Earlier this year we had a pretty terrible wind storm around the metro. It caused no small amount of damage in some areas. A giant pine tree on our church property was uprooted. It caused the largest power outage in Detroit history. Wind can cause some terrible damage, but if strong winds can be harnessed they can also be used for good. So, a strong wind can be turned into power. Of course learning to harness that wind is the key issue at hand. Our emotions can be like a strong wind. The energy produced by a variety of emotions can be destructive or constructive. Learning to stewards our emotional energy can lead us to constructive responses to emotional highs and lows.
Our emotions produce a significant amount of energy, and that energy is often applied to destructive ends. So, for example, our anger can tempt us to lash out, to rage at others, to yell, scream, throw things, or even become violent. Some angry people tend to say, I just can’t control my temper when I get that hot. We image anger like a tea kettle on the stove; the hotter it gets the more likely it is that it will eventually burst out steam. Likewise, anxiety can produce a kind of nervous energy that tempts us to panic, to hyperventilate, to spiral our thoughts until they are out of control, to fight for control over things that we can’t manage. The energy can be applied in unhealthy ways. But what if we can learn to harness that emotional energy? What if we can learn to utilize it to constructive ends instead? Jesus models this type of controlled emotional energy for us, and so we want to consider first, his example, and then develop a plan to implement this type of emotional stewardship in our own lives.
Jesus has strong emotions. Any impression of Jesus that he was an emotionless, sterile, or static God-man is dismissed by the actual testimony of Scripture. When we read of Jesus’ driving the money-changers out of the temple we see an impassioned man. He had an intense experience of outrage, and yet he was not out of control. His response was to take action, to seek to rectify this unrighteousness. His anger was a response of “zeal for the House of the Lord” (John 2:17). His love for God’s glory directed his emotions to a proper end. He stewarded his anger towards a constructive and righteous end. Sometimes anger does call for action.
Consider also Jesus’ experience in the wilderness. Having been fasting in the desert for forty days he is hungry and we all know how tempting sin becomes when we are hungry. We’ve even created a word to excuse our bad behavior: hangry. My hunger compelled me to be short and rude. Furthermore, hunger tempted Esau to sell his birthright, but Jesus won’t be ruled by his belly. He is weak and tired, and yet He does not let His emotions dictate His response, rather he stewards His emotional energy towards constructive ends, and when tempted fights for truth.
Consider, lastly, the example of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane before his impending crucifixion. Jesus experiences intense emotions here as he anticipates all that the cross represents. Jesus feels the weight of what is about to happen, so much so that he literally sweats blood. He is stressed, dare we say even anxious. But since Jesus never sinned we know that His experience of those emotions was not sinful. He was not ruled by those emotions. Rather, He aimed His emotions towards God’s will and pleaded for it to be done. “Not what I will, but what you will” (Luke 22:42).
In every scenario, whether compounded by physical dynamics or not, Jesus stewarded His emotional energy towards godliness. We are tempted to excuse ourselves from following Jesus down this path because, after all, we are not God and therefore can’t perfectly imitate Him. That is true, of course, we aren’t God and therefore can’t perfectly imitate Jesus. Yet the apostle Peter firmly believes that Jesus is our example even in emotional stewardship. So, we read in 1 Peter 2:21-24:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
In this passage Peter tells us three important things: (1) We were called to this – whatever the “this” is it is our mission and calling; (2) Christ left us an example – the goal is that we would “follow in his steps.” We can’t use His divinity as a cop-out for our disobedience; (3) He entrusted Himself to God – Jesus didn’t let his emotions dictate his response to persecution. He didn’t retaliate. He didn’t dish out payback, rather He trusted God. Part of our emotional stewardship requires us to trust God more deeply than our feelings, more deeply than our impulses.
So, how do we do this? How do we imitate Jesus in emotional stewardship? There are likely many avenues we could pursue to navigate this important issue. I want to propose one course of contemplation and consideration that will help us to think carefully about what we feel, why we feel it, and how we can/should respond. I like to use charts and so to help us navigate this question consider the following chart:
The labels across the top identify the categories we are going to strategically think about: My emotion, my desires, the sinful response I am tempted with, and the godly way I can use the energy of my emotions. A few examples may help to drive home the point.
Catherine was experience intense grief over a recent move. She was far from family and felt the weight of isolation, loss, and distance. She would spend days, weeks even, sobbing uncontrollable and building up bitterness and resentment over the job that had taken her away from those she loved dearly. After some time she realized she couldn’t live her entire life without addressing her emotions and corresponding responses, so we began to navigate them. Her desire was for intimacy, connection, meaningful relationships. Those were good desires, but she had allowed those longing to so rule her and cloud her thinking that she was responding sinfully every time they were stirred up within her. We developed a stewardship plan that took the energy of her grief and applied it to loving others. Whenever she felt that intense longing to “go home,” she would sit down and write a personal letter to one of her family members. Or, she would put together a gift box for her nephews. Or she would pray for her mother for fifteen minutes. The goal was two-fold: (1) to redirect her emotional energy outside of herself to a constructive end; and (2) to increase the intimacy, even at this distance, by being intentional about though and care for those she loved. Each time she struggled she would sit down and fill out her chart and begin to think strategically about her Stewardship Response.
Evan had become acutely aware of his anger. Blowing up at his co-workers would surely have cost him his job at any other place of employment, but his years of service to the company had garnered him a second chance. He knew, however, if he didn’t address his temper it was only going to get worse. So, we sat and began to dissect his emotions. His desire was for safety. His co-workers habits were jeopardizing the safety, and particularly his safety. He would rant about unsafe practices often, but no one seemed to care or correct the behavior. He felt powerless to ensure his own health. His desires were understandable, no body wants to feel unsafe on a constant basis. His responses to the situation, however, were sinful. Threats, rage, and manipulation were not becoming of a Christian and they weren’t resolving the problem. As we explored a stewardship response he began to think about how he could rightly address this issue. He could take action: look for a new job maybe; with the employer’s approval start a safety team; arrive to work earlier and ensure that his work area was properly safeguarded. He also knew he had to trust the Lord, so when he felt unsafe he would pray – not only for himself but for his co-workers. The goal was to help him take responsibility for what he could and surrender to God’s powerful hands what he couldn’t.
Every emotion can be charted and stewardship responses can be strategically developed. The key is to think about how to constructively apply the energy from these emotions. What can you do with the energy your emotions produce? How can you live in a godly way through your intense feelings?