Do you ever find yourself suppressing your tears or holding back your emotions, especially in front of other people? If so, you are not alone. Strong expressions of negative emotions are generally frowned upon in North America, parts of Asia, as well as Northern and Western Europe, making most people in these places uncomfortable with public displays of their feelings. I can think of many occasions where I was overcome with emotions while speaking at a memorial service, but suppressed my tears because I felt embarrassed and ashamed to cry in front of others. Many people from other ethnic groups (Latinos and Middle Easterners, for example) feel freer to express their pain. I believe on this point there is much we could learn from other cultures.
The book of Habakkuk teaches us that public expressions of sorrow is a healthy way to deal with grief, pain and suffering. The prophet begins his book by openly expressing to God how he feels about the situation in Judah, holding nothing back: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?…why do you idly look at wrong?” (Hab. 1:2-4). While Habakkuk also teaches us that expressions of joy and faith are ultimately where we want to end up (see Hab. 3:17-19), we will only experience these if we are first open and honest with ourselves and with God about what is really going on inside. Habakkuk teaches that we can come to God just as we are—angry, frustrated, discouraged, doubtful, disappointed. Why hide our feelings from the One who knows exactly what you are going through? God never rebukes Habakkuk for expressing his feelings, but He gently helps the prophet see his situation from a different perspective.
If we openly and transparently open ourselves to God as to a friend, we will not remain in a state of negative emotions. The book of Habakkuk teaches that prayer changes us. The prophet’s situation never changed, but his feelings did. Grieving the loss of a loved one is much the same way. Research shows that the best and fastest path to a healthy emotional life after losing a loved one is to grieve soon and intensely. When we add prayer as a key component to the process, emotional healing takes place in two ways—(1) the natural process of talking and writing about our feelings is therapeutic, and (2) the Spirit of God works in us to change our perspective.
This is good news! We can express how we really feel. We can display our emotions. If we include God in the process, we will not remain in a state of sadness and discouragement. He will bring us to a place of joy. Habakkuk ends his book with these words: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Hab 3:17-19).