The Gifts in Our Darkest Emotions

dark fall tree silhouette Laurie Wallin 2I listen as her voice cracks. Her husband left her for another woman. She fights back tears and rage, tries to sound okay. 

In a quiet voice at bedtime, my daughter shares deep embarrassment because of a friend’s hurtful words at school. 

A friend tells me of a hospital visit with his mother. Healthy a month ago, cancer now fills her body. He laughs uncomfortably while the eyes swim with grief.

Nobody wants to feel anger, grief, embarrassment, shock, betrayal, rejection.

Yet Jesus promised that in this world we will have trouble. And when we do, feelings roll in like a storm tide. For many, the holidays can become the perfect storm of high emotion as people with all kinds of situations and history come under rooves together.

What if our strongest emotions were a gift instead of something to fear?

The Gifts in Our Darkest Emotions

They remind us we exist. With the day in and day out of life, it’s easy to be on autopilot. We might get annoyed in traffic or stressed about a deadline, but get hit with the bomb my friend felt the day her husband announced he was leaving? That put her back on the map. Suddenly, she needed to face what had broken, the hurt that had built up, needs she’d ignored for years, habits that were distructive for her that might have lingered for years. It wasn’t only about making her kids’ school lunches or finishing a project anymore. She was in the mix.

Emotions that remind us we matter in life’s mix aren’t a bad thing at all.

They alert us to a need for change. That sting of shame tells us we’ve internalized negative messages about who we are. Anger tells us something else is bugging us—it’s a secondary emotion that makes us feel powerful when we’re sad, hurt, frustrated, lonely, neglected, rejected or embarassed. Shock tells us we’ve got something big to manage. Grief tells us we loved something, lost it, and need to find a way back to some version of wholeness again.

Whatever the strong emotion, if we let ourselves feel it—if we listen in close—it gives us clues about changes that we might need to make.

They help us get stuff done. The other day, I had an argument with my husband for the umpteenth time about a particular issue. I was so angry about it that I went into my garage and sorted through an entire section as preparation for our upcoming move. Seven Hefty bags later—three for the dump, four for Goodwill—the anger was so tired out that my grief over not being able to find a compromise with him found its way into the light.

I thanked my anger for giving me energy to clean out that section of my garage. And for all the other times it’s jolted me into some positive action.

(Then I set a time to talk with my guy about solving that problem. …we’re still working on that one. Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of garage to work through in the process!)

Strong emotions don’t have to be the enemy. Jesus wept. He got angry. He got frustrated with people.* Big emotions can be a gift if we notice and listen for their leading into life instead of trying to keep them wrapped up tight.


*see John 11:35, John 2:15, Matthew 12:34