I find those three words to be some of the most comforting in all of Scripture.
That “troubled” feeling leaves a legacy throughout the Bible. David wrote in the Psalms of feeling troubled (especially Psalm 6). Great kings and even entire nations are described as troubled. Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2), Pharaoh (Genesis 41), and Herod (Matthew 2) were all troubled. Hannah was troubled (1Samuel 1). Jesus Himself was troubled several times (Matthew 26, Mark 14, John 11, 12, 13)… and it’s fascinating to me.
People so often panic when someone expresses a feeling akin to “troubled.” Christians, occasionally and in particular, go so far as to shame each other for feeling troubled because “His yoke is easy and his burden is light,” (Matthew 11) or because of the instruction: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God,” (Phillippians 4). Christians wield those verses to drive home a false doctrine that a true believer shouldn’t be troubled – that faith should erase the heart’s woes and a good believer ought to be happy. While the verses are true, they do not supersede the verses that depict Jesus feeling “troubled.” They are not more relevant or applicable than the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’s tears in response to the death of Lazarus, or His cries to His Father from the cross, and the uplifting words of God cannot be divorced from the painful passages.
I’m tempted to write this entire post as a defense of feeling troubled, because I feel defensive about it. However, I’m going to try to limit the defense to a quick anecdote…
I had a rough week last week. I interviewed for several positions I should have been offered, but wasn’t, and I’m confident it’s my fault. I’m a terrible interviewee. Admittedly, spending a week not getting a job isn’t all that bad, but what I had was a compounded feeling from weeks and weeks and interviews and interviews that also didn’t work out. I woke up that Saturday and my car wouldn’t start. Then my grandmother passed out and had to go to the E.R. (and I thought she might die). At some point during the week, I was involuntarily separated for an undefined amount of time from someone I love and adore.
In short, I felt troubled, and not without reason.
So… a well-intentioned friend texted me with irritation that I hadn’t called her back when she’d called. I sent her a quick response that said, “The ish just keeps hitting the fan. I’ll call you when I regain my footing.”
The response she sent said something like, “You can vent to me. You don’t have to seem happy all the time.”
When I didn’t write back, she called and left me a voicemail, to which I didn’t respond.
The thing about this isn’t that any of that is wrong. It’s more of something I feared about talking to her… something hiding beneath the surface of her claims that I didn’t have to act a certain way. This friend has a great heart, and she wants to be there for me, but she has a response to other’s troubles that communicates the opposite of what her words said: she frets. It stresses her out when I am, or anyone is, troubled. She often cries in sympathy, which can be admirable. The problem comes when we’ve finished talking and she asks if I feel better.
As much as this friend wants to believe she’s a great listener and someone to whom I could turn when I’m troubled, her ultimate goal in the conversation is to fix it, whereas my ultimate desire and goal is to sit in it indefinitely.
Jesus was troubled…
I want to meditate on that. I want to think about what that means – that the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Creator, Savior, etc… felt troubled by the things He experienced and saw in this world.
I want to sit in it, and my friend wants to drag me out of it… and in my troubled state, I don’t have the energy to try to persuade her to just sit down beside me in it and say nothing. I didn’t want to have to tell her everything I’m writing here: that Jesus Himself felt troubled, so I’m in good company.
In the chronology of Jesus’s life, the passage I’m really thinking of that says He was troubled comes in John 13, just before Jesus told His disciples that one of them was going to betray Him.
If we were created in the image of a God who feels troubled about betrayal, then it’s not an accident that I struggle to understand and cope with betrayal. There’s even hope in a troubled heart because it indicates that I was created for better and more than I experience here. There’s hope because, “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…” (Hebrews 4).
Admittedly, I pulled that passage out of context a bit, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the sometimes troubled feeling of my heart is one letter of Jesus’s personal signature over me. It’s the red paint of His name claiming that He painted me and I am like Him. That’s why it’s important that I accept feeling troubled – because, in fighting it, I may be fighting one of my Christ-like reflexes, the reflex that feels troubled when things are broken.