A pastor went to visit an elderly woman from his church who had just had an operation. As he was sitting there talking with her, he noticed a bowl of peanuts on the stand next to the bed. He began to eat them, and soon it was time for him to leave. When he got up, he noticed he had eaten all of her peanuts. Feeling embarrassed, he said, “I’m sorry Lois. I ate all of your peanuts.” She looked down at them, and said, “That’s okay, pastor. I already sucked all of the chocolate off them.” Now he was feeling queasy.
You know what’s pretty easy to do? Feeling an emotion. You know what’s hard to do? Knowing your emotions. Everyone feel emotions, or at least one of them. But not everyone knows them. Not everyone can do both feel and know. That’s because it’s hard.
We get the idea that we’re supposed to be authentic with ourselves and that means what we’re feeling. Not that this is that easy. A Thanksgiving turkey isn’t the only thing that gets stuffed. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. We stuff our feeling because they’re too hot to handle in size or intensity or comfort or comprehension, or we deny that we’re feeling anything, maintaining perfect coolness and control on the outside while our emotions are jiu-jitsuing each other inside. In either case, we don’t allow ourselves to be impacted by what we’re feeling.
Of course we all know we can only carry on so long like this before we’re saying unhelpful things at wrong times, then wondering why we’re mad at our kids or our girlfriend, a fellow commuter, a friend, the TV or anyone who disagrees with us, or here’s the thing: why we can’t feel anything much at all even when someone we dearly love dies, or it’s opposite: why we’re blubbering and weeping when some little sad event happens on TV. Or again another opposite: why we don’t say what is on our mind and in our heart and can’t let out what’s in, shutting ourselves down when we should be giving voice to our voice and contributing to God’s world.
Emotions are incredibly powerful, but they’re not wrong. Emotions are not our enemies. Did you hear that? Emotions are not our enemies. Now it’s your turn: Emotions are not your enemies. Turn to someone and say, “Your emotions are not your enemies.” Now say to God and mother nature, “Thank you for my emotions and feelings.”
Not only are they not your enemies, but guess what, they’re your friends. They’re helpful guides leading you to health and wholeness and directing you to your personal destiny. That is, if they’re not all screwed around and sort of warped by life and stuff. Yes, it’s true, I have a very high regard for your emotional life. Gift from God, I tell you.
You want more God in your life, get to your real emotions. You want God’s will in your life, start feeling again. You want to feel more alive and passionate, let the inspiration come from emotions. Don’t discount how you feel about something or some issue.
If you feel the love, then feel the love. If you know you should be sad but can’t get there, don’t let it go at that. Find your path to that crucial emotion. If anger and rage come on too much, recognize this comes from not letting softer emotions have their say. You’re not such a tough guy, you’re a sweetheart who needs to accept it and find a calmer path forward. If you’re having difficulty giving voice to yourself, you’ve let the emotions of worry, fears, and/or shame have too much of a say. You’re stronger than you think you are. You’re not anywhere near as wrong as you’ve been told you or believed you are. God wants you to shine more than you have.
Why do I say all this? Sure, it’s basic human psychology and emotional health but it’s also because the real Jesus didn’t stuff his emotions or deny them. Not at all. The real Jesus not only felt but knew what he was feeling, accepted it and went with it.
I love one little story that’s not even much of a story. Nobody ever mentions it. It’s just a glimpse into Jesus’ heart and hope, pure emotion. It describes how Jesus was going from cities to villages, teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing and healing diseases and sicknesses. Normal stuff we know about. But then it tells us about Jesus directly. In Matthew it says he saw the crowds of people coming to see him and “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” It continues saying he told his disciples that they were really needed because “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Jesus saw with his emotions. He saw emotionally what was happening, why people were coming to him.
Jesus let an emotion guide him. He felt compassion, knew it was compassion and so said something compassionate. He knew he felt compassion, so he acted compassionately. Yeah, God stuff is often as simple as that. Following the real Jesus in your own life and in your own way and to
do it with passion and commitment comes from feeling and following emotions.
The Lord needs you to feel what you’re feeling so you can know how to follow where he’s leading.
What’s amazing about this emotion and Jesus thing is that for some reason we’ve placed him in a own category of his own. “Yes, he was a man, but not really or not exactly. He was, well, different.” Well, actually, no he wasn’t. Let me put it this way: Jesus could have been a tough guy, but if he had been could he have been Christ? If he had been a hot head, an angry guy or an unfeeling, shut down type of man, would he have been God’s Son or the Word of God in the flesh? If he didn’t know how to feel compassion or refused to be sad when sadness was right or angry when anger was right, could he lived a life that God witnessed to by raising him from the dead, as it says in Acts that God did? Jesus in an emotional mess, now that we think of it, isn’t the Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Being a Christian, someone who takes the real Christ as pattern and model, grows to feel and know what she or he is feeling. We don’t stuff and deny them.
When we think we get a free pass with our inability to deal with emotions, we’re not thinking God’s thoughts. God’s Word to us travels the paths of our feelings, and if those roads are in constant disrepair or under major construction, the Word can’t get to us. The Spirit doesn’t just fly in through your ears. It almost always requires a real life setting to stir and inspire. If you can’t get yourself to recognize what’s really going on with you, then the Spirit can’t get to you.
As you know, my dad’s been in the hospital this week. The week before, he was working on the overhang. Do you know he takes no medicine at all; neither does my mom. This week’s he’s on his back with doctors trying to find out why he’s getting blood clots and checking his heart. I’m his son and love him very much, but I’m also a pastor of a church that has had many older people in it. I’ve seen a lot of folks go into hospitals, have surgeries or procedures and then go onto recover. Some folks end up being better than before. I have lots of experience with this, and families trying to manage all the information from doctors. I’m as comfortable as one could possibly be in this situation.
In fact, Linnea and I went to see her grandpa Wednesday night. It was after nine before we could get there with our schedule as it is. When we got to the emergency room, I whipped out my pastor badge and was let right on
through. The desk staff asked Linnea for ID. She paused and said, “I’m only 14 years old.” She let her through. For the rest of the night, Linnea kept saying joyfully, “I think she thought I was 16 or 17.” It’s like being carded for alcohol when you’re 50, just in reverse.
We spent about an hour with grandpa that night. When it was time to go, I did something I’ve never done before. I got up, leaned over the rail on his bed, and gave him a kiss on his lips. It’s always a hug or a kiss on his right cheek. But that wouldn’t have been so easy with his head in the pillow, and besides my beard is a little scratchy on the cheeks, at least that’s what I’ve been told by the kids. But more than that, I only have one dad. With blood clots in his lungs and leg, perhaps something going on with his heart, a kiss on his cheek on the first night he’s been in the hospital I think ever in his life wasn’t enough. Things had changed. My dad’s life changed. Emotionally, because life had changed, and expressing it in this way was the right act to do, I kissed him as lovingly as I felt.
Feel what you’re feeling. Don’t reject it. Accept your emotion and let it guide you.
Now just so you don’t get the wrong opinion of the real Jesus, I made sure you heard about him getting angry. The simplest way I can say why Jesus was angry was that the way to God was corrupted. The entire process was guided by greed. It wasn’t seen over by people who wanted to make sure people could come to the Temple and easily make their way to worship. Corruption and neglect of the poor were rampant at the very place integrity and worship should have been center and foremost.
It was too much. It didn’t matter if what Jesus did wouldn’t change things. Sometimes we do things for the principle of it, for God’s sake, to make a stand, to show that something is wrong, even if we can’t put it right ourselves. Someone has to stand up for God and what’s good. A protest for change must be made when change must be made. So, Jesus protested. If ever the term righteous anger can be used correctly, this was it. The point is Jesus knew anger and followed it.
Having said that, we all need to understand the real Jesus didn’t get angry easily or for wrong reasons. So, for most, we should practice not getting easily angered, not letting that one emotion constantly be our go-to feeling. Instead, give people the benefit of the doubt. Feel empathy more than anger if someone messes up. They may not only be having a bad day but
a bad life or too much of it. God blesses us when we bless not curse. The Lord needs more people to keep things in perspective.
Look to the real Jesus to understand how right it is to accept your emotions. Jesus recognized them and let them lead him in the right direction. The truth is, we’ve got God directing us when we’ve got feelings, got them good, and let them lead us.
Can the church say Amen?