A friend of mine was dealing with the impending death of her cancer-stricken husband. She shared with me that a neighbor stopped by with a casserole, a very kind gesture, no words were even needed. But the neighbor hesitated to leave, lingering awkwardly at the door, but eventually proclaiming, “Trust that this is God’s will.” Now come on, is that really necessary, or even helpful? A man lies on his death bed and his wife is confronted with decision after decision, all while attending the children who will soon lose their father, and pushing to the back of her own mind the realization that she will no longer have the physical presence of her high school sweetheart. Does she really need to be told it’s all for not? That it’s somehow OK because, well you know, God. My mourning friend showed a lot more grace than I would have in that situation! When emotions are raw and more real than meet the eye, it’s not the time for a lesson on personal religious beliefs. When someone is experiencing heartache, what they need is the space to hurt, the freedom to simply experience their feelings. I get it, we don’t like to see someone struggle, we want to help, and in hopes of sharing some sort of faith we get all jittery and say the first thing that comes to mind. But nine times out of 10, our words do more damage than good. Negating human emotion and experience does not bring about healing. Restoration requires acknowledgement of circumstances and their effects.
Jesus was a prime example as he gave permission to human emotion. In fact, the shortest verse in the bible is quite simple, “Jesus began to weep,” or “Jesus wept.” Throughout the Gospels we find stories of Jesus giving entitlement to emotional expression, and as a result of it, the stories always end with reconciliation. Not only did Jesus cry (John 11:35), he got angry and flipped over tables (Matthew 21:12), he internally processed his reaction (Mark 7:27-29), and he plead for mercy (Luke 22:42).
It’s perfectly normal and appropriate to feel sad, mad, hurt, or lost. In fact, these emotions are the facts of life itself! There will be challenging circumstances along the way, twists and turns, bumps and bruises around every corner of our existence. We don’t need to be afraid to simply feel what we feel. As followers of Christ, we are empowered by our emotions and wholly connected to the human Christ.
Counseling is a difficult task. It’s painful and often times scary. A teenager who endured horrific abuse lashes out in a fit of rage, kicking and punching an inanimate object isn’t a pleasant thing to witness. At the same time, however, the presence of a caring adult present protecting the teen from injury, eventually allows the rage to reduce to sobs and simple words of expression. Only when the teen’s experiences and emotions are validated, can there be a sense of renewal and rebuilding of the spirit. Likewise, if someone we love is hurting, we need to let them feel it. Simply being present with them, holding their emotion, allows the peace and grace of Christ to flourish. Words aren’t always necessary. Faith in a divine Christ begins with connection to the human Christ.