Bottled up


Emotions, bewildered and with no home or expression in which to fly outward, get put in a bottle big enough to hold, stuffed down like constricted gas in a container of your own making.


Medicine. Comes in bottles - not so pretty these days in their plastic with sanitary white labels and prescription numbers, but still amber. Temporary peacemaker for the bottled up emotion, temporary relaxation so your shoulders don't turn to stone, loosen your grip so you can hug someone in the deeps of your own emotional winter.



Memories. Memories in bottles too, like a sweet perfume bottle you just lift the lid on to recapture joy, recapture someone long lost, like Evening in Paris brings Fern back to life for my aunt Rosalie. Rosalie with the fragmented memory of all childhood, brought back into the deep squeeze of her mother's hug by the smell of that perfume.


But the sweetest of all - of this picture of my father's amber bottles on the windowsill - is the idea that there is escape from bottled emotions, bottled elixirs that can't do what your doctor promises, the relief from memories bittersweet at best and undoing at worst - in the bottles of tears Christ keeps for each of us.
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8)
My tears, in His bottle, and written in His book. Not one of them lost, soaked into the pillow, or wiped hurriedly from the face, or disguised under the hat brim or squeezed back with the tight eyelids. EVERY ONE. In His beautiful bottle and sacred in His holy book.

My sorrows are not unnoticed. This sets me free. Free to cry in public if I need to cry in public. Free to melt those granite shoulders and sob into the arms of the hug offered. Free to set memories free from bottles and cry grief that someone is gone...for however short a time before our reunion...that I can only smell them now in that bottle of perfume kept sacramental in the hutch.

The row of amber bottles glows on my father's arched window in his study. The yellow bleeds through in the blazing afternoon light and reminds of this Psalm, the Psalm of promise that He is watching every tear I choose to let slide. Every emotion I allow myself to feel. That my faith does not crumple because it is not made of stone - for He is the Rock, and I am the clay of the Potter.
“Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’? Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to his mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’ “This is what the LORD says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. (Isaiah 45:9-12)
One of the things He created - much to my frequent dismay - is emotion. Men have boiled a whole host of emotion to 5 main categories: anger, fear, worry, grief, and joy/sadness. I feel fear, worry, grief, and joy and sadness. Anger I struggle with. I flare up with temper sometimes, but I am the ice-cold temper, the temper that just raises the voice and slams the doors to get something accomplished, not a red-hot anger, an anger that is involved in the emotion. To me, it's just a tool. Likewise worry - something to fill my time. Something I've long tried to root out, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (4:6) Grief - check. Feel it all the time. Grief over cancer, grief over Amy's losses, grief over dead relatives, grief over relationships torn and bloodied. But again it is a detached, no tears grief, just a heaviness of heart, a wonder about what "might have been." Joy, I feel that deeper, like sunlight on warm spring day, soaking into the bones. Rejuvenating. Sadness, I try to stay away from. Try to find the joy hidden in sadness.

So what does unbottling Godly emotion look like? First, your guess may be as good as mine. But this is what God is revealing to me.

1) Anger: join Him in righteous anger. Shake your fists and let the veins on your neck pop out a little in some safe place. There is terrible injustice in this world. Whether it be first-hand - someone abusing you or making you powerless or stealing your voice - or your distress over a far-away tragedy like the one we are watching unfold in Japan - join in God's righteous anger. The anger that flooded the world, sent Sodom and Gomorha up into smoke, smoked cities in the way of Israel's progress. You know that God who breathes hail and shouts thunder? Sometimes we get to join Him in that. Be angry, and do not sin. (Psalm 4:4a)

2) Fear: well, you have two choices here. You can live in fear of Satan and what man can do to you. Maybe you're like me and you have secrets from your past you'd rather never caught up with. Maybe there are things you do today that bring you shame. Your other choice is to live in "fear" of God - this word "fear" coming from Hebrew words like פַּחְדַּת (religious awe) and Greek words like φόβον (literally "fear") - to fear the consequences of your wrong-doing in His sight, and delight in your good works in His sight. To have this fear motivating you to be more like Him and serving like Him...this is Godly fear. It is noteworthy to point out that there are scores more reference to the "fear" of God in the Old Testament, prior to the Grace-giving sacrifice of our Savior on the cross, and very few in the New Testament, where Grace prevails through the cross. Also, we must remember that fear is an emotion given us by God to help us recognize dangerous situations and people and make choices that keep our hearts, souls, and bodies safe.


3) Worry: you're going to feel it sneaking up on you, even if you've got Philippians 4:6 tattooed on your wrist. Let it bring you to your knees in prayer. Let it send you searching to the Father of lights for the answer to the trouble before you. Don't just stuff it down and say you're not going to be anxious. Let it lead you out of that trapped sensation and into the field where God lets you breathe it up to Him in blessed prayer and He lifts the burden quietly from your back and tells you He's got it. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches over me (video based on Matthew 10:29-31).

4) Grief. We all know it. From a job opportunity lost, to a friendship ended, to a death in the family or the loss of a pet; an opportunity lost, a parenting moment gone awry, a  slip of the tongue that yields damage to a precious relationship. Two portrayals of grief from Scripture immediately come to mind here: the story of Job, who sat in ashes and scraped himself with pot shards while wearing torn garments, denoting the utter desolation of his heart after a tragic, inescapable and unfathomable loss. And the example of David, mourning bitterly for his dying son, yet casting off his sackcloth and going out of his castle in apparent joy once his son had died:
When David saw them whispering, he realized what had happened. “Is the child dead?” he asked. “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.” Then David got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotions, and changed his clothes. He went to the Tabernacle and worshiped the Lord. After that, he returned to the palace and was served food and ate. His advisers were amazed. “We don’t understand you,” they told him. “While the child was still living, you wept and refused to eat. But now that the child is dead, you have stopped your mourning and are eating again.” David replied, “I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, ‘Perhaps the Lord will be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:19-23)
While yes, we grief past the loss that grieved us in the first place, this incredible example of obedience to God's sovereign will is a signpost in a foggy vale of tears that directs us to act as we face the griefs that descend upon us in this life.

5) Joy/sadness: This is the first emotion we come across that is dichotomous. Do psychologists think of it as dichotomous - one or the other, joy or sadness? For Christians, especially those joining Ann Voskamp on the trail that began in the bloody pool of her toddler sister's death place on the gravel of their farm driveway and has led to the amplitude of a grace-filled and joy-filled farm, through sorrows and happinesses - we, this gratitude community - see the joy breathing out of every sadness, and the sadness leaching out of every joy. It is a different way to see the world. And in this one emotion, I feel grounded and unbottled and free.

Thanks to Ann for helping me unbottle one of the 5. Pray God I feel every one of them again before I die, these emotions, God-given, bottled and stopped up by the pain of a life that seems barely worth the living of it.