It has been said that “emotions buried alive never die”. If you are like me, you might say “yep, that make sense” but with no real understanding of how this concept is lived out in your own life. So let’s talk about emotions.
Some Christian literature talks about emotions as something to be controlled. Some language gives the impression that many emotions are meant to be eradicated. I’d like to present an alternative view. Emotions are a gift from God. We know that God gives good gifts but I get the mental picture of opening up a box of loneliness on Christmas morning and that doesn’t seem very “good” to me.
So how do I come to the conclusion that emotions are a gift and that they are good? All of them… even the very, very unpleasant ones. (Notice that I didn’t call them bad, negative, wrong or sinful… but some of them are indeed very unpleasant!) First, God made humans in His image (Gen 1:26); Secondly, God reveals who He is in the Bible and He reveals Himself as an emotional being (Exo 34:6, Jer 10:10, Mat 21:12, Jhn 11:34, Deu 30:9, Psa 147:11, Pro 14:35). Although there are times when God questions whether certain human emotional responses are based on wise thinking or are expressed in helpful ways (Jon 4:9, Eph 4:26), there are also many references where very unpleasant emotions are appropriate (Ecc 3:1-8, Ecc 7:14, Job 17:8).
Personally, I like the warm fuzzy feelings like happy, satisfied, affection and safe so I don’t tend to question their presence. But what is the purpose for those very unpleasant emotions like anger, sadness, loneliness and fear? Why can’t we just ignore them or replace them with something more palatable – in essence why can’t we bury them alive? Emotions are signals. They tell us that something is going on in our world that needs our attention. For instance, if I have the belief system that anger is wrong or a sin, then when my body is sending me signals that there is an injustice or a threat to my sense of value I will try to deny, deflect or minimize the situation in order to hold true to my value system. This can be a very dangerous and misguided approach and one that does not resolve the situation. The emotion won’t die. It will however, lessen in intensity giving the illusion that it is dead. But because it has not lived out its intended purpose, it will leak out somewhere. Buried emotions never leak in a healthy way.
Another emotion, sadness, indicates that a loss has occurred whether it is a death, divorce or a dream – something was and now is not. Our culture has forgotten the purpose of mourning and we find it so unpleasant that we want to skip the mourning period and jump right to a new normal. Or perhaps we feel as though we must be strong, so I just need to “suck it up” and “get over it”. Maybe we are afraid that if we ever let ourselves feel the pain of loss we will be overwhelmed by it. However, not giving a voice to that loss or the impact that it has had on us keeps the pain alive but buried. Contrary to the quote, time does not heal all wounds… only time well spent allows those wounds to heal.
Another unpleasant emotion, loneliness, prompts us to connect with others. As unpleasant as loneliness is, it gives us the energy to risk letting others get to know us… unless we avoid it. You don’t have to think too long to come up with ways that you or others have tried to fill or cover the void of loneliness rather than risk a genuine connection with others.
God gave humans emotions to prompt us to do something. And since God says that all of the commandments hang upon loving God and loving others (Mat 22:37-39), I know that emotions help us live in healthy relationships and stay connected to God and others. Often we experience emotions expressed in ways that separate rather than connect, leaving us with the impression that some very unpleasant emotions are harmful or even sinful. The manner in which the emotion is expressed may in fact be harmful or sinful but the emotion itself is not. And if I’m wrong and it is a sin, that emotion would still need to be confessed and processed in order to not leak out and create more sin. The key is recognizing what is true and expressing the emotion in a manner that aims the energy toward its purpose.
Relationships are two-way connections. As such, when we are resistant to expressing emotions we tend to also be resistant to hearing and validating the emotions of others. Likewise, when we express emotions based on faulty thinking we tend to interpret others’ emotions with that same faulty thinking. If you were not raised in an environment that was full of healthy emotional expression, it can take some time to figure out how to live an emotional life. I pray that you do not grow weary in your journey. Researcher and writer, Brene’ Brown, says that when we numb or avoid unpleasant emotions we also numb and avoid the pleasant ones. I pray that your life and mine is full of abundance. May we be people who mourn, fight, heal, connect and celebrate well!