I think out of all the Psalms, my favorites are the ones written by David for the choirmaster. What distinguishes them for me is the total humanness that shines through in the writing. He spends time both delighting in the presence of God and expressing real grief about whatever situation he is in.
Psalm 6:6b-7a is a perfect example of this present grief when David says, “All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow.”
What I think is most interesting about the Psalms is how unflinching David is to name and express his emotions without reservation.
David is called a man after God’s own heart and yet he experiences life in a way that contradicts our culture’s lingering Puritan influences. David danced for joy. In contrast, American journalist H.L. Mencken defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
Christian culture puts a weird pressure on its members to deny emotions, especially the ones that err towards the extreme. I remember reading an essay in Foundations of Christian Thought that argued that Christians cannot even experience anger without sinning.
But I do not think this mindset can be correct when “a man after God’s own heart” experiences anger in prayers that we are meant to gain instruction by. In fact, what I think we can learn from the Psalms of David is twofold.
First, we are beings with hearts that are meant to love God. This is confirmed by Jesus himself in Matthew 22:37. Part of loving God is being honest with ourselves and our maker. Denying emotions is not the same as self-control. It is only apathy by another name. It is an omission when we are called to honesty.
Next, we must learn to boldly embody our feelings, because it is not enough to find your heart. You must also give it legs.
It is not enough to tell someone we love them or that we are angry with them without also telling them what we mean when we say we love them or why we are angry with them. In other words, what are the promises we are or are not making to others, and what are the issues simmering underneath our outbursts?
In my observation, about 90% of the relationships that fail are due to a failure from one or both parties of either of these practices. Some have completely shut down, thinking their numbness will make them a better protector or a better Christian. Some people exist silently in their feelings, exasperated because the people in their life should just “get it.”
The reality is that both of these mindsets are cowardly. They are signs of the growth that we need to enact in ourselves, because without that growth, we will spend our whole lives pushing away people who are worthy of love.
This is what people mean when they say that the key to a successful relationship is communication. It is finding the truest voice within ourselves and expressing that to the people we love and trust in a way that does not blame them for the growth we still have left to do.
The grand endeavor of loving people well is not mastered overnight, however. It is a lifetime of letting our counselors and friends call out our insecurities, of staring blankly at a feelings wheel taped to our fridge at 1 a.m. and of allowing art to pry open the sealed jar of our unwanted emotions.
In essence, it is hard work. But it is the bravest and most valuable work we can do for ourselves and others.