When Sadness Comes Knocking: Should we open the door?

Who hasn’t had unexpected emotions show up on the doorstep of their hearts? Elizabeth Laing Thompson is no stranger to seasons of joy, seasons of regret, seasons of heartache, and all the messes and thrills between. If feelings were weightlifters, hers would be a four-hundred-pound guy named Sven, who can pull eighteen-wheelers across parking lots with chains in his teeth. In her new book All the Feels: Discover Why Emotions Are (Mostly) Awesome, and How to Untangle Them When They’re Not, Elizabeth draws on her experiences as a big feeler to share Scriptures and strategies to help us thrive no matter what emotion comes knocking. It’s a grace to welcome Elizabeth to the farm’s front porch today . . .

guest post by Elizabeth Laing Thompson

A blistering wail pierces the night. My parents jolt upright in bed, hearts slamming against their ribs.

The clock blinks 3:00 a.m. in unforgiving red numbers. Mom and Dad sit squinting at each other, doubting their own ears. Was there a noise?

Another scream: a muffled wail, a child’s voice. Dad flies down two flights of stairs in two kamikaze leaps. He flings open the door to find a small boy in airplane pajamas shrieking on the front mat, fists clenched, eyes wide.

Dad gapes at him. “Liam?” he asks, recognizing the three-year-old from three houses down. “Liam, buddy, are you all right?”

It was days before Mom and Dad could tell this story without twitching.

Turns out little Liam was a sleepwalker, and he’d climbed out of bed and wandered to our house, dreaming about asking my brothers to play. When he got to our door, he woke up, disoriented and terrified.

Sometimes, like poor Liam, big feelings come pounding on our doors, and they don’t really have a purpose. We aren’t sure how they got there, or why.

Some days we wake up and we’re just sad. No Big Bad Thing has happened—we just feel down.

Sadness and anxiety have come calling, and they’re standing on the doorstep, hoping we will let them in.

Joy Prouty

In times when I can find no apparent reason for my dark feelings, I find it helpful to take written inventory. I sit down with God and paper and pen and ask myself a few searching questions:

Did something bad happen?

Are you anxious about something in particular?

Do you feel unresolved in a conflict with someone?

Have you committed a sin you feel guilty about?

Sometimes my investigations turn up something I need to deal with—an explanation for the feelings, an issue I can address through prayer and conversation. But other times, I find nothing. The answer to all four questions is no. The feelings may feel real, but they have no real cause.

When we feel sad or anxious for no clear reason, we are under no obligation to hang out with those feelings long term. We don’t have to invite them into our hearts.

To help the dark feelings on their way, I find it helpful to write down Scripture or words of truth and repeat them to myself until the feelings gradually give up and stop knocking.

In moments of emotional confusion, I cling to simple thoughts:

God loves me.
God is taking care of me.
God is “slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8).
In Christ I am “blameless and pure . . . without fault” (Philippians 2:15).
There are days to be unhappy, but today is not one of them.
There are days to be anxious, but today is not one of them.

These statements are simple, but that’s the whole point. Wild feelings respond best to simple realities. 

But what about the times when dark feelings come calling and they need to come in? Many painful feelings serve a God-given purpose, and when we try to stifle them, we suffer consequences.

Sometimes, when darkness comes knocking, we need to open the door and let it in.

The Bible teaches us that there is a season for every feeling. Solomon wrote:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die . . .
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4

I find Solomon’s truth relieving:

There is a time to mourn.
There is a time to weep.
And there is a time to let go.

In our lifetime, many different emotions will knock on the door of our hearts.

All the feelings we experience—even the difficult ones—were given to us by God to help us experience, process, and learn from every facet of life.

If we couldn’t feel guilt when we sinned, how would we ever grow? If we were incapable of grief when someone died, how could we ever heal?

But perhaps a new way of thinking can give us a greater sense of emotional control: the knowledge that we get to stand at the door and decide which feelings come in, and when.

Just because they show up doesn’t mean they get to unpack their bags for an indefinite stay. When feelings come knocking, we need to ask some questions:

  • Which season am I supposed to be living right now? Mourning or dancing? Weeping or laughing?
  • How long should this season last?
  • Are the feelings here for a good reason? Is this their time to visit, or did they come to the wrong house?

These are not always easy questions to answer. Dark feelings can come calling daily, hourly, or minute by minute. And sometimes, it’s not just one dark feeling but a whole posse with torches and swords.

In those times, thank God He has provided outside help: friends, therapists, mentors, counselors, and medicine. If dark feelings are knocking too often, I encourage you to call in reinforcements. Call in the SWAT team, if that’s what it takes.

But in the meantime, don’t stop putting in the work in your head and heart. Don’t stop developing mental tools and a scriptural arsenal to bolster your ability to resist, to reinforce the strength of the door to your heart. Don’t stop learning how to help yourself even as you seek help from others.

Whatever feelings may be knocking on our heart’s door today, let us live unafraid. Let’s keep the door hinges oiled, ready not just to slam shut against the night with its gloom, but to swing open to welcome the joyful feelings when daylight returns.

As Solomon taught us, there is a time for everything, a season for every feeling.

Not just mourning, not just wailing . . . but also dancing and singing.

Living life to the full. Feeling all the feels, both the dark and the light.

 

Elizabeth Laing Thompson is the author of All the Feels, When God Says, “Wait,” and When God Says, “Go,”. As a speaker and novelist, she loves finding humor in holiness and hope in heartache. Elizabeth lives in North Carolina with her preacher husband and four spunky kids, and they make her feel humbled but happy, exhausted but exhilarated, sometimes stressed but often silly—well, you know . . . all the feels.

Emotions―love them or hate them, we’ve all got them. And we’ve all got to figure out what to do with them. As a woman who has lived every day of her life having All The Big Feelings All The Day Long, Elizabeth knows what it’s like to live life through our emotions—and how important it is to understand, take control of, and grow from those emotions. Whether you have a sensitive soul with more feelings than you know how to name, a logical personality that doesn’t quite know what to do with feelings, or a steady flow of emotions somewhere in the middle, All the Feels: Discover Why Emotions Are (Mostly) Awesome and How to Untangle Them When They’re Not will help you identify, express, experience—and yes, sometimes wrangle—your feelings in order to live a vibrant, healthy, fruitful life for Jesus.

Get ready to throw open the doors of your heart, bringing God to your emotions and your emotions to God―the One who invented feelings and who always welcomes yours.

[ Our humble thanks to Tyndale for their partnership in today’s devotion ]