Awful feelings—but “wait for the LORD”

Posted Sep 11, 2019

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The need for resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800 273-8255), and the Crisis Text Line (text to 741741) hardly ever comes “out of the blue.” Click here to access a family discussion guide to help better equip your family to identify and share emotional experiences with each other. Another helpful learning resource is www.makeitok.org.

Daily Scripture

Psalm 31:9-12, 17-24

9 Have mercy on me, LORD, because I’m depressed.
    My vision fails because of my grief,
    as do my spirit and my body.
10 My life is consumed with sadness;
    my years are consumed with groaning.
Strength fails me because of my suffering;[a]
    my bones dry up.
11 I’m a joke to all my enemies,
    still worse to my neighbors.
    I scare my friends,
    and whoever sees me in the street runs away!
12 I am forgotten, like I’m dead,
    completely out of mind;
    I am like a piece of pottery, destroyed.

...

17 LORD, don’t let me be put to shame
    because I have cried out to you.
Let the wicked be put to shame;
    let them be silenced in death’s domain!
18 Let their lying lips be shut up
    whenever they speak arrogantly
    against the righteous with pride and contempt!
19 How great is the goodness
    that you’ve reserved for those who honor you,
    that you commit to those who take refuge in you—
        in the sight of everyone!
20 You hide them in the shelter of your wings,
    safe from human scheming.
    You conceal them in a shelter,
    safe from accusing tongues.
21 Bless the LORD,
    because he has wondrously revealed
    his faithful love to me
    when I was like a city under siege!
22 When I was panicked, I said,
    “I’m cut off from your eyes!”
But you heard my request for mercy
    when I cried out to you for help.
23 All you who are faithful, love the LORD!
    The LORD protects those who are loyal,
        but he pays the proud back to the fullest degree.
24 All you who wait for the LORD,
be strong and let your heart take courage.

Reflection Questions

Over 50 of the 150 psalms were “laments” like this one—Hebrew poems voicing some type of fear or sadness. This psalm included depression, limited vision, humiliation, anger at foes, and panic. None of those emotions are a reason to give up on life—they’re just part of being human.* The psalmist faced his awful feelings by staunchly trusting a God bigger than he was. (If you have time, read Psalm 107, noting the repeated idea  that “God saved them from their desperate circumstances.”)

  • In verse 17, the psalmist prayed, “Lord, don’t let me be put to shame.” What internal messages, perhaps under the pressure of external events or other people’s words, trigger your feelings of shame? How can you build an identity as God’s beloved child that can limit shame’s destructive effects on your life? (This is hard work and may require help from a trained counselor or spiritual director.)
  • “When Pope John Paul II spoke at Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, he began and ended by quoting from this psalm. He commented, “We are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many.” But we are not overwhelmed because we know that “evil will not have the last word. Out of the depths of pain and sorrow, the believer’s heart cries out: ‘I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”’”* What has helped you learn to trust that evil will not have the last word, that you can always trust in God’s love and concern?

Prayer

Lord God, like the psalmist, I want your kind of honest strength. Teach and guide me in building my trust in you as I respond to your calling. Amen.


* For deeper study, see Christian counselor Dwight Carlson’s book Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?

** John Goldingay, Psalms for Everyone, Part 1: Psalms 1–72. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, p. 99.

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Wendy Connelly

Wendy Connelly

Wendy Connelly, M.Div., is a podcaster (MoJoForMoms.com), motivational speaker and online entrepreneur whose ministry is to help women and moms become more confident, mentally-fit and joyful versions of themselves. She loves coaching clients, teaching classes and webinars about psychology and spirituality, and experiencing new adventures with her husband, Mark, and their two kids.

The Psalms display the full spectrum of emotion, reminding us that in the depths of shame and despair, agonizing anxiety and disorienting depression, these four things hold true:

  1. We are not alone in what we’re feeling.
    “It’s not just me.”
  2. We won’t feel this way forever.
    “This too shall pass.”
  3. These emotions don’t mean we’re fragile or weak—they make us stronger.
    “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”
  4. Our emotions are not sinful or to be avoided.
    “Emotions we resist, persist. Emotions we feel, heal.”

One of the factors most highly correlated to suicidal ideation* is the belief that it’s just us treading these choppy waters, isolated and alone—a belief which, unexpressed and hidden, causes us to isolate ourselves further. When we feel alone, it’s good to reach out and remember that other people experience these emotions, too—people today and even the ancient writers of these Psalms.

It’s not just me.

When a storm of complex emotions hits, it can feel like an endless deluge from which we’ll never recover. But emotions, like the weather and waves and all transient things in nature, come and go. Some last for longer seasons, but even long harsh winters contain the hope of inevitable springtime. Take heart: the light is returning.

This too shall pass.

We’re not weak or fragile for feeling emotions “like a piece of pottery, destroyed,” as the Psalmist felt. Even he acknowledged his failing vision of himself (fragile, weak, breakable) in this passage. The strongest people I know understand that feeling negative emotions makes them stronger, more courageous, resilient and compassionate. We’re better for enduring, and even welcoming, them.

Sweet are the uses of adversity. (W. Shakespeare)

Have you ever noticed that the “Seven Deadly Sins”—pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth—are all emotions? No wonder we’ve been taught to avoid them! This concept is not biblical. It originated with the desert fathers, bled into the teachings of Pope Gregory, filled the pages of Aquinas’ Summa and Dante’s Inferno, and has gone unquestioned ever since. But emotions are only sensations inside of our bodies created by a thought (an image or sentence in our brains). And precisely because they’re the product of our thoughts, when we get curious about them, they teach us about the cognitive distortions (thoughts that “miss the mark” on reality) we’re using to interpret the world. When we pause to feel them, and get curious about them, we turn away from sin, taking time to think more clearly and respond wisely rather than react. The truth is that emotions we resist, persist. And emotions we allow ourselves to feel, heal.

Emotions we resist, persist. Emotions we feel, heal.


For further reading, a blog post Wendy wrote for Resurrection Downtown’s “Holy Ordinary” blog on the research-backed power of reciting Psalms aloud for alleviating anxiety.

* Research on suicidal thoughts and behaviors and social isolation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30445391.

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