This is where I should say “though I am weary, I will trust in the Lord.” Or perhaps, “Count it all joy!”
But I won’t.
Because, sometimes life is just hard or frustrating. And that’s okay.
The evangelical in me wants to dismiss my frustration by some forced worship of God in knowing that He works all things for good for those that love Him. But that’s a very easy thing to say. And a very unhealthy way to dismiss my own frustration.
I’m in a period of life where I find myself in limbo. I’m ready to move to start my life with my love. The American government, however, has not yet given me that go ahead. So we wait.
I’ve been patient for much of this. But at this point, I can tell you: this sucks.
It doesn’t make me any less of a Christian for acknowledging this. It doesn’t make me an ungrateful daughter of God to complain about a situation that is stressful. It makes me honest. It makes me sincere. It allows me to go to God and say, “you know what? This is hard and it sucks and I hate it. I don’t want to do this anymore. ”
And I know my prayer is heard.
All we have to do is open the book of Psalms to understand that complaining about hard situations and feeling the pain in the midst of that is actually okay. Good, even.
Evangelicalism has a problem when it comes to emotions.
We like to pretend that negative emotions do not exist.
If we’re sad or depressed, we’re not trusting God enough.
If we’re angry, we have a spirit of bitterness that we need to repent.
If we’re anxious, we have lost sight of who we are in Christ.
If we’re afraid, we’re allowing spirits of fear to oppress us. Because there is no fear in love.
Can I just say to all of that: bull. Shit.
God is a Being filled with emotions, including the so called “negative” ones. He created us in His image to have emotions also. Emotions are good!
I think, very often, evangelicals lack tools to help build tools for emotional health. We’ve been trained to see big feelings as having some sort of spiritual significance.
This is especially true for those of us who grew up in the James Dobson/Focus on the Family era, where children are seen as inherently sinful and need to be broken to be fit to serve Christ.
So when a young child, who lacks the ability to regulate emotions, experiences big “negative” emotions, her behaviour is automatically seen as sinful. She is punished in what is seen as an appropriate way (usually in some physical way such as spanking) to help drive home the point that she is bad for feeling her feelings.
A child who grows up in a home with these values will, inevitably, have problems understanding his or her emotions in a helpful way. He or she has been taught from the beginning that his or her hard feeling come from a bad place. These feelings must be crushed and flipped into a worshipful attitude towards God.
That is not healthy. This only compounds the problem.
It’s like if I told you just now: do not picture in your mind a pink elephant because God said that’s bad. What did you just think of? The elephant, I’m assuming. You can try not think of it, but it’s there all the same.
When we suppress our emotions, they don’t actually disappear no matter how badly we may want them to. They get buried, and they turn into bigger problems leading to things like anxiety, depression, anger*. All of which will fester and deepen as long as those feelings remain unresolved.
These negative emotions, if not dealt with, also lead to physical health problems.
But doesn’t the Bible say to “count it all joy?”
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,a whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. -James 1
Notice that James is not denying there are actual hard things happening here. He’s not telling his audience to ignore that. He’s telling them “yes, shitty thing happen, but you might find comfort in knowing that God is using this time to strengthen your faith. Keep going.”
He’s not telling deny their own emotions or encourage a false sense of joy. He’s attempting to encourage them that God has not forgotten them.
For me, I’m in a stressful period of my life. But I know it won’t last forever. I know a year from now, this will all be worth it because I’ll be home with the love of my life – and it gives me hope to look forward to that.
But for now, I get stressed and I get frustrated. I don’t want to be dealing with it and I want this part over with. That’s a very valid way for me to feel. And I will be honest with God that I feel this way.
But I won’t feel joyful because it’s somehow more holy than feeling frustrated.
*To be clear: I am not attempting to discuss mental illness, which can have a big impact on how and why emotions are felt.