07/10/2010 10:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When Bad Emotions Happen to Good Christians

There's a broad swath of Christian thought out there that runs like this: "I'm a Christian. [Or, lately, the more common/hipper-seeming, 'I'm a follower of Christ.'] Being a follower of Christ means that I am filled with the Holy Spirit of God. That means that I am content, peaceful, joyous. So if I feel anger, frustration, or sadness, it can only mean that something has gone terribly wrong with my relationship with Christ."

And that's how we end up with Christians who feel that having "bad emotions" means that they're not quite the Christians they should be.

It's vital for anyone, Christian or not, to understand that there is no such thing as a "bad" emotion. Such a thing simply does not exist. Too many people fail to understand that virtually all emotions are good, insofar as every emotion any person ever has is meant to tell that person something it would be tremendously beneficial for them to hear. That's what emotions are for. Communicating important information about what's going on in your heart, mind, and life is what emotions are supposed to do. No "bad" emotion exists out of context; it only arises to show you something -- to inform you, to teach you, to point you to a place where you need to go to learn something important about yourself.

A "bad" emotion is like an air-raid siren. Its harsh shrillness is painful to experience -- but it's very pointedly telling you that you need to do something in order to remain balanced and healthy.

The only thing that can render an emotion "bad" is if you ignore or invalidate it, out of believing that someone like the person whom you want to be (or, worse, like the person whom you want others to think you are) wouldn't or shouldn't have such an emotion. Then you've got a problem. Because then not only have you ignored whatever it was your "bad" emotion was trying to alert you to, but, in a larger sense, you've fostered a lie about yourself. You've traded the truth of who you are for a lie about who you think you should be. You've ignored a problem your heart was trying to tell you about. By insisting that something real isn't real, you've lied. It's that simple -- and it's that problematic. Every time you determinedly align yourself with that which counts form more important than substance, you take one more step down a path that can only grow darker and more dangerous to travel.

So the next time you have a "negative" emotion, take care not to resist or fight it. Don't immediately attach to it the idea that it's proof you've stepped outside the light of God. Instead, think of it as a means by which you can move closer to God. Because that's exactly what it is.

Instead of telling that "bad" emotion what it is, let it tell you what it is. Stay with it. Make it talk to you. Let it open itself up, and reveal to you what it's really made of, where it comes from, what caused it. A bad emotion means there's a very real problem -- and it necessarily contains within itself the solution to that problem. But you don't get the knowledge that a "bad" emotion has to offer you for free. You have to work for it. And the working part is where, instead of dismissing or trying to scoot around it, you delve into it.

One day I was feeling angry, because my wife wanted to talk to me about our money. The moment she mentioned our household budget, I felt myself tense up. But instead of trying to suppress or ignore that negative emotion, I focused on it. And through that -- through basically allowing myself to feel all of it, instead of just the tip of it that I had registered as anger -- I realized something of which I'd never before been consciously aware, which is that my father was afraid of the world; he was afraid of life, really. So he always resolutely refused to participate with my mom in the management of his financial assets, because he felt certain that doing so would provide him objective, real-life proof that he had nowhere near the assets he needed to protect himself or his family from the ravages of reality. But the truth was he had all kinds of money. It was in fact his fears that drove him to make the great amounts of money he did. But it wasn't enough. For him, it couldn't be.

And I had inherited my father's abiding fear of the world. And in this instance that fear had manifested itself in my angrily resisting my wife's attempt to force me to face the "proof" that, just like my dad, I, too, was incapable of protecting myself from the world.

And the sheer force of realizing that that was the loop I was caught in was enough to break it. Suddenly, I was free of my father's weirdness about money. From that moment on I was able to be more realistic about not just my money, but about the world at large.

And I got all that benefit from doing nothing more dramatic than basically facing down one negative emotion.

Our emotions aren't fleeting things of no substance. They're a primary means by which God communicates to us in terms exactly tailored to us.

If you dismiss an emotion because you think it's "bad," what you've really done is dismiss God himself.