To vent or to simmer? How should Christians deal with their emotions?


To vent or to simmer? How should Christians deal with their emotions?

Have you ever felt so angry at someone that the words that came from your mouth were equivalent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the soul? Or have you been so depressed that, though you have never voiced it, you contemplated suicide? Have you been so excited before that your thrill and joy caused you to act totally out of character? The answer to at least one of those is yes for almost everyone. There are days when our temper was tampered with and we realized that there was a green Hulk inside of us. We found out that there was a Jekyll and a Hyde on the inside of our seemingly saint-like nature. For many followers of Christ, the people around you probably rebuked you for not showing Christlikeness or they patted you on the back and said, “Let it out.” How should we deal with our anger, frustration and depression when we engage in a political debate? Are we being hypocritical when we hold back what we feel lest we say something we regret? Are we being honest by venting it out?

There are two reactions that the world has towards expressing overwhelming emotion. The first is, “Vent it all out.” The second is, “Calm it all down.” Both expressions are displayed by two kinds of people. The first kind is the liberal mind that believes humanity is a free soul and emotions kept on the inside will eat you up. The second kind of person is the conservative mind that believes self-control above all else keeps one truly in-check with themselves. In both stands, there are scientific, empirical studies that prove each to be true.  Many psychologists would agree that talking about trauma is healthy holistically for the human in the long run. Many psychologists and scientists will also agree however that outburst of self expression such as anger could slow your heart down in the long run.

The question is; what side should believers as followers of Jesus take?

The answer is none. There is another way that God instructs us to take. Both expressions are valid on various circumstances but both are wrong in the economy and will of God.

What do I mean?

Vent it all out

Image from thepoliticalcarnival.net 
Writing an angry Tweet or Facebook update of how we hate our burdening boss may reflect honesty but it lacks sensitivity and love. Truth without love is empty noise however factual. Even Saint Paul said, speaking in tongues of angels devoid of love is like noisy bells (1 Corinthians 13:1). To take the liberal approach in expressing our emotions makes us not only arrogant (because we easily point others weaknesses publicly and forget our own) but it also fuels pride. How? When you raise your voice at someone and shout, “I can’t believe you did that!” you’re unknowingly making another statement. You’re intrinsically saying, “What you did was so bad. There’s no way I would ever do something as bad as that.”  You’re basically elevating yourself morally above the other person and looking down on their sin. In briefest sense, you consider yourself better than them. That’s pride. Remember, I’m not against talking about how you feel but against talking about how you feel in order to deal with the emotion. Many people may argue that they vent to make a point. Beloved we are called by Christ to make a difference not make a point. You don’t see it until you dissect it. The human heart is deceitful. Self-expression albeit honesty corrupts our hearts through pride and arrogance in ways unseen.

NB: Men will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken- Matthew 12:36-

Simmer it in

On the other hand holding in our feelings when we are emotional does not fit in the economy of God either. When we simmer anger, it mutates in the compartment of our hearts into bitterness. Bitterness harbours unforgiveness. When we simmer concern, it mutates in our hearts into worry. When we simmer guilt, it mutates into self-pity. When we simmer hurt, it mutates into revenge. The list is endless. Anger, concern, guilt and hurt are in themselves beautiful emotions that every human being undergoes.  You’re probably hearing that for the first time. Emotions are beautiful but are corrupted by sin. Many who hold their feelings on the inside are victims and puppets of fear. They fear they may say something that may make them look bad. Their concern on the surface may look like they’re looking out for the welfare of the other person, but in the light of God’s truth they’re looking out after their self-image. They can’t stand the fact that they won’t be likeable after they express themselves. That’s selfishness. Simmering albeit creating a non-hostile environment breeds self-absorption and yes, that too is in ways unseen because the heart is deceitful above all else.

So what should we do, you ask. Do we explode or do we simmer? What does God require from us?

It is important to clarify first of all that seeking God’s stance on how we express our emotions is important for one chief reason; He invented the human being. He knows how best it works. There are symptoms of human emotion that science is making discovery of everyday. To the creator, there is no novelty.  Many of you will be surprised to find the same discoveries in the Bible to men and women whose greatest technological advancement was the wheel. Let me give you an example. Paul says in Ephesians 4:26a, “Be angry but do not sin.” Paul agrees with the experts that anger withheld can have traumatizing consequences so he endorses expression of anger. But wait, Paul also agrees with the experts that say expressed anger can be dangerous when he says, “But do not sin.” Paul endorses being angry. He also endorses self-control. If Paul lived today, he would have written Ephesians 4:26a as “When angry, don’t Facebook, face God.”

Pray your emotions

That, beloved is the principle of God’s will for expressing our emotions. We are to neither vent our emotions nor simmer them; we are to pray them.

Don’t Facebook; face God

The most emotional book in the Bible is the Psalms and it shows this. In it are joys, cries, pains and exultations. All 150 chapters of the Psalms are warranted by God for one reason; they face God.  King David vehemently cries out to God to destroy his enemies in several chapters in the Psalms.  He is angry! He doesn’t vent it out in the public square. Neither does he doesn’t simmer about it in silence. He prays them. When the wicked are succeeding in Psalm 73, Asaph does not write angry tweets of how unfair life is. At the same time, he doesn’t ignore what he feels and say none of his business. No, he prays his emotions. He takes the situation to God. Every overwhelming emotion a believer has should be channeled to God. Remember, I said channeled TO God and not channeled AT God. When you angrily blame God for the death of a loved one, that is channeling AT God and it is not only improper but myopic of God’s will. When we pray our emotions, we go through a cycle of adoring, confessing, thanking and interceding because of how we feel and it heals us. It takes the burden from our hearts into the able arms of God.

How do we adore, confess, thank and intercede using our emotions? Read on, beloved.

For example, when you see the beauty of creation and it takes your breath away, you use your awed emotion to adore the creator of planet earth and it pleases Him. When you feel guilty of something wrong you’ve done, you go before God and confess your mistake and ask him to give you a clean spirit and he does so and it pleases Him. When you score an A in your test, you channel that joy by thanking God for your opportunities and resources at school and he perceives your gratefulness and it pleases Him. When you see injustice in society and it makes you angry, you channel that anger to God and you pray for divine intervention in that area of injustice and it pleases Him. How does it please Him? It pleases Him because God responds to your prayer and that of many believers and heals the injustice through his powerful ways. Your prayer heals the hurting.

What happens when we don’t channel our emotions to God? I’ll tell you what happens.

Emotions gone bad

You see that sunset another time and you get used to it. You become indifferent and unaware of his majesty and beautiful creation even after seeing it lots of times. That’s how vices such as environmental degradation take over. Forests are cut to make money because the populace did not channel their awe of its beauty to God. They got used to it and didn’t see a problem when it was destroyed. When you feel that guilt and fail to channel it to God, you become self absorbed and develop self-pity and begin to think thoughts like: “Everyone is against me,” “I’m no good,” “God hates me.”. You become conscious of every mistake you make because the guilt ate you and become hostile by always saying stuff like, “Don’t judge me!” Beloved, God will judge you at the end of it all and the root cause is channeling your emotion to anywhere else apart from God. When you score that A and fail to channel your emotional joy to God through thanksgiving, you become proud and think highly of yourself because of what you accomplished. All it takes is scoring a C or a B and your tower of As falls to the ground. But when your joy is channeled to God through thanksgiving, you remember that you are but dust and that God is the big guy behind all your achievements. Even if you score a D, you are comfortable because you know you rest within the parameters of God’s power despite the test outcome. When you see injustice and angrily write a status update about it or tweet it, you not only do nothing about it but you deny the people the power of God to intervene spiritually. Emotion not channeled to God is wasted emotion; pray your emotions.

And when we pray our emotions, we allow ourselves to function as God desires. We cry, we laugh, we write what we feel and we become vulnerable. Praying our emotions brings healing and satisfaction beyond venting and simmering.

The book of Psalms has several instances where writers like King David are fed up and angry, pleased and excited, guilty and overcome. Many believers think that to be a Christian means not to express yourself at all so that you can be seen as a saint. God differs. Others believe that it means shouting at rooftops against evils. Nay! Pray your emotions. The next time you see hungry children in Africa dying, lend a helping hand through donation. If you are not able to help actively, don’t just tweet an empathetic update, pray about it. Every human being constantly deals with emotions. There is hardly a minute that passes by when an emotion in you is not active. If our emotions are working 24/7, then it means we need to pray them 24/7. In doing so we may just fulfill God’s command in 1st Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing.”

All emotions are beautiful but corrupted by our sinful nature and refusal to channel them to God. Joy turns into pride. Guilt turns into self pity. Hurt turns into revenge. Anger turns into bitterness. Admiration turns into lust. Concern turns into worry. Uncertainty turns into fear and anxiety.

God calls us as Christians, true followers of Jesus to follow him without fear, without holding onto bitterness and unforgiveness, without pride and self pity and so many other vices that develop from corrupted emotions. And whenever they raise their ugly heads, don’t vent them, don’t simmer them, pray them.