I was a tomboy until about the time I started middle school. My brother is two and half years older than me and, from an early age, I wanted to be exactly like him. We rode our bikes through the neighborhood and went exploring in the woods behind our house and built forts out of pillows where we would hide and plan the next day’s adventures. I learned pretty quickly that I would have to be tough to hang out with him and his friends. I couldn’t cry when I fell off my bike or run to my mom when I tripped and skinned my knee. There was no place for tears in a boy’s world—and, as such, no place for my tears to be shed.
I eventually grew out of my tomboy phase, but the aversion to tears seemed to stick around. I had seen the world’s common view of “emotional women” and wanted no part of it. It looked like weakness—frailty, even. And I was convinced that to be strong and to be respected in a world so obsessed with independence and autonomy, I would have to rid myself of such emotions—or, at the very least, hide them from everyone else. Because to conceal your emotions is to be strong, right?
The problem, however, is that I am human—created by God in His image to be fully human and to feel human emotions. So trying to rid myself of them seemed to be both impossible and a bit insulting to my Maker. And, as I looked at the Person of Christ, His example gave no evidence to support the idea that a lack of emotion signified strength. Instead, it showed that Christ Himself, both fully God and fully human, felt emotions and felt them deeply. After the death of Lazarus, Christ “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33). He wept over the death of His friend (John 11:35). In the temple, He felt and expressed anger toward the money-changers (Matt. 21). And, in the garden, knowing what would soon take place on the cross, He felt anguish when he said to the disciples, “my soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38).
So what do we do with this contrast? While the world often uses the word “emotional” to connote weakness and fragility, we see that Christ, by whose strength sin and death itself were defeated, felt and expressed raw, intense emotion.
Certainly, there is value in exercising self-control over our emotions. While God has given them to us as a good and natural means of responding to events in our lives, they can become sinful if indulged beyond what is helpful and true. This is why we are called to be sober-minded (1 Tim. 3:2; 1 Pet. 4:7) and to set our minds on things that are above (Col. 3:2), helping us to exercise self-control and to think rightly about our emotions as we bring them before the Lord.
Yet we are also called to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Scripture says, “there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Eccles. 3:4). So we must conclude that we are free to feel and to feel deeply when our emotions overflow from a heart firmly rooted in Christ. Both joy and hardship will come, and emotions are sure to follow. And, standing firm on the foundation of the hope we have in Christ, let us feel them—openly and confidently—and run unashamedly to our Father when we trip and skin our knees. This is where true strength lies.