A few weeks ago I went on vacation with my family to California and we had the opportunity to visit Sequoia National Park as well as some other sights that were simply breathtaking. From all the sites we saw, I was most taken back by the Sequoia trees. The General Grant Sequoia tree (third largest in the world) was so large, it would take 20 adults holding hands to be able to surround it. Since I grew up as an East Coast boy, these trees simply fascinated me.
We happened to see a cross section of one of the fallen sequoias, which had numerous scars on it that showed it survived 9 fires in the course of its life. Apparently, fires were good for the sequoia because it cleared the land of the other trees (allowing more sunlight & rain) and the heat allowed the seeds to expand and to be released in the area. This provided optimal surroundings for the sequoias to flourish in the area. Without the fires, the trees would not have grown so large.
Life certainly has its own fires, struggles, griefs, pains, conflicts, and traumas. Some are minor inconveniences while others are real-life nightmares. All cause enough grief to know that to experience the fires means getting burned, something to avoid at all costs.
Physical pain is something we try to avoid, but if we know it is for the better, we will be willing to endure it. We’ll endure a dental filling so we can eat without further pain, surgery to repair our bodies so we can live or function better, or even endure strenuous exercise so we can look better.
Emotional pain, however, is a different story. Emotional pain cuts to the heart of who we are. To feel the emotional pain of rejection and worthlessness, or grieve losing someone so close…or to feel the emotional pain of guilt, shame, fear or loneliness…these are the parts of ourselves that we either hate to feel or fear to feel. So we avoid it. Perhaps we fear being fully exposed to others or fear that we truly are worthless. If others truly knew what went on inside of us, we believe we would die. Perhaps we are afraid of being down so low that we will never recover. Maybe we are fearful that we will lose everything or believe that to feel such feelings make us less manly (for men) or even human. These feelings are uncomfortable and we hate to feel them. So what do we do? How do we deal with them?
Everyone has their own way, but typically, we deal with our feelings by not directly dealing with them. Rather than acknowledging what we feel and addressing them based on the circumstances, we act on them. Instead of telling someone we are hurt because of what they said or did, perhaps we will take it out on others or ignore them. Rather than admit we are depressed and work on the why’s, we will eat ice cream or chocolate, drink alcohol, look at pornography, watch TV, play games, sex, listen to music, anger, etc. etc. Rather than turn to a loving and actively interested God, we turn to other things to deal with our emotional struggles, and often those things become our go-to vices, some of which are addictive.
The Psalms are excellent examples of men who felt the frustrations of this life who struggled with the difficult emotions amidst the trails of their lives. In dealing with emotions, David (and other Psalmists) wrote their anguish and struggles down and how they were able to get to the other side of the struggle emotionally. The emotions written in the Psalms were not considered only positive emotions, such as joy and contentment, but also emotions of frustration and anger, of sadness and distress (22, 1-2; 55:4-8), and of sorrow and guilt (51, 38). He was willing to talk to God about his complaints (64:1-6), to seek God when life seemed unfair (41:1-2), and even let out some anger and some unwholesome desires for God to smite those who have done evil (58:6-8). He sought the Lord crying out for mercy (51:1) and sought the Lord when crying out for a savior (69, 70).
In the Psalms, all emotions that are present are worked through, but they are dealt with in relation to God. As Christians (and an encouragement to those seeking), our emotions (positive and negative) are best dealt with in relation to God. As we read through the Psalms, we see that ultimately it wasn’t simply the expressions of the emotions to God (though that is the first step), but the promise of His character – His strength, justice, love, mercy, and patience – is what brought the Psalmists through the fires. As a result, they grew stronger in their lives and in relationship with the Lord, thus being able to “deal” with life’s fires emotionally and physically.
Like the sequoia, life’s fires have the opportunity to help us better grow as we learn how to deal with these fires in relation to God. If we were to deal with the fires without Him at the center, we may miss valuable opportunities to flourish in Him and in life…and the seeds of our life-changing witness may not take root into other’s lives. How do you deal with all of life’s fires? How do you deal with your negative emotions (sadness, anger, guilt, frustrations, shame, grief, anxiousness, distress, and sorrows)? Don’t simply avoid them, drown them, silence them, or ignore them, but process them…and remind yourself who God is…He is love. He is good. He is strong. He is just. He is faithful. He is trustworthy. He is God.