Permission to Feel: A Holy Practice

Earlier this week I preached for the first time to classmates and friends gathered near and far on Zoom. It was holy.

This week we will enter together into Holy Week and as our traditions and rituals for our Church gatherings have shifted – have faith and pause friends. Resurrection is still possible, even here.

This Holy Week feels more tangible for me, in fact, Lent has felt more alive and widely felt in my bones than ever before. I keep imagining the disciples: How were they feeling in their own isolation knowing of the death of Christ? How were they feeling moments after Jesus shared the cup and bread? Were they scared, doubt-filled, hurting, and full of grief?

What feels most useful to me this Holy Week is leaning into the truth that our emotions here are holy and God is here to hold them with us.

My sermon, “Permission to Feel” was written for my Preaching & Public Proclamation class. At the beginning of the semester I never imagined that I would give it virtually. Our world is so different right now, but our God is very much constant and the same loving God who cares for you – even in your isolation.

Peace to you all friends. May our walk to Holy Week be filled with the truth of how we are feeling and sharing with one another.

Permission to Feel

Our scripture comes from the Gospel of Luke Chapter 22:39-46, as Jesus and his disciples’ journey to the Mount for prayer.

39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” 41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.45 When he got up from prayer, he me to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”


{Prayer offered over uncertainty, remembrance of our constant God who hears, openness to feel}

I can remember where I was when my friend Daniel told me he had a 10-year-old daughter. Daniel and I had been friends for over 2 years, and I had never seen a photo of her. I remember watching his eyes scan the coffee shop, his face flushed red and I could feel him begin to wrestle the weight of his emotions. He was about to share his whole truth and I could tell he was afraid.  

It’s scary to tell someone the truth. It can feel intimately messy. After all it’s our heart that’s involved. There’s fear in the possibility of someone rejecting our core truths of how we’re feeling. 

On the night Jesus made his way to the Mount of Olives a weight was setting in over him and his disciples. They had just experienced the ultimate dinner party, except it was no party. It was a funeral procession for a death no one could envision just yet. 

At the Mount, Jesus asks the disciples to pray together. And, perhaps within his instruction, Jesus is suggesting the lingering grief from the disciple’s meal was meant to be shared with one another. After all, perhaps we could bear witness to each other’s emotion before it weighs us down. 

I wonder how heavy we feel in this moment. Death is lingering in the air in a new and tangible way. Threat of sickness and uncertainty circulate in a 24-hour news cycle and our lives have been disrupted and placed into a new way of being. This is not the lent I signed up for and we certainly are not at the ultimate dinner party. And, perhaps, we too have lingering emotion from the shock of a pandemic. Do we need each other now just as Jesus needed God and his disciples near in this moment?

Just a stone’s throw away, or as I like to imagine, within earshot, Jesus begins to pray, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from meyet, not my will but yours be done.” It’s the end of this prayer that we remember the most – “not my will but yours be done.”But at the center of Jesus’ prayer rest his humanity and ultimately ours. 

“Remove this Cup from me.” 

Here is where the son of God, a mortal man, doubts. 

Jesus, the same man who spoke at the synagogue in Nazareth, “the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me” pleads with God to “remove this cup” at the height of his call… in the darkest hour of his call … in the most uncertain hour of his life. Just as my friend Daniel’s face flushed red and his body language shifted, I can imagine here that Christ probably looked the same. Kneeling, shifting his body weight, working his way up to … “if you can just take this from me… I’m not sure if I can do it… Dad, do I really have to… remove this cup from me.” 

What can we glean from the Jesus who is unsure of his call in this moment? I wonder what kind of comfort it could bring to us to know even the son of God had doubts. 

Jesus is showing us that you can indeed release your emotions; your fear; your doubts to God. Jesus is demonstrating that if you feel lost or overwhelmed, you too can kneel before God and name it. And, God will notlook at you any less. Because our God is a God who says, “show me your complexities, show me your doubts… and I will comfort you for I made you.”

After releasing his emotion, an angel comes to Jesus and strengthens him. The angel, situated in Jesus’ corner, warms up his shoulders for the task ahead. I like to imagine this is the moment that God says, “I am so glad that you told me how you were feeling, cause I could feel it, and I wanted you to know I am going to take care of you.”  

God’s angel intercedes and Jesus’ display of emotion releases the tension. 

The text says Jesus was in anguish when he began to pray more earnestly and the meaning of anguish here is framed as a focused struggle; a wrestling. I’d like to suggest that Jesus prays more earnestly because he is wrestling with his emotion. Jesus can focus on the task ahead because he is truthful with not only himself, but with those around him. His sincerity and true conviction at this moment comes from release of his truth. And, let us not forget, his disciples are near … hearing, “Remove this cup from me.”

Now, picturing Jesus as a doubter is probably really uncomfortable and I want to be honest – it was uncomfortable for me, too. I wrestled with this message. I had doubts … and … then I remembered Jesus isn’t the only one in the biblical text who doubts his call: Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah…they all have doubts, fears, and emotions. There are no rejections to their truest truths – God individually meets them at their humanity and listens. 

So, what does this text say about Jesus as a human being? What does this mean for us as human beings?

Let me offer a reframing: Jesus is more than the single story of strength and triumph. Jesus is more complex than this! When we diminish Jesus’ humanity, we miss the invitation as disciples to feel and express every ray of emotion before God, to each other, and our community – and that includes our doubts – especially our doubts – because that’s holy too. 

When Jesus finished praying, he comes back to the disciples. I imagine this takes two or three steps – remember he’s not been far away – And there Jesus sees that the disciples have fallen asleep because of their sorrow. Sorrow in this passage translates to mean a great “weighing down.” 

I wonder for us gathered around computer screens today what could be weighing us down? Are we being honest with ourselves, with each other, and with God about how we feel? Are we afraid to say that we might have doubts in our call, in our current leadership, and in the world around us? What do we do with the weight of what we may be feeling today?

Let’s look to where comfort and truth are administered in the text:

Jesus starts this passage by inviting the disciples to pray and he ends this passage the same way, inviting the disciples to pray. 

We, my friends are the disciples, and Jesus is inviting us into the practice of embodying our emotions as holy and worthy of being felt and shared. And, in these present moments of constant shift and change – this practice could not be more needed. 

Dr. Marc Brackett, the director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, says, “When we deny ourselves the permission to feel, we lose the ability to name what we’re feeling.” In other words, we go numb, we get weighed down – perhaps, as the disciples did, we fall asleep. 

Brackett adds that when we keep our emotions to ourselves, they can cloud our ability to be present with ourselves and others. Friends, truly the feelings we experience daily are meant to be heard. 

The emotions that Jesus experiences on the Mount of Olives, especially his doubt, is holy. And ours is too. 

In the moments when we are unsure of our own calls, when we are not certain what we even believe anymore, when the world is aching … Christ has shown us that sharing our emotion is a holy practice. 

To engage in this holy practice, we have to attend to thiscritical truth:

We have permission to feel all our emotions and doubt right now within our faith, our call, our journey, and this world’s aching. Wrestling our emotions doesn’t make us less a believer, weak, or broken. It makes us human. We have the ultimate embodiment of human emotion in Jesus Christ. Let us not forget that being made in the image of God means bearing witness to all our complexities’ as they show up. Just as God held space with Christ at the Mount, may we hold space for each other right now – where we are – how we are – all of our feelings. 

We do not have to go out alone in this holy practice. In a time where uncertainty is on full display…. We need to hold space for one another. 

We have permission to feel.

Our holy practice of sharing our emotion and doubts starts with a simple question: “How are you doing?” 

Our collective “remove this cup from me” moment is in how we share the truth to this question and in return invite another person to share as well. Our holy practice is in the release and holding of one another within community. 

During this season of physical distancing and uncertainty, we may need more than ever space to release our truth: I’m tired. I’m angry that classes are no longer in person. I’m sad that I didn’t get to say goodbye to colleagues graduating. I’m lost. I’m anxious about the future. I’m grateful for this moment.

Each response is holy, precious, and worthy of being heard. May we be so bold to tell the truth; to release the cup for nourishment. God is listening, even now, ready to hold your emotion. 

To finish the story I started, Daniel shared his immense doubt that people would view him differently if they knew of his life before he came out. Daniel and I embraced, and he began to tell his story more earnestly. 

May we do the same boldly. May we make space for such offerings of holy emotion with one another. And may we stay brave in doing so.


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