Emotions are a confusing issue in the evangelical world. It seems we jump to one of two extremes: either we rely heavily on our emotions, sacrificing truth; or we relegate them to the flesh in suppressed denial. Neither extreme is healthy and I wonder if perhaps both lead to the same emotion–bitterness. Tuesday we discussed the problems with allowing wounds to fester. Our wounds fester when we rehash them again and again, working the perceived injustice in our mind until it consumes our every thought. But I believe suppressed denial follows a similar path, the traveler’s journey is just a bit quieter. For a time, anyway, until those swallowed-down, pent-up emotions grow to the point of explosion. Then, watch out! There she blows–only it normally isn’t the inciting incident that leads to explosion. It’s a pen that ran out of ink, a driver going too slow on the freeway, or an unsuspecting spouse who happens to glance right when they should have glanced left.
Because of this, many opt for a get-it-off-your-chest, tell-all approach. When we lived in California, I participated in a Mom’s Club. This was the approach they opted for, and every meeting ended the same–in increased anger and bitterness as each of us fueled one another’s furry. Normally one mom would start us off, launching into the latest injustice performed by her spouse. Before long, everyone joined in the vent-fest, matching one another story-for-story. Only problem, by the time we were done, everyone felt worse, not better. No resolutions had been reached and the venting that was supposed to “get things off our chest” only added kindling to the smoldering fire.
One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
According to this verse, there’s no room for venting…to one another. But we can and should vent to God.
This is the behavior I see demonstrated by David again and again. When you read through 1 Samuel, you’ll notice he didn’t spend his time bashing Saul. He could have, and likely would have found a sympathetic audience. Instead, David spoke well of Saul! Now that’s a tough one to swallow. If it had been me, sadly, I would have thrown a few pity parties, inviting everyone to come! But David didn’t do that. Instead, he turned to the only One who could truly help–God. Then, he held absolutely nothing back. He poured his heart out to God with raw, unhindered, unmasked honesty, openly acknowledging the depths of his pain, asking God to help him, hold him, carry him and strengthen him.
I believe a false notion has crept into Christianity. We believe faith is the absence of fear and praise is the absence of pain.
According to John C. Hutchison, author of Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong, rejoicing in sufferings isn’t celebrating the trial or pain, but instead, celebrating the God who carries you through it: “The biblical teaching of joy or rejoicing has more to do with a confidence in one’s convictions than it does with emotion…When we rejoice in suffering, it is an expression of faith, a conviction that God is in control and that He is doing something constructive and good through this experience. Our en-joy-ment as Christians is in the belief that God is at work in our midst.” (pg 60)
Throughout the psalms, this is what David did. He didn’t celebrate the pain or injustice. His praise centered on who God was, what He’d done in the past, and what David believed He would do in the future. There appears to be an oft repeated pattern to David’s prayers.
1. He openly and honestly vented to God:
Psalm 142:1-4 (NIV)
I cry aloud to the LORD;
I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
2 I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble.
3 When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.
For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
5 In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
9 For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
2 for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
3 With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
4 In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
5 They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my friendship.
Notice, these are not words of celebration. They are words of deep anguish and depression.
2. Next, David changes his focus, off the problem and placed it on God. This is when his pain turns to praise, not for the situation, but instead, for God’s steadfast, all-powerful, loving character:
I cry to you, LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
God is His refuge.
Psalm 102: 12-17
12 But you, LORD, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.
13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.
15 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
16 For the LORD will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.
17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.
God is powerful, glorious and sovereign and listens to the prayers of His children.
3. Then he asks God for help. The psalms provide numerous examples of this, but in order to spare you another 1,000 or so words, I’ll let you look them up yourself. Read through the psalms and notice if you don’t see a similar pattern. God recorded David’s prayers for a reason. I believe they serve as models to us.
To recap, when David experienced deep emotional pain he:
1. Refused to vent to others
2. He shared his feelings openly and honestly with God
3. He focused on God’s character (who God is)
4. He asked God for help
I believe these steps allowed him to deal effectively with his emotions, enabling him to heal completely. I believe the same is possible for us, although I don’t think forgiveness is always, nor a one-time event. I often use the term, “fighting to forgiveness” to describe this continual process. Come back Tuesday to learn the meaning of this phrase, why forgiveness often resembles a determined fight, and how we can stay in the ring until the victory bell chimes.