Believe it or not, I’ve always been an emotional “stuffer”. I don’t naturally process difficult emotions well and too often respond to distressed emotions with the “put your head down and just keep going” routine until I crash and burn. Over the years, God has gradually grown me in this area, but it remains a battle I must fight.
Thankfully, God knows that we are “but dust,” and has given us countless scriptures that speak to real life – including how we are to navigate overwhelming and crushing emotions that tend to paralyze us or lead us down unhealthy and harmful paths. He doesn’t tell us to “suck it up” or “turn that frown upside down”. Instead, he meets us in the place of sorrow and shows us what to do with these very real and complex emotions.
This morning, Psalm 4 was another reminder of the tools he’s given us to fight for joy in these difficult seasons. Although the process isn’t necessarily pretty and isn’t as simple as checking off boxes or finding a perfectly straight path from A to Z, all throughout scripture we see God acknowledge our humanness and give us guideposts that help lead us from emotional distress to a rest in God’s presence.
If you find yourself in one of these seasons of heavy emotions that have a grip on your heart, tempt you to retreat, or may be causing seeds of bitterness to take root, David leads us through seven “guideposts” that can help us face our emotions with honesty, while also leading us down the path of truth.
Bring your emotions honestly to the Lord.
“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness”(v 1)!
At times, we stuff our emotions or avoid being honest with the Lord in the shame of knowing our emotions and wrestlings don’t always feel very “godly”. We need to remind ourselves that, because we are accepted through Christ’s righteousness, we can “draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in a time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Pushing side feelings and questions that don’t feel very “Christian” doesn’t negate the fact that we still feel them. Therefore, stuffing them or trying to ignore their nagging whispers doesn’t actually help us grow in faith, it just gives us a false facade of “faith”. True faith means facing our doubts, questions, and uncomfortable emotions honestly, trusting that we can draw near to Christ in our mess because we are accepted by holiness, not our own.
Remember and recall his past comforts.
“You have given me relief when I was in distress”(v 2).
Remind yourself of ways you’ve seen God draw near to you in the past. Remember the time when you felt unseen, but when you opened God’s Word, a passage seemed to leap off the page in a way that you knew, without a doubt, that that specific comfort, encouragement, or conviction was directly from the Lord. In that moment, you knew you were seen. Or remember the time when you were wrestling with something that no one else knew about, only to see the same scripture every place you went – words that spoke directly into your wrestling. In that moment, you knew that God was a personal God. And remember the time when the comfort you received from the Lord ended up being a source of comfort for another as you shared how personal and compassionate the Lord has been to you in your own trials. As Paul wrote,“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Remember your current sufferings in light of eternity, rather than in light of those around you.
“O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him” (vs. 2-3).
A sure fire way to get sucked into the pit of despair is by looking at your own circumstances in comparison to those around you. Sometimes I find it easier to come to terms with the reality of non-believers flourishing while believers seem to struggle around every corner – knowing that worldly comforts will fade and salvation is the greatest gift we can receive.
However, I admit that, sometimes I struggle more with the “disproportionate” amount of suffering among believers. If we are all called to walk the path of a suffering Savior, then why do some believers seem to face far greater trials than others?
For example, I can quickly spiral downward as I listen to a believer talk about how much God has been kind to them with more money than they know what to do with, while we have an insurmountable need that we cannot afford – not for our comfort and enjoyment, but simply our survival. So I have two choices – I can moan and groan to myself and others about how unfair life is, or I can come to Christ honestly, tell him I’m struggling to understand, and ask him to help me to trust by faith, not by sense.
“For we know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him” (v. 3). We, as believers, are all set apart for God’s purposes. Although those purposes all include our good and bringing God glory, the outworking of those purposes will look different in each of our lives. My family has been called to a great deal of suffering – but with great suffering can also come great privilege and joy that we would not know otherwise. But above all, we have to accept that we won’t have all the answers to these mysteries. I can run in circles, making myself sick trying to make sense of these seemingly lopsided and unfair aspects of life, but it only leads me further from a place of peace and rest. Or I can accept (which is different than simply resigning myself to what I can’t control or understand) that God sees and knows more than I do, and he is trustworthy.
At the end of the day, we have to remember to look at all of our circumstances in light of what is coming, not by what we can see and make sense of right now. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).
Let your emotions lead you to rest in Christ rather than respond in sin.
“Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent” (v 4)
I’ll be the first to admit that I can allow my emotions to rule the day. No matter how much I try to “stuff” them, they always rear their head in one way or another – either in honesty and need before the Lord, or a sinful response (unrighteous anger, selfishness, hurting words, impatience, bitterness, etc).
The truth is, our emotions always tell us something. We feel angry when someone hurts us or someone we love because we or they have been wronged. We lose something or someone we love and we rightfully feel grief and sadness because something good has been lost. When we do something wrong or hurt someone else, we shame because we’re freshly faced with the reality of our sin and fallenness. Just as our finger bleeds when it’s cut, our heart bleeds emotion when we experience the heartache of this world. But our emotions are all meant to lead us closer to the Lord – not away from him. Anger over being wronged should lead us to entrust our anger to God, our righteous judge. Loss and grief should lead us to our suffering Savior, the man of Sorrows, knowing and experiencing him more deeply in our sufferings. And our shame is meant to lead us to the One who gave his life for us, giving us greater gratitude for God’s grace and forgiveness as we’re freshly reminded that we deserve death, but have been given forgiveness and salvation through Jesus.
Our emotions are never neutral – they are always leading us somewhere. So let them lead you to Christ.
Come with a broken and contrite heart.
“Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (v 5).
We naturally like to “fix” problems when they arise and we like to feel as though we’ve earned what we’ve gained. It’s always a temptation to fall back into earning God’s favor or thinking that if we just do the right things, God will remove our sufferings. But we’re told to offer “right sacrifices” and put our trust in the Lord. What are those sacrifices? Not working harder, serving more, or giving God empty lip service. Instead, “the sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:16). God wants our trust more than our service and our humility more than our strength.
Instead of our distress leading us to work harder, pray smarter, and find our way out of it, may it lead us to the Lord in humility, honesty, and dependence – for that’s where we’ll find true rest.
Rest in the peace and assurance of God’s Character
“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (vs 7-8).
The longer I live the Christian life, the more it seems that the majority of this journey is learning to simply trust God’s complete control and unchanging character over ever single moment of our lives. Of course, he doesn’t promise us comfort and protection from all pain, but when we fear (trust) him over what sense or circumstances may say, our questions and fears grow smaller as he grows bigger. Overtime, we begin to see that God isn’t trying to make our earthly lives miserable so that we’ll love him and hate the world, he allows, redeems, and works through the pain, sorrows, and overwhelming emotions of a broken world to draw us back into the joy, peace, and security of walking with him today, tomorrow, and for eternity. Yes, we will one day rejoice at the end of suffering – but even more, we will rejoice to be in the fullness of his presence, where faith will be turned to sight.
Friend, I don’t know what you’re walking through today. Like me, you may be facing distress, confusion, sorrow, and weariness. But even if not, may we be reminded that when emotions feel crippling and distress all-consuming, there is a path that can lead us from distress to a peace beyond this world. And as we do, there is an unexplainable joy that can spring up from the least likely of places.
Home is around the corner,