Through Our Dark Emotions
Posted on August 24, 2014

The late Maurice Boyd once said: “There are plenty of places in life that if we don’t pass through them, we perish in them.” That is an insight worth considering.

Take a harm done to you, for example. Initially it is painful, and we are understandably angry. But, in time we have only two choices: either to forgive and move on or to remain a captive to the person who hurt us. On a “Big Bang” rerun, Sheldon confesses to an old adversary that the anger he has harbored for a long time has not diminished. The young man smirks , points at Sheldon’s head, and answers: “That means I am living in there!” In fact, that’s exactly what it means. When we carry unresolved grudges or bitterness, we have allowed the one who hurt us to take up residence within our emotions and thus to continue hurting and controlling us. Thus, when Jesus taught, “You shall forgive your neighbor not seven times, but seventy times seven,” he was advising us how to discover personal peace. Bitterness is one of the places in life that if we don’t pass through it, we will perish in it.”

Guilt is another. To be sure, all of us, however saintly, have unpleasant memories of things we have done or left undone. Words harshly spoken. Relationships fractured. Base hungers fed. Ethics breached. Lies told. We cannot turn back the clock to correct our mistakes from times gone by. Nor can we undo the hurt that may have been done to those who were our victims. But, we do have a choice to make: either to remain immobilized by guilt or to become equipped by memory. By the latter, I simply mean that we can learn from our misdeeds in the past in order not to repeat them in the future. That’s the only purpose guilt serves. And once the lessons are learned, the guilt should be dismissed. Christian dogma teaches that Jesus atoned for all our sins. Not “condoned,” but “atoned.” So, we learn from those memories, but we do not let them keep us from living healthy, productive lives of Christian witness in the future. Guilt is one of the places in life that if we don’t pass through it, we will perish in it.”

Make up your own list. The possibilities are limitless. Fear. Greed. Jealousy. Lust. Self-deprecation. Prejudice. Judgmentalism. Fill in the blank. Those are all very human emotions, but are also very debilitating ones if we linger with them. And, in truth, that is something none of us has to do. When worn out or worn down by our shadow sides or negativity, Jesus says, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” In other words, He will help us process the things that burden us, the emotions that make us worn and weary. He will help us learn from them and then release them, that our emotional shelf space might be filled with better, brighter things: like grace and hope and joy and liberation and love. “There are plenty of places in life that if we don’t pass through them, we perish in them.” Thank God, we worship One who says, “Come unto me, and let me show you the way through.”


Kathryn Madden, Ph.D. on September 18, 2014

I love these words of wisdom, Michael. They are so right on the mark for all of us human beings. I think that the "list" idea is a very practical and helpful one, especially for persons who tend to live in their heads. That vulnerable side of our inner life is often more difficult to reach. As you say above, coming to Jesus with our burdens is such a major thing to do. It also is really hard for many people to be that vulnerable. Okay, I'll include myself here, so that this isn't an academic exercise. It, however, is really hard to find that bridge that allows us to locate really personal presence with Jesus--that which enables us to lay down our burdens, rest, and offer over our lists toward healing. I would ask, as I continue to ask in my own profession of being a healing professional, how do we keep this bridge always new? Of course prayer is crucial, and reading and meditating over scripture, being part of a worshipful community, being in relationship to trusted others, etc. But I also want to pick up the threads of the shadow sides that are really hard to get to, that are really on the outskirts of our personalities. Another way of saying this would be to think of something being caught up like a clog in a pipeline where there is a stuckness that won't free itself. If our human system was like the homes we live in, we could call "roto-rooter" and have the detritus routed out of the system. Human beings are far more complicated. So, what I would ask rhetorically, and also for a concrete response, is: how, when we have crossed that bridge to Jesus so many times over so many decades that the bridge has become worn down. The trust that Jesus is there is unwavering, but the bridge to accessing the transcendent-immanent feeling of his presence has changed. This happens often in the healing profession in which we constantly give to others. It is crucial to maintain a strong and ongoing connection to that which also enables the healing person to rest, maintain health, faith, commitment, hope. Inevitably, just as in the Passion of Jesus, there are times in life where this bridging aspect gets worn down and people need renewal of Being. Knowing well that he will help process the things that burden us becomes an intellectual rubric rather than an embodied reality and known experience. How do we then take what you have said in your last paragraph and make this REAL? For some persons, it is not totally a matter of passing through the shadows. Many persons have spent their lives passing through the shadows on an interior journey. Perhaps its that dark night of the soul place where there are no shadows, only darkness, where it becomes difficult to find that bridge image that I've been using. I experience this place with my clients all the time. And, being human, I have experienced it too. We wait upon Grace and wait and wait. My patients wait and wait. And I have witnessed that Grace suddenly appears and summons us. This is soooo healing. Yet, my sense is that our human communities still need something--something--to help sustain the bridge even more. This entails unpacking the notion of "come unto me" and all that this phrase might mean to our modern world and our intimate communal circles, as well as those special individual relationships and healing containers withing which we work toward enabling the above. Most sincerely, Kathryn

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