I love Christmas. I love the feel of it. I love decorated trees, Christmas cookies and candies, long chatty Christmas newsletters from friends we haven’t seen in 30 years, our kids and grandkids being there for the opening of presents and a turkey-and-dressing meal on Christmas Day.

I really love Christmas Eve, the candle light service at church, the hymns we sing, and the spirit of goodwill we share as we chat and eat Christmas sweets and drink hot chocolate and cider after service in the fellowship hall.

I realize this is not the Christmas everyone experiences. I know Christmastime can leave many feeling sad or anxious, especially if everyone except you seems to be in the spirit of the season.

Emotions, even very difficult emotions, are important gifts.

Before I explain, I want to say that sometimes when dealing with difficult emotions, one may need to seek medication. Medication may be necessary to give one’s self a little spiritual room to maneuver.

It is, however, harmful to you and others in your life if you obliterate yourself by carpet bombing your difficulties with too much anti-depression and anxiety meds.

Emotions are our teachers. They are the doorways through which we must pass to gain wisdom, maturity and grace.

Jesus said in the Gospel according to Thomas, “If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”

This is a profound truth. When one is assailed by difficult emotions, the very best thing one can do is to bring them forth. Do not flee from your pain, become its student.

Facing one’s psychic pain is exemplified in the ancient Greek trilogy “The Oresteia” written by Aeschylus more than 2,500 years ago.

In the final play, the Furies, (read: Furies as very difficult and destructive emotions) are on a rampage of terror in Athens that threatens to destroy the whole city (read: Athens as your psyche beset by very difficult emotions).

To save the day, the Goddess Athena (read: your inner observer and wise person) steps in and does just as I recommend above. She recognizes the Furies as important parts of the life of Athens, gives them a prominent place in Athens’ annual celebration, and presents them with special red dresses so everyone will know who they are.

When this is done, the destructive Furies are transformed into the helpful Eumenides, the beneficent ones, or kindly ones.

If you are in the grips of tough emotions, this may sound a bit far-fetched. Yet, it is one of the most important truths of human existence.

Difficult emotions can be transformed into helpful partners when we pay attention to what is happening in our spiritual lives. Your despair, your anxiety, your anger or your sadness can become a useful teacher for learning to live a vital compassionate life.

You may be asking, “How can I learn to learn from my difficult emotions?”

The answer is: Through the same methods of observation of the psyche that people of faith have been using for thousands of years: prayer, meditation, contemplation and talking with someone who can listen in a nonjudgmental way. All the while keeping an observant eye on the difficult ones and being willing to wait for the difficult to be transformed into the wise.

Everyone, has an inner Athena who most often appears, in the psyche, as creative, compassionate energy. If you open your mind and sweep the cobwebs out of the dusty corners of your heart, she will be there to help you.

Today’s Insights was written by the Rev. Jim McConnell, pastor of Berrien Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in St. Joseph. Insights is written by area clergy to give different viewpoints on a variety of topics. It is published each Saturday in cooperation with the Berrien County Association of Churches. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of member churches.