What Do We Do With Our Negative Emotions? {Desperate: A Devotional on Psalm 42}

As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1-2)

I’ve sung these words as a lullaby over each of my babies, and you can find sweet, peaceful prints of these words in any Christian store. A sweet fawn tenderly approaching a quiet stream: Lovely.

But that’s not the picture the psalmist is painting. Psalm 42:1 is a picture of desperation.

Joel 1:20 uses the word “pant” to describe animals when the brooks are dried up and the pastures are devoured by fire. Maybe a better translation is:

“As a hunted deer, dying of thirst, pants for water, so my soul longs for You, O God.”

It doesn’t work quite as well for a lullaby or home decor, but I personally need to know that there’s a place for desperation in the life of the faithful.

Whether we like to talk about it or not, we all have negative emotions. Sorrow, grief, disappointment, confusion, anger: At ourselves, at each other, at our circumstances, at God.

And we have a choice: We can ignore these negative emotions. We can bully and bury them with truth. We can eat them to death, drug them, numb them, run far far away from them. We can be so busy we never have to face them. We can settle for living with them, that these negative emotions are all we have, always. We can complain about the reasons for them.

Or we can let them drive us, desperate, to God.

The root sin of humanity is the desire to be God, to live independently from God.

What if the hardships that come from living in this fallen world can help save us from that independence? What if we let those things drive us, desperate, to God?

This is the great lesson of the lament Psalms. Honest, specific, even poetic descriptions of the hardships of life on this earth. The psalmists take their complaints, their disappointments, their grief, confusion, and anger straight to God. And they included these conversations with God in their public worship, coming together to affirm their desperate need for God. Saying together,

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God. (Psalm 42:11)

What would it look like for you to allow room for negative emotions, in yourself and others?

What would it look like to bring your hard things to God, and wait in the tension between what God says is true of and for us and our circumstances, our felt experiences?

This world is a hurting, broken place. Things are not as they should be, in the world or in the church among God’s people. Things are not as they should be in our own homes and families.

Whether we realize it or not, we are desperately in need of God, the living God.

And now, Lord, for what do we wait? Our hope is in you.

What do we do with our negative emotions? Psalm 42 teaches us to run, desperately to God with our anger, fear, confusion, disappointment. And to say to our souls: Hope in God.


Image used in Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash