Let’s be honest: unless you’re a robot, pretending is exhausting.
It’s strange, all things considered, that I was never very good at pretending. I was always very emotionally honest, often to the point of cruelty at some points in my life. Some people are good actors but I never succeeded in this area. If I was happy, you could hear my laughing a mile away. If I was sad, it was written all over my face and everyone would ask me about it. If I was angry, it was quite obvious. This did not fit into my “be happy all the time” theology, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I could not be happy all the time, try as I might. I felt other emotions and strongly, on almost every issue. My husband frequently points out that I had the biggest, dumbest grin on my face in every picture growing up. I think this was a testament to the fact that I did in fact try to have 100% control over my emotions.
Through counseling (I’m a HUGE fan of good, Gospel-focused counseling) I began to realize that I could turn my emotions down to about 30% and that was as much success as I was going to see. But I also realized that that was as much success as I needed. Emotions are not evil. They’re a gift that God created in us. I often hear comments about how we are not supposed to be “ruled by our emotions” and somehow that makes all emotions (except happiness – real or conjured up!) sinful. And it’s true, the Bible does warn us that our hearts – our emotional centers – are extremely deceitful. But being ruled by any gift that God has given us is wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s emotions, food, sex, or anything else. If it’s a gift, you’re supposed to steward it, not suppress it forever with a dumb grin, saying “I’m fine” when you want to scream.
The thing is, eventually you will start to crack if all you ever do is stuff your emotions and pretend they don’t exist. Denial coupled with emotional dishonesty isn’t healthy and, frankly, could probably lead to mental illness. If you took out all the portions of Scripture where people were emotionally honest with God, you’d be missing probably more than half the Psalms and Gospels. Jesus, our perfect example, was emotionally honest in the Garden of Gethsemane. I know I get nowhere near Jesus’ level of anxiety in that situation and I’m already be bordering on a panic attack. Actually, part of the reason I knew I wanted to marry my husband was because I had a panic attack in his car out of nowhere about 6 weeks after we first met and he asked me what he could do to help and then did exactly what I needed. Imagine if I’d said “Oh, I’m fine” while hyperventilating? He probably would have dropped me off and home and gone back to Europe! Emotional honesty, even in something as ugly as panic, can create deep trust if it’s not abused, mocked, diminished or dismissed. Emotions aren’t a curse, they’re a gift, even when all they do is show our brokenness.
This is the beauty of the Gospel. You can let all the pieces fall to the ground (they’re broken anyway) and just be. The tears, the rage, the joy, the disappointment – they’re all experienced at the foot of the Cross. In fact, it’s the only truly safe place for them.
If you haven’t been emotionally honest about your hurts, frustrations, joys, Jesus is the best place to start with all of them. Don’t look at yourself! Spending too much time looking at ourselves is generally how we wind up in these situations anyway. The Holy Spirit is referred to in Scripture as the comforter because that is exactly what he wants to do in each of our lives, regardless of what we’ve experienced. And that is the kind of emotional security that we all need and long for – even those of us who like to believe that we are robots! :)