Dealing with Negative Emotions, Positively

Living Under Power Lines

My face was bright red. My veins were bulging out of my neck and forehead. I was yelling. At a child. I was towering over him pointing my fingers. And I was having something close to an out of body experience. As I'm in the middle of yelling at my little boy I'm thinking to myself:

Why are you so angry at this little person? What is wrong with you? How did you become such an angry dad?

It's an embarrassing story, to be sure, but I share it because it was a turning point in my life. That moment with my son revealed sin in my life that had to be addressed because I knew I was destroying my kids. God has often used my children to help me see that my sin NEVER affects only me. 

I was rarely an outwardly angry person for the first 30 years of my life. I was angry internally. Living with me was like living under high voltage power lines, if you paid attention you could always hear that low thrum of destructive energy buzzing in the air. So when I began to become explosively angry at my family I was ashamed, but also confused. Why am I acting like this? To over-extend the simile: why are the power lines shooting out lighting bolts and zapping everyone who lives in my home?

Sin is Giving You Something You Need

Like many men, I was given no healthy model for dealing with negative emotions. In fact, my three main strategies were ignore, deny, and blame. But my favorite way of coping with strong emotion in my life was pornography. For me the sin of pornography was actually accomplishing something I needed in my life: the ability to cope with difficult emotions. Because I didn't know how to name or what to do with grief, sadness, shame, loneliness, rejection, discouragement, or boredom, I would skip all those emotions, go straight to anger, use anger to overcome my own morals, and use pornography to cope with life.

If you are an addict of some kind or you love an addict of some kind then you recognize the pattern I just outlined. This is also true for drug addicts, cutters, purgers, and all kinds of compulsive behavior. It's also sadly too true of social media, games on your phone, Netflix, and sex. To find a healthier way to live you have to acknowledge something: Sin is accomplishing something in your life. It's giving you the ability to cope with difficult emotions.

The problem is that sin is a literal deal with the Devil. You feel better for a moment, but shame for a lifetime. You avoid negative emotions now, but wake up one day to find you're completely numb. You've traded quick relief for eternal torment.

"Please heal my cat, Wallace..."

So why was I yelling at my son? It's actually because I completely got rid of porn from my life several years before that. I had eliminated some sin from my life, but I hadn't done the hard work of learning righteous ways of dealing with negative emotions. And now that my coping mechanism was gone from my life, all the people around me were getting fried! 

You have to learn to deal with negative emotions in your life in positive ways! God gave you emotions to drive you toward himself. So to grow up and be a man (or woman) of God you are going to have to learn how to pray in a new way. "Dear God, please bless Grandma and Grandpa and heal my cat, Wallace," may have cut it when you were 5, but maturely walking with God means bringing your negative emotions to Him and processing them in his presence. Read through the Psalms and name the emotions you see expressed and you'll start to see what I mean.

The good news is that for those who trust in Jesus, God sends his Spirit to be the agent of transformation in your life. So when you start this journey you're not on your own. You get the help you need from a Father who helps you change, rather than yelling at you for your sins and failures. Ask him today to help you change.

[Thank you for reading! If you are looking for a church in Boston or churches in Boston please consider giving Renewal Church a try!]

Photo by Kat Love on Unsplash