By Lynn Roush
Lynn Roush, MA, PLPC started a Counseling Ministry at The Crossing in Columbia, Missouri 14 years ago, and has enjoyed providing counseling and teaching classes on marriage and parenting ever since. As a Christian counselor, Lynn strives to integrate biblical wisdom on human nature with sound psychological research on human development to help people grow. Lynn enjoys CrossFit, watching her 3 kids play sports, and sitting on porch swings with her husband.
Recently, I had a crisis on my hands. I had made a decision that I thought made sense at the time, but it ended up having unintended and unexpected negative consequences. Even though I knew there was likely a reasonable solution to the problem I had created, I felt panicky and scared and there was a knot in my stomach. As a lifelong people-pleaser I was worried that I had let someone down and needed to do some serious damage control.
When my soul is distressed, it’s hard for me to function until I can figure out why I’m upset and process what I’m feeling. In an effort to find comfort and support I started to reach out to people I know that love me so I could get some perspective and share my troubles. The three phone calls I made ended up yielding different results.
Upon hearing the distress in my voice, caller number one took the “fix it” approach. They were upset because I was upset, and encouraged me to take immediate action to mitigate the situation and take control ASAP. I felt myself shutting down during the conversation because the “fix it” advice was making me feel more helpless and my anxiety was climbing.
My second phone conversation wasn’t much better. “You know we’re in a pandemic Lynn. In the grand scheme of things, this is a very small issue. With all the suffering in the world right now, this problem is very minor and it will blow over.” I felt shame creeping in and felt foolish for expressing my concern that was clearly a “first world problem.” I was still distraught and felt even more alone.
Later that day I reached another friend who only had a few minutes to talk and I quickly got them up to speed about my dilemma. “Oh wow, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It makes complete sense as to why you’re feeling upset. You had no idea that this decision would lead to that outcome. I can see why you’re worried about it. I’m so glad you called me.” Tears welled up in my eyes and I finally took my first full breath of the day. “Hey, I’m here for you. We’ll get through this together. I’ve got to run now, but can I call you later to check on you?”
At that point, all of the stress and tension left my body. The phone call lasted less than 5 minutes but something in my spirit and body had shifted. I had gone from a state of panic to a state of calm because I knew that someone else understood what I was feeling and they were willing to be “with me” in it. They had listened to me without judgment, and I felt heard and cared for. My circumstances hadn’t changed, but my soul was comforted, and I no longer felt paralyzed.
My experience is not at all uncommon because most of us have learned to respond to our emotional world as well as the feelings of those around us in three main ways:
- We disapprove of intense emotions and get upset or angry
- We dismiss feelingsand minimize their legitimacy
- We try to fix distressing emotions to make them go away as quickly as possible
Yet the psychological research shows that when we are in emotional distress, if we can connect to someone who can be “with us” through empathy, attunement, and engagement of our intense feelings, then we actually experience a neurological change in our body. We can down-regulate more quickly because both sides of the brain can be activated, allowing our nervous system to be soothed and return to a state of internal peace.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “It would be nice if I had someone available all the time that could help me calm down when I’m upset!” This is where the beauty of the gospel speaks so personally to our human experience. The phrase “I am WITH YOU” is found over 30 times in the Bible as it refers to how God relates to us in our intense emotional experiences:
- When we feel guilt over our sin and need to be restored Psalm 32:3-7, 1 John 1:9, 2:1
- When we are anxious or afraid Isaiah 41:10, Hebrews 13:6, Psalm 23
- When we feel all alone or deserted 2 Timothy 4:16,17, John 14:16-17
- When we are in a battle, trial, or experiencing difficulty Psalm 46
- When we feel weak, helpless or discouraged Psalm 62, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
- When we need guidance, wisdom or strength Proverbs 2, Proverbs 3:5,6
Do you see the variance in emotion here? The Biblical perspective on our emotions is that they are very real, very powerful, have a deep impact on us, and are the very places that God connects with us. Jesus is called “Emmanuel” because God is with us in every human experience we encounter. Day or night, we can always “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The next time you feel distressed or panicked, or like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and you can’t get a hold of a comforting friend, be reminded that Jesus is with you, he understands you, and you are not alone. Making that powerful connection to Christ’s continual presence could turn your day around.