Emotions are an important part of being human. The question is how should you understand the emotions and handle them appropriately? You don’t want to play on the emotions or downplay the emotions. You don’t want to make the emotions all-important, but you don’t want to make them unimportant either. So, how do you legitimize your emotions without being emotionally led? How do you live an emotionally healthy life? In Psalm 13, David models two critical aspects of emotional health: emotional honesty and emotional stability.
Honesty and stability
There are some people who think, “If I’m going to be emotionally healthy, then I’ve got to be honest with my emotions, but if I’m honest with how I’m feeling, then I can’t be stable.” While there are other people who think, “To be emotionally healthy I’ve got to be stable, but if I’m trying to be stable then I cant be honest with how I’m feeling.” But David shows how to have both honesty and stability and why people need both to live an emotionally healthy life.
The new hit movie “Inside Out” is a fun discovery of being emotionally honest. The movie follows Riley, an 11-year-old girl who is trying to cope with moving from her hometown. During the movie you’re taken into Riley’s head (her emotional control center), and her different emotions are personified as different characters named Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Joy. It shows how Joy is so busy trying to keep things happy and upbeat for Riley and trying to keep Sadness away from the controls, that both Sadness and Joy are lost in long-term memory land. Yet, what joy realizes by reviewing some of Riley’s happy memories, was that it was through the times of Riley expressing her sadness that her family and friends were there for her which led to joy. So, Joy realizes that to help Riley, somehow she needs to get Sadness back into the control center. In other words, the only way for Riley to be healed is for Riley to be honest with how she’s really feeling. It’s only through emotional honesty that Riley can be emotionally healthy.
In the first half of Psalm 13, you see David doing the same thing. David feels forsaken and abandoned by God, but instead of denying his emotions and pretending that everything is fine, he’s honest before God in prayer.
Stoicism and Christianity
David avoids the ancient error of Stoicism. The Stoics taught that the emotions were part of the lower self and that in order to successfully go through life you needed to suppress your emotions. But that is to deny an important part of who you are. Unfortunately, this error has crept into the church. The church can actually hinder people from experiencing emotional health because they can unintentionally create a community where a person can’t be emotionally honest. There needs to be an outlet for the emotions because denying the emotions either leads a person to blow up or to break down.
Now, being honest doesn’t mean being hurtful. That’s why Paul said, “Be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). There’s a difference between being abusive and manipulative with others and being honest with how you’re feeling. Just like there’s a difference between making your complaint to God, and complaining about God. Emotions aren’t intrinsically good or bad. So, they need to be processed and filtered and then brought honestly before God and others.
David is honest with his emotions, but they are not going to rule him. In the second half of the Psalm, you see David experiencing emotional stability even though his situation hasn’t changed. Because David’s heart is clinging to the steadfast love of the Lord, he’s able to rejoice and sing. David avoids both Stoicism and emotionalism. His feelings are saying one thing, the truth is saying another and he’s letting the truth win. Emotional stability is letting the truth be your highest authority, not your feelings. Because people’s emotions are tied to what their hearts trust in and are committed to, the only way to find emotional stability is to be ultimately committed to something and trust in something that is unshakeable and unchangeable. This is what David has found in the love of God, a love that finds it’s greatest demonstration in the cross of Jesus. The cross of Jesus both displays God’s love and the emotional health of Jesus.
Jesus and emotional health
There on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God my God why have you forsaken me.” There’s the honesty, but he also said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” There’s the stability. And while in the Psalm, David felt forsaken; there on the cross Jesus was forsaken. He temporarily lost the Father’s embrace so that all who believe in him could be forgiven and always have it. Christians must remember that when they’re an emotional wreck, Jesus was always emotionally intact in their place. Jesus died so that everyone who trusts in him could know that when God feels distant, he really isn’t, and when it feels like God has forsaken you, he really hasn’t. One of the great things about Christianity is that it offers you the true path to emotional health. It offers you the God of steadfast love who you can be completely honest with and find lasting stability in.
Jeremy McKeen is the lead pastor of Truth Point Church. Jeremy received his B.A. in communications and philosophy from Florida Southern College and his MDiv from Knox Theological Seminary.