What Do You Do With Negative Emotions?

Joy. Love. Delight. Content. Excited. Who doesn’t want to feel these ways? There the kinds of words you hope to be able to describe time off from work, and with loved ones. These words seem to exude health and being in a good place

Sadness. Anger. Disgust. Fear. On the other hand, these are not the words most of us hope for to describe our times of rest, recreation, or relationship. These words seemingly exude distress and disturbances.

I have a dear friend, Luke, who is incredibly creative, bright, insightful, and soulful. He’s the kind of friend with which I love to experience films, concerts, and book discussions. He was talking with another of our good friends, Walt, about fully experiencing feelings. Walt, who is intelligent, energetic, joyful, and visionary, remarked how challenging it is, at times, for him to experience negative emotions. Luke responded, “Emotions are not innately negative. Most emotions can create or come from challenging experiences.” Luke was not suggesting some emotions are not painful or unsettling. He was suggesting we do our own lived experience no favors when we try to label some of our emotions as ‘negative’ and thus see them as experiences which we try to dismiss, downplay, or distract ourselves from.

We all experience suffering, rejection, hardship, failure, and loss, but they are still valuable as life experiences. They make up a more complete and authentic response to our world. When we try to numb ourselves to their reality we not only decrease our ability to experience sorrow, but also joy. When we try to divert our focus from unsettledness, then it also becomes harder to see deep meaning in our lives.

The biblical account of Lamentations makes room for the full experience of life. It does not dismiss some feelings as inappropriate to acknowledge to oneself, others, or the One Who Is Holy Other. These poems and songs of grief invite our whole selves to the table. They do not first attempt to analyze, scrutinize or cast judgment on what is experienced. They are an honest articulation of lived experience. Pleas for vengeance intermingle with pleas for mercy.

What would it look like if we could be so transparent and fully aware of our experiences with ourselves, our trusted community, and with God?