Yesterday I was hanging out with two of my girl friends chatting about life, and we got to talking about how we handle hard times in our lives. We were discussing whether it’s healthy to “indulge” our emotions–just give into what we’re feeling and throw logic to the wind. I think most women have been faced with this temptation.
Well one of my friends was explaining that whenever she gets into a place like that, her husband has trouble relating to her because she gets really “emo” and he doesn’t always know how to respond.
That stopped me. Emo?
I asked her to elaborate. “What do you mean you get emo?” She explained that she just feels really dark and likes to listen to dark music and mull over her feelings and write stories that have kind of twisted endings that reflect the way she’s feeling. Then she looked back at us and asked, “Do you think that’s ok?”
Heck yes I think it’s ok, and let me tell you why. Actually, let me begin with a caveat to this discussion. It’s NOT healthy for us as women to be mastered or controlled by our emotions. Emotion can cloud our vision of truth, and truth is our life saver when we’re drowning in fear, insecurity, doubt and guilt. We need truth, so any idea that we can just be emotional for the sake of it is dangerous. I am not saying that here.
Having said that, here’s why I like my friend’s “emo” confession. Christians have this thing about not experiencing our pain. Or at least not being honest about it. When you ask someone who’s going through a hard time how they’re doing, you’ll rarely get an honest answer like, “You know, it just really sucks right now,” or “I don’t really feel close to God.” Usually you’ll hear something more like, “It’s hard, but I’m trying to lean on God.”
Now leaning on God isn’t bad, but sometimes I wonder if this language is a smoke screen for escape. We’re escaping the voice of God and what He’s trying to say through the pain. We’re “leaning on God” to get us out of the lesson He’s trying to teach us. It’s kind of like people who act, and THEN ask God to bless their actions without having consulted Him in the first place. We just assume God wants us out of the darkness, so that’s what we ask for. But maybe He doesn’t. Maybe He wants us to stay there for awhile.
Sometimes God wants us to contemplate the darkness. I think that’s why he shoves it in Paul’s face in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul complains that he pleaded with God numerous times to remove the thorn in his flesh, but God continually refused. God wanted Paul to face the pain, to face his weakness, understand his fragility. Only then, when his pride and sense of personal strength was removed from his line of vision could he get an unobstructed view of God’s grace.
That’s why Paul then boasts in his weakness. His weakness became the means by which he finally saw God’s glorious strength. Until then, Paul’s “self-esteem” (literally, esteeming of himself) had eclipsed his vision of God. Until then, he didn’t fully understand from what he’d been delivered.
That’s why I encouraged my friend to ponder her darkness. Ponder the things that weigh her down and ask what God is trying to teach her through it. Get emo. Granted, our experience of these emotions should be directed toward God–not feeling for feeling’s sake. And certainly not sadism. But when you’re feeling low or depressed or dark, don’t be ashamed. You are not less of a Christian for struggling with the darkness. The authenticity of your faith is not measured by how cheerful you feel (Remember that the next time someone tells you that Christians should be “known by” how joyful we are. Where does Scripture say that? While joy is a fruit of the Spirit, last I checked we’re to be known by our love, not our can-do attitudes). On the contrary, your pain, or even blah-ness, can be a means for better understanding yourself, and God.
Until we do the hard work of contemplating our weakness, our understanding of it and God’s subsequent grace will be little more than head knowledge. In spite of our intentions, it will be superficial. This superficiality is rampant amidst evangelicalism. It’s not that Christians are intentionally fake. Their intentions are actually quite pure, but they’re just out of touch with their humanity. I personally have trouble relating to people who are chipper all the time because I don’t feel that way myself, and the world feels the same. In fact, I suspect that the world has a better understanding of the darkness of humanity than many Christians. Many individuals in the secular realm aren’t afraid to confront it. That’s why the darkness of the soul has inspired countless songs, paintings and poems.
But that kind of secular reflection can only lead to despair. There is no hope apart from Christ. Which is why we need to enter into that conversation. The world knows how dark humanity can be, so Christian pretensions that “everything is fine with me and Jesus” does not resound with them. We need to admit the depth of the darkness. Only then will we be in a position to point people to the light.
So as weird as it sounds, we need to get emo. We need to study the darkness and understand the brokenness of humanity better than anyone else. We need to confront our depravity and our pain head on. The better we understand it, the more magnificent God’s grace will appear. And perhaps people will then believe us when we claim to have been in darkness, but have seen the light.