Revelations seem to happen when we need them most, but at a time when we’ve stopped counting on them.
I walked into the room where the young adult café meets on Sunday mornings at church. I went to the same water fountain to fill my water bottle. I went to the same people to say hi. I went to the same table I had been going to for a few weeks. I sat next to the same friend.
I needed something, but I had stopped counting on that need to be met. I didn’t think it would happen.
The service follows a schedule. For 20 minutes we have connection time at the roundtables. Two questions are discussed. I normally don’t give answers; I listen to everyone else. It’s my way of keeping my guard up. This day was no different.
I listened and let my eyes roam around the room. The floor to ceiling windows gave me a view of the sky and hills surrounding the church grounds. The lights made the room open and welcoming. The young adults at every table were engaged and conversing. And then there was me.
Waiting for the sermon to start, I impassively listened to the last few minutes of conversation. Then the pastor finally began. And he immediately posed a question that made my guard go up even further. In a sermon called “Why Sorrow Matters,” he began by saying, “Our emotional well-being is not always God’s number-one concern.”
Coming from my own story, those words felt like a slap in the face. I’ve experienced my own sorrow, my own turmoil, my own heartbreaks. The last thing I ever want to hear on any level is that my emotional well-being isn’t God’s number-one priority. It begged this question: If that’s true, then what do we say to victims, to the depressed, to the anxious? How do we assure them and ourselves that God still cares? How do we assure them there is still a purpose behind our sorrow? Behind all our negative emotions, regardless of how long the seasons last?
In the moments after the pastor said those words, I fought the desire to get up and leave. I couldn’t see the value of sitting there when someone was trying to explain something I didn’t agree with.
But I stayed. And I’m thankful I did. A revelation came from it.
There is always a purpose of godly sorrow, and it is found in the hard truths we learn. Hard truths lead to repentance, a change in behavior. A change in behavior looks different for everyone, but each of us can look back through our struggles and find that one part of the story where God stopped everything and yielded a needed change.
After the purpose comes the knowledge of who the source is: the Holy Spirit. My experience with negative emotions is that it makes it far too easy to ignore the Holy Spirit, but I have also experienced His faithfulness. The better I got at ignoring Him, the louder He became in trying to get my attention back. He pursued me like the hound of heaven. I believe God allows us to venture as far away from Him as we want to, and for some perhaps it gets to the point where He stops calling them back and lets them be. By no means does this mean He doesn’t want them back—He does—but He also wants it to be their choice. I’m thankful I never got tired of having Him after me.
And then there are all the opposites of godly negative emotions. Because while we have and always want to know the heavenly purpose behind negative emotions, we can’t be ignorant to what the world and what the enemy wants us to believe about our negative emotions. Here are two purposes I am sure of even though I’m positive there are more than just two…and I’m sure they become more personal for each of us.
Purpose 1: Godly negative emotions challenge me to be transformed. Worldly negative emotions challenge me to conform.
Purpose 2: Godly negative emotions challenge me to change my character (who I am). Worldly negative emotions challenge me to change my behavior (what I do).
So many of my own negative emotions have led me to discontent. My loneliness makes me feel alone even though I know I’m not. My sorrow had its moment of holding me down so far in myself I never thought I would come up for air. My deep discouragement made me feel as if there would not be another bright day for some time to come. And all these emotions made me ask this question: Can I move through this? How?
There are two methods I have been putting into practice to move through these seasons: Fellowship and Scripture.
That day at church, the day I wanted to give up and leave, the pastor shared two verses from 2 Corinthians 7—“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted” (verses 9-10). Paul wanted the Corinthian believers to understand their sorrow was for a purpose and God would restore them, and in the meantime they wouldn’t lose fellowship with their fellow believers. He wanted them to believe the truths found in Scripture—that while God cared for their emotional well-being, there were still things higher on the list He cared for more, like their salvation and repentance.
And the very fact Paul was providing these crucial biblical truths for the believers implies he wanted fellowship with them because he knew it would boost them up in their time of need.
I came so close to leaving service that day because my feelings were hurt. I needed to be told that God would always love me, that I could rely on Him and the people He placed in my life, that I could love people as He made me capable to do so. I didn’t want to hear that my emotional well-being wasn’t at the top of His priority list.
Imagine if I had left. I wouldn’t have had the revelation I had—that negative emotions have a heavenly purpose. I wouldn’t have walked away armed with the knowledge that God cares for me on all levels, not just the levels I care about the most. He sees me as a whole person, a growing person, when I can so easily be narrow in how I see myself.
So does God’s plan to help each of us grow and see the changes and challenges in the right light, to see our sorrow backlit by its true purpose. And to someday use our godly negative emotions to love someone else through them.
Revelations can take place anywhere. Mine seem to happen in church. They seem to happen outside of the categories a human mind operates in. They happen in high school service even though I’ve been out of high school for years. They happen in the young adult service even when I feel more like a child who wants to be left alone. They happen at home during a small group session. They happen, and I have to hold onto that because sometimes every area of life doesn’t make sense. And that’s OK. Because in the meantime, God has me, has us, in His hands.
And soon, the heavenly purpose behind the negative emotions, the painful seasons, will be revealed.