About six years ago, our family went through a period of unemployment. Fear and bitterness consumed me, and although I knew in my head I needed to cling hard to God, my heart propelled me in the other direction. Through that experience I learned that God is good even when life is hard, and His love is greater than our emotions.
In the Christian community, it’s easy to lump all negative emotions as sin. We read commands to rejoice during trials and assume depression is failure, but biblical joy is not a temporary, surface emotion. According to John C. Hutchinson, author of Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong, “The biblical teaching of joy or rejoicing has more to do with confidence in one’s convictions than it does with emotion.” Joy is a deep assurance that God is good even when life is not. This is not an emotional stance, but instead, a choice of belief.
Emotions aren’t good or bad. Throughout Scripture we read accounts of faith-filled men and women continually used by God who went through periods of depression and experienced intense anger. Elijah grew depressed and wanted to die. In the Psalms David expressed moments of great pain. Job poured out his heart in an expression of raw, honest emotions. He even accused God of hunting him down like a lion. Yet God didn’t condemn Job, but instead, reminded Job of his limited understanding.
Be honest. God already knows how you feel and what you’re thinking anyway. Praying through your feelings will help draw you to God.
We may wonder: “Is it okay to be mad at God?” This makes me think of my relationship with my daughter and the countless times she’s been mad at me.
When our daughter was eight we moved and it hit her hard. One day, she scrunched her pudgy face, balled her fists and yelled, “I hate you!”
That hurt. A lot. Not because of her words, but because I saw the pain beneath them. What I wanted most was not to scold her, but to hold her. To draw her into my arms and to comfort her with my love.
Psalms 103:13-14 tells me God feels the same about us:
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.
Draw near to God and resist the urge to pull away.
Emotional pain, whatever the cause, has a tendency to lead to isolation. No matter what we are going through, no matter how we may feel, God wants to be our all-in-all. He wants us to draw near to Him, trusting in His love and unfailing nature, even if everything we see points to the contrary. James 4:8 makes us a promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
Whether we feel Him or not, God is there. He won’t leave, no matter how much we rant or rave.
Drawing near to God during our times of trial helps, but often it’s not enough. It’s also important not to isolate ourselves. God placed us in a family of believers for a reason. His desire is that we would turn to one another during our time of need. The world values independence, but God encourages interdependence.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us of the importance of living in community—of leaning on others during our time of need:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
When dealing with unemployment, this can be hard. We live by an unspoken, faulty belief that says, “If you work hard, you’ll find success.” But the Bible says differently and promises we’ll experience difficulty. Yet, no matter what happens, everything is first filtered through the hand of a loving God. Which means every tear and heartache has a purpose.
We know this intellectually, but that truth can be hard to grasp. It’s easy to assume God is somehow against us or we are being punished for some unknown sin.
I believe this view comes from a misunderstanding of the word discipline. The Bible tells us that God disciplines those He loves, and in our “time-out” world, we’ve come to equate discipline as punishment. But the word itself, paideuo in the Greek, means "a child under development with strict training" – properly, to train up a child (país), so they mature and realize their full potential (development).
When I think of God’s discipline—His training to maturity—I remember my time as a track coach. I had two types of athletes: those who came to spend time with friends and those who came to win. During practice, I focused on those who wanted to win, and I pushed them hard, watching them closely, driving them to their brink in order to bring out their best.
Intentionally focus on the unchanging nature of Christ. God is a God of mercy, love, and truth who always does what is right. His every action is rooted in love because He loves us deeply and is intimately involved in our lives. His goal is not to break us, but instead, to raise us up like a prize athlete, victorious and free. Like Job, we may not always understand why we must go through trials like unemployment. We may react with intense anger and despair, but God remains faithful and promises to carry us through it. Knowing this allows us to be honest and authentic with our emotions, and to draw near to God in confidence, knowing He’s on our side.
Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, the ACFW Journal, the Christian Pulse, and Internet Cafe Devotions. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects. Visit her online at Jennifer Slattery Lives Out Loud.
Publication date: September 20, 2012