When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. – John 11:33-35
I have had many counselees say something like “I just do not have emotions” or “Emotions just aren’t really my thing.” Interestingly, these people tend to be the most emotionally driven. We all have emotions, but some are just better at hiding them. And the scary part is that sometimes those who are good at hiding them do not even realize that they are good at hiding them. It is as if they set up a vacation responder on their email and redirect every emotional impulse to a separate folder somewhere deep within their heart.
Now, when one begins to embark on this frightful journey of talking about his or her emotions it can be unpredictable, overwhelming, and exhausting. Jesus’ ministry demonstrates the importance of not stowing emotions away. He wept in plain sight in front of others, alerting us to the importance of the role emotions play in helping us understand this good, but broken world. In the book, Untangling Emotions, Alistair Groves and Winston Smith give a simple framework to help us understand our emotions by identifying, examining, evaluating, and acting on them properly. By practicing this framework, the authors show how it can change our worship, relationships, and our approach to trials.
Identify. First, Groves and Smith call us to identify our emotions. They also point out that this is usually easier to do if you ask someone that is close to you the question “What emotion do you see in me the most?” Or “What emotion do I exhibit most often?” Usually, every time I hear this question asked to a spouse, the answer is shocking to the question asker.
Examine. Once one or many emotions are identified in a person’s life, the next step is examining those emotions by asking questions like “What does what you value say about Jesus’ role in your life?” Or “What does what you value say about your spouse, friends, family, etc.?” A point that Groves and Smith make clear is that our emotions often elicit an action. For example, if someone is angry, he may raise his voice to draw attention or he may hit something with force. In sadness, he may withdraw from his environment to have solitude. If one is fearful, she may run or course-correct in order to avoid the object of her fear.
Evaluate. By examining what the motives and outcomes of one’s emotions are, they are able to move to the next step which is evaluating each emotion that has been found. This usually points one to see that the emotion they originally felt was a good desire that was misused because of a mixed priority—usually putting oneself over another. Groves and Smith call us to root out self-absorption and entitlement and then look to see what is left. Usually, when humility is applied to emotional outbursts or apathy, all that is left is a person who needs the love and security of Christ, which actually makes it much easier to connect with others and share in the suffering.
Act. The final step is to take what you have learned and act. Ask yourself, “What is good and bad about what I have seen in my emotional life and how does Jesus offer us hope in the midst of these emotions?” Also, “Is this emotion necessarily pointing me to something that needs to change or is it a useless emotion that has arisen out of a lie that I once believed?” This then allows us to see our hearts with clear eyes in the light of Scripture, which pushes us to actually take Jesus up on his offer when he says “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Are we willing to come to Jesus fully with our emotions, even the ones that we do not want to acknowledge? Jesus has given us an example of weeping for a reason. That reason is to show us that our emotions acknowledge the world we are in is not enough and point us to the hope that is found in eternity alone, which is only secured in the most loving act in human history, the cross itself.