“Being emotionally well means knowing our full array of human emotions; recognizing which ones are suitable for each circumstance; and then expressing them appropriately. Equally important is striving to respect and honor the feelings and emotions of others.” Concordia Plans Services
There are times in ministry when frustrations may boil over. A junior high youth group with a herd of unruly boys, a church council meeting that seems to be going nowhere, or a passive-aggressive behavior from another staff member can all lead to frustration and even anger.
Human emotions are a part of how God created us. It is no sin to be angry. Matthew records Christ’s anger at the disrespectful practices at the temple in chapter 21 of his gospel. Yet, we are cautioned on how we manage our emotions by Paul’s comment in Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
Being consumed by our emotions allows our baser elements to take a strangle hold on our lives. What Paul means by the sun going down on our anger, is allowing our anger to remain with a hold upon us. C. S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce uses the marvelous image of “a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear” to express the way in which the devil is able to influence us through our emotions.
Cut off from our rational minds, our emotional minds fail to see the folly of the ways in which we indulge our propensity toward sin. Like a pet, we care for our sins with an unnatural affection.
Yet, our emotions are a gift from God and when guided with the mind of Christ, they are a credit to His imprint on our creation. There is within the design of our emotional selves a relational mutuality that holds our emotions in balance. Recognizing and the respecting the emotional responses of those we encounter and especially those we serve or hold most dear is essential.
This is a developmental task of childhood. From small child to teenager, we attempt to figure our emotional responses, by mirroring our emotional responses to those of others. Laughter as well as crying is contagious (don’t ask me how yawning connects here).
Both individually and corporately, we have a tendency to find ourselves in a rut emotionally. Over time our emotional reactions are trained in a sort of emotional muscle memory. We become reactive rather than reflective in our emotional responses. When our emotional responses are positive this can be a good thing. However, when we get ourselves in a defensive posture in our emotional reactions we can find ourselves out of sync in our responses with those around us.
These emotional ruts can isolate church workers from appropriate and healthy responses to the ministry settings in which they are called to serve. For example, a worker who has experienced an extended period in a hostile or toxic environment may not be able to recognize a healthy ministry system when called to serve in a new place. He may see ulterior motives where no hidden agendas exist.
The church needs to be a place in which we are able to express our emotions in a healthy way. When we are frustrated, we need to be able to express our frustrations. It is neither healthy to bottle up our frustrations nor to allow them to justify unwarranted attacks on others. There is much talk about safe spaces in our culture today, but I want to suggest that the Church ought to be the ultimate safe space. Not a place where we are sheltered from ideas that we don't want to hear, but rather a place in which we are able to our emotions to one another with both openness and humility.
When we are able to learn to express ourselves as well as receive the emotional sharing of others with humility, we are truly able to hear both those sharing with us as well as ourselves more clearly. Through these expressions we are able to learn how to process through our emotional responses and how to appropriately receive, and respond to, the emotional expressions of those around us.
I tend to be the kind of person who prefers to talk about what I think about a subject rather than what I feel about a subject. I believe that when we confuse thought with feeling we forget to think through our feelings. This does not mean that we should coldly distance ourselves from our emotions, but rather that we ought not to be unduly ruled by them.
When Paul wrote that we are to: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) he was not suggesting that we deny our emotional responses to the circumstance in our lives, but rather that we not be held hostage by them. Even in the midst of trial, we are able to rejoice because we know that all the struggles of this life are temporary. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, we are able to penetrate the haze of negative emotions and seek the joy that is ours in Christ and ours to share in our ministry service in His name.