Responding to a Christian Culture that doesn't want to allow people feel

Hi, everyone. So, transparently, I am quite frustrated with some of my Christian acquaintances and friends who seem to have embraced a leg of Christian culture that treats negative feelings or talk of negative feelings as taboo. I’m talking about things like grief, loneliness, anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger. While the Bible tells us not to be anxious or fearful, I don’t believe there is anyone on the face of the planet who has not experienced those, even Christians. Especially during this crisis with the virus situation, it seems that we have plenty of declarations over “Satan’s schemes” and “Repent, because God is judging us!” and “God said to be courageous and do not fear!” and yet not enough going about what we are called to do as Christians: live out the gospel by walking through this with people and rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. Don’t get me wrong, encouraging people by telling them God has not given us a spirit of fear isn’t a bad thing, but it is if we are treating a profound situation in life like all it needs is a band aid. I feel like a lot of Christendom has been made into something that wants us to deny the human parts of ourselves and our human experiences and trade our vulnerability for a facade. I know they mean well, but I see people passing out Scripture lines like they are band-aids. I used to be a nurse’s aid. There were many different types of wounds for which to care. Some of them could be treated with band aids, but others needed much more attentive, deeper, and intensive care than that. Some of those wounds, with only a band aid carelessly slapped onto them, would have killed our patients…but not before causing them considerably more pain and anguish.

God gave us our emotions and the ability to feel so that we can relate, appreciate, and process the situations we are going through. In human services, walking with a person (figuratively speaking) through all that they were feeling was an important part of helping them process whatever it was they were facing and helping them get through it and get through it in a healthy way. Many Christians don’t seem to understand this, and I’ve seen that when a person shares that they are feeling sad or lonely or depressed in isolation, that person’s trust and faith in God is questioned and judged. It seems like books like Job and the Psalms and the things like Jesus’ agony in the garden about what he was about to suffer are all but ignored in favor of those verses that seem to be more positive to people.

I feel like that sort of culture is somewhat toxic and lacks the sincerity and genuineness of the true gospel. It’s more of a positivity gospel than anything. Anyways, I guess what I am wanting to ask is how would you respond to this type of thinking–that, essentially, if you’re lonely or sad or grieving, you’re sinning and not trusting God?

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@psalm151ls I can relate with what you are experiencing. I have noticed that some Christians tend to identify a truth in scripture and overly emphasise it. I have seen this done to the extremes where believers will think that having faith is like a magic pill that cures all suffering, in this life. On the other hand I have seen believers take it to the other extreme and react to anybody who says that Jesus has given us authority to heal. I believe the best place for us to be is as balanced as possible.

I am in my last week of the Why Suffering elective through the RZIM Academy and one of the passages of scripture that stood out to me was Luke 6:24-26.

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

You rightly mentioned the Psalms and Job, but here too Jesus is actually telling us that we should be woeful if all is well! Weeping, mourning, and hunger are parts of life, He says we should expect and even seek them, in my understanding.

I do think however, that we need to be careful to be balanced because we know that we have an all powerful God, who can deliver us from anything. Suffering is one side of the coin. Paul warns us in 2 Timothy 3:5 about people

having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

God can do as he wishes and we should believe for great things but, balance is key, in my opinion.

One thing you can do is show them from the scriptures. If you have a relationship with people we can show them scriptures like Luke 6, Job, the Psalms, Lamentations, Jeremiah etc.", and while I believe it is important to teach from the scriptures, it can take a very long time for somebody to come around if they have a particular leaning to an aspect of theology, and you may not even get to see the change in your time with them. We should also pray for people to be enlightened and for them to have a balanced approach to faith, and let Holy Spirit work on them :smiley:

If somebody is actually suffering this is a different story, here we can listen, come alongside, weep and support them. We can demonstrate the gospel to them. This is where I love to be, for “whatever you do for the least of these, you do onto me”. :raised_hands:

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Our pastor recently taught a series called “How Ya Feeling?” I cant remember in which one he addressed this, but he said our negative feelings aren’t necessarily sinful, it is what we decide to do with them once we have them. Which way will I go with this negative feeling? Will I now sin and let it control me, or will I do something to help this situation? These feelings can get us down if we let them or they can motivate us to action like prayer, helping physically, edifying, etc. There can be a positive result of some of our negative feelings if we choose to act on them in a positive way.

I agree with @brianlalor that we need to have a balance. It isn’t that we should never feel negative emotions, it is that we should not let them dominate us. Here is the sermon series I mentioned that our pastor did if you care to watch:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBgCVP208EOPPn4jTbv1ejq-_LiS6X9XK

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@psalm151ls That’s frustrating. Have you had the opportunity to talk with any of these individuals over a cup of coffee about this issue? I think you have to start by understanding why they embrace this particular view. Culture is a powerful thing and once we get swept up in particular subculture it can be very difficult to see what the world looks like to people outside of that subculture.

I imagine that these individuals also struggle with sadness, fear, anxiety, and insecurity, but that in their subculture they have found a way—whether healthy or unhealthy is another question—to deal with their own inner turmoil. They then try to share those same strategies with other people without realizing that they are, in fact, caught up in toxic ways of dealing with their own emotions. They may simply be trying to share the thing that is acting as a life vest in their own life.

Of course, it is possible that their motives are not quite so pure and that they are putting a yoke on others that they cannot carry themselves. But I think you have to understand why someone is believing / propagating something before you can try to help them move beyond unhealthy / destructive theology.

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Lindsay great question and I know where you are coming from. Sadly what you have experienced is pretty common in Christian culture. There is an innocent attempt to inoculate our emotions with scriptures and crush our feelings under the pretense of correct thinking. I realize that many of us are not allowed to express how we really feel and if we do, it’s not spiritual or he or she lacks Christian depth. And you are correct that many Christians do pass out scriptures as band-aids. Many Christians unknowingly do this to encourage the person. However, those who continually do this even though their motives may be pure, are in a sense not listening to the person. They are not listening to his or her fear, anguish, disappointment, etc. It all comes to listening. It doesn’t matter how many bible verses you can give to a person it’s listening and being attentive to what the person is saying. There is a culture within Christianity to conform to certain guidelines or cultural values that may not be biblical at all. We need to aware of this and connect emotionally with the person we are talking to. Sometimes just listening goes a long way than just giving a bible verse and then walk away. Hope this was helpful.

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I get what you’re saying, Lindsay! I’ve experienced a “if we don’t talk about it, it will go away” sort of mentality from Christians about human struggling. I find it very frustrating, and also what you’re referencing which is almost a shaming attitude.
But you’re so right:

God gave us our emotions and the ability to feel so that we can relate, appreciate, and process the situations we are going through. In human services, walking with a person (figuratively speaking) through all that they were feeling was an important part of helping them process whatever it was they were facing and helping them get through it and get through it in a healthy way.

Reading the gospels we see Jesus Himself experienced a full complement of trials and emotions. And there’s another glimpse of His experience in Isaiah 53:3:

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Amplified says:
He was despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and pain and acquainted with grief;

We wouldn’t be able to apply the "positivity gospel " as you put it, to most of Jesus’ earthly life. So why do we put that on each other?

I think part of it could also be that people want to help, and sometimes we really stink at it. The heart wants to solve a problem that is not easily solved, so the mouth and the brain fumble. Hopefully in those times, the recipient sees a person wanting to reach out, and take it as a well intending attempt rather than an offense. Grace needed! Sometimes a verse that helped someone in their own suffering isn’t what someone else wants or needs to hear at the moment. We are a complicated creation!

But if a person is perceived as reaching out with a lack of compassion, I would offer the Matthew 18 approach and just take that person aside and talk to them about how their actions may be perceived. Doing it gently and with respect so they are motivated to move in the right direction.

The brokenness of the world is more evident globally now than in recent history, and Christians have an opportunity to reach out in compassion that comes from relationship with the Lamb of God. And we may do it well or we may not. Everyone is a work in progress!

I pray all of you experience the beauty and majesty of Christ this Palm Sunday and throughout this week. You are loved.

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@psalm151ls I so understand that. I also agree that these people may be well intentioned (that’s me trying to be “positive”). Yet, as you have said, it frustrates me too. There are times when I just shut my mouth because I don’t see any point and I just seem to get a bandaid on top of a bandaid. I’ve also noticed that no “negative” feelings are allowed and for me who has a history of trying to crush my feelings deep down inside. I wonder if that doesn’t at times make things worse. It also makes me wonder if I have done the same to others. Being on the receiving end I could see how discouraging and disheartening it might be.

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Hi, @gchop, thank you for reaching out and responding. I truly appreciate that. To clarify, my question is not how to approach feelings biblically. My question is how to respond to those who don’t. And there is, indeed, a Christian culture out there that does not want people to experience or talk about negative feelings; I’m not talking about people who are simply and rightly and generally encouraging others to not allow the negative feelings to dominate them. That’s not where I’m coming from. And I’m not talking about needing to approach with balance myself–but how to respond to others who are not. We need to practice a ministry of presence and listening and not be quick to try to “fix” people and their feelings or to be so quick to give an answer without really seeking to understand the situation and condition of the person first. Sometimes words, no matter what they are about, can further wound someone in the rawness of something someone just went through. There is a time to speak and give someone Scripture or tell them to pray and worship, and there is a time to not. That’s why we are told in the Bible to be quick to listen and slow to speak. A doctor needs to listen to his patients’ symptoms before deciding the best course of action. He doesn’t call patients in and give them a once-size-fits-all kit full of things that may not and probably won’t help them in their need at that moment.

Job’s friends were foolish to speak to him in his distress, trying to “fix” him and his situation when they were really quite clueless. They were ministering better when they just sat with him in his pain and didn’t speak. Many read Job and misunderstand and think the text is recording what the friends said because they spoke wisely, but God rebukes his friends for the foolishness of their words and approach, because it misrepresents Him and His ways. God deals with Job, too, but not because of his expressions of pain and anguish. He deals with him because Job was, as I understand it, questioning the goodness of God’s creation when people suffer and the wicked and the righteous suffer the same end anyways.

Here is an example of what I am talking about: I was sitting outside the pastor’s office one day awaiting a meeting with him, and out came a couple, the wife tearful and the husband grinning from ear to ear. It was an odd sight. They stopped to talk to me. The wife’s mother had just died the day before, and she was grieving. The husband interrupted the wife telling me how sad she was and said joyfully, “We should be celebrating! Someone going to be with the Lord is no time for grief!” That is never okay, and in fact, it’s selfish. It’s more about the person resisting feeling uncomfortable and avoiding the fact that they can’t fix this than it is about glorifying God. The Bible says we shouldn’t grieve as those without hope, but it doesn’t say to deny grief altogether. I think @BloomHere is right, that people have a tendency to want to solve the problem and fix it–but there are times when we simply can’t and need to not try. We can point them to God, but sometimes, like I said, silently being with them the best we can for a time is best. The Holy Spirit works in the mere supportive presence of others just as much as he works in words.

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Hi, @Mark2! I had to chuckle when you put this (because of the reference to my “positivity” gospel, I’m assuming :slight_smile: :

but I wanted to encourage you that this isn’t just being positive but having a proper biblical attitude, and it’s a good reminder. We are always to assume the best in others, for sure :slight_smile: That is helpful!

I can relate. Growing up in a household with a mom who allowed her feelings to lead her in such a way that caused abuse of all kinds, I trained myself to “control” my feelings and often have a hard time with other women because of seeing the expression of feelings as being silly and something that gets you into trouble. There was never any logic or rationale involved in my mom’s rampages, only a constant onslaught of venting emotions. So it takes a lot for me to express emotion, and I usually only do it with those I know I can truly trust to be genuine and sincere, and that, unfortunately, is very, very few in my life. I think @SeanO and @BloomHere give some helpful counsel on how to respond. I think @brianlalor helps to add understanding to these things, as well, and I hope the writings of others here help you as much as they are me :slight_smile:. For now, I have deactivated my Facebook because of seeing how some of my Christian friends on a group page, love them as I do, are responding to others who just yesterday or the day before have lost jobs and are grieving and concerned about how they are going to feed their kiddos. I am taking in heavy doses of Scripture and tending to prayer more diligently, and the sincere fellowship in this community helps, too :slight_smile:

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Hi, @SeanO! I haven’t had the opportunity to do coffee with any of these individuals. Most of them are homeschool moms and have husbands who work long hours, so they don’t usually have time to do coffee and trying to do that with kids around is all but impossible. Not to mention, it’s not really possible in our situation right now to have a cup of coffee with them :slight_smile:. It makes it extra difficult that most, if not all, communication has to be done online now. So those who don’t really know how to communicate well in writing and ask questions for understanding and clarification are just sort of responding in a more two-dimensional way. It’s a very shallow way of responding to people who are experiencing such pain and grief lately. But it’s like they don’t even want to learn. There were some who posted about understanding and simply listening and empathizing, and there was a lot of push-back. I kept out of it for the time being.

Thank you for the reminder. Sometimes in my anger and frustration on behalf of those being further pained by their responses, I forget about this. That’s why I came here for counsel and help :slight_smile: I forget that perhaps they are self-medicating in a way (just with something other than drugs or alcohol), and that might be a unique need and cry for help in and of itself.

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@psalm151ls I can understand how that would be super frustrating. Praying for wisdom for you and for these not-so-sensitive individuals, as well as those who are hurting that they may find God’s peace :slight_smile:

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Thank you, @SeanO

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@psalm151ls You have described a serious problem in the Church and cited some very painful recent examples of it. If I were in your shoes I would want to play Whack-A-Mole with their heads with my Bible as the mallet! Then I remember the following:

  • Love reaches; wisdom teaches. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us that knowing and teaching truth without love is useless. We always must love our neighbor before we do anything else, because if we do not then speaking truth becomes a cacophony to the person we are trying to teach. Who have been the best teachers in your life? I will bet that these are the ones who you remember with a certain amount of affection not for the words that emanated from their mouth, but for the love that they expressed toward you and your fellow students regardless of your shenanigans.
  • Mercy triumphs over judgement. James 2:13 teaches us that if we want God to have mercy on us, we need to have mercy on others. God gives us what we give to others. If we try to take vengeance on others–even if only by angry words–then we claim judgemental authority that only God has, and he will use his rightful authority on us. I have learned some harsh lessons this way. On the other hand, Jesus prayed, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they do!” Let us follow his example.
  • Wait for God. Psalm 37 teaches us to wait for God to handle others’ wickedness. Not that the people at whose behavior you are angry are enemies in the sense that they seek to destroy their victims; but their behavior is more pleasing to the Enemy than to God because it truly causes spiritual harm. God sees this and will judge rightly. We need to let him handle it.
  • Think about what is good. Philippians 4:4-9 teaches us to rejoice in God and think about things that please him. I have found that this makes me less bitter in my own life and I can reach out to people in ways that I never thought possible just a few years ago. Maybe instead of thinking about how angry you feel about the unjust behavior you have seen, you can find ways privately to offer support to those who have been victimized by cloddish counsel. Sometimes a simple sympathy card is all someone needs. Prayer always helps.

These are just some thoughts that I had as I perused this thread. I pray that you and those you love can be ministers in this dark world.

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I know what you mean when you say that there’s very few people you can talk to like that. I am very much in the same boat
Thanks for the encouragement:). I must say it’s not always easy to assume others have my best interest at heart. Although I suppose it’s better than being paranoid. Which is what the opposite would seem.

More to the point though. I think what you said is so true.

So true. I know I have struggled with this myself. My own impatience perhaps. Apparently, from what others have told me, I am a good listener (maybe sometimes). Although I have noticed that my impatience affects both me and the recipient when it shows it’s ugly head (Which I am not always aware of immediately).

I had another thought while I was writing this. That Is our desire to control things around us (or fix them). In our own lives as well as others. Which seems to be an inherently human trait (or maybe just a personality trait).To have what we want immediately and what we want for others immediately. Whether that be blessings or judgement. Whether it is what is needed or not. As I believe it was mentioned that we can be so clumsy sometimes.

Hope I’m not going off topic here, but it kind of reminds me of the bandaid approach. We can throw a bandaid (or a bible verse) on it, but if we don’t approach it with care it can just get infected. Not to mention that maybe we should allow God to do the healing instead of trying to force it (which really can’t be done).
Your so right in that we could remember James 1:19, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Not just the anger part.

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Thank you for the wise words and reminders, @blbossard. I like the “Love reaches; wisdom teaches” :slight_smile:. I think I’m straight in the not taking vengeance part :slight_smile:; that’s not really something that is alluring to me. In fact, I normally Zoom and pray with a couple ladies during the week days, and one of them is one of those who doesn’t really like to allow people to experience their feelings and says some “off” things. I may get angry with what she says to others who are suffering at times, but I couldn’t imagine attacking her with any kind of scorching words. Your words do remind me, though, of some reading I was doing this morning on Cain’s not-so-respectful question to God when God asks him where Abel is: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” One of the senses in which we are our brothers’/sisters’ keepers is that we keep from doing violence to them through angry words, vengeance, etc. I was thinking about my question about how to respond to those who are seeming to lack compassion and sensitivity in their responses to those suffering grief over losses in relation to the positives about being a fellow believer’s keeper (the do’s) as opposed to the negatives (the do not’s). I think that our example in our approach should call other people to a desire for a better love for Jesus and others, if that makes sense–so that, even if they don’t want to necessarily hear or agree what we have to say, they notice the mercy, kindness, gentleness, and warmth of our approach.

While God is the judge, we are in fact encouraged in the Bible to teach and correct each other, to speak the truth in love. There is a difference between judging the person and making a judgment about actions and responding accordingly. So I do disagree with always allowing God to handle it. This is about relationships, and relationships are work, and we can’t just hand that work off to God. That is why there is specific instruction on how to correct in the Bible. At times, because I have a gift of teaching, it is my responsibility to exercise that graciously and appropriately to try to bring peace and reconciliation in a situation, although this has to be done with discernment–is it yours to handle, or is it something you should keep your hands out of because the involved parties are under another authority or are dealing with the issue in a more private setting? Furthermore, we are all the church, and if there is something toxic that is eating away at the church culture, we need to be–when appropriate–lovingly telling the truth about these things. As members of the church, we are stewards of its culture, I think (that’s a new thought–so I haven’t exactly thought that completely through, so I could be wrong), and need to be a part of working with God in the Spirit to keep it healthy. That doesn’t mean we can always fix everything or control everything, but we do need to do our part.

I did, in fact, reach out privately to a couple people before I deactivated my Facebook. I also had posted a video on my own page explaining how to properly and biblically view, approach, and handle emotions when we wish to minister to someone. I said that if God gives us the grace to come to Him with all our emotions without threat of judgment, then we should do the same for others. Shortly after I posted, a couple people contacted me and started telling me about what they were going through. I didn’t want to deactivate and leave people hanging, but at the same time, I wanted to make sure I didn’t get frustrated or angry to the point that that lack of wanting to take vengeance changed. I don’t think it would, but I think it’s wise to take a step back when we are feeling that frustration and spend extra time with the Lord and in counsel with good community ;).

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Lindsay,
Forgive me, for in attempting to keep my answer from being too wordy (I have a tendency to ramble) I must not have made sense in my answer! :crazy_face:

I was simply responding to your question:

My intention was not for you to be preachy by any means. I agree 100% with your response to me, and that we should always be tactful with people. My intention was to give you an idea of how to respond, if you happened to be in a conversation with someone about this issue, with some ideas of how our negative, or cast down emotions, aren’t sinful but can actually be useful. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ exhibited an array of emotions and was without sin, and often when we are faced with a decision as to how to respond to our emotions, the sin comes when we choose to go down a path of sin in response to those emotions, rather than turning to our Lord and pray and look to Him for guidance which would be how a negative emotion can drive us to something good.

Your mention of being made angry by certain responses, would that be considered a sinful emotion? I wouldn’t say so, but it is an emotion that can drive you to seek to do good, or to lash out in a sinful tirade that hurts the other person. We come to a crossroads when we experience negative emotions. These are just some ideas of how you could respond to someone who thinks it is bad to feel these negative emotions. I don’t mean you should tell these things to a person who is actually hurting. Just to someone who looks down on those people or someone who may feel guilty for being sad or angry etc. Always being tactful and a good listener of course. :wink:

I was not implying that you need to approach with balance, but that could be a way to respond to a person who does not understand that balance, someone who believes that you should only always be happy and looking to the bright side, and that living with negative emotions is sinful and doesn’t understand how to comfort those who feel down. It is good to be reminded that negative emotions need to be balanced with positive ones. I understand that there are people whose lives are totally dominated by negative feelings, I know people like that personally and am very close to a couple, and I have to deal with their negative emotions every day. But I do not condemn them, I do my best to listen, understand, and edify. I also pray for them to be freed from their depressed tendencies.

I must say that I have not actually come across anyone like you have been asking about. Most people I know are sympathetic with others who feel negative emotions. The ones I know that condemn it are the ones who are actually struggling with negative emotions themselves and feel guilty (which is a whole different problem), not someone who is pointing fingers at a sad person. It also seems that in your responses in this post you are figuring out answers to your question! Yay! :clap:t3: Again, forgive me for not being clear before. I guess I should allow a little bit more wordiness so as to do a better job of communicating. I think you are gleaning many good ideas of how to respond to your friends. Be a good example. Have empathy to everyone, even those that you are asking about how to respond to, and try to meet people where they are. Be a friend, edify, and cry with them, laugh with them, be quiet with them. The Spirit will guide you as you seek to be a good friend to others. :heart::heart:

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@psalm151ls I appreciate your thoughtful response. You clearly have been praying and thinking about the matter, rather than proceeding with a hot head. I commend you for it.

My thoughts certainly do not preclude any type of confrontation. I agree that we must try to confront people when the relationships are in place to do so. If you feel that your relationships with the people involved are such that you can do so without crossing the wrong boundaries, then by all means do so! :muscle:

You are wise to withdraw from Facebook if you feel that it just feeds your anger. I have experienced the same thing and have not posted or looked at my account for many months, except for a few times when my wife told me to take a look. (I finally got one of my close relatives actually to call me rather than communicate through Facebook! :exploding_head:)

You are on the right track. God bless your efforts as you proceed through the minefield. He will keep you safe and help you to reign in your tongue!

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