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How the Psalms Taught Me About Emotions


How are the Psalms instructive? They train me on how to come before the Lord honestly in all seasons of life, setting the foundation of my heart on the truth from His word.

To say that the Borders household experiences emotions is an understatement. My four-year-old Emmie and I feel the heights and depths of emotion; we experience joy exuberantly, sadness deeply, anger fiercely, and so on. I remember having discussions with my dad about self-control and emotions as a child, and now I frequently have similar conversations with my daughter about how to express our emotions in a way that glorifies God, both in thinking and feeling rightly before God [1].

As I navigate through the Book of Psalms, I remember the importance of coming to God with my emotions, both in joy and sorrow. Growing up, I thought the Psalms were a feel-good remedy for moments of sadness, but as the Lord walks me through times of suffering and hardship, He continues to open my eyes to the beauty within these pages.

John Piper states it well: “The Psalms are meant to be instructive about God and man and life” [1]. So how are the Psalms instructive? They train me on how to come before the Lord honestly in all seasons of life, setting the foundation of my heart on the truth from His word.

How Psalm 143 Taught Me to Process Emotions

During a time that was dominated by depression, Psalm 143 was particularly instructive for me. I read this psalm continually when I couldn’t do anything else, memorizing the words to recite during the nights filled with anxiety and tears. In the framework of this psalm, the Lord taught me several ways to process my emotions honestly before Him, arming me with tools to fight against the strong currents of my emotions.

1. Speak honestly to God of my distress. In Psalm 143:1-4, David speaks honestly to God of his pain, his fear, and his neediness before the Most High God. His intimacy with the Lord gives him the assurance he needs to know that the Lord both hears and cares about his plight.

2. Remember the faithfulness of the Lord in the past. In verse 5, David remembers the Lord’s work in his life, a proclamation of confidence in the faithfulness of God.

3. Seek the Lord and stand firm. Verses 6-11 depict David falling before God in desperation, admitting his weakness and turning to his only source of strength in God. “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul” (Psalm 143:8).

4. Remember the promises of God. Finally, in verse 12, David holds onto the promises of God to defend, rescue, and uplift his servant. David relies on the knowledge of his Savior, reminding himself and the reader that God hears and will act, in His good and perfect plan.

My Life in the Psalms

But it’s not just Psalm 143. As I flip through the book of Psalms, I see a picture of my life laid out in its pages.

When I read Psalm 16, I remember many nights rocking Emmie to sleep, praying this life verse over her: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). I remember the Lord’s promise to give counsel and hold me secure, no matter how the waves of motherhood crash over me. I remember the joy my husband and I felt holding Emmie for the first time, and asking the Lord to show us even greater joy in His presence.

Psalm 86:11 directs me when I feel frustrated and helpless in disciplining my very strong willed child: “Teach me your way, O Lord that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”

Psalm 73 is tear-stained by many moments of failure and confession; I see the goodness of God in reminding me that He is my treasure, hope and strength. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

Do you see a pattern here? As we come to the Lord with our emotions, He instructs our minds towards truth, and this truth is our resting place. We do not need to fear emotional mountain peaks and valleys, rather we can rejoice and fall graciously before our God, who knows our hearts, hears our cry, and promises to act for our good and his glory. We fix our eyes on Christ, the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises of steadfast love and redeeming grace, training our minds and our hearts to find rest in God’s word.

"For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6).