My people are broken—shattered!—
and they put on Band-Aids,
Saying, “It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.”
But things are not “just fine”!Jeremiah 6:14 (MSG)
When you fall down the stairs carrying a bag of groceries and rip every tendon and ligament in your ankle, it hurts. A lot. You have surgery to repair said tendons and ligaments, which also hurts. A lot. But you’re still not cured. You have months (at least) of physical therapy to recondition your knee. And it hurts. A lot. Eventually, it hurts a little less when you wake up in the morning. Eventually, you graduate from a walker to a cane while walking. Eventually, you carry a bag of groceries up the stairs and forget the pain caused by that same action. But it takes a long time. Healing is a painful and long process.
Our emotions are even more fragile than knee tendons and ligaments. So why do we try to slap a Sunday School platitude on a deep emotional wound and tell the traumatized to stop crying about it? That would be like slapping a Band-Aid on a broken ankle.
- “Don’t worry about it; just pray.”
- “Don’t be depressed; you have the joy of the Lord!”
- “God’s with you, so you shouldn’t feel lonely.”
- “Just turn the other cheek; it doesn’t matter what others say.”
- “Time heals all wounds; you should be over that by now.”
I don’t know about you, but that triteness just doesn’t cut it for me. Those phrases leave people feeling like if only we were a better Christian, or believed more, or had more faith, or prayed more, we wouldn’t feel so bad. Author Alison Cook calls it “spiritual bypassing.” Christian author and comedian Jon Acuff calls it “Jesus juking” (you’ll catch the reference if you’re a sports fan). We Scots don’t call it anything because we don’t even acknowledge our feelings.
No matter what you call it, the effect is the same: we’re stuffing our feelings down into the toes of our winter boots and hoping summer is eternal. Reality check: it’s not. Stuffing our emotions is not healthy. It leads to a whole host of other emotional issues (stress, anger, bitterness) and even physical problems (headaches, stomach aches, chronic muscle pain, and the list goes on). Eventually, you won’t be able to keep those emotions stuffed in. They’ll erupt like Mount St. Helens.
Here’s the thing. Being a Christian does not make us “immune to normal human emotions” (Cook). My favorite example is David. Just look at all the psalms where he expresses anger, disappointment, fear, sadness, loneliness, shame, and a host of other emotions. But he doesn’t stop there. He works through them. Growth only occurs when we go THROUGH the emotions, not around them (thus the term bypass).
There are no shortcuts in the Christian life. Psalm 23 talks about the valley of the shadow of death. John 16:33 confirms “In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we should not have feelings! Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” It does not say don’t be angry. “You can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge. You can’t transform what you’ve pretended doesn’t exist” (Cook).
BUT, don’t camp out in those negative emotions. Don’t vent to everyone about everything every minute of every day. As Christian author and speaker Lysa TerKeurst says, “emotions are not dictators.” We should not use emotions as excuses to act out, to stay in the valley, to exhibit bad behavior, or to make others feel worse. No! They’re indicators that we need to pay attention to something going on in our souls.
Yes, Christ helps. Yes, Christ has forgiven me, so I should forgive others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Yes, Jesus offers his peace when I commit my anxieties to him, but the anxieties keep coming back! Yes, faith is the enemy of fear, but that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid!!
I think we would have less anxiety if we were allowed to talk openly about it. Sometimes that’s all I want—for my feelings to be ACKNOWLEDGED. That’s it. You don’t even have to understand it (because chances are I won’t believe that you do understand it unless I know you’ve been THROUGH it yourself). You don’t have to diagnose it. You don’t have to fix it. Please don’t offer an empty platitude. Just let me express myself. Part of the going-through the process is just acknowledging that those emotions are there.
Acknowledging our emotions and going through the steps to heal them is just as necessary for a healthy emotional balance as physical therapy after ankle surgery to repair those torn tendons and ligaments. Not acknowledging and working through emotions is like just lying in a hospital bed after the ankle surgery for weeks on end. Sure, you have a new knee, but it’s not going to work very well if you don’t do the hard work of physical therapy. Maybe you think that the ankle should heal up in a few weeks, just like the removed appendix did. Nope. Maybe you think that the hurt should be gone as quickly as the anger (or vice versa). Nope. It takes as long as it takes. Maybe you think you’re all healed, but then a twinge swoops in unexpectedly and leaves you breathless for a moment. Does that mean you need another ankle surgery because you didn’t have enough faith that the surgery and physical therapy you already did was enough? No! It means that healing is a long-term process!!
Whoever gets sense loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding will discover good.Proverbs 19:8 (ESV)
So, if we’re not offering Jesus Band-Aids, what should we offer instead? What do you think? What’s the most helpful thing you’ve heard when you’ve gone through hard times? Drop me a line and let me know what you think. I’ll be posting about it next time.