"Oh, for cryin' out loud!" I yelled, exploding into tears. "I've had it!"
It wasn't a big thing. It was just the thing that sent me over the top into stress, irritability, and fuming at my family. Socks on the floor instead of in the laundry basket.
This used to be my life. Imprisoned by emotions, I responded to every trial, every difficulty—even inconveniences—with an explosion. Or on wimpier days, I simply gave up and gave in, settling into bitter, quiet despair.
But freed in Christ, I learned a new way to respond. Grace. Gratitude. Living out the gospel. How I wish I had read, in those early years of captivity, a book by Christina Fox. In A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament, I found an important truth.
Created by God
It's okay to have emotions. God made them. God feels them, and we are created in His image. Our emotions—centered in Him—are good. They didn't always rule and enslave us, causing pain and robbing us of joy.
After Satan arrived on the scene in the Garden of Eden, twisting truth, Adam and Eve chose to sin. Our God-created emotions took a big hit! Sin twisted them, and today, without the Lord's help, we can get "heart weary" with the burden of our emotions.
The Bible speaks about worry, fear, and anxiety (Matt. 6:25; Phil. 4:6; Matt. 8:26); they are common to all of us. Christina describes some of the unwanted emotional "visitors" that left her exhausted and spent: Despair, Shame, Anger, Fear, Anxiety, Stress, Worry, Irritability, and Discouragement. We entertain these unruly visitors, too.
Not content to be our guests, these visitors take up permanent residence and, like nasty landlords, keep telling us what to do. Their goal is to paralyze, consume, rule, and direct us. They're "territorial," Christina says. "They want to have all of us to themselves."
But there is a way out of our captivity. God wants to free and redeem our emotions. I recognized I couldn't clean up my wayward, nasty emotions by myself. I couldn't rescue and fix myself. I needed a Savior. Our greatest need is always God Himself, not a comfortable life or easygoing temperament.
Christina says it this way: "We need the Gospel every day." The gospel of grace rescues us from our sinful past and sins in the future, but it also empowers us in the present. The gospel is like "our passport for our journey" out of the captivity of sinful emotions.
An Important Tool
Christina examines the "Laments" of the Psalms as an important tool in this battle. The Psalms are like a mirror, reflecting what's going on inside us. As part of God's big story of redemption, the Psalms whisper Jesus' name to us and how He is God's definitive answer to His people's cries.
Jesus, the "Man of Sorrows," truly understands our painful feelings (Heb. 4:15). He's not unfamiliar with them. God wants us to be honest about our emotions. He allows us to ask the hard questions. We can cry out to Him and trust the Holy Spirit to express pain that runs so deep, there are simply no words to express it.
According to Christina, we need to study the Laments because we've lost the art of lamenting before the Lord. The Laments are part of the songs (psalms) of Scripture that express difficult or hard feelings—emotional struggles in tough times. But they aren't just long, sad wails. They're not just a cathartic exercise. They are God's gift to us.
Laments have three parts, moving from negative to positive. The pattern is: 1) Crying out to God; 2) Asking for His help; and 3) Responding to the Lord in trust and praise.
We cry out to God in utter dependency, asking for His help because we are His children, and He hears and cares. But the beautiful thing is, in the midst of our lament—over time—God begins to reshape our emotions. We reflect on His faithfulness, embrace His love, and see how He is our Refuge and Deliverer.
As heart and mind meet and work together under the control of the Holy Spirit and in conformity to the Word of God, we begin to see the Lord work. We discover He can give us "gospel joy" in the midst of our deepest struggles.
Talk Back to Yourself
One of the biggest truths in A Heart Set Free is found in Chapter 10: "Speaking Truth to Yourself." In our constant internal dialogue, our thoughts carry great weight and determine our emotions and behavior, so we need to learn to "talk back" to ourselves. We don't want to stop at expressing our emotions, but ultimately move forward, speaking biblical truth to ourselves toward a place of trust and worship.
This is crucial, because emotions can tell us half-truths or downright lies. (Been there, experienced that!) We need to keep on expressing who we are in Christ, reminding ourselves that God is in control, and we can trust His character and promises.
Christina covers much more in this helpful, Scripture-packed book, including the elements of prayer that help us deal with our emotions and how to write our own "laments" to God.
Today I look back at that sock on the floor and smile to see how God is changing me. Emotions don't have to enslave us anymore. We have a Savior who redeems all things.
Have you ever written a "lament" to God? How did you move from crying out and asking for His help to a response of greater faith and worship?