“To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers of our personal God. To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well.” --Peter Scazzaro
Of all the emotions God has given humankind, the most difficult feeling for most of us to express is anger. Why is that? Why is it so toilsome to be honest about feeling a God-given emotion?
For starters, some of us question whether anger is truly "of God." Some of us have been taught by our parents, and/or the church, that expressing anger is not just wrong, it is downright sinful.
For the record, the Bible never declares that it is a sin to be angry. Ephesians 4:26, an often misinterpreted text, says, "In your anger do not sin" (NIV, emphasis mine). In other words, it's okay to be angry. It's not okay to kick the dog.
Yet, many folks--even those of us who, as a rule, have no problem expressing how we feel--keep a tight lid on our anger. No matter how intense the rage that may be burning in our gut, we swallow hard, plaster on our fake smiles, and pretend that it is well with our soul. If anyone asks, "How are you?", we lie and say, "I'm fine." Just so we're clear, it's the lying part that's the sin.
Years ago, as a part of my training for addictions counseling, I facilitated a women's support group. I learned a lot from those ladies, not the least of which was what that word "fine" really meant. To them it was an acronym. The "I" stood for insecure, the "N" was neurotic, the "E" meant emotional. To keep my website's G-rating I can't tell you what the "F" stood for.
Whenever one of those ladies would hear someone say "I'm fine," they would smile and think to themselves, I'll be you are!
Learning how to express our anger in non-threatening, God-honoring ways, is crucial to our emotional and spiritual health. But even more, when we allow ourselves to feel what we feel, no matter how scary and uncomfortable it is, we will find that even our spiritual well-being will be enhanced.
God desires honesty. He wants us to be truthful with what's going on inside us. He cannot heal what we will not acknowledge.
For us to express our emotions--even negative feelings like anger--is not only healthy, it's Christ-like. In the words of pastor and author Peter Scazzaro, “To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers of our personal God. To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well.”
Let go of your anger. It might be the most loving thing you could do--for yourself, for others, and for God.
(photo by Zachary Lubarski)
It's happened to all of us. We've been hurt by loss in our lives and dared to be vulnerable with someone about what we were feeling. But rather than responding with compassion and entering our pain--which is what true empathy does--the person offers us a quick fix: pat words of advice that serve only to minimize our stirred emotions and, in many cases, add guilt to the mix.
Each of us, at one time or another, has been stung by the careless words of others when we were already feeling emotionally overwhelmed due to loss in our lives. Just so we're clear about what is and isn't helpful to say to someone who is going through a difficult time, here is a top ten list of Things You Don't Want to Hear When You're Hurting:
10. Just put it behind you.
9. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps.
8. There are a lot of people who are worse off than you.
7. Time heals all wounds.
6. Worrying about it isn't going to change anything.
5. Stay busy so you don't think about it.
4. Where is your faith?
3. You can't live in the past.
2. What you’ve got to do is pray more.
1. You shouldn’t feel that way.
Throughout my years of ministry, I have heard from countless people whose painful situation was made even worse by the comments of others from their church.
All are comments that served only to cause greater hurt.
It can also be hurtful to tell someone, "I know how you feel" when you don't. Unless you've experienced a miscarriage you can't know what that feels like. If you haven't personally lived with clinical depression you cannot begin to relate to the hopelessness of that situation. Just because your grandfather died doesn't mean you know what it's like to grieve the loss of a spouse.
The first thing we must understand when we reach out to those who are grieving--whether they're grieving the loss of a loved one, a marriage, a job, their health, their childhood--is that grief cannot be fixed, it needs to be expressed.
When encountering someone who is hurting, it is helpful to ask questions that are open-ended, which allow him or her to express their pain. Questions such as:
Such questions invite them to share their pain with you. It is also helpful to say things like:
Recently, a friend told me how meaningful he found the words I spoke to him years before at his father's wake. I couldn't recall my profound words of comfort, but, pridefully, I thought they must have been incredibly spiritual to make such an impression. He said, "You hugged me, pulled my head next to your mouth and whispered, 'This really sucks.'"
Granted, you won't find those words overlaid on a picture of an open Bible on the cover of a sympathy card, but they met a need with my friend. He explained, "I was so sick of people quoting Scripture and telling me they'd pray for me. I needed someone to feel what I felt."
While we often struggle to find the words to say to someone who has experienced significant loss, many hurting people will tell you that, often, it is best not to say anything at all. Hold their hands. Hug them. Cry with them. But, most of all, listen to them, We help others through the grieving process only when we allow them to express their pain.
Sometimes I just need someone to listen. I am often left disappointed. If, indeed, listening is an art, I am convinced it is fast becoming a lost art. But when I am feeling afraid or angry, when I'm doubtful or depressed, when I have so many emotions vying for attention that I don't even know what I feel, what I need the most is for someone to just listen. To simply hear me. That's all I need.
* I don't need to know what you would do if you were me.
* I don't need you to tell me I "shouldn't feel that way."
* I don't need you to invite me to your church or Bible study.
* I don't need you to quote Scripture to me.
* I don't need you to blow me off with an, "I'll pray for you."
* I don't need you to fix my problems.
* I don't need you to judge my actions or question my motives.
* I don't need you to tell me not to be so sensitive.
* I don't need you to remind me that other people are much worse off than I am.
* I don't need you to tell me to "let bygones be bygones," to "pick (my)self up by the bootstraps," or to "just get over it."
I just need someone to listen.
You may not know it, but when you listen--truly listen--to what is on my heart, you give me value. You make me feel that I matter; that I am deserving of your full attention; that I am worthy of your time. When you listen, I not only feel understood, I feel accepted. And then I don't feel so alone.
That's why I love my Jesus so much. He lets me say what's on my mind. He welcomes me to be completely open with Him. I don't have to wonder if He really cares. I don't have to be afraid that He is going to condemn me for feeling what I feel. I don't have to worry that I'm imposing on His time; He gently reminds me that He--quite literally--has all the time in the world for me.
Jesus doesn't tell me I need to be strong, He lends me His strength. He doesn't question the depth of my faith, He is honored that I have enough to keep reaching out to Him. He doesn't quote Scripture verses to me about His love, He embraces me with it.
Whenever I need someone to listen, I can say with the Psalmist, You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed... (Psalm 10:17-18a, NIV)
If only more people would listen like He does...
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