Emotions don’t have a morality. They are not good or bad, right or wrong. There is a proper time, place, and purpose for every emotion. For example:
- Anger clarifies what’s important to us, leading us to fight for what’s right and just.
- Fear keeps us vigilant and focused in times of crisis.
- Sadness allows us to grieve our losses.
Unfortunately, because of our unique personalities, we can get stuck in one of these emotions. In times of stress or unhealth, some of us will burn with anger, be paralyzed in fear, or sit in a pit of sorrow. (My personality gets depressed in times of stress, and yours might be different.)
Yet there is one practice that psychologists, therapists, and even theologians prescribe to help us overcome these unwanted emotions: thankfulness. Giving thanks has a way of breaking us free from being stuck in our feelings.
Why is that?
Well, it is almost impossible to be consumed by anger and thankful at the same time.
It’s almost impossible to be filled with fear and thankful at the same time.
It’s almost impossible to be down in the dumps and thankful at the same time.
Now if you are struggling in this practice, here are two insights from the book of Psalms (the Bible’s prayer book):
- Keep praying until your pain turns to praise. You will notice a pattern if you read the psalms from beginning to end. The writers seem disillusioned with God, especially in the beginning, wondering why he isn’t bringing justice, peace, and comfort. But as you keep reading, those feelings seem to fade, and the prayers begin to turn to praise. It’s as if the editor says, “Just keep walking with God, and eventually you will see that you can trust him. Bring all your emotions to God; one day, you will see that it all had a purpose in God’s plan.”
- Redirect your attention to the work of God. When we are stuck in anger, fear, or sadness, we can’t seem to see anything else. The anguish keeps us focused on ourselves and our problems. And whatever we focus on gets bigger. But the psalmists continue to redirect our focus on God’s great acts of salvation. Psalm 103 is just one example of how the writer takes our gaze off ourselves and back on the works of God:
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (verses 2-5)
As New Testament Christians, we can be even more specific about the great works of God. We can thank him for forgiving our sins in Jesus, redeeming our life from the pit of hell through Jesus, and satisfying us with the hope of eternal life in Jesus.
So here is my challenge to you, because we can all get stuck in our emotions: offer a prayer of thanksgiving each day. Thank God for the beauty of his good world. Thank God for the tasty meals he places before you. Thank God for covering you in his forgiving love. Thank God for his promise of using all things for a purpose. And if the emotional pain is so intense in this moment, keep praying until it eventually turns to praise.