Learn to feel from people who DO feel.

29 03 2010

So, before the big break from blogging that I’ve taken these past few weeks, I was sharing about an essential process that we have to go through with regard to our emotions: (1) Identify them; (2) Feel them; (3) Express them.

I got as far as writing a little about the importance of feeling our emotions.  So the next step is this: Assuming you’re actually convinced that it is important to feel your emotions (and if you aren’t, then read this post again), how do you actually do it?

Picasso's "Dance of the Shepherd". A picture of celebration.

This is not something that comes naturally to most of us in the Western world.  But God offers help.  God understands that we need to feel to be emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy.  (He made us that way)  And Scripture even reflects that there are times when people need to re-learn how to feel: In the time of the prophet Jeremiah, Israel went through great sadness and difficulty.  There was a great need for healthy lament and grief so that God’s people could process through the pain they were facing, and move towards genuine repentance.  During this time, Jeremiah says to them:

“Consider now!  Call for the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them.  Let them come quickly and wail over us till our eyes overflow with tears and water streams from our eyelids.

“Now, O women, hear the word of the LORD; open your ears to the words of his mouth.  Teach your daughters how to wail; teach one another a lament.” (Jeremiah 9:17-18, 20)

A verse like this is very confusing to modern ears.  “Why”, we think, “should someone be taught to lament, and encouraged to weep and wail?  Isn’t it a good thing if someone can bear difficult circumstances without weeping and wailing?”

Apparently not.  Apparently really feeling what is happening to you – feeling your life – is a good thing, a healthy thing.  And, apparently, sometimes people lose touch with the ability to do this, and have to be re-taught how to do it.

Grief and Celebration In Other Cultures.

I’ll never forget a video that was played at my church years ago.  It was a documentary of a missionary preaching to the Mouk people, an unreached tribe in Papua New Guinea.  Over the course of several months, he taught them the Bible, starting with the Old Testament.  The Mouk listened enraptured week after week, learning about God’s efforts to reach out to the people who he loved.  Eventually, the missionary got to the New Testament, and began to teach the tribe about the gospel.

When the Mouk heard and understood that God has sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to bear the penalty for sin so that all could be forgiven and reconciled to God, the entire tribe broke out into spontaneous rejoicing.  They shouted, sang and danced, bearing their joy upon their faces, jumping up and down, crowding tightly together and celebrating wildly.  (Check it out here.  It’s pretty incredible.)

The Mouk people went on to share this same message with neighboring tribes.  In one village, after hearing the gospel, the people suddenly realized that all their ancestors had died without Christ.  The group of them spontaneously broke out into mourning, as expressive and extreme (by Western standards) as the previous celebrating had been.  The camera watched as hundreds of them wept bitter tears, wailing loudly, some of them even falling to the ground in their grief.  (I found it on Youtube here, though unfortunately it kind of gets cut off.)

I remember thinking all of this was quite odd.  I even felt sort of uncomfortable that something so weird was being shown at church: What would any visitors in the audience think?  Wouldn’t they conclude that Christians were weird or crazy?

In time, though, I began to see this differently.  I began to wonder if maybe the people on the screen weren’t the weird ones.  Maybe we’re the weird ones!  We westerners, who go to such great lengths to make sure that the content of our hearts never matches the expression on our faces… maybe we’re the messed up ones.  Maybe we could actually learn something from these tribal peoples who express their emotions so freely and naturally.




2 responses

5 04 2010

Wow. I’m going to respond to an emotional post with a rational reaction. Weird, but that’s me. And it’s a half-baked thought.

As I was considering who might be the strange ones, I recalled reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink.” He introduces some research by John Gottman, and laces together the ideas of microexpressions — that split second when exactly what you’re thinking shows on your face, just before your cover-up takes place — and four stages of relating to someone in a long-term relationship, ranging from openness to contempt.

It all seems to be a Western-style coverup of our emotions. Rather than feeling the hurt someone causes us, we bury it. Too bad it doesn’t stay there, as Gottman proposes in some of *his* books… it just bubbles out in contempt or mis-placed rage.

This is important stuff, because if we don’t learn how to identify our emotions and feel them, it’s going to stop us from so many things: happiness, joy, connection with God, real relationships with others.

And, of course, I only say this because I’m still struggling with my emotions and how to deal with them. Right. “How to deal with them.” If it’s not now, it’ll be later.

8 04 2010
Tim Courtois

Loved “Blink”! I read it a month or two ago, and I’ve had some posts about it brewing in my mind that will probably show up at one point. That micro-expression stuff is incredible.

Have you watched the TV show “Lie To Me”? It’s about a guy who uses that stuff to be a human lie-detector for law agencies & stuff… anyway, it’s fascinating.

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