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Emotional Ambush!  

Emotional ambushes hurt. But with the Scriptures, we can be prepared for those moments of surprise attack. They are an opportunity for us to draw near to God.

Mar 9, 2023

December 7, 1941, started out as a peaceful Sunday morning in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But shortly before 8am, it turned into “the day of infamy.” It was an ambush, a surprise attack, sudden and unexpected. The US military had been blindsided, and America was in grief.  

Can You Relate? 

If you’re like me and have recently lost a loved one, you are all too familiar with the sudden and unexpected ambush of your emotions. You are grocery shopping when you cross a woman shopping with her elderly mother. You find yourself in tears. “What I would give to shop with my mother.” Or you receive a graduation announcement from your neighbor, and you feel a knife in your heart as you realize your son would be graduating with him if he were still alive. Or you hear your late husband’s favorite song on the radio, and you crumble in a tearful memory lane. 

You have learned to accept the enduring grief of your loss, but you find the emotional ambushes startling and painful. How do you cope with such moments? Do you try to be stoic? Do you retreat to pills or alcohol to numb the pain? Do you cry?  

I hope you cry. Lament is human. “In this fallen world, sadness is an act of sanity, our tears the testimony of the sane.”1Zack Eswine, Spurgeon’s Sorrows, Christian Focus, 2014. It is normal to cry in grief; it is not a “mental illness.” But there are weapons at our disposal to help us do more than cry. We can’t always prevent those situations of emotional ambush, but we can prepare a plan to deal with them when they happen. We might not escape the pain of the ambush, but we can be ready with a defense and recovery plan. We need our weapons at our immediate disposal. Our weapons are the Scriptures. Paul referred to the Scriptures as the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). This defense and recovery plan needs to be “on duty” at all times, hidden in our heart, and mustered for warfare at any given moment.  

A Helpful Weapon: Psalm 46:1 

One of my favorite weapons to fight against emotional ambush is Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” There are five wonderful truths in this verse that can help us in those painful moments. 

  1. During an emotional ambush, Psalm 46:1 invites us to turn our thoughts to the character of God. His name is “the God who is.” He is the same God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. He is eternal and unchanging. He is faithful and reliable, and we can turn to Him in our grief. He is “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). He knows all about the pain of this fallen world; He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for our sins! He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He understands our pain.  
  1. During an emotional ambush, Psalm 46:1 invites us to consider God as our refuge. Halfway to the top of the Mont Blanc in France, there is a refuge for mountain climbers. The weather on the mountain can be unpredictable and dangerous, but the refuge is a place of safety and rest for the climbers. In our emotional ambushes, we can turn to God and find in Him a place of refuge and security. In this refuge, we can pause to thank the Lord for the sweet memories of our loved one and reaffirm our trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness.  
  1. During an emotional ambush, Psalm 46:1 invites us to turn to God for strength. These moments serve to remind us that we are weak and that we are dependent on the Lord. In 2 Corinthians, Paul explains that this is the purpose of suffering: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Paul understood that his suffering was useful in reminding him of his own weakness and of his need to trust in God’s strength. We, too, can trust in God’s strength in our weakness.  
  1. During an emotional ambush, Psalm 46:1 invites us to trust that God is very present! The God who is eternal and unchanging is also very accessible. We can rest in His caring nearness and support. Psalm 34:18 promises, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Even if we are in the middle of the frozen section of the grocery store when emotional ambush strikes, we can know the Lord’s nearness. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  
  1. During an emotional ambush, Psalm 46:1 invites us to remember that God promises help in trouble. The immediate context of the verse indicates a calamitous event, enough to shake the mountains and seas. But because of his trust in the nearness and help of God, the psalmist declared, “Therefore we will not fear.” So, if God can keep the psalmist from fear in such a devastating situation, He can also come to our rescue in our emotional ambushes. He will calm our hearts and strengthen our faith. “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). Turning our focus to Him, we can also resist the ever-lurking temptation to self-pity and grumbling.  


Yes, emotional ambushes hurt. But they are an opportunity for us to draw near to God. We can live out the paradox of the Christian life that the Apostle Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” 

Pearl Harbor taught the military about the importance of preparedness. We, too, can be prepared for those moments of surprise attack. Yes, we shed tears, but we are armed and able to reflect on who God is – our eternal, unchanging, near, and strong refuge. Turning our focus to God and His character enables us to renew our hope and to sing with thankfulness to Him, even if our song is choked a bit by our tears of grief.