They Do Exist.

When The Church (And Your Friends) Are Terrified Of Your Negative Emotions

Editor’s Note: Between friends, family, church, and magazines, we are given some pretty intense messages on how to deal with our emotions, particularly the negative ones. Today’s post is by Kera Package. She blogs at, and tweets at @kera_package. She also wrote 10 Things I Learned About Burnout for us in 2012, which is a must-read for workaholics and overcommitters. – Lauren

Last week, I shared how it felt to spend Christmas alone. My emotions ranged from angry to depressed to incredibly grateful. In response to my reflection, I received two messages.

Message 1: Cast out the demons of depression and take back your life.
Message 2: Thank you for writing this. Your honesty was encouraging.

Can I ask you a question? What is the appropriate emotion for your first holiday alone? If I were super excited, I’d be antisocial. If I didn’t care, I’d be a sociopath.

So, the natural response is a little frustration and loneliness, isn’t it?

* * *

Emotions are natural. When someone betrays you, naturally you’re angry and hurt. When you don’t get the job you wanted, of course you’re disappointed. When you’re proud of your achievement, why wouldn’t you want to celebrate with your friends?

Feelings are okay, even the “bad” ones. When the world around us sucks, our response should be to cry. When God seems absent in the mess of our daily lives, both faith and doubt are appropriate reactions. When everything within me wants to run far, far away to someplace safe, my “flight” instinct is doing its job.

We were created to feel.

Need I remind you that Jesus – the epitome of humanity – was angry enough to flip a table, upset enough to weep, and distressed enough to physically sweat blood.

I can only imagine that He also laughed until he cried, danced like a crazy man to celebrate with his friends, and sometimes sat alone wondering why no one understood him.

The scriptures are filled with emotions; the verses drip with feelings. Not cliché expression of appropriate emotional proportions, but deep heartfelt cries of joy, sorrow, hope, and despair.

King David is overcome with joy and dances until his clothes fell off.
The Psalmists cry out in pain, anger, desperation, and fear.
Prophets rip off their clothes and wail through the streets.
Job is so distressed that he curses the day of his birth.

Need more proof? Read through Psalm 119 aloud in the Message or NLT Bible. It’s dramatic. It’s a group of people telling God how they feel about His law (the basis of their faith). It’s a weird tension of “my life is horrible, save me” and “thank you Lord for being faithful and compassionate.” And, it’s certainly emotional.

* * *

How often do we, as a spiritual family, talk about how we feel about life, God, and ourselves? Not surface level chitchat, but the aches and the cries of our hearts?

We like generic terms: “I’m doing well” or “I’m struggling, but God is good.”

I like generic terms because saying “My heart feels like it’s being ripped to shreds by the injustice in the world and my gut says I need to do something about it, and I kind of want to throw up because my brain says I’m insane and is anxious about everything…” makes me sound a little unstable.

If I were to start cursing the day of my birth or ripping my clothes off to scream about current events, you’d have me committed for a psych evaluation. To some extent, I can’t say I’d blame you.

Sometimes we are overly dramatic. Sometimes our emotions do rule our life. Generally though, our emotions are more normal than we think.

There is a time and a season for every feeling from euphoria to rage to empty indifference. Unleashing those emotions is a natural part of human existence.

Not in an “I’m gonna unleash this can of whoop ass” professional WWE wrestling sort of way, but in a healthy “I’m going to allow myself to feel and then learn how to respond to what I’m feeling”  sort of way.

Dealing with your emotions isn’t the same as controlling them.

In Jewish culture, mourning is viewed as a necessary process. At funerals, each person in attendance shovels dirt onto the casket in order to feel the reality of the loss. The immediate family tears their clothing to show their grief. They sit shiva for seven days of mourning. Then the grieving continues for an entire year as the family recites prayers for the deceased. Grief is a cathartic process; one must feel in order to move forward.

I think Judaism retained a valuable aspect of faith that Christianity tries to suppress: the emotional rollercoaster. By focusing on controlling emotions, we neglect the process: we refuse to give ourselves the freedom to heal, to rejoice, or to grieve.

We’re taught to reign in our emotions. Our heart is evil. Our feelings are lies. God wants us to have joy abundantly, and we must teach ourselves to be happy and perfectly content little Christians.

If something goes wrong, we simply say: “well, God must have a plan” or “everything happens for a reason.” Maybe God loves Machiavellian strategies. OR MAYBE, we come up with ridiculous explanations in order to ignore our own emotional health.

It’s much easier to translate a tragedy into a “divine message” or a “call to action” than it is to wrestle with our own anger, bitterness, and doubt.

When something horrible happens like a natural disaster or a mass murder, we’re forced to mourn. We see death, and we hug a little tighter because we’re anything but certain.

What about lament in our daily lives? Are we dealing with our emotions? Or are we suppressing them for the sake of being a “good Christian?”

The other day, the mere sight of Christmas tree made me bawl like a baby. I saw the twinkling little lights, and holiday memories of violence and drama flooded through my mind. God and I had a very heated discussion about how the “night of His Son’s birth” is one of the busiest days for emergency calls related to domestic disputes. And, I realized there was something within me I hadn’t allowed to heal.

Some of you are thinking, “Sounds like you need therapy.” Of course I do, we all could use a little therapy – especially because we live in a culture that tells us it’s not okay to feel. If we can’t experience the emotions, how are we supposed to move forward?

* * *

And, why are emotions viewed as a negative thing? Yes, bitterness is poison and chronic depression is destructive.

But, sometimes our emotions are God given tools to help us figure out how to be human.

Sometimes I’m angry because I am supposed to be frustrated. I should be pissed off when I see a man with five hundred dollars in his wallet give a homeless man a dollar. I should want to scream at the man who’s slapping his son in public. I should be furious with our culture for encouraging us to starve ourselves and buy lots of things we don’t need. And, at times, I should be angry with myself for knowing better.

Emotions can be a natural indicator that something is wrong. Sometimes I’m intimidated by people on the street because they are actually a threat to my physical safety. Sometimes I’m worried about the consequences of my actions because I’m about to make a detrimental mistake. Our gut instincts can be lifesavers.

On the flip side of things, our emotions can be positive indicators as well. Think about what makes you come alive.

When are you the happiest?

For me, there’s nothing better than looking at something beautiful and knowing I helped create it. When I’m writing or taking photos or dabbling in something artsy, something inside of me lights up. I feel the same way about leading discussions, public speaking, the streets of Ibiza, driving a 5 speed… these are the things I get excited about. My feelings are probably good indicators that these things should be a part of my life because they make me happy.

If I were fond of torturing puppies and shooting dope, it would be better to ignore my preferences. But even in those situations, my emotions aren’t lying to me. They’re showing me the reality of my brokenness. Emotions reveal where my heart isn’t aligned with God’s. We can reasonably conclude that Jesus wouldn’t kick a puppy or shoot up. From scripture and life experience, we know God’s character. When what we’re feeling inside doesn’t reflect God’s character, we know we have things to work on…

What does working through emotions look like?

I have no idea. It varies from person to person. It may look like an hour of crying in front of a Christmas tree or it may look like five years of therapy. It may be a six-mile run for one person and a few hours of journaling for another. We’re all different, but we all feel deeply. Even if that feeling is a disenchanting indifference.

While we must deal with emotions as individuals, we must also deal with them in community. When we take the time to listen to one another, we usually find we have more in common than we initially thought. “What, you feel self conscience too? You’re beautiful.” Though our circumstances may vary greatly, we share the same humanity.

How often you hear “me too” might surprise you. And, it might enrage you at first.

We take comfort in feeling alone in our mess. My pain and my joy are unique. How dare you say “me too”? Or those two words can be the most refreshing thing you’ll ever hear. Either way, one of the biggest lies Satan tells us is we’re alone and no one could ever possibly feel the way we feel.

In some regards, it’s true. I’ve never walked in your shoes. I’ve never experienced your pain through your eyes, with your heart, and in your mind. I will never understand. I can, however, empathize because I’ve felt my own share of pain. I can choose to listen and to walk with you. And, you can choose to do the same for me.

Sharing is scary, and rightly so. The Church generally isn’t a safe place to discuss emotions.

If I admit how I’m feeling, I risk being viewed as an outsider. People cry “spiritual warfare” and question my spiritual leadership. Next thing you know, I emerge from a “discipleship meeting” with an assigned accountability partner and homework and a list of things to memorize. I quickly become a project because I deviated from the cultural norm of “I’m okay, I promise.”

Maybe, all I needed was twenty-four hours of sadness and now I’m perfectly okay. Or maybe, I’ll spend a lifetime fighting with the tension between depression and trust in God like Mother Theresa. Is either unnatural if I’m still seeking to live my life as Jesus would if He were in my shoes?

The Church, as most of us know it, refuses us the freedom of unleashing our feelings.

“We are able to talk passionately about the dark night of the soul without feeling it as long as the worship songs are full of light, the sermons lay bare all mysteries, and the prayers treat God as an object there to tell us it’s all going to be OK. The institution treats God as a cow on our behalf. The worship songs affirm certainty so that we are free to celebrate uncertainty; the sermons relay absolute conviction so that we can freely confess our doubt; and our prayers never question the God of religion so that we can express our cynicism. The structure acts as a security blanket that enables us to speak of the Crucifixion without ever undergoing its true liberating horror.” – Peter Rollins, The Insurrection, p. 47-48

We quickly forget that Jesus cried out “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” as He died alone on the cross instead of “I’m coming home, I’m coming home, tell the world I’m coming home… “

We also forget that a young Jesus wandered away from his parents and into the temple because he enjoyed being in His Fathers house (Luke 2). Even as a child, he followed His heart and did what He loved.

* * *

As Christians, we hear all about “controlling our emotions,” but wouldn’t it be better to learn how to work with them?

Most New Years resolutions are abandoned because we set ourselves up for failure by resolving to do things we don’t want to do and aren’t capable of doing. No matter how many times we resolve to control our emotions, we will fail. Or maybe we’ll “succeed,” and choose a bland, boring existence instead of a passionate, fulfilling life. The only one who can align our hearts with God’s is God.

So, let’s do something a little different this year. Let’s resolve to have some emotional intelligence.

I refuse to believe God created us with beautiful hearts just for religion to reprogram them into following a moral code.

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50 Responses

  1. Alyssa

    This post beautifully encapsulated what I've been feeling for the last semester. After going through a very painful rejection from my best guy friend of 5 years, I was left reeling and questioning… and at the same time, my grandma's Alzheimers was worsening rapidly. At the Bible college I attend, questioning God and His sovereignty or will or plan is enough to land your name in 700 different prayer group request jars. Instead I was told "it's all in His plan" or "at least you know and can move on" or "it's been 2 months, why aren't you over it yet?" As more and more doubts and questions from my childhood upbringing came up, I learned to shut my mouth or else those around me would question my faith.
    But feelings and emotions are from God, and they are not evil or bad. Wrestling with who He is and clawing through grief is necessary to make faith our own. He can handle it. He's God. He is the one who gave me those emotions and the capacity to wonder and question and debate.

    Sorry for the novel I just wrote. Thank you for this post. It's what I've been trying to say, but unable to find, for the last several months. Now I'm going to go make everyone I know read it.

    January 7, 2013 at 11:37 am

  2. Wow.

    This is such an encouragement of all the things I know about myself, but keep feeling like I need to deny. I am the most empathetic person I've ever met. I feel. Everything. All the time. You would think that would make things like, "You shouldn't be so upset, after all, at least you aren't _______," but instead it makes it worse, because I feel for that, too, and I know where it rates. And it doesn't make anything I feel less valid because someone may have once gone through something similar and felt less. That's kind of one of the cool things about humanity–we're not just carbon copies of each other.

    I'm really learning about this whole grieving process thing firsthand. And it's hard. Because people who haven't gone through what I did don't seem to understand how I can still have entire days where I'm so sad I don't want to leave the house (even though I do, because I have to). I just "can't be sad forever." Well, maybe not. But people who have gone through it have told me that maybe it doesn't ever really go away, because the loss will always be evident.

    I dunno. Being told to just "be happy" all your life, and then realizing that isn't actually a way to live gets a little complicated.

    So thank you for writing this. And thank you, GWP, for posting it. Somehow it's always what I need to hear.


    January 7, 2013 at 11:48 am

  3. This is beautiful. I've always struggled with my emotions and how to handle them and honor God with that and not just let them run wild and uncontrolled. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

    January 7, 2013 at 12:21 pm

  4. chryssierose

    this hits home for me. love it.

    January 7, 2013 at 12:56 pm

  5. Erin

    God's timing once again :) This was me on Saturday and so it's encouraging to know my frustration with those trying to fix or help me control my feelings isn't alone. Thankfully I was reminded during that, that my feelings were just for a moment and not a continuum and indicated that I cared deeply and understood the gravity of what was going on.

    Thanks for providing a "me too" moment :)

    January 7, 2013 at 1:03 pm

  6. This right here was the epitome of what I've been feeling for a while now. I always felt like my feelings were irrational and I was bad for feeling those ways. Whether it was angry at myself, angry at someone, sad that something happened, worried that something was going to happen a different way than I'd hope, happy at particularly not the greatest things, and a whole mess of other things.

    It's really hard being away from my home church and get acquainted with a new group up here so that I can have the same connection to talk to someone genuinely about feelings from a Christian standpoint without being judgmental because even back at my home church even though their hearts were almost always in the right place, sometimes the advice wouldn't always help the way I needed it to help, give me the edge that I needed to really feel like this is what God wanted me to hear.

    This post gave me that edge. Thank you.

    January 7, 2013 at 1:33 pm

  7. Emily

    Thank you so much for your post. I really appreciate you sharing on emotions. Your post is helpful and comforting to a heart that's been broken the last several months. My friends can't relate to what myself and my family is going through. I feel like I have no outlet to pour out my emotions. I'm wrestling daily around how to act and be around people and find myself isolation. I feel so un-normal. Thank you for the comfort and compassion I find here.

    January 7, 2013 at 1:39 pm

  8. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I'm coming out of a church environment in which I was told that I was "too emotional". I was programmed to believe, "God is not a God of emotions." The well-meaning person who said it intended to convey that God's character is not changed by our emotions. But to me it meant something entirely different and it's taking an effort to retrain my thought process.

    I plan on reading this again. Over and over as long as I need the reminder to stay and deal with my emotions properly instead of running away from them.

    Thank you, so much.

    January 7, 2013 at 2:36 pm

  9. Pingback: Good Women Project on Emotions | The wind is strong and the water's deep but,

  10. Marie

    Amen Amen Amen. Thank you. This is everything I've been learning and everything our culture doesn't understand. EVERYONE has emotional ups and downs, no exceptions. There will be good and bad days, months, years. That does not mean there is anything wrong with you. The most important thing you can do is acknowledge to yourself how you are feeling, allow yourself to process those feelings, and know when to reach out for help – WITHOUT FEELING ASHAMED.
    I am tired of seeing those I love paralyzed by fear of being labeled. I have seen the damage done by those who say depression is sinful because Christians are supposed to be happy with God. God help us to take away the shame, guilt, misconceptions, and overall stigma.

    January 7, 2013 at 6:57 pm

  11. Hannah

    I loved this article because it is so true. I usually ask people twice how they are feeling. The first one is out of politness, the second because I really want to know. I actually was just talking to my roommate about how I spent an entire day really frustrated because I was too rational about my emotions. I even qualified our discussion by saying that I knew I was PMSing, but it is something that bothers me. This year I've been pretty clinical in how I view relationships with my guy friends and whether I should date them or not. But I really have changed in how I view emotions in the past year. I wear my heart on my sleeve more. My heart aches at the pain I see around me. I sobbed for a good two hours when I found out a girl at my college had died from a rare cancer. I didn't even know her. This change came last year. Last year I would have told you that I consider crying a weakness. I loved the idea that I could hide my emotions. And then God's grace got a hold of me. I started crying at small examples of his grace. I became more open. I shared the last 5% of myself…as humans we only share 95%.

    January 7, 2013 at 7:38 pm

  12. Hannah

    But this change came from being in the church. It was in the church that I balled my eyes out singing "How sweet and awesome is the place." It was in the church that I was able to connect with Godly women who show me how to live. My Mom likes to describe our church as how heaven would look. We're small. Only about 100 people, but we have many different ethnicities, ages, and lots of hurt and sickness. I can look at nearly every person in my church and see how they've ached with the pain of this life, but have responded to God's love and grace. We don't broadcast our sin. But we are a family and we know our struggles and are there to support each other. After all Jesus said it's the sick who need the doctor not the healthy.

    January 7, 2013 at 7:38 pm

  13. Pingback: Going Back « In a Bulldawg's Life

  14. coffeejar

    THANK. YOU. I have believed this for several years–it's one of the greatest passions of my exceedingly young life, trying to get people to understand that it's okay to not be okay. I struggle with clinical depression, and while that makes me a more intensely emotional person than many, it also has given me insight into the depth of human emotions and how important they can be to making us who we are. I'm kind of curious to know what you would say about clinical depression and other mood disorders, where "destructive" moods are sometimes preventable but are so often impossible to escape from. But anyway, thank you for writing such a beautifully effective piece on this issue. This is something that needs to be heard.

    January 7, 2013 at 11:15 pm

  15. kirs10writes

    This post triggered me to rethink whether I have been unconsciously pushing an expectation of "cheerful Christian optimism" on some of my female believer friends. I think I may have, unintentionally, and it's very convicting. Furthermore, for my part, I can certainly attest to wearing a sunny facade, refusing to share the pain of my experiences with even my closest family and friends.

    Ironically, it's only a few trustworthy mere *acquaintances* with whom I privately share my true feelings–people whose opinions I respect and trust, but whom I never see/haven't seen in years. Essentially, I worry constantly about burdening the people I love, so I choose people who *don't* really love me, because I know they won't be burdened with the same kind of anxiety for my wellbeing. Strange, no?

    January 8, 2013 at 2:03 am

  16. kelseygoestoafrica

    This is beautiful, dear friend. Thanks for being brave enough to bare your soul, and know that it touched me deeply!

    January 8, 2013 at 10:22 am

  17. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you.

    January 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm

  18. notscrambled

    Hurray! You have written the post that I have wanted to write for over a year! You go girl!

    I'm a 50-something and let me tell you…get free of this wretched teaching of "controlling" or "being healed" or "set free" from your emotions at as young an age as possible. Emotions are normal, and not only that, if we allow ourselves to intelligently explore the realities and origins of our emotions (both good and bad) we will discover a depth of healing and wholeness we deny ourselves when we merely try to be a "good" Christian and follow the false teachings that are everywhere about how emotions are "bad." Shame is bad, and this is what comes upon us when we embrace a false truth that we are somehow flawed if we feel what is normal to feel. What we really need is more and more women to risk being real, to stop handing out platitudes on a platter when a woman is having feelings, and to start being willing to weep with those who weep.

    Brokenness happens in isolation, healing–in the context of community. Thanks for sharing, I may just have to go write that article now that I know I'm not alone ! :-)


    January 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm

  19. So true! I'd love to read your article once you write it!

    January 8, 2013 at 6:13 pm

  20. Pingback: The Journey Begins | Conquering Comps

  21. Liese

    This article is so beautifully timed. My best friend and I are both dealing with serious issues with guys – her boyfriend mistreating her and then breaking up with her; the guy I've liked for a long time starting to date a girl who isn't me – and it's so reassuring to know that feeling heartbroken over this is perfectly acceptable. It drives us into our Daddy God's arms. I'm hurt and confused and it's wonderful to feel validated. Thank you.

    January 10, 2013 at 3:38 am

  22. Misjudged by others

    If we had been a truly Christian country we would not have wanted a so-called movement of women who are deceivers and con artists pushing themselves and their misguided views on us and our country, which we did not need, such as calling bosom,cleavage and ass compliments a quote & unquote crime. Reverence should have been the asset, not money. Richard Nixon must have been a mercenary when he passed that cockemany lie for a law.

    January 10, 2013 at 11:36 pm

  23. Pingback: Your Time at Work, Negative Emotions and the One Habit God Wants You to Pick | 4word women

  24. This is absolutely beautiful and perfect! Thank you for sharing your heart. I think as children we all feel things naturally and without remorse about our emotions. When something hurts, we cry. When someone is mean, we tell them they are being mean. When something makes us happy, we want to do it over and over and over again. Then we are taught to manage our emotions. To "buck up." To be tough. And we slowly lose our ability to feel. To feel deeply. We lose touch with reality. I think that is why so many people eventually just break down. They can't hold it all together anymore.

    As I was reading your post I couldn't help but smile. I recently wrote about a dear friend of mine who was killed in a car accident. I wrote briefly about emotions and what to do with them in this time of grief. You went into depth on what I could only express in a few words. And I also used the example of Jews as they mourned over their loved ones. [If you want to read it, check out my blog!]

    Thank you for your writing. Thank you for daring to feel, even when everyone else in the world says that God wants us to only and always be happy, bubbly, and put together. I appreciate your words.

    January 14, 2013 at 10:35 am

  25. Anonymous

    I do have a question: What about situations where someone else is the one with depression and they lash out at you? Are we still supposed to help carry their burden and be there for them (and getting verbally and emotionally abused at the same time)? What if they're your parent and the Word says that we must honor our parents? Do we cut off ties when they lash out blindly? I remember a GWP post that mentioned how sometimes it just isn't our burden to carry. To be honest I feel as though I cannot handle being around people who lash out, and I think that I cannot ever live with someone who has severe depression/bipolar disorders; because half the time I'm afraid they might turn violent on themselves/me and I will not tolerate being abused in any way. Thank you anyway for the post. x

    January 17, 2013 at 11:49 am

  26. Pingback: Negative Emotions and the Church – Something worth checking out «

  27. ggirl

    Thanks for posting this I have been that girl who was given an “accountability partner” after talking about my feelings of not fitting in and not feeling like the other girls in the church. People never stopped questioning my leadership abilities after that. Thanks so much for sharing

    April 17, 2013 at 11:57 pm

  28. Well, thanks so much for sharing this with me, I love to have fun all the time.

    March 5, 2014 at 3:51 pm

  29. Thanks for the post. After reading this post, I gain some knowledge and gathered some information's. This article is really very essential and very informative article. I really enjoyed with post. Thank you again. Keep posting. I am waiting for your new post. I love to read your each and every post.

    December 10, 2014 at 7:09 am

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    April 26, 2015 at 12:16 pm

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