The psalmist laments: “My heart is blighted and withered like grass … In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. … All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse” (Psalm 102: 4-5, 8). Lamentations bemoans the destruction of Jerusalem: “See, O Lord, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed… People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me” (1:20-21).
We hear our Lord and Savior cry out in agony with his final words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), quoting from Psalm 22:1, which continues, “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”
We don’t like negative emotions, and we often try to avoid them. From things like distracting ourselves or not saying difficult things because it makes us uncomfortable, to big things like lifelong addictions or a series of bad relationships, we expend a lot energy avoiding negative emotions. We would much rather experience positive emotions like happiness, love, joy, and passion.
But did you know that we need negative emotions as much as positive ones? Negative emotions protect us by telling us something is amiss and we need to make changes. If we don’t make those changes, the reasons for those emotions can, in some cases, kill us! In fact, we experience negative emotions more than positive ones AND there are more negative emotions than positive ones. Believe it or not, this is healthy! Experiencing negative emotions allows us to more fully experience positive ones. And, positive emotions help us to cope with the negative ones. When we experience love, joy, peace, happiness, and passion, they are not only pleasant, they also help us withstand the unpleasant negative emotions.
When John says “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18), he is not only offering good spiritual advice, but good psychological advice. Love and other positive emotions (like the fruits of the spirit – joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control) allow us to cope with our negative emotions and experiences.
I am constantly amazed at how our gracious God provides us a way to cope with, withstand, and find hope in the midst of our pain, suffering, fear, anxiety, sadness, grief, loss, separation, and other feelings. We NEED to experience negative emotions (even Jesus did!); they are part of our human existence and of following Christ. They keep us safe, broaden our minds, heighten the good, and increase resilience.
We need not run from our negative emotions, but rather recognize their place and importance in our lives and in our spiritual journey. Our Lord has created a beautiful synergy of positive and negative, each spurring us on in our spiritual journey and drawing us closer to Him.