In my twelve years as spiritual counselor, I have seen men and women choke back their feelings while simultaneously defending the Almighty who supposedly allowed the devastating events to take place. Unfortunately, both smothering of emotions and advocating for the divine have serious consequences.

In this snippet of an article, I propose that emotional congestion in the name of God comes at an enormous price—freezing the flow of grief, relational complications, and an unfulfilled sense of self. An opposite course, namely, embracing all facets of emotional labor pains as part of a healing passageway, adds to personal and interpersonal growth.

Contrary to some popular sermons and lectures, the uncensored expression of feelings in the presence of and toward God is not new. The stories of Abraham and Moses doubting the abilities of the Almighty, the depressive outbursts of Job and Jeremiah, the anguish of the Psalmist, and the internal troubles of Jesus about the divine plan, all spatter thick emotions onto the very lap of the divine. So why, then, have many men and women with religious backgrounds traded in an old custom for a more contained facade that proves costly in the long run?

We can speculate all day about why people shy away from emotions, but that will not do us any good. What we do know is that emotional energy without fending for God is a scary (and sometimes strangely enough, pleasant) process.

It is frightening to raise a fist at God for arriving a split second too late at the scene, to demand that God give an account of God’s whereabouts while our parent or sibling lay dying, and to feel a lingering anger at the Almighty for not carrying out claims of unconditional love and power. Likewise, it is downright anxiety-producing to lack trust when you are called to be trusting, to feel jealous when spiritual teachers encourage you to be content, and to feel helpless when religious voices accent your liberation as a believer.

Instead of chastising the wide range of emotional shadows that comes with loss, we may want to understand the restless, itchy, and unwanted component of this human chemistry as part of an already orchestrated process necessary to retrieve wholeness. Self-reflection, dream journaling, communication with another in a safe environment such as therapy, and listening to the body for tension or aches are normal ways to give our clashing emotions and all the defenses that come packaged with them space to surface.

In my years of working with thousands of individuals, I have not heard of God zapping people for their emotions. If that was the case, maybe one or two people would exist on this planet today. Maybe one or two! However, I have heard and seen people stockpile their emotions only to later suffer with additional physical, psychological, and spiritual ailments. And as survivors, increased suffering is the last thing we need.

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Kevin Quiles

Kevin Quiles, M.Div., M.A, has provided spiritual and bereavement counseling to elderly and dying individuals and their families since 1998. He earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1987 and attained a Masters of Divinity Degree with Emphasis in Counseling in 1995, before completing over two years of clinical-pastoral education under professional supervision. Quiles earned a Master of Arts Degree in Community Counseling at a CACREP accredited university and is now practicing supervised psychotherapy in the greater Atlanta area of Georgia, specializing in couple therapy, trauma, and grief. The author is also a member of the American Academy of Psychotherapists. His experience with thousands of patients in hospitals, assisted living facilities, and in their own homes gives him the insight and humility to write on the subject of spiritual care. The author has also penned six articles, including "Embracing the Elderly Patients' Wish to Die," and "Power Patterns within Professional Relationships." Dipped in a narrative format, Spiritual Care teaches the sacred art of end-of-life counseling to family members, students, volunteers, faith community lay and professional ministers, and therapists.

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