by Shane Fookes, MA LPC Intern
This is the third in a series of posts on lament. The first post addressed the importance of lament. The second post addressed the purpose of lament. This post makes the important connection between emotions and lament.
Your Emotional Type
If you’re like many people, you have a love/hate relationship with emotions. On the one hand, emotions let you know you’re alive and really living. On the other hand, emotions provoke pain and confusion. Depending on which side of the equation you fall, you approach emotions from a different perspective.
Maybe you’re the type of person who mistrusts emotion. You see being emotional as a sign of weakness and instead value the ability to stay calm and level-headed. You may even have trouble identifying your emotions. Sure you might feel “off” sometimes – extra tired, easily annoyed, restless – but you don’t connect these experiences to emotions (hint: they are connected).
Or maybe you’re the type of person for whom emotions are pretty much everything. You experience emotions vividly and they drive your words and actions. You trust your emotions (and their intensity) to tell you the truth about what’s really going on in a situation and how you should respond (hint: they often don’t).
Handling of Emotion
No matter which end of the spectrum you find yourself (likely somewhere in between) eventually your emotions will confound you. Your struggle with emotions is likely found in the difficulty of controlling them and making them do what you want them to. But you’ve found that trying to control emotions is like trying to capture air in your hands. Maybe you’ve decided it’s easier not to feel at all, only to discover that you’ve lost the motivation to engage in the world around you.
Perhaps you try to control your emotions so that you only feel the “good” ones, like happiness, peace, contentment, and satisfaction. Along the same lines, you try hard not to feel the “bad” ones like anger, fear, sadness, jealousy, shame, despair, and disgust. You may not realize that suppressing one kind of emotion suppresses all emotion. Controlling, avoiding, denying, and suppressing emotions are ultimately failed strategies that lead to all kinds of mental and physical illness. And the path to health often involves coming to terms with the emotions we are feeling and their mental and physical origins.
Counselors understand that emotions are an important part of what it means to be human…all emotions. Rather than trying to control emotions, a counselor will help you listen to them. When you do, emotions will tell you what’s important to you in a given situation.
Emotions and God
The Christian counselor also understands that emotions have a vertical dimension. They tell you what you are doing with God in a situation. Because counselors understand this, they can help you give your emotions honest consideration and exploration.
As you do this together, you learn that emotions are not only the bridge between your body and soul, they are the bridge between souls. In other words, emotions can help you not only understand yourself, but to share your true self with others.
But let’s face it, all emotions may be created equally but some are more difficult than others. The darker emotions – anger, fear, sadness, jealousy, shame, despair, and disgust – are difficult to experience and to express to others. And we don’t have many examples of what it looks like to do so in a healthy manner. Learning to lament to God with these emotions can help you come to terms with them. Feeling accepted and “felt” by God can, in turn, give you the courage to bring your true self to others in your life so you can experience authentic relationships.
Sharing Emotions With God
The psalms of lament cover a wide range of emotional expression. But if you’re like many Christians, you learned to read them non-emotionally (as if that is somehow more reverent). The psalms are poetry and, as such, are fueled by emotion. They have their intended effect when you bring your emotions to them and together with them reveal your true self to God.
You can do this in one of two ways: (1) when you feel a particular emotion, find a psalm that matches that emotion, or (2) allow yourself to feel the feeling of the particular psalm you happen to be reading.
Ready to give it a try?
I invite you to enter into the imaginative space with God you learned in post #2. When you get to the part about sharing your lament, read the excerpts below while imagining yourself feeling the emotion fully in God’s presence. Then complete the exercise. Do this separately for each emotion.
Psalm 35 “O Lord, stand against those who stand against me. Fight those who fight me. 2 Take hold of a safe-covering and rise up to help me. 3 Take a spear and battle-ax against those who come to get me.”
Psalm 142 “Look to the right and see. For there is no one who thinks about me. There is no place for me to go to be safe. No one cares about my soul.”
Psalm 73 “For sure God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet came close to falling. My steps had almost tripped. 3 For I was jealous of the proud when I saw that all was going well with the sinful.”
Psalm 61 “Hear my cry, O God. Listen to my prayer. 2 I call to You from the end of the earth when my heart is weak.”
Psalm 55 My heart is in pain within me. The fears of death have come upon me. 5 I have begun shaking with fear. Fear has power over me. 6 And I say, “If only I had wings like a dove, I would fly away and be at rest. 7 Yes, I would go far away. I would live in the desert. 8 I would hurry to my safe place, away from the wild wind and storm.”
Psalm 6 I am tired of crying inside myself. All night long my pillow is wet with tears. I flood my bed with them. 7 My eye has grown weak with sorrow.
Psalm 90 For we are burned up by Your anger. By Your anger we are troubled and afraid. 8 You have set our wrong-doing before You, our secret sins in the light of Your face. 9 For all our days pass away in Your anger. We finish our years with a quiet cry.
Learn More About Lament
You can also learn more in the following posts in our 5-part series on lament:
- Importance of Lament
- Purpose of Lament
- Emotions and Lament (here)
- Process of Lament
- Hope and Waiting in Lament
CONSIDER ONLINE THERAPY IN OREGON FOR CHRISTIAN COUNSELING
Our Clackamas and Hillsboro based counselors are excited to work with you, wherever you are in Oregon. Your life can fully thrive again. We can help you get back on track in a way that aligns with your faith and values. When you are ready to start online Christian counseling in Oregon, follow these simple steps:
- Learn about our therapy team in Hillsboro and our caring counselors in Clackamas
- Schedule an appointment with your preferred therapist, or contact us with questions
- Feel more connected to God and the important people in your life
OTHER MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES AT LIFE DISCOVERY COUNSELING IN OREGON
If you are in Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus, or Hillsboro, we can help you in person at one of our comfortable therapy clinics. Christian counseling is the cornerstone of our approach to therapy. Not only do we see adults, but children in counseling too. We also work with depression treatment, anxiety therapy, trauma therapy and PTSD treatment, relationship issues, marriage problems, and postpartum counseling. No matter where you are in the state, we can provide the support you need with online therapy in Oregon. Once you’re ready to start, we’re ready to meet you. Let’s connect!