I talk to myself a lot, or rather, preach to myself as the ever-helpful Martin Lloyd-Jones reminds us to do. Recently the preacher in my head has been clearly and loudly reminding me: You don’t have to bow to your feelings.

I tend towards being a sponge – soaking in and filling up with the emotions of others and owning them – even though they are not mine to own. I’ve begun to see that as I fill up on anxieties or frustration, all I can do as a sponge is wring it back out all over whomever squeezes me at the wrong moment.

Thankfully, God is not like this with us – taking on our emotions, being changed by them, and dripping all over us in kind. Yes, He weeps with those who weep and clearly and vividly displays emotion! Yet, He is not controlled by emotions. His response to the sin and brokenness of this world is always perfect, right, and true.

My emotions have a place, and rightly so, as God made us to be feeling creatures, but my emotions shouldn’t have the final say about what is true in a situation. God, in his severe mercy, has given me a number of opportunities to practice this lately. As the waves keep crashing, I keep grabbing the opportunities, though sometimes not very well, to sink into the truth.

1 Peter 5:7 reminds us to cast all our anxieties on Jesus because he cares for us. I imagine wringing out my emotion onto Jesus, knowing He can handle it, and then asking Him to fill me with the truth, bowing in submission to that truth, not bowing to my ever-changing emotion. 

I’ve gotten to know Naomi lately, reading through the book of Ruth. She displays this steadfastness of emotion as we see her at the beginning of Ruth talking to her daughters-in-law, following the loss of her husband and sons. She puts herself aside for a moment and tells them they should return to their homes in Moab, and not come to Bethlehem with her. If they come with her, they have no prospect of a husband or a future. She displays unconditional love to them in the midst of her own anguish and pain! In his book, A Loving Life, Paul Miller says this about Naomi as we see her in the opening scene of Ruth:

“Naomi neither suppresses her feelings nor is trapped by them. She didn’t have to act on her feelings. She felt anguish, yet she was free from the tyranny of her feelings…if we follow (our feelings) we become trapped by them.”[1]

There is something liberating about not being trapped in our feelings; being able to feel, lament and love deeply – yes! – but not having to act on every emotion that rears its head up. Naomi wants to change her name to “bitter” because of all she has endured. As we listen to her through the story, we hear that her trust in God is deep. She knows that He is sovereign; in fact, her pain, just like Job’s, is all the deeper because of her trust and hope in the sovereignty of God. In Naomi’s bitterness, and probably sinful accusation against God, Miller goes on to say, that although “her feelings were all over the place…she put one foot in front of the other as she returned.” [2]

God continues His steadfast love to Naomi (and Ruth and Boaz!) as He brings beautiful and lasting redemption by the end of the book of Ruth. His power and goodness are threaded throughout the entire story. While the book begins with Naomi empty and bitter, it ends with her full.

In a recent car drive alone, the barbarians of my emotions were roaming the streets of my mind as I dealt with feelings of anger and fear because of a painful and gut-wrenching conversation with a friend, being spoken to harshly by a leader in my church, and attempting to deal with the ever changing emotions of my tween daughter – while lovingly leading them all. Satan was baiting me to bow to my emotions stirred up with the circumstances of the week and I was struggling to soak in the promises of God and sing the truth louder than the lies when I was gently reminded by the Spirit, via the song Living Hope by Phil Wickim, that Jesus HAS broken every chain – even the chains are emotions and lies!

The King has delivered me from the tyranny of myself! I am not held hostage by emotions, my past, or my sin. The Lord has delivered me from myself and the Lord IS delivering me from myself and the tyranny of my emotions and false narratives they can create. As I submit my emotions to Him, I am led into sweet moments of worship. I lift my eyes up, as the psalmist in Psalm 121 reminds me, to Him from whom my help comes. 

As I soak in the Word of God and the character of God, I am a sponge filled by Him to then be squeezed out with patience, joy, hope, and love. The Word of God comes dripping out of my mouth instead of unchecked tyranical emotions from my deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:10). 

And the drumbeat of the preacher in my mind continues on, reminding me: you can lament without having to bow in submission to your emotions because your King has delivered you from their grip. Hallelujah!

[1] Miller, Paul. A Loving Life, p.33.

[2] Miller, p. 51.

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