This article was originally published by GraceLife Church.
As a counselor, I see anxiety, sorrow and grief attached to many of the circumstances that bring people into my office—or currently, to my computer screen. Whether it’s the grief of sudden loss, the sorrow of a broken relationship, or anxieties related to safety and stability, counseling often looks like shining light into the darkness of someone’s life. Helping them see Jesus more clearly, tracing the outlines of his face when the dark shadows of sin and suffering have left it unrecognizable.
How do we reconcile the deep darkness of this life with the promised kindness of God? One of my favorite places to turn in the midst of difficult emotions is the psalms. Known for their themes of lament, the psalms provide a space that is relatable to the vulnerability of those who are suffering. Consider Psalm 77—
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Christians aren’t immune from dark days. But could it be that one reason we don’t share our emotional struggles more openly is because we don’t want to become the lesson for someone else? We do a good job of turning everything into an instructive moment, rather than an invitation to corporately identify with one another. Listen to what Diane Langberg has to say:“The mourner tells you what they feel and think...You listen; you bear witness; you read her and you reassure because you understand the nature of grief. Grief often profoundly impacts someone’s faith. Loss and grief raise questions about God and his goodness and trustworthiness for many people. The Bible recognizes grief as something common to humans and frankly speaks about it in ways that might surprise many in the church. Lamentations expresses deep pain, questions God, and speaks of feelings of abandonment and great sorrow.”
Sometimes we think that our sorrow should look a certain way, or that we need to simply “trust God more.” The scriptures tell a different story. Prolonged periods of sorrow, loss and darkness are woven throughout. In Jeremiah we read, “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted...” (31:15).These difficult and painful emotions make us uncomfortable. But our avoidance of them robs us of greater intimacy with and dependence upon Christ. It also deprives the body of agreeing together in lament. Jesus welcomed expressions of emotion, allowing their presence to draw people closer to him as they were drawn closer to one another. When Lazarus had died, his friends mourned, and Jesus himself was moved to compassion. Isaiah 53 describes Jesus as a, “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”
Ultimately, our emotions represent our humanness. No other creature on earth possesses the capacity for emotions. Facing the discomfort of our emotions reminds us who we are and who God is. We agree that things are not as they ought to be. God understands our emotions perfectly, even when we don’t fully understand them ourselves. He assures us that sorrow is an appropriate response to the brokenness of this world we live in, and he promises to be with us in the midst of it. We lament, as the psalmist did, because we have the certainty that these difficult emotions are ultimately fleeting. One day, every tear will be wiped dry and every broken heart healed (Revelation 21:4). As we linger in the already-and-not-yet, we can find compassion and hope even while experiencing painful emotions because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. He bore not only our sin on that cross, but also our suffering.
“The Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
One of my favorite resources in learning to understand our emotions and how they can be catalysts for deep spiritual growth is the book, Untangling Emotions. I would highly recommend it to you!
If you find yourself facing anxiety or gripping fears, waves of sadness that won’t subside; if you and your spouse sense the pressure building from relational tensions that previously got put on the backburner, there is help available. As a lay leader at GraceLife, and as a counselor at Fieldstone Counseling, I would love to connect you with resources for you, your family, or friends and neighbors you may know who are struggling during this time. We have a team of over a dozen qualified counselors (male and female), specializing in various areas, all providing remote counseling options right now.
Fieldstone also has a number of resources (articles, videos, etc.) available for free on our website, with new items being added weekly. It would be our joy to come alongside you with comfort and care in whatever you’re experiencing. We weren’t meant to face these things alone. If you have specific questions, I would welcome the opportunity to talk more with you.
Melissa Affolter has served in various aspects of counseling and discipleship ministries for nearly twenty years in the local church.