We Christians need to start being much more honest about our emotional and mental states. Many of us, particularly those in Southern evangelical cultures, have been brought up in a "happy/clappy" type religious environment in which it is frowned upon at best to express any kind of depression, discontentment, loneliness or sadness, and seen as lack of faith at worst. But in order to deal with something, it must be brought into the light and accepted as reality before it can be handled.
In all honesty, I've experienced a mixture of emotions and feelings these last few months, no different really from when I was agnostic to as a person of faith now. Frankly, it's more difficult to experience loneliness and sadness as a Christian because we are promised joy and peace. But we cannot lie to ourselves or to others, and God already knows us better than we know ourselves. If we are sad, we are sad, regardless of any promise. The same for loneliness. In fact, throughout Christian history, it seems that those who've been closest and most aware of God's presence have been the most emotionally conflicted. So, why is this and what to do about it?
First, I'd like to share a quote from Henri Nouwen, and a passage of scripture. Nouwen writes, "God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful." And the Psalmist writes in Psalm 3:3, "But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high." In both Nouwen's quote and the Psalm, there is no guarantee of constant lack of inner turmoil. Rather, there are promises of presence and support. Joy may come in the morning, but God is there in the night as well.
And here is where I find myself: more often lonely and sad than not, but also occasionally pierced by the consciousness of God's constant presence. I hold on to those moments, because they are often fleeting and momentary. I also remind myself not to live in my emotions, to the extent that is possible. This is not to say I should not feel, but rather that I should be careful not to depend on feelings over the knowledge and understanding of God's presence and support. It's a matter of training myself to "think on those things that are good, lovely, pure, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
This is not a cure-all, of course. We are told in Romans that all of creation is groaning as a woman in childbirth waiting for the renewal of all things. We are a part of that creation. Much of our emotional and mental anguish likely stems from living in a broken world, and is actually a healthy response to brokenness and sin. When we're in the middle of it, little of this intellectualizing matters, but perhaps simply reminding ourselves of God's presence, breathing that acknowledgement of God's presence in and breathing thankfulness for His presence out, will center us enough to live in that reality rather than in the whims of emotion.
Application: Choose a word or phrase to take you into the reality of God's presence in times of darkness and loneliness.