I think growing up in the church has a tendency to teach us some really bad habits. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying no one should ever go to church. I just think that we spend too much time comparing ourselves to the “righteousness” of others, or to the “ideal” Christian, instead of being real. We think that we should never have negative feelings or Get Cranky with God.
We develop a checklist of the things we are supposed to cover when we pray. Sometimes we even try to quantify how much time we should spend telling God how awesome he is, being thankful, and praying for the needs of others, then last of all (and least of all) asking for stuff we want or need. A “righteous” person puts all of those other things before what they want, and a “good” Christian never experiences negative feelings like discouragement, depression, frustration, anger, doubt, and a litany of other bad thoughts.
That’s a load of bull, people. EVERYONE experiences negative feelings from time to time, even the most upbeat of us. Sometimes you just have one of those days where everything seems to go wrong. And let me make a very important point here that I hope you will take to heart: God doesn’t want to be your dictator, he wants to be your friend. He wants to have a real relationship with you, not a regimented, closed, neatly-fitting-into-the-box relationship that conforms to your concocted definition of a “good” Christian.
So what do you do when you have one of THOSE days? You talk to your best friend and vent. You rant and rave and rail, and maybe even say out loud that life is unfair, because often it is. But do we do that to God? Do we tell him how frustrated we are, how discouraged we’re feeling, how angry we are at that exasperating family member or coworker, or even when we doubt that he’s there at all? Most of us don’t, because it’s ingrained in us that we should be above that. But the truth is, if we’re honest with ourselves AND with God, we DO have those feelings. And it’s not like he’s unaware that we’re feeling like that. Denial is kind of ridiculous if you think about it; we can’t hide our feelings from him, so we might as well be open about it.
Let me say something that probably goes against the grain for some of you: it is NOT a sin to feel angry. I’ll dare to go so far as to say that no negative feelings in and of themselves are “sin”. Jesus got angry, and he was tempted to do wrong things. The issue is how we deal with those negative feelings. If we have a flash of anger, vent, and let it go, that’s ok. If we have that same flash of anger and hold on to it, stew, nurse it and feed it, dwell on it and allow it to fester until we actually wish harm to the person that made us angry, we have a problem. The same applies to lust, greed, pride, doubt, and all of those other things that Christians think they shouldn’t ever feel. It’s not having the negative thought that’s the problem, it’s what we do with it. We can choose to let it control our actions, or give it the boot.
I know that is the exact opposite of what some people believe, and maybe even were directly taught. It’s like we think that if we have negative feelings, it’s because we’re not right with God. If we read the Bible enough, memorize enough verses, and pray enough, we won’t ever have negative thoughts. But think about it: if Jesus, who was without sin, felt anger, then obviously anger itself is not a sin. If he was tempted, that means he actually wanted to do something he knew was wrong, and chose not to do it. If he was an unfeeling automaton, he wouldn’t have been tempted at all. Ponder that. Sinless Jesus was tempted by bread when he was really hungry. Tempted by power. Tempted to show off and be prideful. And then chose NOT to succumb to temptation. Jesus even complained to God, and admitted that he really didn’t want to go through with that whole crucifixion thing. I mean, he knew exactly how excruciating it was going to be. No wonder he was wishing there was another way out. But then he went through with it anyway.
King David spent a really huge chunk of the Psalms complaining about unfairness, asking God to deal with his enemies, and even asking God why he allowed certain things to happen. He often sounded off a “ping” to make sure that God was still there and still listening, because sometimes he felt like God wasn’t there and listening. And sometimes it feels that way to us, too.
One of my favorite Chris Rice songs is “Big Enough”. It talks about how God can actually handle it if we go off on him. He can handle it when we question him, even when we ask the really big, really hard questions. Even if we wonder whether he’s really there. He can take it when we vent, rant, and rail against the unfairness of a fallen world. When it all comes down to it, our God is big enough. If we don’t think he is, then we’re putting him in a box that is far too small. And let’s face it, there just isn’t a box big enough for an infinite God.
So I challenge you (and myself) to be real. Certainly we should be thankful for the blessings we’ve been given. Confess our real sins if we need to, ask for forgiveness, and trust that he does in fact forgive. But we shouldn’t spend our allotted time on the checklist items if the thing that is filling our hearts and minds is our mother’s cancer, or our best friend who was in a car accident, or our inability to find a job. God knows what is really on our hearts, and he knows if those things are swallowing up all our other thoughts. At that point, going through the checklist is just fake. Rant and rave, gripe and complain, ask questions, even yell at God if you need to. He can take it. Because he’s big enough.