My New Testament teacher freshman year was a character. He would say things like, “That’s a lie from the pit of hell that smells like smoke,” and refer to Kansas as a euphemism for hell (“That’s one less day in Kansas, Zach!”). He told us a lot of stories as well. One was about his daughter when she was a baby. My teacher and his wife woke up one night to their daughter’s screams, and they rushed to her room to discover that she had thrown up in her crib. Not only had she thrown up, however, but she had rolled around in it for a while before she started crying. My teacher used it to make the point that we often do the same with our sin. We sit in our sin, no matter how disgusting it is, and when we finally can’t stand it anymore, we cry out to God, and He cleans us up. I want to expand upon that idea in another way.
We like to wallow in our grief. We derive pleasure from it. It grants us sympathy and makes us feel justified.
Before I go any further, let me absolutely clarify that I am not talking about depression. Obviously having a severe mental illness brings about different problems, including the literal, psychological inability to see the joy in life. That is another thing altogether. What I am talking about here is people without mental illness who have the capability to find joy in life and yet choose not to.
I’ve noticed myself doing this. When I feel angry or upset with something, instead of trying to escape from it and let the feelings go, I hold onto to them. I seethe and I left myself be awash in these emotions that aren’t healthy. I enjoy the sympathy I receive. I enjoy these feelings that aren’t Christlike.
That’s really the heart of it, I think. The Bible tells us that the Fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). That’s not to say we can’t ever be sad; the Bible also tells us that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4). But when those times for laughing and dancing come, do we weep and mourn anyway out of sheer enjoyment?
It’s a paradox, isn’t it, to love our ugly and sad feelings. Yet it happens. Especially with anger, I noticed. We want to feel like the victim because it justifies our anger. We live in a victim-oriented culture where all you need to do to feel better about your situation is to make yourself out to be the injured party. This happens on the large scale, but it happens on the small scale too. I know I have done it many times. Instead of heeding James’s words that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20), I hold onto those feelings for myself and say that I have a right to be angry. (Boy, do I struggle with this.)
I’ve noticed this when I’m sad, too. Instead of reaching for the supreme comfort and joy of God, I just lay there and feel sorry for myself and let others feel sorry for me. The joy I claim to want is so close, but I don’t reach out for it. Why? Sin again, I presume. Because Satan knows that God offers us ultimate joy (see Romans 14:17, Isaiah 12:6, John 16:22, Romans 15:13, Psalm 30:5, and John 10:10, to name only a handful). When our misery is self-inflicted, we are pushing ourselves away from God. Now we know that God is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), but His goal in coming close to us is to bring us out of our brokenheartedness and into a joyful life with Him. Yes, we will have sad and hard times, and those feels are not wrong. Even Jesus got sad (especially around death, such as with Lazarus and eventually Jesus Himself). However, to hold onto those in a controlling manner, to not surrender our emotions to God, leads us into sin.
We have a God who heals the brokenhearted and comforts the distressed. We have a God who offers us ultimate joy. We have a God who has defeated sin and death once and for all and who reigns all-powerfully until the day when He will wipe away all sorrows and tears.
So why am I sitting here wallowing around in my own self-inflicted misery instead of reaching out for the joy that is so much better?
These are merely thoughts. I’m not trying to make a profound statement. I’m simply observing my own life and seeing how I’m falling short. I by no means have ridded myself of these sins, but I do know the solution: it’s Jesus. I’ve tried to call out to God when I’m unhealthily angry or sad, but I can feel my sin tugging me back, saying no, I don’t want Him to heal me, I want to feel these feelings even if they do nothing to honor God or grow my relationship with Him.
I’m working on it. I’m not going to get it right now or probably anytime soon, but that’s why I’m grateful for God’s grace. But I don’t want to wallow anymore. I don’t want to sit around all covered in puke because I’m enjoying it too much to cry out to the One who can clean me up. Those are my thoughts. Maybe it made you think too. Don’t wallow. Joy is waiting.