Words For My Feelings
About the Guest
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Courtney ReissigCourtney Reissig is a pastor's wife, freelance writer, blogger, and teacher. She was born in California, grew up in Texas, and did a couple of stints in Michigan before finally graduating from Northwestern College (MN). After doing some graduate study at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, she met her husband and fell in love, and they now make their home in Little Rock, Arkansas. You can read more of her writing on her blog or follow her on Twitt...more
Sometimes it can be difficult to put our feelings into words. Courtney Reissig shares how God can actually use the Psalms to help us get in touch with our emotions.
Words For My Feelings
Ann: So there is a little secret that maybe some of our listeners don’t know about you.
Dave: It’s not like a secret.
Ann: Kind of. So every time we go to a movie at the theater or at home, Dave cries. He cries at movies like Firehouse Dogs. [Laughter]
Dave: This is like this family joke on me. She doesn’t even know—she didn’t even watch Firehouse Dogs—but I did on an airplane on a mission trip back; my 16-year-old son sitting beside me. He looks over and goes, “You’re seriously crying at Firehouse Dogs?!” It’s this little dog that lived in the firehouse and got lost, and they find him at the end. I’m over there, tearing up.
Ann: So he does that; but in real life, you seldom cry. That’s the thing that we’re like, “Why is that?”
Dave: Are you asking?
Ann: Yes; kind of.
Dave: I have no idea.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I don’t know; it’s a joke. I cry in the movie theater in the dark; and I have a hard time feeling in life, which is—
Ann: Somewhere, you shut down those feelings. Maybe, we’ll bring Ron Deal in and have another counseling session.
Dave: Ron can come back in and counsel me.
So I need to learn how to feel. We’ve got the person who can help me learn how to feel; right, Courtney?
Courtney: I hope so; maybe! [Laughter]
Dave: Well, welcome, Courtney Reissig, to FamilyLife Today. Glad to have you here with us.
Courtney: Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Ann: You wrote a book called Teach Me to Feel.
Courtney: I did; yes.
Dave: She wrote it just for me.
Courtney: Just for you; yes. [Laughter]
Dave: Just for me.
Ann: And Courtney is the managing director at Risen Motherhood. She is the author of Teach Me to Feel and Glory in the Ordinary. Courtney, how many years have you been married to Daniel?
Courtney: Twelve years.
Dave: Daniel is from our hometown.
Courtney: He is! Yes.
Dave: A lot of people are from Findlay, Ohio; but Daniel is. He knows about Wilson’s Hamburgers,—
Ann: —Dietsch Ice Cream.
Dave: —which is no connection to us—and the greatest ice cream in the world, Dietsch’s.
Ann: And you have four sons.
Ann: How old are they?
Courtney: Eight, eight, almost six, and almost four.
Ann: So you had twin boys.
Courtney: I did.
Ann: And now, you have four boys.
Courtney: I do. My third son looks—is about the same size as my twins—so they look like triplets.
Dave: Oh, wow.
Well, let’s talk about Teach Me to Feel, which the subtitle is Worshipping Through the Psalms in Every Season of Life. I love how you start the book, because you’re talking about this time you go to the hospital.
Dave: You’re pregnant. Tell us what happened because you ended up staying there a little longer than you thought.
Courtney: Right; I had a placental abruption with my fourth son, which is a life-threatening pregnancy complication. I was 33 weeks pregnant when I went into the hospital and thought, at first maybe, like my appendix had ruptured—which would have been preferable at the time to having a placental abruption—because if my appendix had ruptured, I would have been home in the next few days.
Instead, I was in the hospital for three weeks; and I was on monitors/on continuous monitoring. I couldn’t take care of my other children. My husband couldn’t go home and take care of them, because we were—
Courtney: —it was very touch-and-go crisis situation—where even the doctors didn’t want him going home. They thought, if he went home, that potentially I would have to go into OR immediately; and he wouldn’t even be there for the birth.
Ann: You’re saying this was life-threatening, not only for the baby, but for you.
Courtney: Yes; so placental abruption is—mine was a partial abruption—but a full abruption gives you about five to ten minutes to save the baby and about fifteen minutes to save the mom, because you bleed to death. A lot of abruptions are what are called silent abruptions, where you can’t always feel them; and you can’t see them. You can’t see them on an ultrasound ever; and if you’re not bleeding, there is no real indication that it is happening.
Mine was pain; so at least, they knew something was going on. The pain was a good indicator, but we couldn’t/we just didn’t know. The monitoring was a good indicator of how well Ben was faring. He wasn’t faring well when I was having pain and when I was having contractions. Then, there was a period of time when I couldn’t even leave my hospital room. For me, I just couldn’t—if anyone’s ever been in a health crisis, you can’t always gather your thoughts to do anything—so for me, I was in this constant state of panic of: “Are things going to be okay today?” I was always worried about my children.
I had my Bible, so I just read the Psalms. In God’s kindness, I had studied the Psalms prior to that in a Bible study that whole year prior, and had really grown to understand how God had orchestrated putting them together, what their intended purpose was for in the canon of Scripture but then, also, for God’s people.
Ann: Share a little bit of that with us.
Ann: What did you learn?
Courtney: Yes; so the Psalms—they were Israel’s hymn book—they were Israel’s songs that they sang. They were Israel’s songs that they sang during exile. What is interesting about how they are put together—there are five books of them—each book has its own kind of tone. The first couple of books are heavier in tone in that there is a lot of lament and a lot of sorrow. Then it gets more hopeful as the books—and book three is really dark—and then it gets more hopeful as it goes on.
That really tells the story of the Christian life: is that, while we live through a lot of difficulty and a lot of hardship, where we are ultimately headed is hopefulness; because we know the end of the story. Psalm 1 tells us, by meditating on God’s Word day and night, you will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which means you are going to grow and flourish, even in the midst of a lot of difficulty; because you have roots that dig down deep to the nourishment of water, which we know in Scripture is often used to talk about the way that God nourishes us. So then Psalm 2 tells us the end result with the King: there is going to be a King, who is going to rule and reign rightly over all things.
What I found is that all that leg work on the backend, when things were going well in my life—where I studied the Word and I put in the hard work of meditating on God’s Word—I was able to reap the benefit of that in a really, really hard time when I couldn’t do a whole lot of study. I could just read like a psalm or two here or there.
Ann: Take us back to the bed—
Ann: —when you are in there. You had to be so worried.
Courtney: I was really worried. Any type of traumatic situation, you are not really able to process how you feel in that moment. For me, I found in the hospital that, when I would read of people crying out to God—or like in Psalm 27: “I believe I will look on the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,”—I wanted to believe that I would see God’s goodness. Not only did I find prayers to pray back to God, but I also found familiar friends that I was like, “I’m not the first person who has been in so much distress about whether or not my life is going to be delivered.”
I found what was comforting to me was that it was almost as if God was showing me, through His Word, that: “I hear you. I know/I know that this world is broken and hard. And I know it’s really difficult; and I know you are terrified; but I am here to hear your prayers. I’m here to hear your cries for help; I am here to hear your anxiety and your fear; and I am ready and willing to sustain you while you are waiting.” For me, that was really hopeful.
I have been in situations before—I talk about this in the book because, well—we’ve had a lot of medical crises in our family. My twins were born eight weeks premature, so they were in the hospital. I mean, twins are just hard in general; so it was just a really hard year when they were born. I didn’t read my Bible, really ever; that bore bitter fruit in my life. My husband would try to encourage me, like, “Maybe, you could listen to the Bible.” I would watch TV shows on my phone instead, so I went to the exact opposite.
Ann: You are talking to so many moms right now—
Ann: —that are just/you are just worn out.
Courtney: It’s not wrong to watch a TV show when you’re feeding your babies. There is no verse that—but for me—
Dave: Unless you’re watching like a horror movie or something.
Courtney: Right; right; right; sure.
Ann: You are saying you didn’t produce much fruit from that?
Courtney: I did produce fruit; it produced bitter fruit.
Courtney: I didn’t have any perspective. The Lord was kind to give me a do-over and to allow me to see that pouring the Word into my life was going to reap fruit—even if my circumstances were really scary and hard—but that God was going to sustain me through the Word. For me, that is the message of Psalm 1—and for so many people who can see the Lord do that in their life—is that what you pour in is what is going to come out when it is hard.
Dave: I know that as 2020 started, over a year ago—every year, January 1—I’m like, “Okay, what do I want to read this year in the Bible?”
Courtney: Yes, yes.
Dave: Sometimes, it’s the one-year Bible. She’s [Ann’s] gone through the one-year like 17 years in a row—I’m bragging on my wife right now—she’s just like—
I decided, not knowing COVID is coming—guess what I decided to do?—“I’m going to read the book of Psalms this year.
Courtney: Oh, good! Yes.
Dave: “There are 150 of them. I’m not going to be in a hurry. If I take Psalm 1—it takes two or three days; I don’t care—I’m just going to sit there.” You talk about a great book, not knowing at that moment,—
Courtney: Right; right.
Dave: —to be reading during COVID. Like you write in the book, Teach Me to Feel, there is so much emotion, and feeling, and struggle. David and others are like: “Where are You?” “What is going on? How long?” We’re in February, March, April—you remember—“Fifteen Days to—
Courtney: —“Stop the spread.” [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, that is where we started in February; and we all sort of believed that. Then we’re in May, and here we are.
Courtney: Yes, yes.
Dave: I’m still in the book of Psalms, and I got excited every day.
Courtney: Praise the Lord.
Dave: It’s like: “Okay; I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to wear sweats all day and no shoes, and I get to read the Psalms,” which is going to be emotive. And here is a guy, who doesn’t feel real good; so it was a tool/a vehicle to be able to feel and take the emotions they were feeling and connect to them to the life-stage I was in/we were all in. I had no idea, starting the year, the book of Psalms would be that critical to getting through COVID.
Ann: I think that is God’s Word. I am amazed of how God’s Word changes our lives.
Ann: When you read, you identify, like: “I have been through that; God is faithful.” It is such a good reminder.
I’m relating to your story, too, because all of our sons were put in NICU when they were born.
Courtney: Yes; it is so hard.
Ann: I will never forget—yes—after the first one, they said—he had a really traumatic birth—and they said, “We think he has a skull fracture. We’re doing all kinds of tests.” I remember being in that hospital room—and I am thinking of listeners, who have been in hospital rooms, filled with fear—
Dave: —or even going through a marriage situation, where you are just filled with fear and anxiety.
Courtney: Right; right.
Ann: Right; and you don’t know the future.
Ann: I remember I had my Bible with me, and I pulled it out. Dave was out of the room. I wish I could remember the Psalm. It was a Psalm that I read, too; and I felt like God was asking me, “Ann, you can trust Me.” Then I also felt like I had this pressing on my soul that was almost as if He was asking, “Can I surrender this child to Him?”
Courtney: Yes, yes.
Ann: What we want to do in our lives is take control—like: “I’m going to work this out,” “I’m going to figure this out,”—whether it be our marriage, our kids, our work situation; and God is asking us, “Can you trust Me and give it to Me?”
Courtney: It was so crazy. I wrote this book prior to anything happening with COVID, obviously. The book was written the summer before; and it came out on January 1, 2020.
Courtney: It’s just so crazy; because it took on a new meaning when we—with everything that happened last year: and all of the unrest, and all of the difficulty, and all of the—so many things of when you are crying out for justice, the Psalms can speak to that. What is so helpful to me about the Psalms, also, is so often I take my complaints to somebody else. I mean, we go to other people; or I take my complaints to my husband; or I voice them out on the internet. The Psalms are telling us it’s okay to have these feelings, but to direct them to the only One who can do anything about it, not just to throw it out into the void.
So for me, the Psalms were really helpful in those moments when I came home from the hospital. I had these really overwhelming feelings of: “I have no control over anything.” The Psalms helped me—
Ann: Is there one that really kind of met you?
Courtney: Yes, when I felt really low with depression, Psalm 88 was really helpful; because Psalm 88 has no resolution. It just kind of ends with darkness, where: “Darkness is my only friend.” If you just read Psalm 88 out loud—I read it out loud in an interview I did one time—and I was like, “If your friend sat across from you and said that to you, like what would you do? It would be a little bit hard.”
Ann: I am going to read it. I want you to tell me some of your feelings.
Dave: Teach us to feel.
Courtney: Okay; I will. [Laughter]
Ann: “O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. I am as good as dead, like a strong man with no strength left. They have left me among the dead, and I lie like a corpse in a grave. I am forgotten….”—it keeps going.
Courtney: It keeps going; yes.
Ann: But talk about just that part. When you read that, did you think, “I feel like that”?
Courtney: Yes; for me, I felt forgotten. I mean, this isn’t true; but I would feel like, “Everyone’s life has moved on.” I think sometimes people—for me, on the outside, I looked like a normal person—I had brought my baby home.
Ann: And you should be thankful and grateful.
Courtney: I should be thankful and grateful. I had a lot of physical ramifications; it was just a really hard recovery for me. The trauma and stress of it just put an abnormal amount of stress on my body; my body just like revolted against me countless times. Because now I’m almost four years removed from it, so I’m able to look back and be like, “There were so many things going on.”
I did get counseling eventually. I had a really good friend, who showed me that I wasn’t forgotten. I had made an appointment multiple times; I kept cancelling it because it just felt impossible to go. She was like, “I’m going to watch your children, and you are going to go to counseling.” It was really helpful; I was in counseling for a year.
Dave: That’s when you know you really need it.
Courtney: Right. [Laughter]
Dave: “I’m going to watch your kids. Now, go! You need to go to counseling.” [Laughter]
Ann: Well, we talk about Courtney’s book, Teach Me to Feel. You are learning how to feel again—
Ann: —and how to process all these feelings.
Courtney: How to process—right; right.
Ann: A counselor can help with that.
Courtney: They can. I needed to rehearse in my mind the circumstances and rehearse that it didn’t end in my worst nightmare.
What is helpful about Psalm 88 is: I once heard a Psalms scholar say that the Psalms often have a resolution of trust. Most of them start with a cry to the Lord; then you move through this pattern, and they eventually end in trust; but Psalm 88 doesn’t. That’s really helpful for people; because he said, “We don’t often know when that trust came.”
It was a poem—it was written—and we don’t know if it was written in an afternoon or if it was written over a period of a few years. We put an unnecessary time table on people to come to the conclusion that: “I’ve poured out my heart to the Lord; and I, therefore, am going to get up and trust Him,” or “I’m going to say I trust Him.” I think that’s helpful that it doesn’t end with the trust there; but I also think what’s really helpful is that, kind of like I said previously, is that we often pour our complaints out to everybody else—
Courtney: —but the fact that he keeps going back to God shows that he hasn’t given up that God is trustworthy. He just can’t see how God is trustworthy; but He is, at least, going to God.
For anyone, who struggling with feeling rightly or struggling with anxiety—not clinical anxiety—but general run-of-the-mill: “This is a scary situation,” type of thing; or depression; or just dealing with trauma, or stress, or marital strife, or whatever—God has given us language to cry out to Him. He is a trustworthy friend, and He will not abandon us. He will listen and turn His ear toward us, even if we don’t come to that trust right then at the end of it.
Dave: Yes; I think—you know, like you said—when you walk through the Psalms, it’s sort of like going to small group for the first time. At our church, we always say, “Sunday morning is not going to change your life; you need to get connected with other people.”
Dave: When they do, usually, you hear something like, “Wow! I went to this group, and I sat in this living room; and people struggle just like me.”
Dave: So when you pick up the book of Psalms, you find that; you’re like, “Wow; this is a biblical writer complaining, angry, lamenting, struggling. I’ve done that; it’s okay.”
Dave: Like you said, many times, you get to the end, and they are like, “There is hope.” They do still trust; but again, you don’t know if that was written in an afternoon or several years.
Dave: But it leads you to go, “Okay; I can be honest and real. There is a God who hears. There is a God that is there; and I can trust Him, even if I don’t know the resolution of my situation.”
Courtney: Right. What is helpful about Psalm 88 is it tells us who wrote it. He is listed elsewhere—I can’t remember if it is in—Chronicles/1 or 2 Chronicles or 1 or 2 Kings—but he is listed elsewhere as a godly man in the priesthood of the singers, so we know he is known for being a godly man.
Ann: And he loves God.
Courtney: And he loves God; but everybody has low points.
Ann: And it is okay to lament.
Ann: That’s what you are saying: it’s healthy to lament.
Courtney: Most of the Psalms are lament.
Dave: You know, we started talking about how I don’t feel; but I actually do feel.
Ann: You totally feel.
Dave: Yes; I can remember I was alone—you were downstairs—I was in bed. The next morning I had to get up early and go to the hospital for back surgery. I had gone in a year previously for this same back surgery. They sent me home, saying, “You are healed.” It’s a long story—listeners have heard that story, because it was pretty amazing—I thought I had a New Testament miracle, and I did; but a year later, I’ve got to have this surgery.
I had sciatica for all these months, and it was really bad. I did what I should have never have done that day. I went online and watched a back surgery. [Laughter] It scared me to death—
Courtney: Yes; yes.
Dave: —with these tools, and drills, and saws. I am lying in bed that night; Ann hadn’t come up, and we had to get up early to go to the hospital. All I know is I was so gripped with fear;—
Dave: —it just flooded over me. I’m lying there all by myself. I just—I mean, I was like, “I am cancelling! I’m not going in! Some guy is going to be poking around my nerve, and I could be paralyzed,”—all of these things come into your head. I was so—and I am not a fearful guy—am I?
Dave: Generally, I’m like, “Let’s go for it. Let’s take it”; but I’m like I’m paralyzed. I’m just lying there, like gripped. The only thing I need to do was read a Psalm.
Dave: I was like: “I want to read a Psalm”; because they emote.
Dave: I didn’t know what to read, and I don’t know why I turned to Psalm 34.
Courtney: Oh, yes! Yes.
Ann: It’s one of my favorites.
Courtney: I love that one.
Ann: Me too.
Courtney: My boys and I have memorized it—
Courtney: —or, at least, the first part of it; yes.
Dave: Yes; I memorized for a while that night because it just ministered to me. It says/David wrote this: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” I’m lying there, going, “Okay, this is what I needed to be reminded of.”
Dave: “Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers him.” I could keep going: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Courtney: Yes; yes.
Dave: I can just remember lying there, and just looking up and going, “Okay, You’ve got this.”
Dave: You know what I said? This sounds corny; I literally said, “You’ve got my back.” [Laughter]
Ann: I remember you said that to me.
Courtney: Truer words were never spoken!
Dave: Sure enough, He did. The Word of God through a Psalm, like you’ve written, that allowed me to feel.
Ann: Courtney, I am thinking of all the people, who are listening—especially, moms: maybe nursing, maybe just frazzled with their kids, maybe they are working or staying at home—but I love what you said; you talked about going to God first.
Ann: It is really easy for us, as women, to call a friend—
Courtney: Oh, yes.
Ann: —because our friends will sympathize with us, and they’ll kind of get right on there—or call a mom or a sister.
Ann: I remember being a young mom, hearing that for the first time, thinking, “Okay, I’m not going to call my friends first or text a friend. I am going to go to God first.” It changed everything, to the point where I am just pouring out my heart, as the Psalms do/pouring out my heart to God and asking Him: “I need You,” “I need You to speak to me,” “I need You to help me.”
Ann: He does. I think when we go to Him, He is like, “There you are!
Ann: “I am with you. I will help you. I hear you. I see you.” I think that is just a great reminder. And I love that you’ve given us permission to feel, and you’re helping us learn how to feel through God’s Word.
Bob: Jesus is the One who gave the invitation. He is the One who said: “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you peace,” “Take My yoke upon you. My burden is light; My yoke is easy.” I think all of us, in a culture that is routinely stirring us emotionally, need to remember where we go with that/where we take our troubled soul. We take it to Jesus, and we reprioritize our lives so we are focused on seeking first the kingdom and His righteousness.
Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking with Courtney Reissig today about how we deal with overflowing emotion. Courtney has written a book called Teach Me to Feel. It is a book that looks at how the Psalms help us know what to do with our emotions. It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request your copy of Courtney Reissig’s book, Teach Me to Feel. Again, it’s available online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call if you’d like to order by phone. The number is 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We hope you can be back with us, again, tomorrow when we are going to hear Courtney Reissig’s story about how she almost died in the midst of one of her pregnancies. We’ll hear how God ministered to her through the Psalms in the midst of her distress.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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