This post is adapted from Finding Hope: From Brokenness to Restoration by Heidi Goehmann.
We call emotions “feelings” because we can “feel” them moving around inside our bodies and our inward being—our hearts, our souls, our perceptions. Research shows the higher the granularity and differentiation we have for our emotions, the more likely we are to be able to experience those emotions in health.
Granularity is our ability to give words to our emotions, the process of bringing them to light. Giving our emotions names and a voice helps us connect heart to mind and ignite our will, given to us by God, to regulate our emotions. The closer we can get to naming and describing an emotion in detail, the more likely we are to regulate it in line with our values and beliefs.
Differentiation, on the other hand, is the process of recognizing and distinguishing our own emotions from someone else’s. Because relationships are important, even vital, this can be difficult work. We can mistake loving someone with holding their emotions for them. We pick up the anxiety someone is expressing or not expressing in a conversation. We feed off the joy they are experiencing or the discontent they are wrestling with. Some of this contagion sounds just lovely, but it’s better for our emotional and spiritual health to be honest and authentic, sharing our emotions with one another in the open, rather than misunderstanding mine for yours and yours for mine.
Connecting and Empathizing with Others
God did design emotions to connect us to other human beings. Feeling someone else’s emotions, while distinguishing them from our own experience, is what we call empathy. Empathy is an awesome and healthy form of emotional sharing. Scripture reminds us to suffer and rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:26). This healthy sharing in the form of empathy binds, knits, and heals broken hearts and broken lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When I returned to therapy this year with only a sense of sadness, a fair amount of anger, and a knotted ball of unanswered questions and unstated struggle in my stomach, my therapist helped me unravel the ball by giving me a safe place to say my fears out loud and assisted me in naming my overflowing emotions. She helped me define and name the emotions within my experience. She provided the warmth of empathy to do this work. In this work, I could more clearly see the stability of Jesus in the instability of my emotions. That stability translated to my heart and mind as hope.
God Knows Your Emotions
We are always invited to lay before Christ the chaos inside of us and all around us. Brokenness may press in, but God remains closer within us. In Christ, we never have to reflect on our joy or our heartbreak alone. Naming an emotion brings light to subjects that can feel confusing, dark, or overwhelming. The light of Christ will always bring hope into brokenness. Psalm 139:1–3 assures us:
O LORD, You have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
He knows all of us, including our emotions, and still wants to know us more. He is with us as we discern all the messy processes inside of us. Psalm 139 concludes by acknowledging the uncomfortable emotions we experience because we see brokenness in us and around us:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (vv. 23–24, NIV)
This is hope: God offers redemption to our whole selves in Jesus Christ. Jesus brings us salvation but also transforms the shape of everything in our lives—our emotions included. God sees every shout of excitement and every moment of brooding, every peal of laughter and every valley of broken hopelessness. Our gentle Savior is with us no matter what we feel. When we confess God’s promises alongside our broken reality, He brings light to every subject. Our emotions are touched by brokenness, but they are transformed by Hope.
Post adapted from Finding Hope: From Brokenness to Restoration, copyright © 2021 Heidi Goehmann. Published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
To read more about how you can restore your brokenness with the help of God, order Heidi's book Finding Hope below.