After class, I stood in the middle of the hallway with my friend Max. I was waiting to ask my TA about the research component for our project.
“Alex, I’m gonna go get water,” Max says.
I’d go too, except I saw Amy around the corner, and I really don’t want to see her.
Ella and Jane, Amy’s best friends, leave the lecture hall and walk in my direction. My stomach sinks as their laughter and conversations halt when they pass me and avoid looking at me as they walk by.
Amy, Ella, Jane and I used to be friends. I wonder, “Am I that bad? Do I look weird?” I look down at the tiles, trying to disappear into the wall. The girls sweep past me, heads held high, and exit the building. My eyes fill with water and I take a few deep breaths. I fold my arms against my chest, comforting myself from the sting of loneliness and rejection. I wish I had never come to school today.
Becoming aware of my emotions
Like most people, I longed for community in university. When I woke up, I would scroll through an endless array of images on Instagram, messages on Facebook, and videos on Snapchat. I saw social media as a way to manage and grow my community. But the more I viewed perfectly edited photos, the more I grew fearful of what people thought of me. Instead of wondering, “How is God present in my life?,” “What does the Bible say?,” or “How can I love and care for people?,” I thought, “What does she/he think?,” “Is this photo pretty enough?,” “Is the caption witty?,” “What if they gossip about the things I do or say?,” and “What if they reject me?”
These constant stream of questions led me to feel sad, mad, confused, insecure, and stressed. Fearing that I was alone in experiencing these emotions, I slowly withdrew from interacting with people.
After midterms, I hit a breaking point. I longed for friends and more than the five seconds of peace that a “Be Happy” quote provided.
Finding hope in overcoming big emotions
My desire for community led me to connect with a mentor at my church. After listening to my worries and fears, my mentor asked me, “Do you think big emotions are too hard for God to handle?” I sighed, “Maybe, yes?” My mentor smiled and placed two sticky notes in my Bible.
That night, I flipped to the sticky notes and read Mark 14:32. There, right before his death on the cross, I discovered Jesus saying his soul feels “sorrowful even to death” to his disciples . Jesus’ honesty about his emotions with his closest friends showed me that he experienced deep pain and that we don’t have to bring a perfect polished self to our close friends or mentors. The second sticky note took me to Psalm 55:4. I read about David sharing with God that his “heart is in anguish.” David’s transparency reminded me that God accepts us whether we’re happy or not!
For the first time in months, I believed I could share my overwhelming emotions, fears, anxieties, and concerns, and entrust them to Jesus who invites us to cast our burdens onto him (1 Peter 5:7 and Matthew 11:28-30).
Navigating overwhelming emotions
You may be wondering, “How do I work through these big emotions?” I found these 5 Steps to Processing Emotions, from Intersection, helpful:
- Recognize it: Don’t shove it away or numb yourself to your feeling or pain.
- Acknowledge it: Emotions are not bad. God made them. He expects you to feel things.
- Express it: Tell God and others how you’re feeling
- Walk: After you share, listen to what God says about your emotions. Even though they are real, emotions are not always trustworthy, and God will guide you to know how to respond.
- Keep walking: Continue to choose to walk in step with the Holy Spirit by faith.
Instead of distracting myself with social media, binging a Netflix show, or busying myself with work, I needed to experience my emotions. For me, this looked like journaling about the situation, praying and, yes, even shedding a tear! I found saying “I feel sad” aloud to a friend or my mentor removed the weight of perfection and fear from experiencing deep emotions. The moment of vulnerability and being accepted felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. Asking God to let me see what caused these overwhelming emotions and for strength to process them made me recognize God’s willingness to help, love, and care for hurting people.
Believing God’s truth
As I worked on processing my emotions, I researched how other Christians managed to gain freedom from overwhelming emotions. I came across a video by Kristen Clark about how to “overcome” big emotions. This video provided me with the encouragement and comfort I needed to continue processing my emotions, and offered a unique perspective on what fuelled my emotions. Kristen said,
“What we think fuels our emotions, so if we’re constantly dwelling on lies… having a self-pity party, dwelling on things that are sad and depressing, well guess what? We’re probably going to feel really sad. But… you can reverse your feelings, so when you’re feeling down and out, if you fill your mind with truth and start thinking about truth your emotions will follow.” – Kristen Clark
Kristen opened my eyes to how my thoughts influenced my emotions. When my old friends rejected me, I felt sad (and that’s okay), but I also kept asking myself “What if others reject me?” and “Am I not good enough to be a friend?” The questions led me to think that I wasn’t good enough to be accepted by people or God. After thinking this way, I was overcome with sadness and I saw how my heart was spurned to sadness, stress, and fear because I was focusing on lies.
With Kristen’s advice and my mentor’s guidance, I recited Bible verses each time these lies came to mind and clung to these two truths:
- God is bigger than my emotions
I had let my emotions, my thoughts, and the circumstances control my actions. I thought they were bigger and more powerful than God, so I now chose to focus on a verse that reminded me of who God is:
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything that is in the heavens and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” 1 Chronicles 29:11
This verse explains that all honour, goodness, and respect belongs to God because he is King. When I consider that everything on earth and in heaven belongs to God, I am reminded that I, my emotions, my relationships, and this season belong to God. With acceptance from God and so much goodness in his character, I can trust him to handle the ins and outs of life (like navigating overwhelming emotions!). Knowing that God is in control gives me peace, even in uncertainty.
- Jesus changes my story
If you’re like me, when it comes to experiencing rejection or feeling “not good enough,” you often think about your shortcomings. I can even tend to dwell on how meanly I treated someone and let that define me or the situation. Each time I got stuck thinking about my actions, my mentor asked, “How did Jesus work in that?” She knew that my poor actions didn’t define me or the situation because of what Jesus did. I look to this verse as a picture of Jesus’ work:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
When Jesus died on the cross, he experienced the punishment for our every transgression (offense) and iniquity (sin). When I put my faith in Jesus, I have peace with God and I am healed from my sin (which began with being forgiven). Instead of holding on to my shame and saying “I am so awful,” Jesus’ death invites me to pray, “God, I’m sorry for ________. Please help me to turn away from being mean, and choose to live knowing that you forgive and love me.” Praying those words helps me believe that Jesus is enough for God to accept me in spite of my sin and that I am free to live in his love.
When Jesus comes first
Along with remembering those truths, choosing to prioritize spending time with Jesus each day helps me process my emotions. For me, this looks like reading the Bible, journaling and praying in the morning. I need reminders of who God is, who I am, and what he calls me to do.
This discipline stops me from dwelling on the latest Snaps, if they liked my post, or if they will talk to me, and instead redirects my thoughts and mind toward God. The switch of perspective from “me” or “they” to “he” reminds me of John 3:30: “He must become greater; I must become less.” Giving Jesus my whole attention, first thing in the morning, makes him important and allows me to turn to Jesus for strength and faith for the day.
As I continued to spend time with Jesus and bring my emotions (fears, concerns, worries, desires) to him, he provided me with peace and endurance. I felt the weight of overwhelming emotions come off and found myself encouraged to let Jesus shape the way I pursued community. Ellissa Baird taught me that obeying Jesus’ command to love one another goes hand in hand with our interactions. Ellissa says,
“We are the hands and feet of Jesus, it’s our responsibility to love others. That means, we need to be leaders in our conversations just like how God chose to love us first. We need to step out or we’ll risk missing out on opportunities to love and serve others.” – Ellissa Baird
I love this teaching because it’s centred on loving people the way God loves us! It’s so wonderful to step out in faith knowing we get to show Jesus’ selfless love to others. Instead of fearing my emotions, I take them to God and seek boldness to ask others questions. Instead of focusing on how others perceive me, I ask God to help me see opportunities where I can serve and love others. Instead of dwelling on possible rejection or ridicule and avoiding people, God reminds me that I am to love others sacrificially as he has loved me (John 15:12).
By taking my emotions to God, making him a priority, and choosing to follow him, I’ve experienced more love and peace. It’s not always easy; sometimes I have hard days. But my weakness continues to turn me to Jesus’ strength and love. It helps me keep Jesus first.
This year we are exploring the idea of Jesus as “first” in our annual P2C PLUS conference from Dec 28-31. Considering joining us downtown Toronto to look at a myriad of topics and relate them back to the Bible as it presents Jesus as first in order, in importance, and in priority.