Being swept away by your own emotions is scary and difficult. And I so appreciate that you’re seeing that there can be good in even hard emotions. That puts you a step ahead of many who see their sadness or grief or frustrations as purely and only negative. You’re saying, “No, I know there can be good in feeling sad when something happens to my friend, or recognizing there are real losses, or being angry and upset when some injustice has come to my attention.” So I’m glad for us to share a framework of “There’s a place for emotions that don’t feel good within a Christian, godly, righteous framework.” Jesus got angry, Jesus got sad. So did Paul, so did David, and so on. So does the Lord over and over again throughout Scripture.
But I feel with you, the difficult idea of “This is overwhelming, this is debilitating, what do I do with this when it frequently hits me in this way?” Let me give two basic thoughts on what you might do. First off, Psalms 62:8 tells us that one core aspect of faith, one way of expressing a heart of worshipful obedient trust in the living God is to pour out your heart to him. So to the extent that you’re feeling any emotion, be it joy or sorrow or boredom or whatever, bring it to him and tell him, “Lord, here’s where my heart is. Here’s what I’m feeling. Here’s what I am valuing. Here’s what I’m wishing.” He wants us to speak to him at all times. The Scriptures are very consistent on this point. Go talk to God about wherever you are, about whatever is going on. Speak to him, let him walk with you, walk humbly with him.
Part of that is to bring him the stuff that’s not pretty and that’s messy. So the simplest piece of your hope is to know that you can go to the Lord with every one of those emotions and the goal is not to do it so that you then don’t feel it anymore. The goal is simply to entrust it to him and to speak it to him and to say even to him, “And Lord, I’m also sad about the fact that I’m still feeling sad.” Or whatever the case might be. Let me offer a second thought as well, though. There is a way in which we have some ability to control where we will set our focus, and sometimes where we can go wrong in the really hard, negative emotions is we can zoom-in in a way that sort of pours gasoline on fires that’s not actually helpful.
I think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here’s a man who is on his hands and knees, sweating blood, crying out, “Oh, Lord, make this pass from me.” I can’t think of a better word than dismay to capture what he was feeling. Here was someone literally overwhelmed by emotion in the most righteous, godly, wonderful possible way. And then they come to get him and he turns and he comes back and he comes to his disciples and he goes, and there is a composure to the way that he faces the trials of that last night of his life that is just staggering. It’s stunning how he walks through that. And you don’t see that enormous emotion at all. You see some of it on the cross, but not at the trial as he’s being beaten. And Jesus is a picture of someone who, when his heart’s focus is crying out to the Lord about the emotion, it is just explosively coming forth.
And when he turns to follow what the Lord has called him to do and the need of the moment, press his attention on the good of his disciples and walking this out faithfully before Pilate, there is a kind of composure and restraint that comes. We’re probably not going to hit that as perfectly as he did, but there’s something about recognizing I can put my attention where the Lord would have me put it, and that will have some impact on my emotions. What I choose to focus on will have an ability to shape what I feel. And therefore, to the extent that in debilitating, overwhelming emotions, you could say, “Lord, would you help me to focus on loving my neighbor? Would you help me to look outward beyond myself? Would you help me to look at you and what you are wanting for me right now?”
There’s a way in which drawing your attention consciously and consistently back there, I think could have a very powerful shaping influence in the way that you handle the grief, sorrows, anxieties, fears, angers, whatever it is that’s overwhelming. Be they utterly righteous or be they completely off and in need of redemption. Either way, run to the Lord; ask for help setting your eyes on what is going to be helpful to you.