By Peter Scazzero
In some Christian circles, repressing or disavowing authentic emotions is considered a virtue or perhaps even a gift of Spirit. Denying anger, ignoring pain, skipping over depression, running from loneliness, and avoiding doubt are not only considered normal but actually virtuous ways of living out one’s spiritual life.
But this is not the model we find in Jesus, who freely expressed his emotions without shame or embarrassment:
- He shed tears (Luke 19:41).
- He was filled with joy (Luke 10:21).
- He felt overwhelmed with grief (Mark 14:34).
- He was angry and distressed (Mark 3:5).
- He was sorrowful and troubled (Matthew 26:37).
- His heart was moved with compassion (Luke 7:13).
- He expressed amazement (Mark 6:6, Luke 7:9).
Jesus was anything but an emotionally frozen Messiah.
In Gethsemane, we see a fully human Jesus—anguished, sorrowful, and spiritually overwhelmed. He is pushed to the extremes of his human limits: “and being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
So, we must ask ourselves: Where did we get the idea that acknowledging and expressing authentic emotion is somehow less than spiritual? And why do we believe that we can—or somehow should—grow in spiritual maturity without simultaneously growing in emotional maturity?
And then there’s the example of Job:
After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his
birth. He said:
“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine on it.
May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more. . . .
If only my anguish could be weighed
and all my misery be placed on the scales!
It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas—no
wonder my words have been impetuous.
Job was one of the richest men in the world in his day. In contemporary terms, his assets would have included a fleet of Rolls-Royces, private airplanes, yachts, thriving global companies, and significant real estate holdings. “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3). After a series of natural disasters, however, something unthinkable happens—Job is reduced to poverty and his ten children are killed in a terrible natural disaster. When he attempts to get on his feet, he is infected with “sore boils” from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Physically, it looks like he is about to die at any moment. His wife’s compassionate counsel? “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).
Job finds himself alone, isolated, and living outside the city walls in the garbage dump. As the text indicates, Job is very angry. But there is a lesson for us even in Job’s anger. Here is how author Philip Yancey describes it:
One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment—he can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God. They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out. In this respect, the Bible prefigures a tenet of modern psychology: you can’t really deny your feelings or make them disappear, so you might as well express them. God can deal with every human response save one. He cannot abide the response I fall back on instinctively: an attempt to ignore him or treat him as though he does not exist. That response never once occurred to Job.”
In the same way, God invites us to feel our emotions, experiencing them without self-condemnation, and exploring them in his loving presence.
Question to Consider
In what ways do you tend to suppress or deny difficult emotions—anger, sadness, fear—rather than admit them to yourself and God?
Father, the idea of being emotionally transparent with you—especially when my emotions are raw—is very difficult. In fact, it almost seems disrespectful. Thank you, Lord, that you love all of me—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and that your love is without conditions. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Adapted from Emotionally Healthy Relationships Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey to Deeply Change Your Relationships by Peter Scazzero. Click here to learn more about this title.
In this groundbreaking devotional book, Peter Scazzero reintroduces and expands upon the ancient spiritual discipline of the Daily Office. The basic premise is simple: Christians need to intentionally stop to be with God twice each day to create a continual and easy familiarity with God’s presence for the rest of the day.
In the same powerful rhythm as Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day, each day offers two Daily Offices—Morning/Midday and Midday/Evening—where each devotional time will reflect on emotionally healthy relational themes, such as clarifying expectations, deep listening, and clean fighting. You’ll be ushered into a transformational practice that will deepen your daily walk with Jesus.
Peter Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City, a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-three countries represented. After serving as senior pastor for twenty-six years, Pete now serves as a teaching pastor/pastor at large. He is the author of two best-selling books—The Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. He is also the author of The EHS Course and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day. Pete and his wife, Geri, are the founders of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, a groundbreaking ministry that equips churches in a deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation paradigm that integrates emotional health and contemplative spirituality. They have four lovely daughters. For more information, visit emotionallyhealthy.org, or connect with Pete on Twitter @petescazzero.