Empathy, encouragement, enthusiasm, and excitement are all emotions people love to see and feel from their Christian community as they engage with, love, and care for one-another. But what do we do when someone feels emotions that might not be as uplifting; emotions like anger, pain, and fear? Do we inadvertently (or actively) encourage them to bury those feelings deep inside and leave them there? Do we deflect our responsibility to care for them by talking in spiritual language, implying their emotions can really only be shown to the Lord? Might it not only be possible, but Biblically commanded, that we be a space where these hard and difficult emotions are shared and talked about in a way that, while uncomfortable, ultimately serve to encourage each other with the deep realities of our human experience?
Consider, for a moment, the humanity of Jesus. Like all of us, Jesus felt the depth of every human emotion. We see examples of the deep humanity of our Lord in each of the Gospel accounts of his life:
- John records the grief and the pain of Jesus upon hearing of his friend Lazarus' death. (John 11:35)
- Matthew records Jesus feeling gut wrenching compassion at seeing the people "like sheep without a shepherd." (Matt 9:36)
- Mark records Jesus making a whip out of cords and, in his righteous anger, flipping tables in the temple. (John 2:15-16)
- Luke records Jesus’ frustration towards the religious leaders for rebuking him for healing a disabled woman on the Sabbath. (Luke 13:15)
If Jesus was not reluctant to be completely transparent in the human emotions he felt with his disciples and the watching world in full view, we, being found “in Him” (Phil 3:9), should not fear the reality or impact of our emotions with the people who God has placed in our lives either.
The Bible tells us if we want to see God we need only look to Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). This means seeing Jesus with all of his emotions, the nice easy ones and the difficult hard ones shows us the same emotions God feels. He expressed the fullness of emotion perfectly “as the one has been tempted as we are, but is without sin” (Heb 4:15). Christians, as “little Christs” are meant to emulate and follow him. We must engage not only with one-another, but with God himself on this very human level.
Too many Christians feel it is their responsibility to only show the "good" Christian emotions for fear of not appearing to be “right” with God. In times of real pain and suffering, we quickly scramble to the mountaintop and neglect experiencing the valleys where we actually are – where God needs us to be so we learn of our need to depend on him.
I know I have felt this pressure. In 2014, my wife and I found out one of our unborn twins had died in the womb and we were no longer having two children but one. It was difficult to navigate the sorrow of the loss of one child while still celebrating the life of the other. We thought this pain was a one-off experience, but in April of this year we discovered we were once again expecting twins and weeks later, one of those babies died.
If I'm being honest, through it all I felt an array of difficult emotions like fear, pain, anger, anxiety, and disgust. I know the promises of God. I know the passages of Scripture telling me to fear not and to trust him. I know God is sovereign and good. But I am also profoundly aware of how terrible it is to lose not one but two children. I don’t like this part of the plan God has for my wife and I.
As we spoke with people at our church after the loss of our first child, they wanted to know how we were doing emotionally and I found it very hard to show my true feelings to them. I felt pressure to be "right" and theologically correct, and to not show them the pain I suffered.
But, through the work of the Holy Spirit, and the encouragement of Jesus' example, I felt more and more free to show what suffering looks like and to express that emotionally. I found that no matter what, and not through my own effort, my sure footing is on Jesus who is my rock. I can feel all of the emotions he felt. I can be present with the pain and confusion. I can express to the people of God in my life what it is to not have it even remotely “together”; to bare myself in front of them and know that through it all, the Lord is in control and I can trust him.
Can you be free to follow Jesus' actions and be unguarded with your emotions to the people around you? You don’t have to have it all figured out. Your openness in your humanity are the only way the people the Lord has placed in your life can truly love you and remind you of Jesus’ grace to you in your pain.
We found out our second child had died on a Tuesday – our Community Group night. We would have been justified in not going, in staying home in our grief and pain. But it was no mistake our group was meeting when we needed them most. Our group didn’t solve our pain with a well-placed Bible verse. But they prayed for us and grieved with us and that is exactly what we needed.
You and I can only push forward in this broken world filled with suffering and pain because our God is not far from us in it. Rather, our Father in heaven felt the same emotions of pain, suffering, and loss when his Son suffered and died on a cross, paying for the sin of the world. All of this serves to remind us that since God once turned his face on his only son, he will never turn his face from us in our suffering.
"Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness, I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus name." - The Solid Rock, Edward Mote, 1834
May the grace of God comfort you in your affliction,
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Rememberance Day. If you have lost a child recently or in the past, know I am praying for you and know that you are not alone.