Do my emotions matter to God? Let’s see why we don’t have to fake like everything’s fine with God. God welcomes your hard emotions.
One of the myths busted early in grief is the idea that there are five stages – as if they are nice and tidy, coming sequentially one after another.
No one I know has experienced grief that way. Instead, grief is a messy mix of all kinds of emotions, all at once and often conflicting. These are hard emotions like sadness, regret, frustration, anger, loneliness, despair, guilt, fear and confusion.
These emotions unsettle us. In the months after Dan died, I felt gutted out and carried the raw, hollow pain of loss with me throughout my day. Normal errands and ordinary routines became a minefield of triggers that screamed, this is your life now!
I was grief naïve. If you’re new to grief, you may be wondering if what you’re feeling is normal. Is it okay to feel like this? Should I be doing better by now? Will I ever feel better?
And the emotions of grief are so intense. The only relief I found from the constant heaviness was sleep. I’m quite sure someone or many someones were praying for me because every night that first year, I went to bed exhausted and pretty quickly fell into a fast sleep.
But the next morning? It was Groundhog Day all over again. The heavy despair I’d escaped the night before settled back over me like an x-ray blanket.
The emotions of shattering loss are often called “negative emotions” but that connotes that they’re bad. While they may be unwanted, they’re absolutely a normal part of grief. I prefer calling them hard emotions.
Hard emotions aren’t signs that we’re handling our hurt all wrong but indicators we’re responding to circumstances gone wrong.
These raw emotions are brutal, and we often want to escape or fast forward through them. I knew God would be faithful to me in our loss, that He would meet my needs as a newly single mom, give me wisdom to raise my seven children and would even one day heal our broken hearts. But the work of processing my excruciating emotions was exhausting. I wanted to be healed — not healing. I longed to fast-forward through the pain and emotions pulling me under day after excruciating day.
But there is no fast-forwarding through grief. There are no shortcuts through deep loss and there is no bypassing the stew of hard emotions that come with it.
If we don’t deal with hard emotions on our terms now, they will come back on their terms later.
We can’t stuff our pain or mask it or (heaven help us) self-medicate it if we want to move forward well.
The only way to deal with the hard emotions is to meet them head on and process through them.
And that’s where it gets tricky because when was the last time you welcomed these kinds of hard emotions? Our culture schools us to get rid of hard emotions as quickly as possible. Instead of being taught how to handle pain, our culture more often dismisses it. Get over it, we’re told. Stop crying, we say (and sadly, I taught my own children this before I knew better).
So most of us learn to cry into our pillows, to suck it up buttercup and to will our way through sadness. But the emotions of shattering loss are too much to bear alone. We can’t just suck it up and move on.
Where do we go with our hard emotions?
While we may be uncomfortable with hard emotions, God is not. God who created us and designed us fearfully and wonderfully, designed us with emotions.
We were made to think and do and feel.
We don’t have to fake that everything is fine with God. God understands our difficult feelings and He makes space for them.
Our emotions are not just safe with God. They are safest with God.
They don’t surprise Him or put Him off. Nor does God gives us a timetable for our pain.
No, it’s not our heavy emotions that are an issue but what we do with them.
Where do we go with our hard emotions?
Straight to God. God welcomes your hard emotions. We can bring our most honest, brutal emotions and lay them before God. We don’t have to stuff them or mask them or fake them.
This was a daily process for me. Every morning, after getting up, I’d get my kids started for the day and then I’d get alone with the Lord. In the quiet of my mini-van, I could cry out audibly, pray through my hard questions and journal out my feelings and fears.
I could unburden my heart with emotions too heavy to carry alone and give them to God.
All through the Word, but especially in the Psalms, we see people bringing their hard emotions to God.
- Hannah did this as she grieved years of infertility and her unmet longing for a child.
- David did this as he endured the unjust wrath of Saul and the betrayal of his own son.
- Jesus did this as he grieved the cup of suffering he would bear at the cross.
God never rebuked them or dismissed them for wrestling through these hard emotions. Instead, scripture gives space for them and gives us the model of taking our hard emotions to God.
Friend, you were not designed to bear the weight of death. Or divorce. Or disease. Or the kinds of devastation this world can dish up.
You don’t have to bottle up or bear your emotions alone. God welcomes your hard emotions as He walks with you in deep loss toward hope.
“With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.” Psalm 142:1-2 (ESV)