One of my favorite movies as a child was Anne of Green Gables. I sensed a deep kinship with Anne. She got lost in her thoughts and imagination. She loved reading and wanted to write. She also felt life deeply, something I know all too well. In my best moments, I feel life’s highest joys; in my worst, I plummet to depths of despair. I’m often at the mercy of my emotions—tossed from one extreme to the next, unable to reason beyond my immediate feelings. Even as a Christian, learning to feel faithfully has been a near-constant struggle.
When I was 33 weeks pregnant with my fourth child, however, I was forced to reckon with my wavering emotions in an instant. That week, my placenta partially abrupted.
If you aren’t familiar with obstetrics (as I wasn’t), this is life-threatening for both the mom and also the baby. It’s rare, unpredictable, and completely terrifying. In a matter of hours, my entire life was turned upside down.
My emotions came out in a jumbled mix of anger, terror, grief, and occasional hope. I didn’t know how to express any of this. I just wanted my baby to live. I wanted me to live. Like anyone entrapped a life-or-death medical emergency, I was bombarded with a host of emotions that came and went without a moment’s notice.
One moment I would feel hopeful. A calm evening, with no warning bells from the monitors meant we might be okay. I would finally feel peace—and then it would slip through my fingers. By the next morning, the monitors would indicate danger, and the medical team would be prepping me for an emergency delivery. Then, gratefully, the baby and I would stabilize. Back to the waiting game.
Even as a Christian, learning to feel faithfully has been a near-constant struggle.
More fear. More anxiety. More confusion. More questions. I couldn’t focus on anything of substance for more than a moment, because everything could change in a moment.
After four weeks in the hospital, I gave birth to Ben. He was okay. But I wasn’t.
My feelings only intensified when we went home. Sure, we were safe. A stranger on the street would’ve said we were one big happy family. But if you go through trauma, you don’t simply go back home to the old normal. You have to find a new one. That was the hard task before us.
What does normal look like when you now know life can be snuffed out in an instant? I was grateful, but scared. Sobered, but relieved. I was joyful, yet weepy. I was a walking paradox.
I needed to learn how to feel.
How Should a Christian Feel?
Many people—in times of crisis, though in normal life too—aren’t sure what to do with their emotions. We don’t know which emotions are godly or which are sinful, when we should express ourselves or when we should keep quiet, or how much is too much. We don’t know how a Christian should feel, so we tend to respond in one of two ways.
Some of us tend to suppress our emotions, worrying our feelings are ungodly. So we don’t tell anyone how we feel, we hardly admit it to ourselves, and we certainly won’t take it to God. We have no idea what to do with fear or anger or envy, so we ignore it, hoping the feeling just goes away.
If you go through trauma, you don’t simply go back home to the old normal. You have to find a new one.
On the other hand, many of us are more in tune with our feelings—and much better at expressing them. Yet we can be so consumed by our feelings that they dictate what we believe about God and ourselves. We are always up and down. If the wheels fall off, then our faith does too.
We need to learn how to feel Christianly. Though I hardly realized it at the time, in that month in the hospital I found a teacher. I found the Psalms.
Finding My Feelings in the Psalms
In the hospital, and in the many months after, the Psalms were my lifeline. Everything else felt meaningless. Everything else was too heavy and exhausting. In the Psalms, I felt understood in all my raw emotion. My praise and my tears were all there, verse by verse. Even when I couldn’t understand my situation, the Psalms understood me.
Even when I couldn’t understand my situation, the Psalms understood me.
When I woke each morning unsure of the day’s events—or of whether I’d even live to see tomorrow’s sunrise—Psalm 46 comforted me: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1).
When I was wheeled into an operating room, uncertain of the outcome, Psalm 23 reminded me that even in the deepest and darkest valley, my Good Shepherd is with me.
Later, on the other side of the trial, Psalm 68 gave words to my praise—only God can deliver us from death, both spiritual and physical (v. 20).
In the Psalms, I found language for my distress. But I also found language for God: seeing him for who he is, I was able to verbalize my trust. The Psalms sustained me in my darkest moments. The Psalms became as necessary to my health as the hospital-prepared tray that was delivered to me three times a day. The Psalms taught me to feel the reality of life, in all its complexities, and they brought healing in the process.
Regardless of how you see your feelings, God cares about them. Whether you are up or down today—in the valley, or simply doing another load of laundry—turn to the Psalms. Sing them. Read them. Memorize them. Meditate on them. Your emotional life will never be the same.
This article is adapted from Courtney Reissig’s new book, Teach Me to Feel: Worshiping Through the Psalms in Every Season of Life (The Good Book Company, 2020).