Occasionally I hear people say that we see the psalmists venting, but that is to mistake the raw honesty we see in the Psalms with our experience of venting. In the Psalms, believers honestly vocalize their pain and suffering. But we don’t see sinful venting; we see believers talking to God through their pain. Moreover, the Psalms don’t only model how to express our feelings. Crucially, they teach us what things should arouse our feelings!
Christians today are increasingly aware of the importance of emotions. This growing emotional awareness is a positive development—especially when we learn how to process those emotions with God! At the same time, and perhaps even connected to this heightened emotional awareness, there is a growing recognition of the importance of lament.
But as we think through processing our emotions and practicing lament, there is an important distinction to make. That distinction is the difference between venting and lamenting.
Let’s consider each in turn.
What Is Venting?
To vent is to give vigorous or emotional expression. Venting is expressing your views or emotions, often to obtain some relief or get attention. The opposite of this is the habit of “bottling things up,” where we suppress or stifle our thoughts and feelings. Viewed in this light, we can see the value of venting—it is important to identify and communicate our thoughts and feelings to those around us.
However, although we can all readily acknowledge the value of communicating our thoughts and feelings, we must be aware that, from a Christian perspective, the mere expression of those is not necessarily helpful. It is possible to express ourselves in destructive ways. In fact, the book of Proverbs issues a warning we ought to keep in mind:
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (Prov. 29:11).
Commenting on this verse, biblical scholar John Kitchen writes that “such a person is subject to every whim of passion and makes everyone in his life ride the roller coaster to the peaks and through valleys of his emotions.” Colloquially, we might say that this person is controlled by their emotions. And as Kitchen points out, that can have destructive results for those around us. In fact, I think we see that all the time. It is easy to connect personal venting and the toxic reactivity that increasingly defines Western culture.