Sharing our sorrows with God. Or not.
When we’re in emotional distress, we need to cry out to God. Not just when we’re angry, although you knew that. But when we’re sad. When we’re mourning. When we’re miserable. In lament. There’s a whole book in the bible called
King David was an emotional guy. When he got low, he had no qualms about writing the Bronze Age equivalents of the blues.
Psalm 38.1-9 KWL
- 1 L
ORD, don’t correct me angrily, instructing me in heat,
- 2 because your arrows fall on me. Your strong hand has me beat.
- 3 My flesh’s instability from your indignant face;
- my bones lack peace; my sinning moves your presence out of place.
- 4 I’ve more misdeeds than height! a heavy, heavy load for me.
- 5 My wounds all stink and rot thanks to my clear stupidity.
- 6 I’m twisted, bent way down; I walk in darkness all the day.
- 7 My burning genitals!—unstable flesh just wastes away.
- 8 I’m numb. I’m very crushed. My groaning heart through which I’ve cried—
- 9 My Master, my desires and sighs are obvious. Don’t hide.
You notice he blames God for some of his suffering. Like all of us, David sinned; like most of us, David figured his suffering was because God was punishing him for it. (And be fair; sometimes God totally was.) Other times, David blamed his suffering on his enemies—and wanted God to take up his cause, and smite people in nasty ways. In such psalms we see a lot more righteous indignation than weepy apologies. But either way, David didn’t hold back what he felt. Never to God. God knew him inside and out anyway;
God can comfort the sorrowing. He knows how our emotions work. He did after all design us to have them. He has the very same emotions too, y’know. Although God’s
Recognize God’s the perfect outlet for our emotions. He wants to be that outlet. Whether we’re deep in sadness, anger, shame, offense, resentfulness, bitterness, loneliness, powerlessness, low self-worth, suspicion, unhealthy skepticism, sense of abandonment or neglect, God can take all of it, guide us through it, and use it to create something better in us.
Substituting people’s comfort for God’s.
About 12 years ago I was leading the prayer group of another church. We got a new regular attendee. She’d come pray with us every Wednesday. And every time she prayed, sang, or otherwise interacted with God, she began to cry. A lot. We’re not talking a few tears rolling down her face. (Lots of Christians pray with their eyes closed, and when you squeeze your eyes too tight, you’ll get tears regardless.) Nope; we’re talking full-on snotty blubbering. Like her child just died or something.
That first meeting, we kinda wondered whether that was the problem—did she suffer some vast recent loss or something? The women in our prayer team went over to comfort her, and pray with her about whatever upset her so much.
Next week, same deal. We came to pray; so did she. Next thing you know, she’s bawling and groaning, and the women tried to comfort her again.
Third week, one woman went over to pray with her. The others were telling me, “She’s got some serious emotional issues. She needs therapy, not prayer.”
Fourth week they just let her go off in a corner of the chapel and wail. Like tired parents who are done trying to get the kid to shut up and go sleep in her own bed. Soothing her wasn’t working, and they were at a loss.
A psychologist friend explained it best: You know how some people feel much better after having a good cry? That’s what she was doing. Here’s what was wrong with her behavior: What also made her feel much better, was having a bunch of Christians come up to her, pray over her, and try to make her feel better. And they totally succeeded. But it’s not our job to make her feel better. It’s God’s. It’s just neither she nor we realized that; we thought she needed our comfort, and she was pleased to get it.
No, she doesn’t necessarily need therapy. Nor medication. But what she was doing was totally inappropriate. We’re to pray like that by ourselves—just us and God, letting him meet our emotional needs. He’s supposed to do the comforting. Instead she was taking her emotions to us, having us comfort her, and parasitically draining our prayer team of their emotions. Humans aren’t equipped to do that sort of thing on a regular basis. We either cry along, and get just as ruined; or we clamp up and step away in self-defense. (And get accused of being cold, unsympathetic, and compassionless.)
Okay in some cases God will enlist the aid of us Christians. Someone needs a physical hug; that’s what we’re for. Someone is too overwrought to listen to God, so he has one of his prophets say something comforting to them. But this woman sought weekly comfort, not from God but from humans, and that’s not right. Greedy and selfish, really.
So once the women stopped praying with her, she quit going to our prayer group. Likely ’cause she found some other group who’d fawn all over her. Till they got wise.
Growing in gentleness.
Again: Nothing wrong with weepy prayer! When we’re sad, in pain, suffering, or depressed, we should cry out to God. And if we feel like crying, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Frankly, if we can’t bring our hurts to God, same as our joys, our prayer life sucks. And the devil’s gonna take advantage and pile on the hurts—and try to get us so hurt, we never talk to God.
We share our misery with God. We let him bear the brunt of it all. And we listen to what he has to say about our emotions. Yeah, listen. Christians are really good about venting at God, but we suck at listening to his responses. It’s not necessarily because we’re too emotional to hear him. It’s just we lack the patience to sit and listen. We just wanna rant, then feel better, then leave. God has solutions to our problems, and we’re missing them because we think God’s only solution was to turn off (or down) our sorrow.
Pay attention to what God has to say about our sorrows. What’s his diagnosis? What’s he think of our problems? Does he have specific steps he wants us to take, either to deal with the problem, or prevent future problems? Does he have specific encouragements? Rebukes? Comforts?
The reason God sorts out our emotions when we give them to him, is so we can hear him better. Not just so we now have sorted-out emotions. Gentleness has a goal, and it’s to further our relationship with God. And show others, who lack gentleness, how to get hold of themselves and listen to him too.
Our emotions, after all, are meant to be under our control. Really, we should seize hold of joy in every circumstance.
When it’s medical, not spiritual.
Lastly, and importantly, sorrow isn’t always a spiritual problem. Sometimes it’s a medical one.
Christians don’t always understand psychology. (Frighteningly, some Christians don’t even believe in it.) They’ll advise us to pray the blues away. They’ll insist, “You just need to try harder.” They’ll never consider the idea people physically can’t do more—’cause they’re battling out-of-control brain chemicals.
If you suspect that’s the case, find a Christian counselor who legitimately believes in medicine. Talk to a psychiatrist. Find out whether that’s the real issue. If they can turn down the volume on your emotions so you can hear God again, great! If not, wrong medication; try another.
Yeah, God can miraculously cure medical problems. Don’t rule that out either. But as you’re praying for healing, don’t be foolish: Go to the doctor. Okay?