Today’s guest post is from Lisa Gray, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Her blog, titled Crazy Faith Crossroad, intrigued me, and I invited her to share a guest post. I think you’ll really enjoy it!
Nobody really likes negative emotion – wouldn’t life be great if we could just get rid of all that negative emotion and have only positive feelings? If you saw the movie Inside Out, you’ll already be introduced to the concept that negative emotions can be downright useful. As it turns out we might need negative emotions to make life work correctly.
Many of my clients come to me for help with getting rid of a negative emotion. The truth is that most of them have already tried a whole boatload of things to get rid of the emotion, and none of them have worked! A person seeking help in getting rid of anxiety may have stopped driving over bridges; then stopped driving on the freeway; then stopped driving more than a couple of miles and now isn’t leaving the house! Their life has narrowed, narrowed and narrowed further and yet – anxiety. Trying to get rid of emotion isn’t where healing begins.
Christ-followers, too, sometimes get the impression that we should avoid negative emotion. I don’t see bitterness, anger and depression on the list of the Fruits of the Spirit! Galatians 5:22 tells us “… the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. Whether we are given this message directly or not, the goal seems to be to strive towards these “good” things and steer away from the “bad” things.
But what if “bad” feelings propel or steer us toward the “good”? If someone tramples across my boundaries and my values, anger usually results. If this anger is used to clearly express my displeasure towards the person, we might actually have an honest conversation. During this conversation, this person might come to be sorry for what they’ve done and request my forgiveness – and then we have peace, kindness and maybe joy.
Of course this conversation doesn’t always go this way, right? But what if it could? If I wasn’t caught up in my anger and if I didn’t behave badly, perhaps there is more of a likelihood that it would end in a positive manner. If I learn to see my anger as a clue, or warning light – if begin to view it as a chance to deepen my relationship with this person, perhaps then we’d come to experience more of the Fruit of the Spirit even as a result of my having become angry.
For most of my life I have tended toward depression. I can say looking back that almost every time I have been depressed, something good has ultimately come out of that healing process. Last time I was depressed, it was due to loneliness and not enough friendship in my life. I learned that instead of longing for that one deep friendship, I could instead accept the many acquaintances I did have, and look for opportunities to deepen these relationships.
Two years later, I do have a couple of deep friendships in my life – my depression was a chance to explore an area of my life that was an opportunity for correction and growth. There’s a point at which depression (and all “negative” feelings) can go too far and really become not useful. This usually takes place in our thought life. I often have to wallow and feel sorry for myself for a bit before I get down to investigating what my depression is really trying to tell me.
Now, as a caveat, not all “bad” emotions present themselves as opportunities for healing. A young girl violated by incest may be filled with shame, and I would never say that shame is there to propel something positive in her life. This world is full of violence and pain that is sin-birthed and just plain wrong.
My point is, once you have a “bad” or “negative” emotion, you’re going to do something with it. You can avoid it (because it’s “bad”); wallow in it and be a victim (which you may have every right to do); act out because of it (again, understandable sometimes); or you could ask yourself how this emotion could move you towards healing, towards more Fruit of the Spirit. We’ve all seen cases of people forgiving those who have hurt them and been amazed at the life change this brings. I don’t always comprehend how this can be done, but I’d sure like to become a person like that.
I think finding the up side of down begins with examining the emotions that you like to avoid, or ones you are ashamed of having. Maybe people disappoint you, but you don’t say so, because you don’t think you should feel disappointed. Maybe you are consumed with guilt over things but you like to pretend that everything is okay. This is like holding a beach ball underwater – you may be able to avoid or pretend for a while, but ultimately that ball is coming out of the water with a big enough wave!
What if the next time a negative emotion presents itself, you made friends with this feeling? What if you questioned and soul searched what it is trying to tell you about yourself and others and then worked toward an end result that finds you exploring and experiencing the up side of down?
Exercise: Read the following poem. Determine what “negative” emotion you would like to start inviting in to your “house” – think about what that emotion might be able to teach you or how that emotion might be able to deepen your relationships.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,
About Today’s Guest Blogger, Lisa Gray
“I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I’m also a Care Ministry Pastor at my local church. These two things often conflict. If we have such great faith, why do we need counseling? If we get counseling, does that mean we aren’t faith filled? These are the questions that break my heart. My quest is to educate Christians and pastors about why counseling and mental health healing is a crucial need in today’s Church.”