Christian Life ...

Christian Life ...
Christian life is meant to be a life of bearing much fruit. What does that look like? How do we get there? This blog will record thoughts and meditations about living a life striving to be a fruitful branch.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Leaning into our Emotions

Emotions drive a lot of what we do and think. They may be fickle sometimes, but they are also a truly formative part of what it means to be human. My life right now is full of one supremely complex emotion: Longing. With my wedding ever approaching, my longing only grows stronger. What I have learned is that longing is an emotion that goes soul deep. In my reading recently, I began a book entitled Whole, written by Pastor Steve Wiens of Genesis Covenant Church in Saint Louis Park MN, and in this book I stumbled upon some of the fuel for this post. It came from his shared memory from a trip to the Rhode Island Church of a friend where he stumbled upon a great definition of sin: "legitimate longings that have went astray".

This makes sense because longing is a symptom of lack, which is a sin trigger in its most basic Genesis -type definition. Consider this idea closely. The sin of the garden was the action upon the consideration that God might be holding out on us. I take that as a sin action of the collective us because we are as guilty of it as Adam and Eve. In our everyday life there are selfish attitudes and actions that we indulge in out of fear that what God has given to us and/or promised us is not enough. At the root of the sin of the garden was the simple suggestion of lack. And when we lack there is either the physical pain of hunger, the emotional pain of longing or some mixture of both.

This is why longing is so sneaky. It doesn't feel like emotion. It's not quite as visceral as anger, and it's certainly not pleasurable like happiness or the sensations of love. Longing feels more like need. In my wait to be married to my best friend, I am fighting to keep my longing at bay. I am tempted to leave the constraints that God placed upon my heart that I know are right for us. In times of heightened need or longing, it's hard to trust that these boundaries are for my good. But that's the whole thing. We are prone to wander. We are prone to lose trust, but God's promises are true and his goodness is eternal. But, in all of my deep longing, I find myself in Eve's place under the tree questioning: does God really love me enough to have my good in mind? Or is he hiding something awesome from me?

I have concluded that while longing can put me in this primeval sin triggering space, is ultimately for my good. This is because when I relate rightly with longing for unity with my fiancee, it increases the depth of our relationship. Shortly after my own engagement I heard one of the most formative concepts to my own mentality about this stage of my life. Reflecting on his own engagement, my friend Matt recalled the metaphor where marriage of man and woman is parallel to the union of Christ and the Church in our future heavenly reality. We, as the church, are engaged to Christ. My fiancee and I have committed our lives to one another. We are already committed, but the God centered covenant isn't there yet. We are in an "already, but not yet" mode. Just as the Kingdom of God is promised, and while we can taste it intermittently, it is not yet here.

This has lead me to think of intentionally leaning into the longing that I'm feeling. That is to say, I take my emotion, my longing, my physical desire and I try with all my might to lift them up to the Lord. This isn't magical, it just simple mental, written, spiritual or conversational prayer. I acknowledge that His ways are good for me. That the way my longing is growing is a reflection of what the Lord sees when he looks at the body of believers on earth. That doesn't exult me to the level of God, far from it. It humbles me to recognize in a deeply emotional way that God longs for His church like I long for the love of my life. It's personal, intimate and beautiful.

The emotional depth of this brought to mind the Psalms and the way that those prayerful poems express so much powerful emotion. David and the other Psalmists had hearts that really deeply longed for rightness with God. They are deeply honest, intimate and transparent prayers.

My new understanding of longing brought new insight specifically to Psalm 130: 5-6 (esv):
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
          and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
          more than watchmen for the morning,
          more than watchmen for the morning.
Previously this image was pretty lost on me, but now, experiencing deep longing personally, I can relate. Think of a night watchmen. Think how much during the night he would be longing for the sun to come up. As the night watchman fights his natural inclination to sleep, I fight my natural inclination to want to rest in the comfort and closeness of the love of my life. What stops us? Duty and trust in the purpose of our actions. I'm exhausted, but I believe in the value of waiting. The night watchman is exhausted, but believes in the value of keeping watch. But the rest that the night watchman and I desire is not to be had yet.

On the next level the Psalmist is actually stating that his longing for the Word of the Lord is greater than all of that. That's a serious desire. I have deep respect now for what this is saying. Especially in relation to the current longing I'm experiencing an the intimate relationship to which it relates. The Gospel of John uses the Word of God to refer to Christ. The Psalmist waited for God's word with such fervor ... and we actually have it. Think about that. Christ has come to us! His Word us with us! His Spirit is in us!

It's remarkable that we are actually one step closer to a heavenly reality with our creator than the Psalmist. While we are still longing for the fullness of heaven, we can live in the Kingdom of God by relating rightly to the Spirit of God within us. As an engaged couple experiences a taste of the commitment and depth of relationship of marriage before the covenant, so the church feels a taste of salvation before heaven actually comes down.

The intimacy of all of this is striking. So if we are to be longing for God as we long for the deepest of our longings, how do we learn to do this?

What I conclude is that, to be a fruitful branch it is essential to lean into the Spirit with all emotions. Emotions are the building block of relationship. To have relationship is to share emotions. Good friends are content in spending time together and in their friendship they lean into that contentment and can find joy and fulfillment. Deep friends, best friends or soul friends share more deeply. We are to have this emotional, intimate relationship with God and we can do that unless we are lean into what we feel and bring it to God.

The fact that we can conversationally bring our emotions to God is remarkable. Also remarkable how easy we forget to do it. I want nothing more than to understand the feelings of my fiancee and to help her and meet her needs any way that I can...

To think that God's ear is more perfectly perked to our need than I could ever be for the love of my life is incredible. It could be easy to be weirded out with the idea of intimacy with God, but it's important to know that it is a whole different thing than human romance. We can't let the metaphor complicate the subject of the metaphor. Any shame or fear surrounding intimacy cannot compromise the subject of the metaphor: That God himself the create of the world wants to be with us and know us. In that relationship, it's only our job to share. Whatever we experience, God's desire is for us to bring it to Him.

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