7. The Emotional Leftovers of
Past or Present Sins
God's Word says so much more about the emotional realm than is known, acknowledged, or taught. More specifically, Scripture describes twelve emotional zones that summarize our total emotional experience. Notice I used the term emotional zones, as opposed to simply emotions. This is because each emotional zone is a spectrum--at one extreme is one distinct emotion, at the other extreme is the opposite distinct emotion, in-between are varying degrees of those emotions.
Reflect on this: we cannot feel shame without having felt innocence, they are opposite ends of the same spectrum. The two emotions are defined by each other, just as hot is defined by cold and vice versa, or dark is defined by light and vice versa. It is a bit more technical, then, to describe our emotional realm as emotional zones or spectrums or ranges. Scripture is full of underappreciated or wholly unnoticed truths, examples, and practical help concerning the very real and very complex emotional world of human beings.
Shame, Stained, & Invalidation
Sin, especially persistent or longterm sin, leaves emotional leftovers. It tips our emotional seesaws toward the unhealthy, darker side of the spectrums, affecting us in life-corroding psychological ways even after being born-again or even after the sin patterns have stopped altogether. I want to focus on three specific emotional leftovers that come with living outside of God's will or an aspect of God's will: shame, stained, and invalidation. These three emotions are visceral forces that often take the form of a cutting, nagging, gloomy not good enough feeling.
The first emotional spectrum revealed in Scripture is innocence-shame. Before the Fall negative emotions did not exist. Everything God created was "very good" (Gen 1:31); sin, death, and suffering did not exist (Ro 5:12). Yet, the moment Adam and Eve sinned and fell from absolute perfection, they felt shame (Gen 3:7). They recognized nudity for the first time and hurried to cover it up, thinking they could reverse this never-felt-before naked, embarrassed, humiliated, guilty feeling with a physical covering. The feeling, however, could not and would not tilt back to innocence until God forgave and covered their shame with a redemptive act (v21). The sense of innocence and acquittal lifts the shameful head once again.
Related to shame-innocence is the purity-stained emotional spectrum. Shame is the feeling of humiliation via guilt, while stained is the feeling of dirty or defective. Shame says, "I'm guilty", while stained says, "I'm dirty". Adam and Eve knew the blissful feeling of pristine purity, cleanness, and virtue, they also knew the mental state of feeling like damaged goods. Many sexual abuse victims relate profoundly with the stained-purity spectrum.
Cain seems to be the first person to experience the value-invalidation emotions. When he and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, his offering was invalidated because it was not the type of offering God desired, which was a living sacrifice (an animal). Genesis 4:5 says, in the literal Hebrew, that Cain's "face fell". Invalidation--perceived or real, deserved or undeserved--results in a sense of inferiority, inadequacy, and insecurity. The sense of value, though, is the sense of worth and adequacy. The acceptance-rejection spectrum deals with relationships and social interaction, while value-invalidation deals with any area of a person's life or performance, even the most mundane aspects.
Shame, Stained, Invalidation & The Not Good Enough Feeling
It is not hard to see how emotions of shame, stained, and invalidation (and other negative emotions) fuel a nagging not good enough feeling. These internal states, when leftover from sinful attitudes, sinful habits, or sinful choices, turn the not good enough feeling upwards at God. We feel not good enough for Him and His love, like He is always mad at us, like He will eventually give up on us. My friend jokingly, but creatively, calls it "spiritual low self-esteem". The not good enough feeling is corrosive enough as it is, but when turned upwards at God it takes on spiritual skin. It diminishes our joy in God's love and benevolence; it exaggerates His holy and stern attributes into terrorizing extremes; it diminishes our enthusiastic welcoming of His personal gifts and blessings; it most certainly weakens our prayer experience with Him, causing us to pray with doubt and hesitation, not a zealous aggression filled with faith.
I have emotional residue from past or present sins. Now what?
We do not have to be a prisoner to post-sin emotional leftovers, especially ones that lead to a crippling not good enough feeling. However, we do need to understand the mechanisms that lead to the healing of our heart and the cleansing of our conscience.
Make It Right, If Possible
When I was 21, the Holy Spirit revealed His displeasure towards aspects of my character. He prompted me to make a list of every person I had ever hurt significantly. It was 126 individuals long. Then He prompted me to go back to each one and humble myself, state my wrong specifically and without justifications, ask for their forgiveness, let them vent if needed with no reply or interruptions or justifications from me, and make restitution where possible.
The next eight months were busied with in-person visits, phone calls, handwritten letters, and emails. I never knew a human being I thought to be so wonderful (me) could actually be so depraved (me). Each name was a nauseous encounter with the raw, real pain I had caused. I abhorred myself. I couldn't take enough showers to get Me off of Me.
But praise and glory be to the Sanctifier! I saw dozens of emotional healings in these precious ones, and even two feuding families (which I caused) reconciled and resumed friendship. When I marked off #126, I felt as if my being had been flushed like a toilet bowl over a hundred times. I wish I had the vocabulary to express how this reformed my deepest personhood.
One thing I did not expect was this: the emotional leftovers from sin I had lived with for years was almost nonexistent. More steps would need to be taken, though, to complete the transformation miracle.
Scripture says we need to do what I just described: make amends. Proverbs 14:9 (HCSB) says, Fools mock at making restitution, but there is goodwill among the upright. Have the goodwill to make restitution, ask for forgiveness, let those you wounded vent, not defending yourself one bit. You are doing this first and foremost because it is right, for the other person's sake, but God will reward your humility with healings in your emotions and conscience.
Matthew 7:2,5 (HCSB): …with the measure you use, it will be measured to you…Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Proverbs 28:13 (HCSB: The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy.
When Restitution is Not Possible, Wise, or Safe
Sometimes making amends is not possible. Maybe the person died or it is impossible to locate them. Maybe it is not wise or safe, such as when going back to a person would cause more damage and a greater mess than even the original wrong. Do not use this as a convenient, dishonest excuse to avoid doing the hard thing. You know deep down if going back would really, truly, probably create an entirely new nuclear explosion, or, if you are just trying to avoid making restitution in deep humility. Be honest with yourself and God. He knows.
When going back is not possible, wise, or safe, God's presence and the basic mechanisms of spiritual growth will finish the healing and cleansing of your sin's emotional leftovers. Do James 5:16. Pray healing scriptures in the context of these specific emotions depressing your spirituality. If you persevere with God and your spiritual growth, the not good enough feeling rising from sin's leftovers will eventually vanish.