“I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.”
Nieces are fun, especially as toddlers. My oldest niece was full of big words (like “pagoda”) and big emotions that made life fun and funny. As a toddler, though, knowing what to do with her big emotions was not always clear to her. Often she would sit on my lap and play silly games with me. I would tickle her and she would laugh and giggle. I had to use caution though. Often she would get so happy and so giggly that it felt, to her, uncontainable. If it reached a tipping point she would shoot her head forward and bite me on my face. Yes, you read that right, she would bite me when too happy.
The instant she bit me, she would pull away with horror on her face and then burst into hysterical tears, full of guilt or sadness over my now bleeding face.
Most of us don’t struggle with how to handle too much joy and glee in our lives. Our struggle is handling the unwanted emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, worry, envy, despair or a feeling of powerlessness.
One strategy is to ignore them, just hoping they will eventually go away. Other people accept these emotions as permanent residents in their lives and accept life will never get better.
A third approach is to get aggressive with negative emotions and attempt to cancel them out. I’ve heard it said by many, “Our feelings aren’t the truth!”. Some suggest that every time we feel something we don’t want, we simply rehearse what is true to cancel out the lie.
In Psalm 6 we see David take a radically different approach. David actually rehearsed his emotions! Instead of believing that this approach would give greater power to his emotions, the opposite seemed to happen. The more David voiced his anxiety, fear and worry… the more of the truth he seemed to understand.
While emotions do lie to us, it doesn’t mean they aren’t real. The truth is, we might be literally feeling anxiety in a given moment. The David approach was not to say, “anxiety is a liar!” (although that may be true)… he would treat emotions as information. They told him what he was going through and he acted as if God wanted to hear all the details of his worry, fear and anxiety.
For David, voicing his negative emotions didn’t give them greater power. Quite the opposite! The voicing of negative emotions seemed to disarm them and lead him into deeper security, peace and joy.
In an age of anxiety we need more of the David approach. God does not desire us to be in denial, hopeless for change or afraid of our emotions. We are to be like David who knew, “the only way out is through.”
Pastor Tim Keller once said, “Every single emotion should be processed in prayer.” I think he got this from the Psalms, where David literally brought every high and every low and voiced it before God and others.
In an age of anxiety, how could you give greater voice to your heavy and negative emotions? Try reading the Psalms and see how David did it. Instead of ignoring, accepting or rejecting your negative emotions… try the approach of Psalms. You might discover that giving them a voice before God and friends doesn’t overwhelm but rather brings the peace you have been needing.
If you struggle with worry and anxiety in our current situation. I found this article to be helpful on identifying some practical ways you would walk through this time:
“If You’re Panicking About the Corona Virus: Try These 7 Methods”