow out of love for them, and He forgave them. We have the same choice. We can try to convince ourselves that we aren’t hurt, that we’re totally fine, and numb away the hurt. But what if we didn’t? We can also take the emotional beating and forgive the people who hurt us and rejected us for every second of it. Jesus, of all people, knows that the hurt is what makes the forgiveness and the peace that come after so powerful.

And then there’s me. I hurt Jesus a lot. Every time I turn away, I sin, I put other things above Him, it hurts Him beyond my understanding. It would be so much easier for Him if He left me alone, if He stopped loving me, if He decided that He had finally tried enough times. But He doesn’t leave and He doesn’t numb it away; He takes every blow I throw at Him. He does the same for you.

The Gift of Feeling

The catechism specifically states that “passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will.” (CCC 1767). We are all entitled to feel everything we feel. It’s when we choose to act and speak that we are responsible to keep our emotions in check. Emotion isn’t the sin; it’s our handling of it.

I used to think that I didn’t hold grudges, and, to be fair, I never really had. Friends had left me and my peers had mocked me, but I never held any anger towards them. I thought that it must just be part of my personality that I never felt the need to stay angry. And then, one night during a retreat, I let it all out. I started yelling at God, and it hit me that I was actually angry at a lot of people. I realized that I had never held a grudge before because I hadn’t cared enough about those relationships to feel hurt. Now, I was feeling completely betrayed and alone, and I had no idea how to handle it.

The more I looked back over the last couple years of my life the more I realized that I had employed everything from isolation to arrogance to protect myself. I had taken to talking down to people and icing out friends who genuinely cared about me just to punish them. Slowly, I started trying to forgive and let go…but with no effect. I succeeded only in turning my emotional life into a pendulum swinging violently back and forth between peace and war, forgiveness and hatred. And then I found a journaling exercise in the back of a prayer book. It was an exercise for emotional healing of all kinds, and it essentially walked me through writing a letter to the person I was angry at. It instructed me to keep writing until absolutely everything I was thinking and feeling was on the page. Even if I ran out of words, I simply wrote “I am so angry” over and over until I couldn’t write it anymore. Next, it had me pray over the letter, asking God for the grace to forgive and move on. Then, I wrote a new letter. This time, the letter was from the other person to me. It contained everything I wish that person would say to me, and I prayed over that one, too. Lastly, I wrote one final letter from me. It contained all my reasons for choosing forgiveness over wrath.

This exercise terrified me. When I first read it, all I could think was But isn’t this a sin? I can’t be angry. I just have to be okay. But I was dead wrong. God didn’t want me to suppress my emotions; He wanted me to express them to Him so that He could heal them. I had to realize that it’s my unexpressed, bottled up emotions that cause me to sin far more than the expressed ones that I give to God. There was never anything wrong with having an emotional reaction to being hurt. The sin happened when I took it out on everyone around me, failing to love them as God does.

Amongst all the other things Jesus teaches us with His life, He teaches us not to reject our emotions. He deigns them worthy of Himself, and because of that they are worthy of me too. As easy as it is to push my feelings away, I know there’s a better way. It’s the way that reminds me that God delights in my laughter and holds my heart when it’s broken. It’s the way that brings me closer to God as I strive to take in every moment of the life He is giving me, and never to run away from it.

God has given us this beautiful gift of experiencing our lives through our emotions without any culpability or judgment placed on it. And He wants us to use this gift. He wants us to let ourselves laugh too long and cry too often, to tell someone when we’re struggling and to act silly when we feel like it. As scripture puts it, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every affair under the heavens. […] A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4).

About the Author

Sophia Swinford

I'm a theology student at St. Mary's in London, but I'm still an Arizona girl at heart. I basically live off books, coffee, rainy days, and conversations about Jesus, who has stolen my heart and never given it back!