“I’ll be fine,” I told her. My friend and I sat facing the Berkeley marina, the wind slapping our faces, and the sun glinting off the water. I had suffered what was perhaps one of the most significant blows in my life a few days earlier, and when she asked me how I was doing, I put on a brave smile. “Terrible, but I’ll be fine,” was my answer.
A good friend knows when to let a matter lie and when to push a little deeper. I’m thankful she knew underneath my smile was pain that I didn’t know how to express. “I think what happened was awful,” she said carefully. “I’m angry that it happened, and I think it’s okay if you’re angry too.”
Anger? I felt sadness and disappointment and fear. But anger felt far off, a small thread that poked up here and there through the seams of my emotional landscape.
My friend began to gather rocks. I wondered if this was her version of Jesus’ drawing in the dirt (John 8), playing a game of emotional chicken to see if she could outwait my evasiveness. Then she pulled me off the bench (literally) and placed a rock in my hand.
“I want you to say or shout or scream one thing you are angry about while holding this rock, and then you are going to chuck it as hard as you can into the ocean.”
I laughed, initially, at her assumption that I possessed upper body strength. But I gave it a try. It was slow at first, racking my brain for reasons, trying to pick at that small thread of anger. And then it began to unravel.
One after the other, I threw those rocks into the ocean. One after the other, I shouted my grievances to God. My anger grew louder as my arm grew tired. And for the next few days, my predominant emotion was rage.
It was terrifying.
On the Monday after His entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit and drives those who were buying and selling out of the temple, overturning tables and benches. John’s account even describes Jesus braiding a whip out of cords to cleanse the temple.
This is not the Jesus we often depict. Easter Jesus is holding baby chicks and a lamb, looking a little forlorn at the coming cross. Not picking up furniture and throwing it while waving a whip in the air.
And yet, this is how the Bible describes Him throughout His ministry. Not a blank slate of emotion, moving systematically through prophetic fulfillment after prophetic fulfillment, but as a deeply emotional being. Is this how we picture our Savior? Weeping, shaking with rage, laughing uncontrollably, grinning?
We are terrified of strong emotion. We don’t know what to do with it. So we bury it, lash out, place blame — we do anything except for sit in it.
For a season, I was terrified of anger. But in others, I’ve been scared of sadness, worried that letting it in at all would be allowing it to overpower me completely.
I apologize when I cry. I stuff down my anger. I temper my delight. Because somewhere along the way, we were taught that emotions may be less than holy.
And yet our holy God is neither stoical nor emotionless. God is described as deeply emotional: the deep heartbreak of His people worshipping idols described in Hosea, the anger at sin and death that take its toll on His world in Exodus, the delight of His love in Song of Solomon. All of God’s emotions are both perfectly holy and perfectly overwhelming. And we are created in His image.
Sure, our emotions are tainted with sin and, unsubmitted to God, they can lead to more sin and hurt. But what if we were to experience all of our emotions as a connection to our Savior who felt so deeply?
Maybe our anger can forge a connection to our Savior, who felt anger at the injustice of those taking advantage of the vulnerable at the temple, at those who would not stand for people to have restricted access to God’s presence? Maybe our frustration can link us to Jesus and His frustration at the fruitlessness of God’s people and the brokenness of post-Eden.
Maybe our sorrow can remind us of the One who wept over the death of Lazarus, at the pain that His friends experience, even though He knew the resurrection was coming. Maybe our delight can remind us of the God who sat back to admire all that He created and deemed it “very good.”
Do we leave room for the emotions of God in our lives? In fearing our emotions, do we numb ourselves to the living God? Do the things that grieve the heart of God move us to action?
Whether we have borne the label of “overly emotional” or have always struggled with figuring out what we feel, God invites us to engage our hearts with His. Perhaps we can begin to create room with a simple but terrifying prayer: “God, help me to feel what You feel.”
Day 2 of 13, “Come Alive: Easter in Everyday Life”