Emotions Part 4 - (The Courage to Handle Your
Prior to full-time ministry involvement, I was unaccustomed to seeing the magnitude of emotional anguish there is in this world, including the amount of pain I myself live with. Recently I have questioned how it is possible to survive while continually encountering deep pain and struggle. If you are hurting, you are not alone. Nothing has overtaken you but such as is common among mankind. All of us encounter some form of distress on a daily basis, but because of our "pain-free" bent, it is a temptation to avoid hurts in a variety of ways--to run from it, suffocate it, hide it, ignore it, or become hardened to it. What does it really mean to "handle" our emotions? As believers, what is to be our response to emotional suffering? Can Jesus’ life be exhibited in our hurts?
Some people pride themselves in handling tough emotional situations well, meaning they are strong enough to remain unmoved in the midst of seeing the pain; they do not bat an eye at anguish. This approach has led me to believe I just am not strong enough because I cannot do that. Besides, admitting the emotion is there while staying distant and guarding ourselves from expression does not seem to match up with Jesus’ life. There must be another way.
Another approach to emotion is to hide, claiming there is nothing to be felt and that we are unaffected by what we see and hear. However, we cannot hide our feelings behind a wall indefinitely. Like a river, we can dam it up for a while but it WILL trickle out. Jesus’ was not emotionless, so I cannot see this approach as being valid either.
God recently used some reading about a river to teach me some things about emotions. In preparation for a trip, our children and I studied the Rio Grande and its tremendous influence on the western United States. The Rio Grande encounters a variety of altitudes, terrain and climates, which makes it a river of great variation. At certain seasons it is a churning, roaring force. At other times it meanders as a mere trickle, appearing docile and lazy. Sometimes it shapes what it encounters. Other times it is harnessed, but only with difficulty. All along its course, it brings life and it brings death.
That is so like us! Our emotions can be full to the banks of our being with strong and swift currents, they can drift at a mellow trickle, or they can be anything in between. I have tried going upstream to dam the flow while at flood stage, but like the Rio Grande, the banks do not hold. They wash away, leaving an even wider path. To harden ourselves against feelings or to hide them behind a wall will only result in greater destruction. Our river of emotions is meant to flow.
So what IS true handling of our emotions? It is just that—"handling" them. It is watching the water go past, knowing that we do not have to drown in it because we are safely sitting on the "bank" with Jesus. We need not live IN our emotions; the river is not who we are, and we are not the river. We can simply watch it flow by. To handle our emotions, we pick up the feelings as we would a rock. As we touch it, it touches us; then we let it go as we throw it into the current. The flow may be raging, it may be only slightly rippling; but we cannot stop it. Even if it appears solid and unmoving, it is still flowing beneath the frozen surface.
Handling our emotions means living by faith with our hearts courageously wide open. It means we are willing to feel, willing to hurt and cry, to laugh and smile, all in freedom. It is allowing ourselves to touch and be touched, knowing God is IN IT with us. Handling emotion is having the courage to see what you feel, to face what you feel, to throw it in the river with the rest of what you feel, and to move on. It is only in facing it that it is overcome. To do otherwise is to become distracted by seeking to avoid, annihilate, or fix the pain.
Our Jesus is a REAL Jesus, and His life is a REAL life within us…greater and more powerful than a river of emotion. God is not surprised or perplexed or limited by the pain we experience. In fact He harnesses it, giving it a purpose—the purpose of moving us closer to Him. It becomes part of our journey toward being flat on the floor of our hearts, recognizing how much we desperately need Him to live the Life that is in us. May He grant us the courage to truly "handle" our emotions, allowing His life to be exhibited through the pain we encounter while walking our path.
Article # - LCMI – 2004-183: 3/22/2004