The Gift of Messy Emotions

We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.

~ C. S. Lewis[1]

A pastor’s wife, I’ll call Sarah, wondered why she felt so depressed. Sensing her qualms about acknowledging her negative emotions, I explained that those feelings were her friends. Reluctantly, she opened up and shared them with me.

upset-womanFor years she’d worked to stuff her growing resentment toward the church, her husband, and God. Sarah felt she had to attend every church event. She begrudged leaving her children to care for everyone else, and she was exhausted.

Together we separated her God-given tasks from her self-imposed burdens. After admitting her animosity, she was free to identify the ministry she enjoyed. When she offered her husband a plan to serve her family and the church without resentment, he was thrilled.

I doubt Sarah would have made these positive changes without the promptings of growing resentment. Her bitterness, like warning lights on a car dashboard, was a necessary alert that something was off kilter.

In college my sister ignored the oil light on Daddy’s car. The engine light indicated the car needed a quart of oil. Not sure what to do, she kept driving and burned out the motor. If she’d known how to interpret the light, she would have protected the car.

How do we interpret the message our emotional pain is sending us? David gives us an example in the Psalms.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24, NASB).

When we bring our anxious and ugly thoughts and emotions to God, He bathes us in the light of His presence. When I see my circumstances through His eyes I find peace that surpasses comprehension. Even better, I remember I’m not alone. God is with me and for me. The greatest benefit of messy emotions is that they drive us to God.

Trying to change an emotion instead of understanding its message is like ignoring the warning light. Attending the real problem—lack of oil (or over-commitment)—saves the engine (the person) and turns off the light (negative emotions). Messy emotions motivate us to check in with our Master Mechanic for a tune up. He usually finds other areas that need adjusting.

Don’t beat up on yourself for feeling resentful, unhappy, or angry. When a mirror shows spinach in your teeth, you don’t wash the mirror. You brush your teeth. Ugly emotions are mirrors revealing areas that need adjusting.

Take your mess to God knowing He wants to help you. Our unhappy thoughts and feelings are reminders we need Him. Learning to view messy emotions as invitations to spend time with our Heavenly Father will take the sting out of them and transform us into the people God made us to be.

Would you like to learn more? In Give Yourself a Break; Discover the Secrets to God’s Rest, I provide a tool to help you turn your messy emotions into mighty faith.

I’d also like to invite you to the Making a Difference in My Generation conference in Apex, NC. Click here to learn more or to register.

How have messy emotions benefited you? Click here to comment.


Debbie W. Wilson

[1] <>


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  1. Ann

    This was absolutely awesome Deb. I think women in general and often those of my generation who were raised to be quiet, not complain and just do what you have to seem to have the biggest problem with acknowledging negative emotions. Like we aren’t human and don’t have them! I remember once early on in our marriage when we had moved from TN to NY with 2 small children to start a business. I was struggling living in my parent’s home while we built our house and business – when my mother was no longer there. I mentioned my struggle to an aunt and all she said to me was – shame on you – where is your faith. It took me years to realize it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of! Now I see this same thing in women I coach. God gave us emotions and I love your take on how to interpret them.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, I’m so thankful God recorded the prophet Jeremiah’s Lamentations and David’s Psalms. These two men of God expressed deep and confusing emotions. And they found relief and hope when they brought their pain to God. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s encouraging to know we aren’t alone in our struggles and experiences. Your aunt was probably mimicking what she’d been told. I’m so glad you are showing your clients a better way!

  2. Amy

    Exactly the message God wanted me to hear today. How did you know?

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Amy. God is good!

  3. Susie Browne

    Being human, we all have ugly/ negative thoughts and emotions. It’s very helpful to know how to deal with them simply by going to the Lord and allow Him to make the necessary adjustments and help us work through it. Thank you, Debbie, I needed this “timely” message.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Susie. We do all have to deal with them. I’m glad uses them for our good!

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