The other week, a friend had a question for me—one that I just don’t hear very often anymore as a thirtysomething single woman.
Is it okay, he asked, if I give a friend of mine your phone number?
Immediately, two things happened. First, I felt a fledgling hope begin to rise in my heart. A moment later, I smashed the tiny fledgling down, unwilling to allow myself to discover where its flight might lead.
Emotions scare me when they’re big and full of desire. And fledgling hopes are indicative of buried—but raging, all the same—desires, covered over somewhere deep down inside me.
Historically speaking, I have not dealt well with strong desires.
On the one hand: I tend to get lost in emotions like these, especially when hopes have gone unfulfilled for so long that I’m tempted to feel forgotten, ignored—maybe even by Jesus. I get dragged down into myself, and I lose sight of God and life and other people. Truth begins to feel blurry. I end up skulking around in corners feeling sorry for myself. It’s ugly.
But on the other hand: My default method of counteracting such ugly fallout from my rampaging heart is to stash my feelings and desires away, to bury them so that I don’t have to feel them or deal with them. I’m not terribly sorry for myself, then, and I am able to serve others. But joy is elusive and I feel shriveled up inside. It’s as though I know I’m being disloyal to my deepest self but don’t want to admit it. I want to put a good face on it, convince myself and everyone else that the things that matter so much don’t really matter much at all.
I veer most often toward the second response. It is all too easy for my “It is well” to become, “Oh well, so be it.”
This phenomenon is not unique to me. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, laughed in the face of a promise because hope felt so absurd. She had a promise of something tangible that she would receive within a year—a son—and she still laughed. I have no such promise. How much more understandable is it, then, that I might also have a tendency to utter a cynical chuckle rather than to lay my heart bare to what I am certain will only be disappointment? This is prime soil for bitterness to take root and grow.
I’ve come to understand that neither response is godly. To allow my emotions free rein, to spew them out unchecked, this has only resulted in misery for myself and others. And to hold them in, to protect myself from pain by squelching hope? This is, at best, an attempt at control through the power of self. It limits pain, but it also limits Christ-likeness.
What if both reactions are symptoms of the same problem—a lack of Spirit control? If this is the case, I need to learn to bring my emotions and desires under the control of the Spirit, rather than the control of how-I-feel or how-I-don’t-want-to-feel.
Is it a skill to practice, and are there steps to follow? Or is it a Person to know? Where is the better way? I think of Jesus, in the garden, watching and waiting and praying alone, on the night before his deepest agony. He poured out his heart of hearts to the Father.
“If it be possible…”
He knew the way that lay ahead of him. He saw it all: the betrayal, the piercing crown, the mockery and the shame, the Cross. He saw the aloneness, the absolute abandonment, that he would experience as the Father turned his back, forsaking him. God forsaking God. The Divine inviting absolute condemnation upon himself, the sins of the world descending on his shoulders—a heavy, heavy weight—breaking the uninterrupted intimacy he had experienced with the Father from eternity past. He knew that before it was all over, he himself would ask, Why?
Troubled and sorrowful, he cast himself face-down in his anguish.
“Let this cup pass…”
He knew the earth would open up its depths. The earth, which had been created through his own Word, would shudder to its very core, heaving and shaking in utmost confusion. The silent stones which owed him praise would shift and shatter at the unspeakable—God, dead. The sun, whose light he had spoken into existence, would cease to shine, and a darkness would drop over the earth—a fitting shroud—as the creation mourned the death of its Creator.
“My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it…”
He knew that he would drink the cup, yet he embraced the pain of asking for what he knew he would not receive—another way. There was no dissimulation with Jesus, no white-knuckling, no stiff upper lip, no making the best of a bad situation. No “Oh well, so be it.” As the most fully human man who has ever existed, he must have experienced a profound depth of emotion. And he was not afraid of his emotions; he didn’t hide or stash them anywhere. He felt them. Because he knew that his emotions, felt rightly, must lead him to his Father.
“Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
He knew that the cup would pass as he obediently drank it, that the joy outweighed the pain—and he saw more. He saw the veil, rent in two from top to bottom, opening wide the Holy of Holies. He saw Death lose its sting, the Grave its victory. He saw—lying face-down on the ground of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood—the empty tomb, Resurrection Day morning. He saw himself receiving the Name that is above every name, a place at the right hand of the throne of God the Father, and his right hand gaining for himself the victory. He saw a marriage supper, his Bride all adorned in fine linen, bright and pure, and he saw the consummation of their marriage—sin and idolatry vanquished forever, complete intimacy realized, a cause for celestial celebration.
His is the way to follow, the Spirit-controlled way. Surely God is pleased with a pain-ridden expression of emotion that leads us straight to him. Surely he longs to give us glimpses of the glory beyond the suffering. Surely he already has. He has promised that we are fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17).
But it’s hard, and I’m weak. So I beg my Father for the grace and courage to honestly and transparently offer him each aching and yearning part of my heart, each fledgling hope that I’m so reluctant to feel. And I trust that as I offer up my desires, he will teach me to see and know so much more—the Source of their ultimate fulfillment, Himself.
If you know someone who is struggling with the emotions connected to a longing unfulfilled, will you email them this post to encourage them?