I have been struck by the variety of ways people have been impacted by the coronavirus and social distancing. Parents of young children are stressed as they adjust to homeschooling, while others long for something to do. Some are wrestling with anxiety over pressing financial concerns while others are grieving the loss of pivotal life experiences. Despite our varied experiences, we all respond to them with one common thing: emotions.
You should know that I am not a very emotional guy. I rarely cry and I tend to be even keeled in my disposition. Even still, I have recently been learning about the valuable gift our emotions are from God.
In the book Untangling Emotions, authors J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith explain what emotions are, how we experience them, and how we can engage with them for our own good and for God’s glory.
I highly recommend that you read the book for yourself but here are a few key insights from the book I have found especially helpful during this unique season.
Sometimes it’s good to feel bad
We experience emotion because God experiences emotion and we have been made in God’s image. Throughout the Bible we see God experience a wide range of emotions including negative ones. God is angered by sin and injustice. God grieves the increasing wickedness of Adam and Eve’s descendants. God is often “jealous” for the worship and adoration of his people. Jesus mourns over Jerusalem’s rejection of him as their messiah and he weeps at the death of his good friend Lazarus.
Groves and Smith explain:
In other words, there are times when it is right and God-glorifying to be angry, upset, sad, or concerned. As Christians we can sometimes mistakenly think that negative emotions reflect a lack of faith. The reality is that negative emotions are sometimes a healthy expression of our faith. If you are grieved, angry, or concerned about the impacts of the coronavirus—those are appropriate emotional responses to negative circumstances that are a result of living in a fallen world.
Emotions reveal what we love
Emotions are powerful communicators. They communicate to us (and others) what we most value and love, even if we are not consciously aware of our love for that thing. Think of a young child. When they get what they love, they are happy. When someone else gets it, they are jealous. When someone deprives them of it, they get mad. When they lose it, they get sad. Are we really so different? “While humans grow in maturity and our tastes change,” Grooves and Smith explain, “the core dynamic of our emotions remains. Our feelings express our intuitive view of how well our situation is providing for and protecting what we love.” (Pg. 34)
You might say that it’s not that simple. And you’re right, it isn’t. Our emotions are complex, and they do not come in single file. As the plot of Disney’s Inside Out demonstrates, it is possible to experience multiple and even competing emotions all at once. That’s possible because we love a lot of different things! Sometimes we love competing things and so we may respond to a new circumstance with both joy and sadness. This is because the new circumstance may help one thing we love while at the same time threatening another one of our loves.
The biblical response to emotions is to engage
There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s girlfriend notices that he never gets angry and she encourages him let himself get angry sometimes. When he does, he ends up opening the floodgates for all his emotions to come out (“What’s this salty discharge coming out of my eyes?”) and he becomes an emotional mess! That’s one flawed way in which we tend to respond to emotions. We make them everything and let them rule us. How we feel becomes more important than our character or God’s glory.
Another flawed response to emotions is to try to ignore them. This response is usually rooted in the belief that emotions cannot be trusted and those who are emotional are weak. Therefore, we must keep a stiff upper lip and bottle it up whenever we begin to feel something. Not only does it not work to repress emotions, but it also fails to recognize and make use of the gift that emotions are from God.
Emotions help us to connect with others. One way we are commanded to love others in Romans 12 is by weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. Emotions motivate and energize us to take action. Emotions also help us to connect with God. Emotions are an expression of what we worship. That is why God can command us in Philippians 4:4 to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
So, instead of these flawed approaches, God’s Word models for us what it looks like to engage with our emotions. Engaging our emotions simply means that when we begin to feel something, we should take a moment to look at it and see what we find before we decide how to respond.
We can engage our emotions through four basic step
Groves and Smith recommend that we engage our emotions using the following steps: Identify, Examine, Evaluate and Act
This is a practice that will take some intentionality at first but eventually can become a healthy habit. Here is what it looked like for me recently as I walked myself through the process before bed one night after a hectic day adjusting our new normal with the coronavirus:
Jesus and the authors of the psalms engaged with their emotions and poured their hearts out to God. Rather than running from our emotions or letting them rule us, we should engage them too. During this unique season, make a special effort to view your emotions as a gift from God. By engaging them you will grow in your walk with him.
© 2020 Peninsula Community Chapel