Tag Archives: emotions

god-given emotions

i preached at the three services of my home church this past weekend, on ‘god-given emotions’.

the backstory: last fall, after i was laid off, i was in full emotional freeze. i could barely feel anything, because the various feelings were just too overwhelming to me. i saw a therapist for a handful of sessions, and that was helpful. but i knew i needed to get away, by myself, and ‘honor’ the emotions, give them room to breathe. so i headed out to a cabin in the california dessert for 6 days of silence. it was a profound time for me, both in processing my stuff, and in re-orienting me for whatever was next. i gave an entire day to each of five emotions: anger, hurt, sadness, fear, and joy. i entered into them — welcomed them — and felt them. then i put words to them (via journalling). particularly since i was in a sparse, holy-feeling dessert, surrounded by nothing but overwhelming silence, it was fairly easy for these entire days to feel like prayer. i also believed, and sometimes i knew, that god was present in that process, and that my journalling was as much of a prayer as any of david’s more emotional psalms.

speaking of david’s emotional psalms — i love how ‘inappropriate’ some of them are. seriously.

anyhow. i’d never intended that journal to be read or heard by anyone, other than my wife. but a few weeks later, the college pastor of my church asked me to preach in the college service (this was early december), and to tell something of the life of a biblical character and how my own story was paralleling that biblical story (that was the series they were in). after wrestling with it for a bit, i realized it would be inauthentic to speak about anything other than david and my emotions, since it was the overwhelming, almost singular, aspect of my story at the time. knowing that it was a group of young adults who would not be freaked out by the rawness of my journal entries, i took a risk and tried something new: i tried to model the point rather than exposit the point. first, a guy shared his own story of being distanced from his emotions for years, and the process of awakening. then, 5 readers read davidic psalms i chose that embodied those five emotions (and they read them with that full emotion in their voices). after each psalm, i read a selection of my journal entry. a shared a few quick thoughts on emotions at the end, how they’re a gift from god, and part of our ‘made in the image of god’-ness, and how attempting to ‘hide’ them from god is a joke, and actually dishonoring to god (since god already knows them).

that sermon, back in early december, seemed to resonate with people, and was helpful to many of them.

but then, when i was slated to preach in ‘big church’, the programming team asked if i would repeat that sermon. i balked. it was too private, too personal. and, all these months later, i wasn’t sure i wanted to go back to those emotions again. but i sensed that i should do it, so i agreed, with three conditions: 1. they would not podcast the sermon (sorry!); 2. the guy who shared his story prior to my sermon would share it again; and 3. the same 5 young adult psalms readers would participate with me again.

so, that’s what i/we did this weekend. i slightly edited my journal entries, taking them from an r-rating to a pg-rating. and i added a new addendum to the whole thing, since my life is very different today than it was 7 months ago.

here’s my post about my time in the dessert, with a few super-mini excerpts from the journal.

and here’s my post from last december when i preached this sermon in our college-age service, with the psalms i selected and other stuff.

here’s the new addendum i added this time around:

An afterword: i went on a silent retreat a few weeks ago, and spent a chunk of time taking stock of my life now — where i’m at compared with where i was last fall. and i experienced an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Not ONE of my fears, expressed in that journal entry, are being realized. I am deeply satisfied in the work God is giving me these days – speaking, writing, consulting with churches and ministries, and coaching youth workers. Amazingly, the bills are being paid, I’m having fun, I’m using my gifts, and I still get to wear shorts and t-shirts to work.

I’m NOT suggesting that everything is always easy. But I’ve come to a deeper understanding that the pattern of hope found in the Bible ALWAYS passes, first, through suffering, longing, and an honest cry to God. My honest and dark journey through difficult emotions has given me a sippy-cup of hope; and I can tell you it is a sweet, sweet nector.

in the end, it was an exhausting but good experience to look back and enter into those emotions again. it was a reminder of the road i’m on. a friend wrote to me recently something like, “it’s great to be able to look back and see that god was orchestrating all of that.” but i don’t see it that way. i certainly don’t want to ‘blame’ god for what i went through. seriously, it would be tough to think that god ‘orchestrated’ all of that! however, it’s clear to me that god was with me; and that god was present; and that god was bringing good out of an otherwise crappy situation.

(photos courtesy of dan matticks)

emotions sermon

ok, so i preached last sunday night at my church’s college-aged service. they’re in a series called “stories”, and i was asked to tell the story of a biblical character that in some way paralleled or had some similarities to some portion of my own story. well, i figured i could tell some witty and succint and super-teachable story from my past; or, i could be honest about what i have been going through these past few months. and, of course, then, i knew anything other than the latter wouldn’t have integrity (at least it wouldn’t feel like it for me).

i did something completely different than i’ve ever done in a sermon before. i had five of david’s more emotional psalms (5 that i chose because they seemed to capture, or be written with, the 5 emotions i wrestled to the ground on my time in the desert). then i interspersed that with selections from my own journal, on those same emotions, which i framed as my own prayer-psalms.

it was also pretty amazing that a guy shared a testimony a bit before i preached about how he’d gone through a few years of completely shutting down his emotions, and then the process he’d gone through to re-engage them. it was pretty stunning stuff, and totally set up where we were headed.

the basic flow was:
– about 10 minutes of set-up, and talking about some of the reasons we have learned to supress or “dishonor” our emotions.
– the bulk was a reading of a psalm (the readers all their psalms with the particular emotion, and they were AMAZING), followed directly by me reading a selection from my emotional journal.
– then i spent another 7 minutes or so at the end offering a couple thoughts.

David and Emotions

Ill: “I’m gonna club the f out of you, mikey” (a time i completely lost control of myself on a golf course and experience true rage, which scared me)

For whatever reason, I’ve always struggled with being in touch with my emotions (or expressing them at all).
– upbringing
– gender
– wrong notions of the person and leader I want to be

my journey, over the last 6 years…

Guys aren’t good with emotions
But, this isn’t just a gender thing – Christians suck at emotions. We’re suspicious of them.

Why? 2 ‘isms:
• the lingering scent of Gnosticism (spirit = good, material = bad)
• the church’s love-affair with modernism (reason = trustworthy, emotion = not trustworthy)
[train illustration]

these are a distortion of how God views emotion.

Story time (here’s where i set up the davidic psalms and my journal, and how we were going to proceed)


Psalm 109 (David is pissed, and calling down curses on someone)

(my journal selection)


Psalm 69 (David is hurt by all the people wrongly maligning him)

(my journal selection)


Psalm 22 (David is lonely and sad – this passage is also one Jesus quotes on the cross)

(my journal selection)


Psalm 56 (David has been captured by the Philistines, and is afraid for his life)

(my journal selection)


Psalm 16 (David expressing happiness)

(my journal selection)

So, what’s the truth about emotion? A few quick thoughts:

1. I think, in the past, I would have tried to build a case for emotions by saying, “God invented emotions, so they must be good.” But I don’t think that’s an accurate reflection of the creation story. God is an emotional being, and we are made in the image of God, so we have emotions.

God didn’t “invent” emotions as a component of creation! God invented us, and made us with emotions, because that’s a key part of what makes us like him!

2. God is not freaked out, disappointed, surprised, or frustrated by our emotions. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. Suppressing our emotions, not giving voice to them, is – in a very real sense – attempting to lie to God and ourselves, something that is contrary to God’s design and desire.
something i found on a blog this week:

In the past, I have tended to restrain my prayers out of respect for God. I am now coming to realize that my in-authenticity is actually an insult, not respect. God knows my heart, and my prayer should not be a facade. If it is, I am only fooling myself.

(i actually skipped this 3rd point, for time)
3. The scriptural caution to us is NOT about having emotions, but about what we do with them. “Be ye angry, and sin not” has lead us to believe that the ONLY valid anger is this thing we’ve made up called “righteous anger.” Whatever. No – Be Angry, express your anger – especially to God; don’t stuff it or bury it. Just be watchful of the actions that flow out of that.

Bottom line: our emotions are a massive gift from God, and learning to be present to them is part of our created design.

Isn’t it totally cool that God gave us emotions? Can you imagine life without them?

wrestling with god and demons in the desert

my six days of silence in the desert was such a significant experience and turning point for me in my post-lay-off process that i haven’t been able to bring myself to blog about it until now. somehow, it felt like i would be commodifying it had i jumped right into a blog post within days. so i’ve let it sit with me for a couple weeks (it was actually two weeks ago today that i came home); and i think i’m ready now.

let me back up.

the afternoon i was let go from my role at ys, i knew i was going to need some time away, alone, to rest and process. i have struggled my whole life to be present to my emotions. and in more recent years, as i’ve grown in this area (really, starting with yaconelli’s death), i’ve also learned that i can go there, but it often requires a conscious act of space clearing. i need space, without the chatter of appointments and cell phones and email and television shows waiting on the dvr, to be gentle and welcoming to those emotions that i need to process and be present to. it’s almost like my deepest emotions are skittish little animals, and any sudden movement sends them scampering back into their holes (i’m thinking of the biblical “coney” right now).

the first 3 or so weeks got quickly filled up with whatever stuff fills your days when you experience loss — communication from friends (and many wonderful youth workers i don’t even know) and family, processing, filling out paperwork. when the cincinnati nywc came around, i was crawling out of my skin with anxiety and restlessness. that time, i just needed a distraction, not a deep dive into the emotion of it all. so a buddy graciously agreed to road trip with me, on about 16 hours notice. we spent three days in las vegas, having (good, clean) fun and being blissfully disconnected from the maelstrom.

desertcabinbut, eventually, i knew i needed that time away. a lovely couple in my church have a cabin (i guess you could call it that — really, it’s a home, but a funky one) in a desert canyon about 90 minutes from where i live, and have generously allowed others to use it for retreats like this. so, after a stop at costco for food (really a bad place to grocery shop for 6 days by yourself — i had massive portions of about three meals), i headed out.

i’d met with a therapist the day before leaving (who i’ll continue meeting with over these next few months), explained my situation, and asked for guidance on framing the journalling i wanted to do. she suggested i journal on what she considers the five primary emotions: anger, hurt, sadness, fear, and joy. this instantly resonated with me; and i found it really helpful that she was validating anger as a legit piece of the pie, as i’ve often heard others talk about anger as a secondary, or masking, emotion. but my experience was that i needed to process the anger before i could really access the true stuff of hurt, sadness and fear (which were the three things combining to gift me with so much anxiety).

each afternoon, i spent time in prayer and meditation, preparing myself to journal about whichever of those 5 emotions i was going to give space to that day. then, i spent anywhere from 1 to 3 hours writing, unedited, whatever came to me about how i was feeling. if it was anger, i was pounding my keyboard with a ferocity that proved the durability of macs, as i was really giving myself over to the feeling while i was processing thoughts about what was generating it. similarly, when i wrote and wrote and wrote about – for example – how and why this hurt so much, naming all the aspects of specifics, i had tears on my face the entire time. after each session of writing – which just naturally wrapped themselves up at a point where i felt “done” – i had to respond in some way. on the day i wrote about my anger, i had to go for a hike in the canyon to blow off steam. on the day i wrote about hurt, i sat for hours on the screened-in porch, smoking a cigar, watching as the sun slowly set; then, i watched a short comedy so i wouldn’t spend the entire evening in depression!

all of this felt like prayer, really. i was very aware that, as i wrote, i was writing in the presence of god, and that god was with me in unearthing, naming, and in some cases, purging these feelings.

at the risk of being an emotional flasher, i’ll paste a few very carefully chosen snippets here, to give you a sense of the unfiltered rawness i was trying to tap into…

I’m afraid of my anger. I don’t want it to take control. I’m nervous about allowing it space, or granting it any freedom. If I give it even the smallest bowl of milk, I have this gnawing sense that it will not only stay, but will grow into a feral, feline monster, shredding and screeching and tearing without the goodness to discern.

I’m only 46, and I still feel so young. I feel like I have so much of my life still in front of me. I feel like I was just beginning to really hit my stride in this role, that I was learning humility and how to serve youth workers. I feel like I had a voice and a platform. I did. And it’s gone.

The sun is quickly fading from the sides of the mountains across the desert valley, as it drops behind the ridge behind me. It’s only 4:27pm. Too early to be evening. Too early for night. That’s what this feels like – my daylight has faded, been taken, way too early. Way too capriciously. Way to easily. And it’s quiet. And lonely. But it’s the isolation that’s killing me. Too easily expendable, and too easily forgotten.

I’m afraid of becoming a shell of myself. I’m afraid that I’ve “peaked”, and nothing else – work wise – will come close to providing the meaning and fun that I’ve experienced.
I’m afraid I won’t be able to tell thousands of youth workers that they really matter, that they’re not crazy. I’m afraid I won’t be able to tell them they need to change and try new things. I’m afraid I won’t be able to encourage them or push them or paint a picture of a new reality.
I’m afraid I’ll have to be normal and boring and conventional and predictable.
I’m afraid it’s all downhill from here.

Maybe this is a circumstantial hope and peace I’m feeling right now – more a result of the quiet surrounding me and 5 days of not talking. But at least I’ve had an appetizer of what I hope and expect to feel in the days to come. At least I’ve had this dress rehearsal. At least I’ve been given this gift of foreshadowing.
It’s getting darker now – the remaining light of the day is very close to being gone. The single sound I hear other than my keyboard and my breath is the quiet nibbling of a bunny, chewing the birdseed I put out earlier. He’s looking at my now, between nibbles. Other than that little crunchy sound, there is absolutely no sound at all – no cars, no white noise, no mowers or machinery of any kind, no planes overhead. Nothing. Just the sound of peace.

two weeks later, i’m in a very, very different space than before i went on that “pilgrimage”. my anxiety has dramatically decreased, and my hopefulness has dramatically increased. i was able to write that post about ys and zondervan and youthworks in a way i could not have written it two weeks earlier. i’m able to hold loosely to my future and the future of ys, believing that what will be will be, and that things will play out as they should, and that god will make good of it (whether god orchestrated any of it or not).