Are you a time traveler? No? Are you sure? Your emotions might be telling an altogether different story.
Hear me out. I’ve never been good at science (especially the mathy parts) so I have no idea how actual time travel would work, even in theory, but I have noticed there are times my emotions drag me back … into the past.
Sometimes going back can be good. It’s sweet to reminisce about special memories and remember “the good ole days.” I’m a very sentimental person, so I love to share my memories and hear other people’s, too.
On the other hand, sometimes we are involuntary time travelers. The painful memories and “the hard ole days” pull us back in time. A smell, a song, a phrase, or a touch can trigger a memory so visceral we experience a past disappointment, hurt, or trauma again and again.
We can be dragged into the past by feelings we think we’ve ignored into oblivion.
We do this until we accept a hard truth: we cannot make feelings disappear by pretending like they don’t exist. Our feelings wait … and wait … and wait to be processed. They can be oh so patient.
When my daughter was a little girl, she tended to have a stiff upper lip. She never wanted to let her tears out. She would try to hold them in, even when I could tell they needed to flow. More than once I heard myself softly telling her, “it’s okay to cry. Those big feelings are only going to get bigger if you stuff them down. Crying will probably make you feel better.”
Tears are cleansing. Not just for the face, but for the soul.
Every tear is a capsule of emotion.
When those capsules break open and the emotion is released, we tend to feel a little lighter. As we wipe away our tears, we also wipe away some of the emotional baggage that comes with negative memories.
When Jesus’s friend Lazarus dies, Jesus knows it isn’t permanent. But when confronted by the grief of Lazarus’s sister, Mary, the Bible says Jesus was “greatly disturbed in his spirit and deeply moved.” As they led Jesus to the grave of his friend, the emotional dam broke open and Jesus began to weep.
There’s also crying over old wounds in the Bible, each tear bringing its own piece of healing. In the Old Testament we read Esau and Jacob (aka Israel) weeping when they are reconciled (Genesis 33:4). Similarly, Joseph wept several times as he faced the old wounds of his brothers’ betrayal and abandonment (Genesis 43:30, 45:2, 45:14-15, 46:29, 50:1, 50:17).
Those feelings that drag us back like an involuntary time traveler are feelings that are waiting to be addressed, to be handled, to be healed.
People avoid dealing with feelings for a lot of different reasons, but people of faith sometimes make the mistake of thinking their feelings will somehow dishonor God. We worry that anger, shame, sadness, and regret are somehow not the kinds of feelings a Christian should have.
We deny our humanity and in doing so, we deny ourselves access to a real relationship with God.
Pastor Peter Scazzero explains it this way:
“When we deny our pain, losses, and feelings year after year, we become less and less human. We transform slowly into empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.”
This stunted emotional growth also stunts our spiritual growth. He writes, “[o]ne of our greatest obstacles in knowing God is our own lack of self-knowledge. So we end up wearing a mask—before God, ourselves, and other people.”
The truth is, God isn’t afraid of our feelings. We feel because it is part of how God created us. Think about that for a second, God created our ability to have feelings. When we deny our feelings we deny a sacred part of ourselves.
It’s not that the way we feel is all that matters, but it is something that matters.
When unresolved hurts are dragging us back into the past, we can take those hurts to God. We can cry on a God-sized shoulder, each tear bringing its own little dose of healing to the hurt.
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Originally published October 18, 2017.