The emotional dam finally broke, and I let my tears flow. It was long past time.
Day after day I’d read a Lenten devotional that should have broken my heart. Though I felt pangs of sorrow, there was no breakthrough. No lament.
Certainly American racism is a reason to weep, but I’ve been immersed in it my entire life. I’ve grown dull to it because it was my norm, so even a powerful document like “An American Lament Devotional”* didn’t awaken my long-slumbering heart.
The devotional started to shake my soul awake, but it was my friend Karen’s personal story of visiting the area where her family had been enslaved that gave me the final jolt I needed. I love Karen. She’s shared her gifts and friendship with me, so when she wrote out her hurt, I felt her pain. With an almost audible “Crack!” the shell broke off my heart, and I felt at least a fraction of what our God must feel when His image bearers suffer.
I believe that God saw my anguish and called it good.
Even though we follow the Savior who wept, we Christians have crossed a treacherous line. We’ve made the extreme swing from following our feelings (un-Biblical and unhealthy) into the opposite danger-zone of dulling our feelings. In addition, we give our dulled emotions the virtuous label of “faith.” You know what I mean. You’ve heard things said like, “She has such strong faith. She hasn’t broken down at all since he died.” That’s why I’ve labored here over unpacking the Scriptural reality of God’s emotions.
Faith and feelings aren’t mutually exclusive.
In fact, God’s emotions should be reflected in His image bearers, especially in those who love Him. We don’t let our emotions rule us, but we leverage them to stay engaged to those around us. Allowing ourselves to feel God’s emotions keeps us awake to the suffering of this broken world.
I confess that I don’t like feeling some of those emotions. They’re uncomfortable and ruffle the calm of my life. As a result, we humans become adept at implementing two self-protective strategies instead: running to someone to help us deal with our emotions or turning to something to dull our emotions.
Running to Someone to Deal
When I bumped up against circumstances or issues that caused pain, I was quick in the past to turn to others to help me deal with the ouch. I’d call my mom to get some mama-comfort, schedule coffee with a friend to hash it all out, or ask for my husband’s sage advice.
A decade ago, a friend listened carefully to my coping mechanisms and then asked a piercing question, “Do you run to the phone or the Throne?”
Womp womp. I think I’ve already revealed the dismal answer to that question. I regularly ran to the phone to find someone to help me deal with my anger, sorrow, or pain.
Now there are even more outlets for running to someone than ever before– texting, FaceTime, and all manner of social media. After all, there’s nothing like a Facebook poll to decide how you should feel about something! Running to someone to deal has become a normalized reaction.
Turning to Something to Dull
Like no other culture in history, we have hundreds of ways to dull the way we feel. There’s alcohol, drugs, or my drug-of-choice, food. We’re dulled by every form of entertainment, and we constantly have screens in front of our eyes or earbuds in our ears.
Avoidance is probably my most turned-to dulling tactic. I’ll do things like:
- Read books with little substance to keep my mind distracted by the world around me.
- Declare “I don’t watch the news!” as if it makes me a better Christian.
- Write off a difficult relationship, “ghosting” instead of having a painful conversation.
Do you recognize any of those dealing or dulling habits in your own life?
When I pondered the value of God’s emotions in the world, I realize that His emotions–love, compassion, mercy, sorrow– are what propel Him to engage with us. I’m determined to do the same, allowing my enlivened emotions to compel me to engage with the people God so loves in this world of ours.
What do you use to deal or dull?
How might it change your life to wake up your feelings instead of using “faith” as an excuse to dull?
Note: In the next post, I’m going to interview my friend Karen along with our other friends, Beth and Kenisha, who went on the trip together. Stay tuned to hear how God has used the feelings the trip stirred up!
* “An American Lament Devotional,” a 40-day resource developed by the Repentance Project, is highly recommended. I urge you to download your copy today.