Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part [of my heart] You will make me know wisdom.
Psalm 51:6 AMP
God wants to have a relationship with us that involves our “innermost being.”
However, that can only happen when we give him access to the “hidden parts” of our hearts, which is where our deepest emotions live. There are a lot of reasons we would want to suppress our feelings and keep these parts of ourselves hidden, but by doing that we make ourselves emotionally unavailable to God, our family, and our friends.
As a kid, I remember my father receiving a phone call telling him that his mother had congestive heart failure and was in the hospital without long to live. He didn’t talk about how he felt; he just did what he needed to do. We packed up and started driving from Michigan to Indiana. We never talked about how he felt, what he would miss about her, his good memories, or any key moments in his relationship with his mother. In fact, I never saw him cry until my mother, his high school sweetheart, was taken by cancer years later.
My dad had his reasons for suppressing his emotions. He grew up in rural Indiana at the end of the Great Depression. He had been taught to suppress his feelings because they were not productive or helpful for survival. I learned a lot of great things from my dad, but I also followed his example of suppressing difficult emotions. I saw expressing emotions as a sign of weakness (and watching Clint Eastwood with my dad in every Dirty Harry movie and Spaghetti Western did not do much to expand our emotional range).
As my life has grown and my relationships have developed, I now see that the suppression of my feelings and my lack of emotional availability have been some of the greatest limiting factors in my life. I am grateful that God will never stop leading us to have a rich and satisfying life (John 10:10), which includes having a rich and satisfying emotional connection with him and other people.
Here are three things I am currently tackling to increase my emotional availability: developing a deep trust in God, letting feeling lead to healing, and unlocking my emotions in prayer.
Develop a deep trust in God
God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him. When I got my act together, he gave me a fresh start. Now I’m alert to God’s ways; I don’t take God for granted. Every day I review the ways he works; I try not to miss a trick. I feel put back together, and I’m watching my step. God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.
Psalm 18:20-24 MSG
In any relationship, trust is essential to opening up and being vulnerable about the deepest parts of our lives. Developing a deep trust in God starts with having a healthy view of him. As Russ Ewell, editor in chief of Deep Spirituality, explains in his book, we won’t want to place all the pieces of our hearts before God if we don’t believe he cares about us:
When we approach God, the Bible, or prayer with negative assumptions about who God is or what he might do, we have an unhealthy view … Our relationship with God has become distant if we consider him to be hard, and we won’t want to share our feelings and emotions with him.
Russ Ewell, He’s Not Who You Think He Is: Dropping Your Assumptions and Discovering God for Yourself (p. 25).
I find that it’s relatively easy to believe God is loving when things are going well in my life. The big test is experiencing seasons of pain, disappointment, and loss. These times have led me to doubt God’s love and wonder whether he is protecting me or hurting me.
God cares for us. He doesn’t seek to hurt us. But at the same time, he does not exempt us from Satan’s attacks or the natural events of life. What he does is help us so that we don’t harden ourselves to the pain. This would turn off our hearts. He helps us feel rather than let us harden. Feeling is essential if we are to experience life at its fullest.
Russ Ewell, He’s Not Who You Think He Is: Dropping Your Assumptions and Discovering God for Yourself (pp. 28-29).
The hidden side of me wants to avoid these feelings of doubt about God because I think I shouldn’t have them. I just want to pick myself up, do what is right, and behave in an appropriate way. However, those feelings don’t go away just because I ignore them. Left unaddressed, they usually turn into negativity, cynicism, and eventually bitterness.
Underneath these feelings of doubt, I usually feel hurt, angry, betrayed, guilty, and confused. God wants to hear all of these emotions; he doesn’t want me to harden to any of them. He knows that if my heart is an open book to him, he can use all of my emotions to draw me closer to him and help me develop a richer and fuller heart.
Opening up my heart to God requires me to be intentional when I spend time with him. I need to first identify my emotions, sins, and hurts, then express them to God, and finally get his help to process them with the Scriptures. This means letting the Bible tell me the truth about the things I feel rather than believing and living by my emotions.
In my experience, God will often make a spouse, roommate, or friend available to help us navigate this process. Just the other day, I skipped all this spiritual work and avoided the difficult emotions I felt. I went on with my day after a superficial prayer where I was “thankful” and did what I knew was behaviorally right as a Christian. Later in the day, after being edgy, irritated, and having no room or patience for anyone else, my wife asked what was wrong. “I’m fine!” I snapped. But clearly that wasn’t true. I had hardened my heart with God and was emotionally unavailable for my other relationships all day. The suppressed emotion came out, as it always does, and made someone else pay for my lack of vulnerability with God. Thankfully, my wife was there to help me recognize what was happening and direct me back to God.
Having a healthy view of God is the first step to making myself available for others. When I have a healthier, more accurate view of God as a parent who takes care of me, I am much more likely to allow myself to be vulnerable and trust him completely:
LORD, I don’t feel proud. I don’t see myself as better than others. I am not thinking about doing great things or reaching impossible goals. No, right now I am calm and quiet, like a child after nursing, content in its mother’s arms. Israel, trust in the LORD. Trust in him now and forever!
Psalm 131:1-3 ERV
There is possibly no one more vulnerable and emotionally available than a child. A child who is safe in the arms of a loving parent can relax, fully content to rely on this parent to protect and care for them. This is the kind of full, wholehearted trust we can have with God when we view him as a loving parent who will protect and care for us.
Pause and reflect:
Before we move on, take time to answer these questions:
- Do I have a healthy view of God?
- Has pain, disappointment, or loss changed my view of God?
- Do I usually choose to harden or to feel? Why? How has that decision affected my relationships?
- How can I be intentional in my relationship with God to identify, express, and then process my emotions with the Scriptures?
Let feeling lead to healing
For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes- so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.
Matthew 13:15 NLT
God wants to heal the pain in our lives, but when we harden our hearts as this verse describes, we are unable to experience that healing.
Pink Floyd had a song in the late ‘70s called “Comfortably Numb.” The title is a perfect explanation of why we choose to harden our hearts when we don’t want to feel emotional pain any longer. It’s usually more comfortable in the short term, but it always leads to more trouble later (Proverbs 28:14).
Author and therapist Kay Gackle describes the dangers of hardening our hearts in her book, Numb:
We get to a dangerous place where ‘numb’ is our new normal. It starts to feel good not to feel. We think, ‘It’s fine. At least I’m not consumed anymore or at least I am not upset. I am doing what I need to do. I am fine.’ The problem with not feeling the hard emotions (anger, sadness), is that we also are unable to feel the good emotions (joy, excitement). Our spectrum of feeling becomes significantly smaller. The feelings of deep sadness might be gone, but so are the feelings of deep joy.
Kay Gackle, Numb: Find Healing In Feeling(p. 3).
We can better understand what Gackle is saying by thinking about the experience of numbing a physical part of our body during a medical or dental procedure. Numbness will take away the pain, but it also dulls our other sensations. As Gackle explains, when we numb ourselves emotionally, we also lose our ability to feel good and positive emotions and limit our ability to love, care, be grateful for, and connect with God and people at a deep level.
We need to learn a different way to deal with pain besides numbing it. King David, a key figure in the Bible who was known for his intimate relationship with God, gives us an idea of how to do this. In the following psalm, he describes feeling overwhelmed and numb all over, and he asks God to teach him a new way to deal with the pain in his life:
My enemies are chasing me, crushing me in the ground. I am in total darkness, like someone long dead. I have given up all hope, and I feel numb all over. I remember to think about the many things you did in years gone by. Then I lift my hands in prayer, because my soul is a desert, thirsty for water from you. Please hurry, LORD, and answer my prayer. I feel hopeless. Don’t turn away and leave me here to die. Each morning let me learn more about your love because I trust you. I come to you in prayer, asking for your guidance.
Psalm 143:3-8 CEV
David allowed his strong emotions to turn him to God in prayer. He used what he was going through to learn more about God’s love. He asked God to guide him through his desperation.
While these types of open prayers are difficult for me, they are also necessary to experiencing God’s love and in turn having the capacity to love others. Numbing to pain limits my capacity to care and connect, but turning to God and asking him to use my pain increases my capacity to be loved and love others.
Without going through this process with God, I find that not only am I numb to my own emotions, but I am also overwhelmed by other people’s emotions.
We have been very open in speaking to you Corinthians. We have a place for you in our hearts. We haven’t cut you off. Your own emotions have cut you off from us. I’m talking to you as I would talk to children. Treat us the same way we’ve treated you. Make a place for us in your hearts too.
2 Corinthians 6:11-13 GW
Unprocessed emotions leave us emotionally unavailable and lead us to cut people off relationally because we can’t handle our own much less their emotions. There is no room in our hearts to feel for or care about what others are feeling. God has a way for us to make room in our hearts for him and other people. The key is prayer, which we will discuss in more detail in the next section of this devotional.
Pause and reflect:
- In what areas of my life do I prefer to be “comfortably numb”?
- How do my decisions to be numb affect my relationships with God and other people?
- How can I change my prayer life to see more of God’s love and have him increase my capacity to care for others?
Unlock my emotions in prayer
Also, the Spirit helps us. We are very weak, but the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit himself speaks to God for us. He begs God for us, speaking to him with feelings too deep for words. God already knows our deepest thoughts. And he understands what the Spirit is saying, because the Spirit speaks for his people in the way that agrees with what God wants.
Romans 8:26-27 ERV
Sometimes I don’t know how to pray about what I feel. I am so unaware and overwhelmed that I need help praying. That is when God steps in and helps. This passage says that prayer is first and foremost a spiritual exercise that requires a spiritual connection. When we are in a right relationship with God, he puts his Spirit inside of us (Acts 2:38). This is how he knows our deepest thoughts and emotions. If we allow it, that Spirit will communicate with God the internal things we are not able to articulate and express. It is the most intimate form of communication and connection possible. When we let the Holy Spirit work, he will unlock our hearts so that we find the healing and encouragement only God can provide.
Lord God, unlock my heart, unlock my lips, and I will overcome with my joyous praise!
Psalm 51:15 TPT
It’s encouraging that God will help me unlock my heart when I don’t know how to express my feelings—but what about the times when I do know what I feel and simply don’t want to talk about it?
This usually happens when I think I don’t have the time or the energy to deal with my emotions because I view them as disruptive and unproductive. What helps in these times is to let God change the way we think (Romans 12:2). Dr. Marc Brackett, the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, puts it this way in his book:
Our lives are saturated with emotions- sadness, disappointment, anxiety, irritation, enthusiasm, and even tranquility. Sometimes- often – those feelings are inconvenient. They get in the way of our busy lives, at least that’s what we tell ourselves. So we do our best to ignore them…We all believe that our feelings are important and deserve to be addressed respectfully and fully. But we also think of emotions as being disruptive and unproductive – at work, at home, and everywhere else…Our feelings slow us down and get in the way of achieving our goals…The irony, though, is that when we ignore our feelings, or suppress them, they only become stronger. The really powerful emotions build up inside us, like a dark force that inevitably poisons everything we do, whether we like it or not. Hurt feelings don’t vanish on their own. They don’t heal themselves. If we don’t express our emotions, they pile up like a debt that will eventually come due.
Marc Brackett, PhD. Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Our Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive
Making time to unlock our emotions through prayer is the most important decision we can make for the health of our hearts and our relationships. Prayers prayed with the Holy Spirit are able to unlock our hearts and emotions, giving us a spiritual connection with God that we cannot form any other way.
Pause and reflect:
- Am I making the time to pray so God can help me unlock my emotions and my heart?
- How can I change my prayers so God’s Spirit can help me establish a connection with God that is stronger than any other relationship I have?
God wants to have a relationship with each of us that is close, emotional, and intimate. We often block that relationship by making ourselves emotionally unavailable and suppressing our emotions. This limits us in our lives and diminishes the fullness we can experience in our relationships. We can tackle these challenges by developing a deep trust in God, letting our feelings lead to healing, and unlocking our hearts in prayer.