The Motion of Emotion
Updated: Mar 26, 2021
Everyone was sad this morning. Have to go to school... sad. Can’t go to the zoo and ride the train... sad. Missing grandparents... sad. Mommies and daddies losing their babies... sad. So many emotions. Legitimate, heavy sadness. On the short drive to the school drop off line, we asked everyone in the car to name their sadness. Not everyone participated because it’s impossible to name sadness sometimes. We also noticed that our youngest son, N, wanted to be at school with A & W. While A & W were sad they didn’t come with us to the zoo last week. Their sadness was the others’ desire. We all do this. We see someone else’s moment of success or excitement, and mourn our missed opportunity. Perhaps the gifts of your life are precisely what someone else is craving. Grief is consuming, and it limits our perspective.
We talked about how sometimes God calls us to difficult places—we have to go to school, we live far away from our grandparents, our job involves infant loss—but the gift in those difficult places is His presence. He never leaves us alone in the grief. Peter mentioned Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, NLT). God comforts us in our grief, and it’s often in grief that we have the sensitivity to experience His nearness.
God invites us into dark places because He went into dark places first and offered the only light they might ever see. We join Him in that work. It’s hard to go back to a job that sometimes centers around infant loss. Watching that pain play out and walking alongside families through that darkness has on more than one occasion sucked the very life out of me. Last summer, during a particularly dark season of this for me, God pointed me to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:41-44 ESV
Jesus was in agony. This task set before Him to endure betrayal, condemnation and capital punishment was beyond His humanity’s capability to bear. He begged God to take it away, but resolved, “not My will, but Yours, be done.” I believe this was the pinnacle of Christ’s compassion—facing the impossible and choosing to lean in despite personal cost.
This year has taught me that emotions are not the enemy. They are indicators of required, deeper work. I don’t need to feel shame for my emotions, but God longs for me to feel them in His presence. He longs to be invited into the mess of my heart and mind and provide His compassionate presence. This morning, we invited our kids to try this. We prayed for the awareness of God’s presence in our grief, and we gave those feelings over to the Lord.
After dropping A & W off at school, we told N that we were walking on a trail close to our house. N was again devastated. His heart’s desire was the zoo train. We walked closer to a portion of the trail that goes underneath a train track, and we started to hear the familiar rumble. N got to watch a REAL train riding over us from start to finish. It was incredible. No, it wasn’t the zoo train, but it was amazing to experience the rumble of this fascinating machinery up so close. Jesus met us on our walk this morning. He saw the grief of our toddler’s heart, and He met us there. “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Is His nearness always so obvious? No. But it was such a picture to Peter and me of God’s excitement to show up. He longs to prove His presence. And this is different for everyone. His presence is sometimes seeing the Kansas City skyline walking out of work. His presence is getting an encouraging text from someone you’ve missed. His presence is in being given a line to a song you’ve been stuck on. His presence is in a quiet house when for months on end, it’s felt like incessant commotion and noise. His presence is watching your children grow and learn things that take you years to master. His presence is in the stroke of a paintbrush, cloud in the sky, song-bird on your walk and the kindness of a stranger.
For me, this year has been a long walk through a grief I didn’t feel like I was entitled to feel. My pain wasn’t the worst pain. My circumstances so much more hopeful than someone else’s. That guilt caused repressed emotions. I became a clogged stream. The water grows stagnant and invites unhealthy growth of fungus and bacteria. Water requires movement and so do emotions. Our stagnant feelings—no matter the root of that lack of movement—causes us harm and can inadvertently harm those around us. Take your grief to the cross. Take it to the very pinnacle of human betrayal and humiliation—Creator God slaughtered for His creation. Take it to the garden with tears pouring out like blood. Meet your Savior there, and give your emotions permission to move. Let Him grieve with you.