I’m a husband, and I’m a father. Like many men, I feel it’s my duty to fix whatever is broken in our home. Unfortunately, I’m not very handy, but I try my best. In most cases, I end up calling my dad or a mechanic to finish the job. The problem is, I don’t always restrict my “duty of fixing” to washers and dryers and sinks. I feel it’s my duty to fix the people in my home as well.
So when I hear an angry shout or a sad cry coming from the other room, I swoop in, trying to “fix” the feelings of sad or mad so that my family always feels glad.
I’ve noticed that when I try to fix feelings, I have about as much success as fixing my cars. My wife and kids just get more frustrated and shut down emotionally.
I guess I’m not good at fixing anything . . . people included.
At least that’s how I used to look at emotions. I used to think emotions like sad, mad, and scared were “bad” emotions that needed to be fixed. But then I went to a spiritual retreat for pastors where the main presenter reminded us of Jesus’ emotional life.
Jesus was sad, mad, and scared. As the Son of God, Jesus did nothing wrong. So these aren’t sinful or bad emotions. They’re just part of being human. Humans are emotional creatures.
Therefore, emotions aren’t bad, but they do need to be understood and managed. Sometimes we have emotional responses that aren’t based on reality, but on a distortion of the truth.
So what are we supposed to do with our emotions?
Identify. Validate. Align.
Here is the three-step process I learned to understanding and managing emotions. When we feel a strong emotion pulsing through our veins, the first thing we must do is identify it. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I feeling sad, mad, scared, or glad?” All different variations of our emotions will fit into one of those four categories.
Once I’ve identified my emotion, then I need to validate it. I need to acknowledge why my emotions are reacting in this way. Am I angry because I feel threatened? Am I sad because I didn’t get my way? Am I scared because my job might be in jeopardy?
Finally, I need to align my emotion with the truth. I need to test how I feel with what God says. If I’m scared, I need to be reminded that God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). If life isn’t going my way, I need to remember that I can be “content whatever the circumstances . . . because I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11,13).
No more fixing my family
After I returned from my retreat, I had an opportunity to put what I learned into practice. I asked my 9-year-old son to do the dishes. He started to get very emotional as he began to do the work. I immediately got frustrated, thinking he was being lazy. My knee-jerk reaction was to demand that he buck up and get to work. But that made him even more emotional.
Then I told him to stop and describe to me how he felt. After a minute or so, he blurted out, “I feel overwhelmed!” He wasn’t being lazy or rebellious. He had never really been taught how to wash the dishes properly. There was a mountain of dirty pans, and he had no clue how he was going to finish the job.
I thanked him for identifying his emotion. I validated that this was a big job that would take some time. Then I tried to align his emotions with Scripture. I told him that God has called me to teach him how to grow up and learn to work. Sure enough, he began to calm down and he started scrubbing away.
The Lord created us with a full spectrum of feelings. It’s time we embrace his design. Based on our circumstances, we will all experience times of anger, fear, and sadness. We must validate those emotions so that we might align them with the truths of God’s promises.
The people in our lives probably don’t need to be fixed as much as they need to be understood. Once they understand their emotions, then we can direct them to the truth of God’s Word.
Pastor Ben Sadler has served as a full-time pastor since 2010. He began his ministry at a Spanish-speaking congregation in Florida. From 2014 to 2019, he served at Goodview Trinity Church in Minnesota. Currently, he is at Victory of the Lamb in Wisconsin. He is married to Emily, and they have three children. Ben loves to spend time with his family, ride his road bike, read, write, and preach.
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